Peter

"As to taking heads, come on over, I am ready"
— Peter Wingfield on CompuServe, 9 March 1997

Wingfield @wingfieldfans.org Dr Helm

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Yahoo/TV Gen
12 August 1998

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On August 12, 1998, Peter logged in to Yahoo/TV Gen chatroom to spend a rare moment online chatting with fans about Highlander and his then-new series, Cold Squad.

Will you be appearing in Highlander: The Raven?

Peter: Difficult to answer at this stage. I have spoken with Panzer Davis about the possibility, and I may join the show when it transfers to Paris for an episode. Nothing is definite yet, but I would very much like to.

What is Cold Squad and how can we get to see it in the US?

Cold Squad is a cop show, detective series. The nearest parallel is probably NYPD Blue. I am playing an inspector brought in to smarten up the department. Very political, very ambitious, very slick. The show starts airing in Canada right now with my episodes starting in late September. And I understand that there has been interest from the States from several of the cable networks. At the moment, not definite, but it looks very likely that it will play in the States.

The TV awards, the Gemini Awards, the equivalent of the Emmy's in the States, and the show has been nominated for eight of those, that came out yesterday, so that's hot off the press. So that will make it much easier to see in the States and we're all very excited here.

Had you worked with a sword before Highlander?

Only in drama school. I did a lot of stage fighting in drama school. Most people do just a basic qualification in it as part of their training, but I did an advanced level exam. I had a friend who was also very interested in fighting so we did a lot of specialized fight work together. Then I left drama school and never used it for probably five years. And the great irony of Methos in Highlander is that he is a pacifist, and so initially it looked as if he hardly ever fights others. So I was really pleased when he started to get mean again!

How much of Methos did you devise? How much was the writers?

That's a hard one to answer. The initial idea for Methos was entirely the writers. But I was aware from their watching rushes of things I was doing, that they started to pick up things that I was doing with the character, and then started to write for that, for those traits. Which is one of the great things about a TV series. When it works well, the writers and the actor combine to make a character live, and that evolution happens naturally. I never sat down with the writers in a room and talked about the character. It just took on a life of its own.

Who was the prankster on the set?

Oh, definitely Adrian. Especially when Stan is around.

How difficult is the sword fighting to do on Highlander?

That varies depending on who you are fighting with. Fighting with someone who is very good, very accomplished, is much easier than fighting with someone who is nervous. So the fights with Adrian for example, even though they are much more difficult technically, they actually feel easier and certainly much safer. The hardest thing about fighting is when you fight with someone who is not very confident. And because of that you slow down your own reactions and fight more cautiously. And then when you see the film back, you don't look so good. It actually looks as if you also are not very accomplished.

Do you enjoy attending Highlander fan conventions?

Oh yes, very much. They are sometimes a bit frantic, and exhausting, but I enjoy them very much.

What is your ideal role to play?

Something completely different from the last role I played. I get bored very easily and consequently playing the same character over and over again is difficult for me.

Did you enjoy filming the episodes in Paris?

Oh yeah, we had a great time in Paris. I love being in Paris. It is a terrific energy to the city. And the French drive me completely crazy, but I love them.

What would you say was the most difficult episode of Highlander to do, physically or emotionally?

Probably "Methuselah's Gift." That was very uncomfortable territory to go into, because it was about facing the impending death of a loved one. Trying to save someone when you knew it was hopeless. Emotionally, that was a very tough episode. But also "Comes A Horseman" and "Revelation 6:8" was uncomfortable territory to visit, because it was very dark, bleak and soulless.

What was your opinion of Adrian Paul's directing skills? Did he let you get away with anything?

I actually think that Adrian is a very talented director, and I suspect we will see a lot more of his directing skills, now that he has left Highlander. I liked working with him very much and I think he brought out a lot of things in my acting that frequently, through laziness, I don't achieve. Adrian works very, very hard himself, and he's very demanding of the people around him when he directs. But I liked that very much, I liked the challenge.

Had the series continued, what directions would you have wanted to take Methos?

I would have done a lot more flashbacks for Methos. Because I think there is so much unexplored territory in him. Everything from ancient Chinese dynasties to Shakespearean England to Cleopatra's Egypt. And the Romans. And etc., etc., etc.

How hard was it filming the last episode, knowing the show was over?

Very emotional, particularly since Adrian was not in the final episode we filmed because we filmed the "Indiscretions" episode last. So, the final day of filming ever on Highlander: The Series was me and Jim Byrnes, and after the very, very last shot there were producers and directors and many, many guests on set, and champagne flowing and celebrations. But not the actor that had carried the show for six years. It was very bizarre and felt very empty. And Jim and I both shed a lot of tears. We had a great kick filming that episode, but it felt like the episode of a different show.

How difficult is it for you to separate yourself from the characters you play?

That's very variable. Sometimes characters stay with me long after the filming ends. Methos is certainly an example of that. Sometimes characters have gone before filming ends, which can be a little disturbing. But I'm aware that sometimes I get very deeply involved in playing a character.

I played a psychotic bodybuilder in a film in Spain, and for the three months that I was shooting that, I was weight training every day, being very conscious of what I ate, and physically I became quite different. But also emotionally, spiritually, I am told by my friends, that I changed. I became a much more aggressive and less thoughtful person during that filming. By contrast, I played a Welsh poet in a documentary-drama. And I know during the filming of that, I became a much quieter, gentler person.

Not a question, but we just want to let you know, we love you, so keep working in the USA some, OK?

Love to, love to, love to!

How much improvisation went on in the scripts?

Quite a lot. More in some episodes than others. And certainly more in scenes where Lizzie, Adrian, Jim and Stan were all around together. Basically, the bigger the scene, the more playing around there was.

Have you ever surfed the web to see the pages dedicated to you?

Once several years ago I surfed the web with a friend of mine in England. And I found the whole experience so shocking that I haven't been back since! It's really peculiar to me to be able to type my name into a computer and have it send me details about my personal life, with photographs! So I don't often do it.

Has anything really funny ever happened on the set?

Yeah, Jim Byrnes nearly killed Dennis Berry once. In the "Indiscretions" episode. Dennis pissed Jim off so much during the course of one day of filming, that he got angrier and angrier and started waving the plastic gun that he uses in the scene. And I swear, if it had been a real gun, he'd have shot him.

Do you like doing Shakespeare or other classics?

I did a lot of Shakespeare in my drama training. And a couple of the plays I think are fantastically good. But I had kind of overkill in England with Shakespeare and went right off it. But Valentine Pelka has been trying to win me back to Shakespeare recently, and I am starting to feel ready to revisit the Bard. I think it's frequently done very badly in England. Every school, every amateur drama society, every mediocre touring theater company, they all do Shakespeare, because he's out of copyright.

What was your favorite thing about the Methos character?

I think it was that I never knew what he was going to do next. And that's tremendously exciting. To be playing a character who the writers could casually drop in as a backstory that he was one of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is unbelievably thrilling. I never got bored playing Methos because he was different every time I met him.

When did you film in Paris? No matter where you were it looked cold.

It was, let me tell you, it was! Generally, filming was October, November through till March. And northern France gets colder than any place I've ever been. Because it's very flat but also relatively close to the sea, so the air is damp. And the coldness gets right into your bones.

How do you prepare for a role?

I watch movies a lot. I will sometimes watch a whole movie just for the way an actor says one line, if that feels like that could give a center to the character I'm researching. I use music a good deal for particular emotions or feelings, because I find music is a very quick and accurate shortcut for me to different periods of my life.

For specific characters I will research their job or the place they come from or their accent. If it's possible, I go to the place that they are from. And I find that when I'm starting a new character everything, absolutely everything, triggers things in my mind. So the influences may be newspaper articles or adverts on the sides of buses. Photographic images. I try to be open to pretty much everything in the early stages of playing a character. I'm trying to go through them all in my mind.

Which flashback was the most interesting/challenging to film in Highlander?

I suppose I have to say the Horsemen flashbacks. For several reasons. The main one being that I had to learn to ride a horse very rapidly. And then having learned to ride it, make it go forward when I wanted it to, and stop precisely on a mark, so that the camera tracking shot, which had to take in an eagle on a perch and a snake wrapped around a pillar, and various vultures and horses and other animals that had no interest in staying where they had been put, could all end up in this beautifully framed shot. But it was great fun doing those flashbacks. Especially the rock 'n' roll hairdo, and the blue face painting.

What was the most challenging about playing a 5000-year-old man?

Having people take you seriously! I don't know. I tried never to play being 5000 years old. I tried to play being very contemporary and let everyone else talk about the 5000 years. And hoped that the audience would then accept that aspect of the character. Because Methos very rarely talks about his past. He talks about the present and about philosophies, ways of living.

Any chance you and Jim Byrnes will be in Highlander 4?

I am led to believe, a very good chance. Always assuming Highlander 4 actually gets made. My understanding of the situation is that the drafts they are now writing for Highlander 4 have both Jim and I in them. But I am always skeptical of such suggestions until beyond where I've seen the script and I'm in it, beyond where I've seen the contract and I've signed it, but actually to the point where I walk out of the movie theater and I'm actually on the screen. That's when I believe it will happen. But the word is that the movie will start shooting late this year or early next year and that Jim and I will be in it.

Do you study much history on the side?

None at all. One of my great regrets is that I gave up history at school at the first available opportunity. And I did that because it was taught so badly and I found it boring. But now I'm fascinated by it. And I think that's partly because I read historical stories now, because of my acting focus, with the sense of who the people might have been and how these great stories, great events, would have affected them personally. So history is much more alive to me now than it ever was in school.

Would you like to direct at some point in your career?

Yes, I would. But I wouldn't direct anything that I didn't feel totally passionate about. And that I thought I knew something about. I wouldn't direct a story that I didn't feel I needed to tell because directing for theater or particularly for film takes up all of your time and all of your focus.

An actor can make a movie in three months. A director is prepping the movie for longer than that. And could then be editing the piece for a year after. There are a couple of stories that I would like to make films of. But I would only tackle them if I was willing to write off a year or more to focus on them.

Where does the sword go when showering?

Same place as the soap!

Would you ever want to be Immortal?

Right at the moment, it sounds like a great idea. But I was intrigued by Jim Byrnes and Roger Daltry in their Q&A at Anaheim, both saying that they thought that would be torture. And I suspect that there would come a point where it really was a burden, constantly making attachments to people who grew old and died. And left you trapped. But I have to say, right at the moment, it seems pretty appealing. I guess it always does when life is good.

Re: Methos: You played him as very mysterious and as if he had an agenda. If he were real, would you think that he had some nefarious scheme up his sleeve, or did you just put that on for effect?

I always felt that Methos wasn't telling me everything. Which may sound a bit strange, since after all, he was just a character I was playing. But I never felt completely in control of Methos. I felt like he knew everything about me, but that he was very careful not to let me know everything about him. I would be loathe to turn my back on him, whether he had a sword in his hand or not.

If you were not acting, what would you do?

People have, on many occasions, asked me what my advice to an actor would be, and I always say, if you can do something else, you should. If I was able to do something else, then I wouldn't be acting now. There is something in it that excites me and fulfills me and challenges me and I like it. So it's hard to imagine doing anything else. If I could think of something else to do that made me feel as deeply fundamentally satisfied, then I'd do it. Because it would probably be easier.

In closing, I'd just like to say, Do you know what time it is where you are? You should be in bed by now! Cold Squad is filming through to the end of November. And after that, everything is back up in the air! Back to being a regular actor looking for work.

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