Human Target – Mark Valley Interview

I’m not exactly sure why, but Human Target is working for me. There’s a certain conversation happening right now in the entertainment industry, and the general idea seems to be that I (those sufficiently similar to me in age and/or some alleged group of those younger than me with inexplicable tastes lacking the required nostalgia) am desperately longing for people to remake all the biggest bits of cheese from the 80’s, but remaking them by going in a far more serious (or at least expensive) direction.

This has been going on for quite some time, but the big, new installments are obviously Clash of the Titans and The A-Team.

Sometimes these are fun, enjoyable trips down memory lane, which apparently have some value to audiences to young to appreciate the reference, but sometimes they’re The Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky & Hutch, or Charlie’s Angels.

Human Target, in a sense that is perhaps unique to my own sensibilities, is looking at things the other way.

Sure, all those shows are easy to make fun of now, and they really were just cornball slices of inanity most of the time, but you know what, people watched them enough for them to become integral parts of pop culture. Maybe there’s another sense in which we can update them.

Human Target has parachuting out the back of bullet trains, crazy fight scenes aboard upside-down jetliners, and motorcycles that inexplicably fly over obstacles in truly ludicrous ways, but it’s a fun kind of crazy. It also has something else that kept people tuning into those shows from the past, cool and interesting characters. It’s not Shakespeare, but it isn’t altogether as simple as its more goofy ancestors either.

It’s a good time, and the combination of main players Mark Valley, Chi McBride, and Jackie Earle Haley is working out very well. I hope more people will give it a try as its season soon comes to a close.

Mark Valley, who plays main character Christopher Chance, was available for a teleconference interview recently, and shared his thoughts on the show and his character. In the interest of a mild warning and full disclosure of what you’re getting into, this is a slightly dated interview owing to the fact that SXSW wreaked havoc on my calendar.

Enjoy.

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It seems like the next couple of episodes deal with Christopher’s history with women. Can you talk about that, and maybe since you’ve done so many awesome things so far this year, what do you have in store for the finale?

M. Valley Yes, the next episode you’re going to see on the 10th is, yes, on “Salvage and Reclamation” Chance goes back to visit one of his old flames because he’s got a case and someone he has to protect and some things they have to find, and that one’s pretty fascinating. That’s starring Leonor Varela, who’s just a fantastic Chilean actress that came and did that.

That episode is a little more of a stand-alone episode, and it does give you a glimpse into Chance’s past, into his past with this particular woman. You get an idea of what his previous jobs might have been, but it doesn’t really, it’s more of a stand-alone episode than something that kind of ties all the rest of the characters together historically. The next episode after that is going to be a little more of, “Baptiste” is going to explain a little bit more about Chance’s past. Not much about his past with women, but it’s going to change more about his past.

So what’s in store for the season finale?

M. Valley Well, in the season finale, Baptiste comes back. Amy Acker shows up and plays this one character who is very pivotal in Chance’s past in that she was sort of the catalyst for his ultimate change into becoming Christopher Chance. Lee Majors is in that episode. Armand Assante plays Chance’s old boss. There’s a couple of major confrontations there. I think, what’s fun, is Jackie Earle Haley and I have our first fight, even though it takes place in the past, but you can see the roots of their relationship and why they have such a trusting bond as well.

So, when did you realize that you had lightning in a bottle with the chemistry between you and Jackie Earle Haley and Chi McBride. When did they come into this project? I’m sure you probably got the script first and then they were added. I was wondering if you could explain that.

M. Valley Yes, I got the script first. I was the first one cast, I know that. I think we all realized that we had something pretty amazing when we were shooting in downtown Vancouver, the pilot scene, I think it was the very end of the episode, it wasn’t the end of shooting but it was the end of the episode, and rarely are the three of us together in any episode, but in this instance we were. We were getting ready to set up a shot and we were sitting in the back, all sitting in our chairs, and the three of us started talking as actors do, and just realized, my God, we all come from completely different places in terms of parts of the country and experience in the industry and so forth, and the three of us just kind of clicked.

The thing that I liked about both of them is that I was just really kind of curious about them and wanted to get to know them better and thought both of them were really kind of interesting. And I think that the three of us sort of had that feeling about each of us, which is kind of cool and rare as well. And I think that kind of shows up on the screen. And maybe viewers will also want to wonder, how did they meet up, or how did they come together, and what was their history?

How much has your military training helped you with acting, especially with Human Target?

M. Valley It’s funny, because they lay out all these weapons and they talk about the ammunition and so forth and its effectiveness, and, you know, we worked with weapons obviously in the Army, and that made it, but it’s actually something you can pick up pretty quickly. I’d say there are other aspects of it that are similar. The hand-to-hand fighting, I learned a little bit of that in the Army, and boxing and wrestling and that sort of thing.

But I think for the most part it’s working as team, working as a team under extraneous circumstances with a limited amount of time to get something done. That’s probably the biggest experience I got from the Army that applies to this job because we’re really making a movie in eight days, and that’s an awful lot of work that has to be done. So, yes, it’s sort of that kind of teamwork and camaraderie that I experienced in the Army that seems to be showing up again here in this show.

So far, you’ve had cases in L.A., Canada, Russian Embassy, the airplane, and now South America. Is there anywhere in particular that you’d like to see Chance travel?

M. Valley I would like to see Chance go to Paris. I’d like to see him go to London. We do go to London in one episode. What else? Africa, I think, would be kind of an interesting place. There’s all kinds of places he could go. Somewhere down south, maybe Texas. I’d love to do an episode that was sort of a quasi-Western in some way. That would be interesting.

There’s Vietnam and all these other places in Asia that he could go and there’s things going on in China. That would be interesting. You name it. Well, there’s the second season, there.

 

What were some of the acting challenges you found first stepping into this role, and then how have you seen the “Chance” character grow and develop in the episodes you’ve shot so far?

M. Valley It’s funny, when I first read the script, it is based on a comic book character, and there are certain things that comic book characters can get away with that regular actors can’t really do that’s that believable. One is to hold a pose for a long period of time. Like, to look concerned like you’re in a comic book. So, there was that. It sort of had a feel of a comic book so there was a challenge of trying to find a way to bring a real person into this. It wasn’t written in any sort of hyper reality. I mean, John’s writing is very, sort of, there is like a kind of casual thing that can exist in it, so it’s not that hard to kind of do it, it’s not complete melodrama or anything. That was the biggest challenge. Reading it and enjoying it like it could have been a comic book and then thinking, okay, wait a second, this is me now. How am I going to do this? It’s kind of hard to explain but that was the biggest one. And maybe picturing all the other people who could do better at it and thinking, okay, I’m going to do this? Wait a second.

As far as the development of Chance, how have you seen your character grow and develop in the episodes you’ve shot so far?

M. Valley Well, personally, just me, the way I’ve grown is that I’ve become much more comfortable with some of the action and fighting scenes and the way Chance’s relationship with the other characters is starting to become a little bit more clear. His relationship with Jackie and with Chi is becoming a little big more clear to me. The way Chance is developing? I’d say that he is starting to come to terms with his past. He made a big change in his life about 6-8 years prior to the present that we have now on the show. And I think the reality of why he made that choice and the repercussions that it’s going to have is starting to come back to him, so essentially his baggage is starting to arrive. I think he did about six years ago and Chance is having to open up some old wounds and some old changes that he went through and just to see exactly how that affects him now.

Do you think Human Target has found its groove and if so, was there a particular moment when you felt like it really clicked for you?

M. Valley I think when it really clicked for me was probably the episode “Rewind” where we didn’t have a lot of locations and didn’t have a lot of big set pieces going on. It all took place in an airplane and you got an idea of, okay, very simply, this is something that has to get done in this plane. And it was broken down and all our characters were – well, Chi and I were in the same location shooting as well, which is kind of cool. I think that episode ended the pace that we came up with and that we realized we could work at. I think it was the second or third episode we did. The pace that we came up with and the shorthand that we all developed with the crew and with the cameras and with the actors – it was pretty amazing the result that came out of that. And then we realized oh, wow, this is what we can do. We can make a movie in eight days. Uh-oh, we have ten more to do. That was probably the one point where I realized, oh wow, we’ve got something here.

Did you have a vision for what you expected the show to be when you first came on board, and has it lived up to that?

M. Valley I didn’t have a pretty clear vision of how it would be. I’d been on shows before that have been new and with this one, not only is the show new and Chi is kind of new to the – I’m new to this genre – even the show runners are sort of new to this, so I went into it with an open mind thinking this is going to be exciting as to how it’s going to come together. And it has, and in the best of … it is sort of a collaboration in some ways where everybody’s influence is, kind of, if not heard, then it’s felt and it’s reacted to and the end product is something that everybody feels a part of. So, that’s kind of what I went into. I think it’s exceeded – it’s a little more tiring than I thought it would be. Actually, no, it’s the other way around. I’m not quite as exhausted as I thought I would be. Does that make any sense?

How do you balance comedy and drama on the show? Particularly in your performance as well, you always seem to bring the humor to parts where other people wouldn’t, but it doesn’t get too serious either. How do you guys manage that?

M. Valley That’s something that I really love to do is to find the light moments. A lot of it depends on the scene and the person you’re working with and where the jokes can come in or where it seems appropriate, where it doesn’t seem appropriate. There’s a few elements that come into that. And, of course, there’s the way the scene is written as well. I generally prefer to – maybe it’s my background on a soap opera where there were no jokes at all. It was all just complete melodrama and I wanted parts of it to be funny so I just remember searching and combing through it and saying, “well, there’s this moment or that moment.” It might have been my experience on a soap where I was just so hungry for something to be funny that I developed, maybe, a perceptive eye for it.

What’s it like to play a lead character when you don’t have all the pieces of the background? Is that more difficult for you at all?

M. Valley Well, it’s definitely easier to have some of the pieces. It’s definitely somewhat of an advantage to have a little more of an idea because as actors, we do create characters and create things and create things in our imagination but ultimately we’re an interpretive artist and we’re interpreting what the writers have created. Some people will say that doesn’t matter. If it’s not in the script, it doesn’t really exist so don’t make a big deal about it, but I think in television it’s a little bit different. Yes, it would be nice to know – there’s two sides of that. It would be nice to know it ahead of time because then, maybe I could plan a scene or have that in mind if this might have happened before, but it’s pretty exciting to find it out as you go along with the rest of the viewers. So, not only are you working on a show and acting in it, but it’s also fun to be experiencing it as a viewer as well and finding out things as they reveal themselves.

Was there any particular scene that didn’t come across quite the way you thought it would?

M. Valley I have to say that the – let’s see, no, but there was a scene that did probably come off the way I thought it would, which is the one with the spider in the back of the wagon. I didn’t think it was funny when we did it, and I don’t think it’s funny now. The spider gag, I just don’t think it worked, I hate to break it to you. Other scenes that have turned out differently? I think there was one with Jackie Earle Haley that I had the other night, where Chance decides not to – well, I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody, but there’s a real important, kind of flashback to a scene between Chance and Guerrero where they’re fighting each other to the death, almost, and you find out a lot about their past and that relationship. That scene ended up being much more intense but moving as well than I imagined it to be.

How much of the comics did you actually read in preparing for the role because, obviously, the show is very different?

M. Valley  I read about four or five of the previous comics, the original DC comics, and then I read all of the Vertigo ones, the graphic novel ones.

Obviously the difference is, sort of, the loss of the master of disguise thing. Is that ever going to make an appearance, do you think?

M. Valley Nobody’s ruled it out. Nobody’s left it out there. I know John’s attitude was like, let’s start the show where you get to know the central character before we start dressing him up and having him come out as Dabney Coleman. So, that was his idea. Chance does have an aptitude with languages and my theory with that is he doesn’t use any more than is necessary. I mean, he doesn’t wear a mustache or wear glasses or anything if it’s not really necessary, or really become that other person unless it’s absolutely necessary to do that. He’s been able to get away with it by playing somebody close to them or somebody near them or so forth, because those rubber masks can get really warm. Yes, that was an adaptation, I think, but that’s not to rule that out. I look sort of like Thomas Jane. If that show on HBO doesn’t work … episode, I could be him from a distance, you know.

You were talking about the rigors of being on action shows. It seems, in a way, that you’ve built your way up there because you played an ex-Marine on Boston Legal, and Jack was always on the run. And, of course, Keen Eddie was kind of an adventure, sort of, and Fringe. But what I was wondering is, if you’d modeled Chance at all on any particular character, actor, seems like almost a throwback to the old ’60s,’70s, like Clint Eastwood – the strong, silent type.

M. Valley You know, it’s funny, with Chance as a lawyer, I sort of feel like he could be Brad Chase. There’s sort of this coterie of actors’ characters that I’ve played that I could draw on for Chance to use. Sometimes I have, and sometimes I haven’t, to any meaningful effect, done that. But, yes, I’ve sort of based him on – sometimes I think, how would I act if I were in these circumstances and if I could be whoever I wanted to be? How would I deal with it? And I use that. I don’t know how much those kind of stars influence me. It’s amazing. I could go back and watch Die Hard or Indiana Jones and you see certain moments that these guys did, and you realize, oh my God, that was something. Or watching Lee Majors on the Six Million Dollar Man I think, oh wow, that’s where I get that little thing. You never really know, there’s so many different influences, I guess. I base it in some ways by a friend of mine that I knew when I was in the Army, in some ways. I knew one guy who kind of had this sort of attitude. And those are things that go into the mix when I first start building a character and then it kind of gets on its own feet and it’s moving along. But those have been my influences, I suppose.

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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