“Eureka” has been one of those SCI FI Channel shows that we here at Slice of SciFi fell in love with right from the beginning and the actress that our intrepid reporter Linda Craddock had the honor of speaking with is one of the primary reasons we enjoy the program as much as we do.
Salli Richardson-Whitfield began her acting career on the stage with her first prominent gig being the 1991 production of “Up Against the Wall.” She then caught everyone’s attention with her breakout role as Valerie just two years later in “How U Like Me Now.”
Besides her outstanding weekly performances on the sci-fi hit “Eureka,” Salli has also appeared in SF programs such as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Stargate SG-1,” voiced the character of Elisa Maza on the animated series “Gargoyles” and most recently appeared opposite Will Smith in the big screen, box office blockbuster “I Am Legend.”
Some of her non-SF productions has seen her star with such leading men as Denzel Washington in “Antwone Fisher,” Samuel L. Jackson for “The Great White Hype,” and Laurence Fishburne in “Biker Boyz.”
We know you will enjoy this fascinating interview with one of America’s finest actresses.
Linda Craddock (SoSF): Hello Salli how are you?
Salli Richardson-Whitfield (SRW): I’m good how are you?
SoSF: Just fine thanks. So, “I am Legend.” I guess the excitement has slowed down a bit from the impact it had.
SRW: Yeah. (laughter)
SoSF: It must have been interesting, though.
SRW: It was. I expected and everyone expected it to open big, you know, it is Will [Smith], but not $30 million the first day. I was surprised when I saw the film. I always wait for the premiere. I don’t like to see screenings before hand. They change things. I just like to see the finished version of it and I really, really enjoyed it, especially his performance to hold the screen all that time by yourself.
SoSF: I find it amazing that the film was shot on location in New York City and find it especially amazing that they literally shut down parts of Manhattan for any given scene. It was totally incredible.
SRW: See that’s when you know it’s only for Will Smith, (laughter)
SoSF: Yes (laughter)
SRW: (laughter) and to see the city devastated like that is really crazy. You know how busy and crazy New York is for you to see it like that with the grass growing; it was really creepy which makes it more scary because you can’t even imagine that happening.
SoSF: Exactly. What do you think the success of this film is based on?
SRW: Well, like I said, and I really think it is 75% of his audience coming to see him but I think that that scenario is intriguing to people and it’s something that could happen with the way we invent viruses and the kind of diseases that are going around the world, is something that is conceivable, that could happen with these super bugs, not people turning into monsters, but everyone’s contracted something that no one can find a cure for so I think people are attracted to those kinds of films.
SoSF: Let’s talk “Eureka”. The industry is in the middle of a strike launched by the writer’s guild. When are you supposed to start shooting season 3?
SRW: We’re actually supposed to be starting next month. We’re affected because our writers are supposed to be in the room right now writing for us to go back in February. We were already picked up for a 3rd season to go back so I think if the strike ends soon (laughter) it won’t push us back too much. I think instead of going back in February, we’d go back in March and usually we’re done shooting our entire season before it even airs so it’s conceivable they could premiere us like we normally would and we’d still be shooting, so right now it hasn’t killed us, but it’s getting a little scary. I mean it’s getting a little scary because I know the people, besides the fact that I would like to go back to work, needing money to pay for my daughter’s tuition and all that stuff too, but I know our crew is sitting there waiting for us to get back to work and they really need those jobs.
SoSF: Season 2 offered more compelling stories with deeper character development from season 1. If you can give us an idea, if anything has been said about what we can expect in season 3 or is it too soon?
SRW: I have no idea and I’m sitting here going what did we end on, it’s been six months (laughter) and what happened, but obviously we have to deal with where did Debrah Farentino’s character disappear to and will she come back and we have to deal with Henry. Those are things we have to pick up on. Henry’s now been arrested, although he has helped us, he lied and broke the law, so we have to deal with that, and deal with issues with my son and the artifact. There’s a lot of things that I liked that are going to be continued such as I think my husband asked me to remarry him by the end of the season and all of that obviously puts a monkey wrench in my relationship with Carter so I think there are continuations to deal with.
SoSF: As far as character development for Allison, what would you like to see change or improve?
SRW: What I would like to see is if we are going to deal with my relationship with Ed Quinn’s character, that we really do start having a relationship where we are actually dealing with that relationship and dealing with whatever those lies are because we know that Stark’s character is not completely above board so really deal with that a little bit more. But, they really started last season to deal with a lot of things I wanted to. My son got more involved and instead of seeing her so hard all the time you got to see the other side, a softer side of Allison. So they started doing it already but a continuation of that.
SoSF: On some series, the writing, the creativity behind those shows are pretty much laid out by the writers and some shows allow input from the cast. Is that the case, are you allowed to be creative on that level?
SRW: I donâ’t know if we were supposed to be allowed to but let me (laughter) say they have been very, very generous with letting us put our two cents in or sometimes ten cents in (laughter) which is great. Especially the guys and I would say Colin [Ferguson] and Joe [Morton]. They really dive in there and bring it to the attention, because sometimes the writers are in that room and in that little room they maybe forget the things that connect or we start having more of a feeling for our characters and if there’s anything that’s inconsistent to the guys, or it just doesn’t sound right, they have no problem calling in and changing lines, just seeing if that’s ok and half the time they come in and say “okay, Salli, this is what you’re saying” and I tell them, “oh, okay” (laughter) and everyone is committed to making it the best show that they can and we appreciate the opportunity the writers give us to work with them.
SoSF: I’ll ask you the same questions about “Eureka,” about putting your finger on the pulse of what makes “Eureka” so popular and according to the SCI FI Channel, their most watched show.
SRW: Yes, well, I just think the show is fun. I think it comes down to the characters. They are fun and people like to watch them. You have the sci-fi element, obviously but you don’t watch a show just to see cool gimmicks, you watch because you want to know what’s going on with the people and that, mixed with enough comedy and darkness and I think it gives them just enough mixture that people can zone out and enjoy. I think it’s the right mixture.
SoSF: Are you personally willing to stay with “Eureka” for the duration of its run, some actors say they will, but later don’t.
SRW: Well, as long as things stay written well and people are putting the same heart into it, then I want to be a part of it. Nowadays, on different cable shows, it’s not such a big deal to be on not one of the three big networks. I would enjoy if our show was more than 13 [episodes] a year, but I enjoy being there, I enjoy and look forward to my time to go to Canada and go to work and as long as the quality stays the same that’s what I want to be a part of.
SoSF: In an interview at Comic Con in San Diego, Colin Ferguson eluded to the obvious romantic interest between Carter and Allison and he’s more or less convinced that the writers are probably going to pursue it, although he didn’t actually give it away and this goes along with what you said about Ed Quinn’s character Stark and which direction they are going.
SRW: It would be like any relationship, though I feel and I think Colin feels the same way, is that eventually we’re destined to be, you know like when we went to the future and I was pregnant, there is something about these two people that we’re supposed to be with each other in the end, but like in real life how long does it take to get with the person we’re supposed to be with. (laughter) How long do we mess around with things that aren’t right for us? Like I said I don’t always know where the writers are going, but I do feel like eventually that Colin and I are supposed to be together.
SoSF: Your bio describes you as “classy, graceful and intelligent.”
SWR: (laughter) I didn’t write this. I had nothing to do with it.
SoSF: For some of the fans who are not aware, you started your acting career in theatre.
SoSF: What did you enjoy most about the stage and any plans to return?
SRW: I would love to but it’s hard to find that chunk of time. I’ve only done one play since I’ve been in L.A. which was before I was married which had to be six, seven years ago. Doing a play is just a whole different family environment, a different kind of excitement and electricity, you know, to be in front of that live audience but I would love to do another play but I have no idea when that will happen. As actors, it’s hard out here to make the money you need to and when you get done with a show you keep trying to pump it out and do movies, but it’s definitely something I need to find time to do because I do miss it. It just a different kind of energy, there’s nothing like it.
SoSF: Many fans are aware of your remarkable work over the past few years and much express delight and praise for your work, believe me when I tell you.
SRW: I’m saying to myself, “is this written down too?” (laugher)
SoSF: It’s the truth, my research reveals this. Any plans for work behind the camera?
SRW: With the strike going on, it’s tough, because I want to start directing. I had talked to the producer about directing an episode of “Eureka” eventually. This season I was going to do what you would call “shadowing” the directors where you go with them during their whole process, pre and post and learn how to do it, besides the fact that I’ve been following our DP. Half the time when you’re doing your role and they say cut, you go back to your dressing room, well, I’m not doing that anymore, but instead just sitting there on the set and watching, but with the strike nobody’s directing anything. So I wasn’t able to do some of the work I wanted to do this summer, but it’s definitely something I’m interested in and I plan on doing.
SoSF: I am going to refer back to your amazing resume have starred in several film projects opposite some of the most elite male actors in the business, Denzel Washington, Laurence Fishburne, Mario Van Peebles, and now Will Smith. Who would you like to work with moving forward?
SRW: I like Idris Elba, did you see “This Christmas”, I love his work and I would really love to do something with him, and of course Morgan Freeman. I’ve just been really lucky and it’s about working with really good people and I’ve just been lucky to fall into the right place at the right time. It’s easy to say you want to do a film with Brad Pitt, of course you want to do a film with him, but I just want to do good work with good people.
SoSF: Have you been working on any new projects recently?
SRW: I just finished a project a few days before Christmas, a film called “Black Dynamite,” which is a spoof on the old blaxploitation movies. So I have a big afro and I look like a little baby Pam Grier. I love it, it’s comedy and I don’t get to do a lot of comedy and I think it’s going to be hilarious. So that’s what I just finished and I was supposed to be going back to work, so we’ll see what’s going on.
SoSF: Tell us something about Salli that most people don’t know.
SRW: Probably that I’m just pretty boring. (laughter)
SRW: I don’t even know what to say. I do lots of different things. I’m a big golfer but at the same time, I take those X-factor classes, I don’t know if you’ve every seen Oprah where she had those strip classes on.
SoSF: No I haven’t.
SRW: I go take strip classes, with all women, of course, and I play golf, then I’m in bed by 10 because it’s easier, I put my daughter to bed then I might as well just go to sleep with her. I cook for my friends all the time, and I think that I’m pretty normal and I say that in a good way. There are a lot of actresses that I know and a lot of my friends who know people can be a little crazy out here and I take pride in the fact that my friends whom I have been friends with since I moved here all feel like I’m the exact same person they met 15 years ago when I got here.
SoSF: Thank you Salli for taking the time for this interview and good luck with season 3 upon your return.