|Chris Demetral: Not So Secret Adventures|
Wanted: Handsome young actor to portray the father of science fiction -- while he was still wet behind the ears. Must be willing to be hijacked in dark alleyways every other episode, allow villains to suck his brains out through his eyes and never get the girl. Must be passionate, idealistic, and something of a goody-two-shoes. Naiveté a real plus.
We don't know if the producers of The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne actually sent out a casting call like that, but that's what they got when they hired Chris Demetral to play Jules Verne. At Dragoncon 2001 Demetral and his wife, Jana, talked to Crescent Blues about his passion for Jules, his fans and a far less talkative past life.
Crescent Blues: How did you get the part of Jules Verne?
Chris Demetral: Like every other actor, I went through the audition process you have to go through. I came very close to not trying out for the part. It's actually Jana's doing, because I had read three scripts and didn't think Jules was anything like me, and I didn't want to waste the other cast members' time or my own. Thank God I did it -- talk about little decisions you make that change everything. I tried out in Montreal and the audition included sword fighting as well as acting. I tried out, got the part.
Crescent Blues: Had you read Jules Verne's fiction before the audition?
Chris Demetral: No, actually, I hadn't. I started to read his work after I got the part and realized that in the American translation they ended up toning down all of Verne's works and ripping up all kinds of technical information and meticulous notes that Verne liked to do. I felt that [the American versions were] almost a disservice to readers.
Crescent Blues: Jana, what made you think that Chris was right for the part?
Jana Demetral: I thought Jules Verne was idealistic and passionate and Chris is all of those things, and I always thought he could pull it off. I like Jules Verne and I thought that he could capture that essence.
Chris Demetral: See the great stuff that happens when you listen to your wife.
Crescent Blues: We've heard some rumors about pranks on the set.
Chris Demetral: There are a lot of running jokes, mostly off color, so I can't drill the other cast mates without them knowing. But we like to have fun and a lot of the common ones are: "let's see who can make the other one crack up first." And when you have someone with a rubber face like Michel [Cortemanche] -- and Francesca [Hunt] and Michael [Praed] -- it's very easy.
Crescent Blues: What was your favorite prank?
Chris Demetral: I was Mr. Clothespin Man. I would take the clothespins that they used to hang the cels up and pin them to various crew and cast members' backs. Sometimes I'd make smiley faces or constellations of the stars and then take a Polaroid(tm) of it when I was done. It's just one of the little fun games we did to break up the monotony because, unfortunately, the old saying of hurry up and wait is very true on the set.
Crescent Blues: In your other roles, you didn't really do a lot of special effects. What are the differences to acting to nothing as opposed to acting to another actor?
Chris Demetral: It's much more helpful to actually have something to look at, and it's great if you can actually see the location. I've used so much grid screen, especially when we're flying, because there's nothing there. But fortunately, with the monsters there was usually something there, except for the alien [from Crusader in the Crypt]. And then we had to use a prop guy off stage with a broom to help us keep our eye lines consistent. To tell you the truth, I think acting is making believe anyway, so really [acting to a grid screen] is just a deeper level of make believe. You're pretending that you're flying, so even though we couldn't see what we were supposed to be flying over, it's just another extension.
Crescent Blues: How did you picture Jules Verne at the start of the series, and if you go into a second season, where do you see him going?
Chris Demetral: I thought it was really important to show him as a hero with a lot of faults, that he wasn't perfect. Not like other characters, who know all the answers right off the bat. I wanted to make Jules what he was at that time, a young writer out of law school. He's very clever and very curious about the world and technology -- what it could lead to, both good and bad. But Verne learned early in life about the positive side of technology. It wasn't until later in his life that he started to see the darker side and it started to appear that technology had become something more than he had planned.
Cresent Blues: So you see him becoming a little less innocent and a little less idealistic?
Chris Demetral: Yeah, I didn't want him to be an Indiana Jones type that comes knocking on your door. I didn't want him to be a very good fighter at the beginning. I think it would be fun in the second season (and in subsequent seasons) to show that he is learning and that he is becoming a better sword fighter and that Passpartout has taught him some more fighting styles and tricks and stuff. I agree that it would be nice to see [Jules] lose a bit of that innocence about technology and start to see some of the darker sides. I always try to characterize what a character will be like in subsequent seasons, even if there aren't any. I think it helps the actor and makes things easier. Plus, it always keeps you thinking, because you have someplace to go.
Crescent Blues: The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne is the first high definition television (HDTV) series. What did you like best about working in HD?
Chris Demetral: I think the thing that I like best about HD is that it allows you to tape much more of the takes without stopping. Film is obviously very expensive. Tape is not, and if you blow a line or an actor drops a prop, you can just go back four lines and start over. You end up having these really, really long takes, and it's fantastic because you can stay in the role, you can stay in the character without all the cuts, reset, relight and, possibly re-slate, and just keep going. I hope that it shows in the show because you don't have all the start stop start stop.
Crescent Blues: So it really is actor friendly?
Chris Demetral: Yes, except for the fact that it is so very clear. If you watch our show in the HD, you can actually see some of the lace lines in the actors wigs and where I cut myself shaving. Makeup will have to be changed. You just can't get away with all the tricks that they used to. It's 21st century and more power to it.
Crescent Blues: We're all hoping there will be another season of The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne. Has everyone said that they'd all try to come back if there is?
Chris Demetral: Yes, all of the actors.
Crescent Blues: Michael Praed, Francesca Hunt…
Chris Demetral: And Michel.
Crescent Blues: We're all hoping that Michel Courtemanche will come back. He really knocked the fans out.
Chris Demetral: Michel's a big teddy bear, he's so jovial. You want to hug the guy all the time. He has such a magnetic personality.
Crescent Blues: Can you tell us a little bit about Michel's ad lib episode?
Chris Demetral: Oh, when he was fighting the magnets?
Crescent Blues: That was great.
Chris Demetral: Michel's so in touch with his physicality, and he's ambidextrous. Like the scene with the nunchuks, he's the only actor that didn't have to rehearse because he can just pick it up. He probably could have been a star athlete if he had decided to go into it. Some people just have that natural ability.
Crescent Blues: It seems that a lot of people started watching the show because of Michael Praed. He has such an enormous fan base.
Chris Demetral: That's great.
Crescent Blues: And many think he is eye candy. Which, by the way, you are too.
Chris Demetral: [Blushing.] Thank you.
Crescent Blues: The bottom line is you all were great, the whole ensemble was great. However, a lot of the fans were a little bit nervous about the first show.
Chris Demetral: I agree.
Crescent Blues: But then the camaraderie kicked in, and it became obvious that there were connections between all of the cast.
Chris Demetral: Yeah, we were friends off the set and that helped.
Crescent Blues: Personally, it was just interesting in watching how the characters worked out. Jules was so much fun because he was sort of like the ultimate "geek" alert: "Oh look, he's going to go down that dark alley again;" then "Thank God, he jumped in and did something;" to "Way to go, Jules!"
Chris Demetral: See, that was always my plan and a lot of people after seeing the first episode didn't like Jules because he was too weak and I kept telling them "Fair enough, but give him a chance because he changes, trust me." He evolves, give him a shot, he's not like your typical character. That is just the way he is then. If a character doesn't move, change, evolve, grow, learn something, he's boring.
Crescent Blues: Good call, because Jules wouldn't have had that kind of experience as a young student. After all, how many flying ships complete with beautiful secret agents, wealthy raconteurs and their lovable valets appear in the average law student's life?
Chris Demetral: [Grins.] Yeah, it's rare even in the 21st century.
Crescent Blues: You have a definite presence on the Web, a lot of direct contact with your fans, and you have one of the best celebrity Web sites I've seen.
Jana Demetral: Thank you!
Crescent Blues: How did you get involved with the Web? Did you sit down one day and say, "OK, I'm going to make a Web site"?
Chris Demetral: I love interaction with the fans. I feel honored to be working, and it's also a very humbling experience to have so many people care about me and my work. I wanted to have a unique relationship with the fans and a website is a great way to do it.
Crescent Blues: A lot of actors seem to be so afraid of the fans, why aren't you?