Jeremy London:
Party of Five in the Center of the Earth

by Michelle Erica Green

This Tuesday, Jeremy London will leave his usual party to journey to the center of the earth. The actor who is known internationally as Griffin Holbrook on FOX's Party of Five takes on the role of Jonas Lytton, the chronicler of Jules Verne's prototypical science fiction story, airing on USA Network for the next two nights.

"I had seen the movie a long time ago; I hadn't read the book, but I was very familiar with the Jules Verne novel," said London in a telephone interview Sunday night, during a busy weekend of chats and appearances to promote the miniseries. "Since then I've read it, I enjoyed it. Our movie is quite different - it's really just using the idea and sort of gives its own version of it. For what it is, it's pretty cool."

Making the Journey

USA's adaptation follows Jonas Lytton from his 1870s life as a teacher in Boston, where he is preparing to marry a well-bred woman. His adventure is sparked by his Uncle Theo (Treat Williams), who believes that unknown flora and fauna live beneath the surface of the Earth - an unthinkable idea which echoes the theories of the controversial Darwin.

A young woman (Tushka Bergen) approaches Theo and Jonas with an offer: if they will accompany her to New Zealand to help her find her missing husband, she will fund their explorations. Although Jonas is conservative by nature, he agrees to accompany Theo on his quest halfway around the earth. What they find there beneath the surface changes Jonas' life.

San Diego-born London appreciated the fact that "I got to do a movie that my nieces and nephews could watch and enjoy. They're going to love getting to see me interact with dinosaurs and acting with lizard people." Though he laughed at the "nonsensical" plot of the more than 100-year-old novel - which involves the discovery of beautiful women living inside a volcano - the actor described himself as a science fiction fan, and said he took the role in part to learn about special effects.

"There was an outrageous amount of blue screen," he noted. "We're not talking cutting-edge technology here - this is pretty basic blue screen and computer animation, but it's fun. I probably learned more about filmmaking than I've ever learned, doing this. I would love to get into a much larger-budget film that had special effects, and I'd want to know what I was doing."

London drew amused comparisons between the spectacular, high-budget miniseries on NBC such as Merlin and lower budget weekly series like Xena. "Ours fits right in between there," he said. "I knew that it was going to be for USA when I signed on to do it. There were a lot of reasons to do it for personal gain as far as expanding, being able to travel and learn about filmmaking, but when you compare this to feature films, it's not Star Wars."

Getting to travel to Australia was another attraction for London, who spent three months overseas playing opposite the scantily-clad Petra Yared - the Australian actress playing the mysterious woman with whom Jonas falls in love. "It's fun to be able to jump into those areas of fantasy and kind of go with them and see what happens - I figure if it was real, the cave chicks probably wouldn't be that cute," joked the actor. "It's all such BS, we know that; it's basically like saying there's another planet inside our planet. It's a completely impossible thing to come up with."

Yet he enjoyed getting to play an adventurer - a contrast to the much darker character he plays on Party of Five. "I like darker kind of roles, the ones that I can sink my teeth into. This guy is more of an intellectual: a young, naive, coming-of-age sort of guy. The arc of my character is that by the end of the story, I become a man."

Although he is used to the rigorous schedule of a weekly series from Party of Five and I'll Fly Away, the acclaimed series on which he had appeared previously, London was sorry there wasn't more time to rehearse for Journey to the Center of the Earth. "I learned how lousy it is to make a movie when they already have an air date before you even shoot one frame of the film," he observed. "It doesn't make for a real rewarding experience. You were lucky if you got a couple of takes. And they only have so much rendering time, the post-production. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, and the special effects are fine, but when you're comparing this to films, it's not exactly what I had in mind."

Shifting Parties

London's ambitions include making his own films; he has written several screenplays, and is working on "my dream project," which he would like to direct and produce as well. He groans about the outdated information on various fan internet sites, which identify projects he has not pursued in years. "It's so old! That stuff is so old!" he laughed.

For the past several years, much of his time has been taken up by Party of Five, where he co-stars with current hot young stars like Jennifer Love Hewitt, Lacey Chabert, and Neve Campbell (who plays his ex-wife). "If we go one more season, I'm committed to at least one more season," the actor revealed. Hewitt has already left the series and Campbell will be departing as well, but although he would like to have more film opportunities like the young stars of Dawson's Creek and his co-stars, London said, "I like being on Party of Five. They've shown that they wanted me to be there, so I sure like being there."

Party of Five focuses on a family of siblings who must support one another after the deaths of their parents in a car accident. The series is moving to 9:00 PM on Tuesdays beginning October 5th on FOX, and older episodes rerun five days a week at 10 AM on Lifetime. London's character Griffin Holbrook and Campbell's character Julia Salinger got married very young, went through a very difficult period, and decided to separate as Julia chose to enter college.

"She's gone - she's going to be out of here after this season - and they wanted to leave it available for me to stick around," explained London. "This season I'm going to be dealing a lot with Scott Wolf on a friend level, with less interaction with Julie and more interaction with the other characters on the show. We've been broken up for a long time, we won't get back together, so I'll sort of get my own thing going on."

London said he rarely watches his own series, which isn't his favorite kind of entertainment. "I watch sports stuff, mostly," he admitted, sounding inordinately pleased that the Cowboys had beaten the Redskins in Washington this Sunday. "If I watch other things on TV, I watch the Discovery Channel or the Learning Channel, that kind of stuff."

How does he choose parts? "The cast, the production, how much money they're going to pay you, where you get to go to do it, what's the risk-reward for it," London replied. "I'd probably have to say my favorite part that I've played so far was a movie that I did with Beau Bridges last summer in Canada, The Defenders. I played a hardcore kind of guy. That was a pretty rewarding part."

Aired on Showtime last October, The Defenders also stars Martha Plimpton and Philip Casnoff, and features London playing a teenager who participates in a brutal racist murder. "It was creepy," said the actor. "But those parts are the most rewarding."

Separating From the Pack

While many of his fellow Party of Five cast members have become famous for teen horror films and collegiate comedies, London's resume is increasingly diverse. He made his debut in the TV movie In Broad Daylight, then appeared in several films and TV series in rapid succession, including Mallrats, The Babysitter with Alicia Silverstone, and the miniseries Angel Falls.

London's brother Jason is also an actor; when Jason got his break in The Man in the Moon, Jeremy performed stunts in the film. The boys grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, their parents having divorced when they were young. London doesn't worry much about being confused with his brother, who also appeared in Dazed and Confused and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.

"I don't think that we're anything alike performing style-wise, I think that we're pretty different as actors...pretty different in general," he reflected. "We want to work together someday, but I don't know if it will be in front of the camera. We don't want to be 'The London Twins,' and that's immediately what happens whenever you're seen together on something. It's really hard to keep your individual status."

The actor said he would like to continue to learn about filmmaking as he takes on new projects, like he did on Journey to the Center of the Earth. "It's fantastic, and lots of fun," he laughed. "I enjoyed watching it. It's an incredibly journey into your's part science fiction, part adventure."

Get Critical