Interview: Ray Wise: The Devil You Know
by R.J. Carter
Published: March 16, 2009
It's high noon on Friday the thirteenth, and I've got the Devil on the phone.
Any other time this might give a writer cause for concern. But the Devil in this case is Ray Wise, the face and force behind the diabolical tempter on the CW series, Reaper -- so I shouldn't have anything at all to worry about.
Part game show host, part used car salesmen, Wise's Devil makes for a perfectly charming fallen angel who relishes torturing Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison) whose soul he owns, and whom he tasks with collecting escaped souls from Hell.
The villain is, notoriously, the best role to play, and it certainly seems like you're enjoying yourself.
You pull off such a great bad guy -- like Leland Palmer in Twin Peaks or Hal Gardner in 24. Do you think casting directors see something in your personality that leads you toward these kind of roles?
I don't know. I think I may have a certain look, but I think it's more that I also have elements of my personality that are deceptive, and deceptively friendly. In other words, the bad guy who seems like a good guy, and I think that kind of a presentation makes it difficult to really know about the ultimate motivation of a character. It's hard to spot. I don't know quite how to explain it except that I don't think it's any elements of my own personality, because I'm basically a good guy. (Chuckles).
Could you share some of your initial reactions when you were approached to play the Devil in a comedy series?
When I got the script, I loved it. I thought it was fresh and different, and the writing was just superb, and I wanted very much to play the character -- never dreaming that I would ever play the Devil in anything.
I showed up at the audition for the producers, and I did this little scene about cooking chicken fried steak for Sam, and they all had smiles at the end of it, and I think that they thought they'd found their Devil. They had seen probably about a hundred or so actors for the part, and I came in at the end of the process -- and I was the one that they wanted, so that's how it all began.
Any other villain after playing the Devil would have to be a step down, but I understand that Dracula is still a part you'd like to take on.
Yes, always, since I was a kid. I have a first edition of Bram stoker's Dracula, and I read that book as a ten, eleven year old and became enthralled with the whole mythology of the Dracula character. I enjoyed the Hammer films, and even some of the later Draculas -- Frank Langella's and a few others -- but I have never really thought that they captured the Stoker book completely enough. I liked Coppola's "Dracula" with Gary Oldman, but even so it wasn't the Dracula that's in the book, and I've always wanted to play that role. And being half Romanian myself, I feel a kinship with what goes on in Transylvania.
In the first season of Reaper, your character had a romantic interest for a while which kicked off an amusing mini-arc about the "Devil's daughter." Would you like to do more scenes like that as the devilish Don Juan, maybe with more of your character's progeny show up?
Oh yes! I would love for that to happen. The more beautiful girls that show up, the better I would like it, I think. I think the show could benefit from that, and I feel that the character of the Devil is very prolific, and he's been mixing it up here on the planet Earth since the beginning of time, and it's quite possible that he has girlfriends all over the place.
In this week's episode (Tuesday, March 17), you really get to play up the role of 'tempter,' as you head up an AA meeting with somewhat questionable advice. Do you ever get a script where you see some of these side-ventures like that, and say, "Oh my God, that's just evil!"
(Laughs) You know, I never think of it as evil, but I always look at it from a more humorous point of view. I see the humor in the situation, and I try to make light of it and take advantage of that humorous aspect of it. So I never really see it as evil, but I suppose you could see it that way.
It's "funny evil."
Right, "funny evil."
Having the show where the Devil is this real character, and there are demons regularly running around, this implies the presence -- or at least the possibility of the presence -- of the players on the other side: angels. Might Sam be facing down some halos in his future?
Well, I think that if that's not the case, then I certainly think it would be a good idea, yeah. I see no reason why we shouldn't bring some angels into the mix and really have the old time conflict going -- the angels in heaven and the fallen angels in hell, battling it out here on Earth, I think that certainly some great side stories could come out of that.
With Sam trying to do "good" while working for the Devil -- so how could someone be good and work against angels at the same time?
There's a fine line between good and bad. Actually, they're both sides of the same coin -- without the bad, there can be no good, by definition. So I think that even some of the things Sam has to do that might appear to be bad or evil -- or even some of the things the Devil does that might appear to be bad or evil -- always have the good aspects of it come out. It's not all black and white, it seems to me.