Actor Stephen Manley recently spoke to us about his genre roles, currently appearing in “Ghosthunters” and forthcoming “Rogue Warrior : Robot Fighter” he kindly agreed to chat to us and give us the skinny on those, as well as his unusual methods of rehearsing for his roles, his appearance in Star Trek 3 : The Search for Spock and about Pon-Farring with Trekkies…
Stephen, thankyou very much for talking to us. Now, your most recent genre role has been the film “Ghosthunters”, from Asylum pictures, could you tell us a bit about that?
Of course, I play the character Dr. Henry Tanner. A genius scientist who has designed a machine that can track a ghost and capture it in a “Containment Chamber”. A masked killer named “ The Night Stalker”, has claimed the lives of Dr. Tanners wife, daughter and several others, in an old Tudor mansion.
Following the funeral of his family Dr. Tanner leads his team of young scientists and a mystic, into the killers mansion to find the spirits of Martha and Gabi before they are lost forever. As a result, all hell literally breaks loose in the house.
The film is serious dramatic outing for “The Asylum” and has been met with some good praise from critics regarding the feel and tone of the film as well as all the wonderful and sincere performances from the great cast whom i have become so fond of.
How did you get the role?
I sent in a video audition which contained 2 character monologues written by the creator and director of the film, the talented filmmaker Pearry Teo. I was then called in for two in person follow up auditions to meet Pearry in person and also casting director Scotty Mullen.
Your website’s followers may be pleased to know that I search and strive while preparing for an audition or role and as such spent many hours with my grandfather, Stephen E. Soldi, who was himself an actor, at his mausoleum running lines.
You rehearsed your lines in your late grandfathers Mausoleum? I’ve heard of method acting before, but isn’t that a bit macabre?
I suppose so. I had been exposed to some techniques of “method” here and there growing up and working with some fantastic actors and actresses like Tommy Lee Jones and Zhora Lampert. However at the Beverly Hills Playhouse I really took to exploring the various “methods” to learn tools for crafting my performances.
I have been visiting Granpa Soldi quite a lot in the last few years and thought it a good opportunity to rehearse my “Ghosthunters” screen test scenes with him in that atmosphere. I had fantasized that perhaps he would materialize and say; “I think we are good, now let’s go and break a Leg!” Pearry Teo said to me laughing: “Fu#@ing Method actors!”
Your Grandfather, Stephen E. Soldi, I just looked him up on the IMDB. I notice from his credits, he turned up in a lot of popular movies back in the day, such as "Inherit the Wind" and "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World", but mostly as a background character?
Yes that is my grandfather. Following his discharge from the Army in WW1, he worked as a Circus Clown and stepped off the train in LA and was cast as a Roman Soldier in D.W. Griffith’s epic “ Intolerance”. I have his wardrobe test shot from that film. He stayed in the industry until 1966. He worked in silent films, talkies and television as both a bit and specialty player and as a stunt double.
Am I correct in assuming it was because of your grandfather that you got into acting in the first place?
Yes. After his wife passed in 1969, he lived with my mom, Dad and myself. I would spend hours with him looking at all the 8 by 10’s of him on sets from all the classic era’s of cinema. He was a German soldier, he was a Mexican Bandit, a cowboy etc.
He would talk of Lon Chaney Sr. spending time in his tent to makeup as Quasimodo then would open his own ancient fibre makeup case and show me antique sticks of nose putty and how collodian was used. How he crafted oriental eyes using “ pulls” made from tape, fish skin and putty in order to double for Warner Oland as Charlie Chan.
After a meeting at the Screen Actors Guild I was able to obtain a SAG card on a job and he was thrilled. But he instilled a sense of responsibility and craftsmanship in me that i carry to this day. Also many crew artisan“ old timers” who knew Stephen Soldi were still working thru the 1970’s and kept a good eye on me on his behalf and i learned things about their crafts that has been retained in my mental rolladex and still relevant to this day.
He was, and still is, my biggest role model. Maybe grandpa Soldi came into the “Ghosthunters” audition with me…I got the part!
You recently won a best actor award for your role in Ghosthunters at the Malibu West International film festival, was that a surprise?
Yes, an honour and quite a surprise. Any time you are recognised for your work as an artist it is a wonderful feeling. Very grateful, and grateful to work with such a talented cast.
You’re also appearing in the forthcoming post-apoc sci-fi thriller “Rogue Warrior : Robot Fighter” with Tracey Birdsall. Tell us a bit about that?
Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter is the creation of filmmaker Neil Johnson, who was the first ever “Digital” filmmaker. Neil has created many worlds for his films and i am honoured and pleased to be a part of the most ambitious film to date.
The beautiful Tracey Birdsall is the leading lady and heroine who sets out on a quest to fight the oppressive A. I. who threaten mankind with extinction. I play a creator of A.I. Dr. Ralston who along with William Kircher (of The Hobbit) and Daz Crawford (Agents of Shield), and actor Tim McGrath, help and guide Tracey on her Odyssey. It is a beautiful film that has many serene moments that reminded me of haunting science fiction masterpieces of the mid 1970’s in style and feeling.
"Rogue Warrior" had its premiere at the 'Action On Film Festival' in California in August, was it well received?
Very well received indeed. Tracey won a well deserved Best Actress Award as she put herself through physical and also emotional trials for her role, and Neil took many honours in several categories for his craftsmanship. I am so proud of them both. They have become family to me and I could not be happier. William and I have also become close and who could not think Daz is anything but cool! I also thought that Tim McGrath gave an outstanding performance
I understand that Sony have picked this one up for distribution, any idea when they are liable to release it?
A US theatrical release is pending soon, but I do not have the date as yet. Very thrilled.
You’ve appeared in many different types films during your career, but obviously, a lot of sci-fi fans are going to remember you from your role as the regenerated Teenage Spock from Star Trek 3. How did you get the part?
Leonard Nimoy (who was also the director on this film) had seen me in a short lived series created by a dear friend of mine, David Jacob’s, who was also the creator of Dallas. I had beautiful scenes with the wonderful actress of stage and cinema Zhora Lampert, where she played a warm gypsy fortune teller helping my character deal with the death of my mom.
Mr. Nimoy wanted me to bring similar traits to the Pon Farr sequences with Robin Curtis, who is also such a warm and giving actress. The three of us worked very hard to find a way to play the scenes and i will be forever grateful to Mr. Nimoy as he fought for the Pon Farr sequence to remain in the film as some executives thought it should be removed.
Were you a fan of Star Trek before auditioning?
I was a fan of the original series and very respectful of the fanbase. I am a fan of my own heroes like Indiana Jones and Snake Plissken, so I am always aware of how deep the impact of pop culture has on people.
With Star Trek 3 being helmed by Leonard Nimoy, was it strange being directed by the person you’re playing a younger version of?
Not at all. I had always thought Mr Nimoy a wonderful actor in his non Star Trek roles. His voice was incredible. I loved the “In Search Of…” TV series from the mid 1970’s. I was taken that he had seen my work and he needed some re-assurance from me that i would respect the Star Trek Fans and fan base universe as he had. I told him how important i realised it meant to him and that i would forever be mindful and respectful of that. Then, we were off and running to craft and create good work for him. I loved being directed by him and working with Robin. I was fortunate to get the “Lion’s Share” of the young Spock roles as there were 4 of us who played him. “Spock at 17” now known to my wonderful fans as “Pon Farr Spock”.
Must have been a bit of a blast getting to meet William Shatner and the Enterprise crew?
I didn’t get to meet them until my last day of filming on the Genesis planet set, when they all walked through the stage door. Mr Shatner was quite busy, but I did have a cup of coffee with De Forest Kelley at the Craft Service base. What a great moment, making conversation with this laconic, smooth talking and wonderful man who had been a cowboy in so many westerns. He almost had a phantom gun belt with six-shooter in a holster hanging on his hip. Fantastic. However, i knew many of the crew and stuntmen from my own years in the industry so it was a comfortable set for me.
I assume you spoke with Christopher Lloyd on set?
Oh yes and speaking of “method” acting, Mr Lloyd is very “method”. I saw him standing to one side of the Genesis Planet set in full makeup and costume and speaking his lines softly to himself while getting a sense of the environment so he could channel that into his performance.
The role was very important to him and he wanted to give it 100%. He was cordial, we introduced ourselves, and then i gave him his space knowing what he was doing to prepare. Though acting is not “hard work” in the sense of a demanding physical job, like working in the construction industry, the Art of acting is not easy and does demand unique forms of concentration and emotional control that people with preconceived notions of it soon come to respect the process.
So, do you still trade off your old Star Trek credentials and do the convention and comic-con circuits?
Yes, it took me awhile to join the gang but I do participate when I can. I see Robin Curtiss (Lt Savik) from time to time at cons and yes we Pon Farr!!!
I also Pon Farr with every enthusiastic fan lady who approaches me and as a result I have the most wonderful of fan ladys who have supported my career for a long time now. Love them all!
Glad to hear it (laughing). Now I was looking at your credits on the IMDB and noticed a large gap in your credentials between 1986-2010. I assume you were on a career break during this period, so what were you doing during this time and what made you return to films?
The transition from a child/teen actor to an adult actor is not an easy one. I found myself facing some very difficult obstacles despite my years of experience. I was training at The Beverly Hills Playhouse under Bill Howey and Milton Katselas who advised me to take the time to get “real life” experience for a time and return to acting when i had “aged” into myself more comfortably and thus would have more to draw upon for my work.
So i obtained a Bachelors in Fine Art from the Art Centre College of Design. Produced and directed an award winning film entitled “Greasepaint” which aired on Bravo with a Fellini Film. I worked as a sculptors apprentice for sculptor David Cellitti, I also became an Art Dept. head for Smash Films in LA. And dealt with the comedies and, unfortunately, the tragedy’s of life. My wife has fought a horrible cancer and since in remission I have been going after roles with a vengeance. I have booked wonderful things that i never thought possible before. Riding on horseback across the plains of New Mexico, as gunslinger Charlie Bowdre alongside Billy the Kid and the Regulators was a landmark moment for me. I had finally made it back as an adult. It took a long time but came with a hell of a lot of things to bring to the table.
So, what horror or sci-fi films can we look forward to seeing you in next?
I am slated to be in a Fred Williamson action film titled “Snow Black” for Director Robert Parham and Producer Tim Beal shortly. There may be another Sci Fi Project on the horizon. And I have been playing the lead character in Filmmaker Kris Krainock’s “The Idiot”, a surreal comedy web series being pitched to Netflix and getting quite a following. So I am grateful for the work both past and present.