The Sentinel's Sidekick
Garett Maggart's life is a bit up in the air at the moment. He spent his hiatus from The Sentinel in Vancouver where the show filmed, "just hanging out." Less than two weeks ago, UPN announced that it was not picking up the series for the fall season, though it was third in the fledgling network's ratings (behind Star Trek Voyager and the brand-new Love Boat: The Next Wave, which will be returning). The Sentinel may reappear as a mid-season replacement; a write-in campaign is underway to bring it back sooner rather than later.
But in the meantime, Maggart's character Blair Sandburg is dead - apparently murdered by Alex, a vicious female sentinel played by Voyager's Jeri Ryan. Not even mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from Jim Ellison, The Sentinel himself, could save him. The season finale ended with a "To Be Continued..." tag, but nobody knows when or if that might happen. The characters and their real-life alter egos are in limbo.
"I just thought I'd stay up here until we got the notice or not - I didn't want to go back to L.A., just to move back here to be back home," Maggart explains of his decision to stay in Canada with his dog while the show's future was up in the air. "I've never been in Vancouver when I was not working, so it's nice - I'm getting to see the city. I've been playing a lot of golf and just hanging out." As a result, however, he was out of L.A. during auditions for pilot season...meaning he may still be unemployed when hiatus officially ends.
Maggart, however, doesn't sound like he has any regrets. "I lucked out when I got this role; I was a starving actor," he jokes. "I was just starting to take this profession seriously and starting to really go after it - I'd only been actively seeking work for five years or so." The son of actor Brandon Maggart and the brother of singer Fiona Apple, Garett acted when he was young, including a part in The World According to Garp, "but if you're not my mother, you won't know it's me." When he moved to California, his father helped him get a role on Brothers, "and I thought that was the way it was going to be: I'd just show up and people would say, "Here, have a job! Go say some words." Then I realized, I've got to get a head shot, I've got to take classes to play the instrument...I've got to do all this stuff."
The Sentinel came as a terrific break for him, though the actor had to do some quick homework during auditions for the role of Sandburg, a scientist who's an expert in ancient human cultures. "Before I went to network, I went out and bought a couple of anthropological books. It was a little difficult, it was a lot of reading - there wasn't just a general terminology. Myself personally, I'm dyslexic, and I was horrible in school, and there wasn't an Anthropology 101."
Because of his dyslexia, Maggart says he was always embarrassed about his reading. "Blair's an academic, and the desire to study book knowledge - that's not like me. What I drew on was the people around school that I noticed, the characteristics they were displaying when they were in class or when they were in a social environment, and how they were interacting with other people. What I like about Blair is he's sort of like me - he's very outgoing, kind of nosy, [asks] a lot of questions - always wanting the information and to know what's going on, but not really a gossipper."
Despite his relative inexperience, Maggart got the role quickly, with only about a week between his first reading and booking the job. Indirectly, he was responsible for the casting of Richard Burgi as Jim Ellison, since the chemistry between the two was immediately apparent. "I read with like twelve different Sentinels - they kind of cast him around me. I read with a lot of great guys they brought in, and then Richard walked in, and he and I threw the script away and just kind of vamped. He picked me up and threw me around! It was perfect."
Maggart finds it ironic that the producers cast the pivotal role around him, rather than the other way around. Vital as the Guide/Sentinel relationship is for the show, "it's more vital for Blair's existence - otherwise he shouldn't be there. it's not Sandburg and The Sentinel. He's the man. I can do no wrong, I don't have to carry the show, so basically anything I do is OK!" By the same token, he has wished on occasion for more development of the relationship. "Sometimes I think that's a little lacking, but by the same token, it makes it more impactful when we do use it."
The actor says he thought the show's best episodes were the ones which dealt with Ellison's jaguar visions. He was hoping for more development of the spiritual aspects of the characters during the next season. "I don't want to walk around in a robe or anything, but using a little bit more of my own fears of having been appointed the shaman of Cascade...that's a big jump," he notes. "[Ellison] is readily able to use his skills now, without any discomfort or despair, and they had touched upon my character being the shaman. I'd like a little bit more of the spiritual side; those always seem to be our best ones, I think."
Maggart attended his first convention recently and was surprised at the huge percentage of female fans, since UPN has insisted that this is a show for young males. "At the con, I think there was three guys, and the rest were women." In terms of general viewer feedback, most of his fans seem to be "young boys, like 12 and 13, for the explosions or whatever, [but mostly] twenty-and-up women - my own opinion is that I think they dig the relationship between the three men on the show, and it's not really that they're attracted to the violence at all."
Of course, the actors are regularly upstaged by explosions, but Maggart says that doesn't bother him. "I don't mind that at all. All that stuff I just look at as another actor, it's another element of the show, another aspect that needs to be there." Though he's interested in directing, he says he has learned from The Sentinel that he doesn't want to work in action, "because I see what our directors go through. If the actors get the words right, basically you have to print it, because you're so pressed for time. They get relegated to directing the camera, because the action takes over."
Fortunately, he says that the cast of this series is professional enough that they don't need much direction. "My favorite directors are the ones who come in and, if I'm cracking up in a scene, they go, 'Hey, Garett, your character just came from a funeral, you may not want to be laughing so hard.' 'Oh, right right right! Thank you!' They don't really get into it. Then they really get to direct the guest stars and such."
The closeness between Sandburg, Ellison, and Simon Banks (played by Bruce A. Young) persisted despite recent attempts on the part of the network to hype attractive women on the show, featuring previews with women in tight outfits kissing the male leads. How did that emphasis change Blair Sandburg's relationship with Jim Ellison? Burgi joked to TV Guide that he thought there could be a Sandburg/Ellison romance down the road, adding, "You know, if they really wanted me to have a lip-lock with Sandburg, well...I'd be willing to explore that sort of thing."
Maggart, who describes his co-star as a good friend who's probably off surfing with his family, laughs at the quote, kidding that they kiss all the time - "just not on camera." He adds seriously that they don't purposefully put in any homoerotic subtext as do Hercules and Xena, but he thinks such assumptions are an outgrowth of viewer expectations about how macho guys are supposed to relate to one another.
"It's three guys who get along together well, not a testosterone-filled environment - we talk, and we work out our problems, we 'share' with each other. I think people look at it and actually see two guys on network television saying, 'Hey, you're my friend and I love you,' instead of, 'Hey, let's go out and have beer' or whatever. I just think it's natural."
Of the serial women, the actor enjoyed working with UPN's golden girl Jeri Ryan, whom he labels "a lot of fun, very professional - you can tell that she's worked a lot when she comes on set." His favorite episode remains the pilot, because of the emotional intensity of the shoot. "I was so excited to be working and to be second in command, and I was so nervous. Is it going to get picked up, is it going to go? Fifty episodes later, it's more like, 'Eh!'" Still, Maggart says the crew usually had a riotously good time.
Another favorite episode was "Vow of Silence," in which Maggart's father appeared as Brother Marcus. "It was great, I wish we could have worked together more - one of the scenes that we did, the full length didn't make it in because it was running a little long," the younger Maggart recalls. "It's kind of weird, because this time it was me getting him work, so it was my turn. He was in my house, so it was kind of fun."
When he was younger, the actor watched his father work onstage and decided he wanted to be a performer. "I lived in Connecticut going to school, and he lived in New York and did Broadway. In the summertime I would go out whenever he was doing a play and go watch in the wings, and watch the audience reacting - I never watched from the audience, I watched from backstage. I didn't do any theater in high school; I was always of the thought that theater was what I wanted to do for a living, so in school I wanted to learn about other things, so I could bring that to my characters."
Though he took classes, the Manhattan native is uncertain of the value of classical theater education for actors working in film. "In my school, the programs were very geared towards the history of theater, like Greek tragedies and comedy of manners - and I never really saw those people working! They were great guys and girls, but they never worked! I always wanted to work." For a show like The Sentinel, "Method acting is hopeless, but you welcome really emotional moments, because it's a chance to show your chops. My character is mostly just yelling 'LOOK OUT! Get out of the way! Do you smell that?' and stuff like that."
How, then, did he gear up for some of the unusual situations Blair Sandburg found himself in? "The easiest way for me is just to try to be there and let whatever the dialogue is dictate how I should feel. If I'm talking about [Jim] and I going our separate ways, that's kind of a traumatic thing, and that may come out sad or it may come out aggressive - it really depends on how he's taking it in. I never have a set way of how I'm going to act when I get to work. There's not much rehearsal time, and that can be good or bad - doing theater rehearsal is wonderful because you get only one shot at it, but when you're doing it on film, it's give and take, and sometimes it's good to just wing it, to catch the magic."
Unlike some actors who prefer to watch the daily takes and never catch their own shows, Maggart watches all the episodes, albeit on videotape since he's often working when they air. "I don't watch the dailies because that's not what gets into the final product. That tape represents my work, my heart and my soul for two weeks of my life, every one of those tapes. So of course I want to see it. A lot of people say the experience is right when you're doing it, that's the acting - and that's great when you're on stage, that's true - but this tape here is a culmination of all those moments, so hell, yeah, I want to see it."
"I stopped watching dailies because I was critiquing myself during the process," he continues, noting the edited final product was "always better than I think they'll be. There are editors that should get awards. Should-have could-have would-have will kill me, so it's fine, I did it exactly the way I was supposed to."
Maggart says the writers took input from him about individuals scenes, but he never had any desire to pitch stories, nor to write scripts. "I'll give a suggestion for my character if I don't agree with what's down on paper, but the decision is theirs, obviously." Because he's always been athletic, he asked to be allowed to do as much stunt work as insurance and union regulations would permit. "I just get hit in the head with a gun every time I turn around, I get knocked out! So I'm rolling my face in the frame."
Ironically, Maggart isn't particularly a fan of the action genre, nor of television in general. "The Seinfeld ending was the first Seinfeld I had ever seen; I never ever watched the show during its run," he admits. "Feature-wise, no question, when I was growing up, the mobster movies were always the ones I wanted to see. Goodfellas, The Godfather, anything with a New York Italian accent!" He would very much like to work with Pacino or De Niro, though NYPD Blue is also high on his wish list. "I read for that show a thousand times and never got cast - I was always so close! It was always last callbacks and it would always go some other direction."
So where would he like to go, post-Sentinel? "I've thought about that, and I'd like to do more small supporting roles - I don't want to just jump in, I don't know how comfortable I would feel trying to carry a movie right away. I would rather do supporting roles with bigger-name actors, just to learn more. I've always wanted to work with Meryl Streep. Nicholas Cage, too, he's wonderful. There's a couple of things I would have been able to read for before hiatus, but they've since gone - one was a Northern Ireland accent they wanted me to do, and I said, I'll give it a shot, but they actually cast someone from Northern Ireland, which I thought was better."
Maggart describes his theater experience as "a lot of coffeehouse shows," including touring with an improvisational group. "I love the immediate gratification or immediate destruction of your performance when you're onstage. I've always been one to be the loudest, at parties or wherever, try to steal the spotlight." Still, his first experience with a convention crowd left him a little bit awed. "Wow! It was kind of intimidating," he exclaims of the Vancouver-area con. "It was fun, but it was my first time with something like that, and this was on a small scale - I can't even imagine what the cast from X-Files goes through. That's got to be overwhelming. Everybody was really nice, nobody was asking weird questions - not too much about my personal life."
Now it's back to auditions, which doesn't particularly distress the actor, though he misses the cast and crew of the show which kept him working for more than three years. While fans rally in an effort to convince UPN to resolve the cliffhanger ending, the fallen hero is already looking forward to his next role.