While most actors dream of overnight success, Enrico Colantoni took 10 years to hone his craft before trying to become a star. The hard work paid off. Colantoni made a name for himself with starring roles in Just Shoot Me and Veronica Mars. Now, the Canadian actor has a lead role in a new CBS cop drama called Flashpoint.
We recently talked to Colantoni about callous network executives, impatient youth and the fact that Flashpoint may be society’s only hope for salvation.
Where are you originally from and where do you call home now?
I’m originally from Toronto, but home is Los Angeles.
How did you get into acting? How old were you when you started and how did you decide this is what you wanted to do for a living?
I was in college in Toronto and I took an elective in drama. It was sort of decided by my teacher and some of my classmates that I should pursue it. So I took their advice and moved to New York within a year and began studying.
How tough was it for you to break in to the business? Did you have a difficult time getting roles?
Again, guided by my teacher, she reminded me that it takes 10 years to become an actor. And I was more interested in becoming an actor then just starting to work right away or wanting a job. I was more interested in how to be a good actor. So I allowed myself 10 years to study; go to different schools and do what I had to do to survive in New York. And then right around my 30th birthday, I always had a sense that I would start working. So it was sort of a miracle of miracles that work came to me as I got older.
At that point, was it pretty smooth sailing?
Well, I guess in hindsight it seemed like it was smooth sailing. In the moment, living in New York and just sort of surviving on theatre jobs, it always seemed like it was always in the 11th hour that a job would come to pay my bills. But yeah, since I got out of the Yale School of Drama, I was 30 years old and went from one job to another and it sustained me.
Many people know you from your role as Elliot DiMauro on Just Shoot Me. What was your experience like filming that show and what do you think when you look back on it now?
There are a couple of other shows that introduced me to Los Angeles. While I was doing a couple of spots on NYPD Blue and then I got a job on a show called Hope and Gloria, that sort of just made me a little more comfortable with the idea that I was actually making a living at what I like to do. So when Just Shoot Me happened, it just seemed like, “Well, this is where I need to be for a while. I need to work with these people.” And there was something – I felt confident that that show would last, for whatever reason, just because of the people involved. And I look back at that time as one of the highlights of my life because I did get to know those people in such an intimate way, sort of like spending high school and college with the same person. It was seven years, every day and I learned how to have fun. I learned how to not take everything so seriously because that was the context. That was the context that George Segal set early on and Wendy and Davey and Laura, we just met every day and had a good time.
When the show ended, were you ready to move on?
We were sort of ready to move on. I still don’t like the way we got cancelled because we really didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye to our fanbase. We just sort of found out that we weren’t coming back. You know, seven years is a long time to be on a show and we’re grateful for that, but we could have done another year knowing that it was going to be our last. I think we would have enjoyed it in a different way instead of going through that last year wondering if we were coming back. It’s just a different energy.
Do you think there’s any hope that one day there will be any closure – like a reunion special?
I don’t think so. I think it was just one of those shows that was happy riding underneath the radar, as Spade would say. We really didn’t make any big splash, but we were successful enough to just survive.
It’s interesting because it seems like a show that a lot of people are familiar with and fondly remember, but it never really achieved mainstream success.
No, our popularity jumped leaps and bounds when we got into syndication. Our fanbase grew a hundredfold when we were in syndication. I don’t think a lot of people remember us in primetime necessarily.
Do you ever catch the old episodes when they pop up in syndication?
Yeah. I used to Tivo them for the longest time and just relive them because I enjoyed them more after the fact. Five years later, I’d sit back and I’d enjoy them a lot.
Can you detach yourself from the show and just watch it as a fan?
Now I can. That’s the thing. Early on, when we were still in it, it was hard to see it as an audience member. Now, they’re great. Its like, “Wow, we were funny.”
You went on to play Keith Mars on the cult hit Veronica Mars, which was another show that flew under the radar, but had a very strong following.
It was something special about that show because the following was so loyal. It really affected people in ways Just Shoot Me never did. People love to laugh, but Veronica Mars affected young girls and fathers – just a whole spectrum of age groups – in a very special way. I think that meant more to me than the volume of people watching our show.
Do you think people didn’t give the show a chance because they weren’t really familiar with what it was?
I think that coupled with the stigma of a network that wasn’t really well-known. A network like UPN at that time – I knew I didn’t watch the UPN. And then when it became the CW, I was surprised at how many people didn’t even know what the CW was. But yeah, I think the real reason was that you really couldn’t describe the show in a way that gave it justice. Every time I tried to describe what Veronica Mars was about, it sounded kind of cheesy.
“Teenage girl who’s a private investigator helps her dad investigate crime.” It’s like, “What? I don’t want to watch that.”
“It’s sort of like a modern Nancy Drew.” “What? I don’t want to watch that.”
Then quite to our surprise and quite to our pleasure, we realized that we attracted the old Buffy crowd. And that was like, “Wow.” I was a big fan of Buffy, so that made it all the more sweet.
Like Just Shoot Me, it was another show that unceremoniously got canceled, wasn’t it?
Yeah, when it went to the UPN from the WB, you knew that was the beginning of the end. I just don’t understand the politics of television shows; what stops people from saying, “Okay, this is your last year. Say goodbye.”
It’s almost like you are dead to them. You’ve outlived your usefulness.
(Laughs.) Yeah. Its like, did they not realize it? Did they not see it coming? Could they not have given us a little notice so we could say goodbye and wrap it up?
With Veronica Mars especially, people were really caught off guard when the show was canceled. Weren’t there several campaigns from fans to try to save the show?
There were. That one magnificent campaign between season two and three I think gave us that extra year. Yeah, I don’t know. I guess Gossip Girls is a big hit for them now, which is a big victory in their eyes. I knew that Rob for the fourth season had wonderful plans to bring the show back to what it was in the beginning. We were all very, very excited about that. It was a chance to – not redeem ourselves necessarily, but I think we did get a little off track in the third season and we were fully prepared to get back to what Veronica Mars was in the first two seasons. That made it a little more disappointing because we didn’t get the chance to get that accomplished.
As you mentioned, the thing that made the show so special was the father-daughter relationship between you and Kristen Bell. The relationship seemed so natural. What do you think made the father-daughter aspect of the show so believable?
Well Rob’s idea about the show was about the father and daughter. So I think organically he wanted to make that a special thing about the show. So having that to work with on top of Kristen Bell just being a doll and having so much fun together, it just sort of went hand in hand.
Have you kept in touch with her since the show ended?
Yeah, we text message each other once in a while. Especially around the playoffs since she’s a big Detroit Red Wings fan and I hate the Detroit Red Wings, so we go through that banter.
What has it been like to see her go on to a starring role in Heroes?
I’m more thrilled at just what a star she’s become because that was something that we all expected and knew would happen. As far as Heroes is concerned, I really liked that show in the beginning. I guess I’m just too old – I don’t want to be manipulated that much anymore. (Laughs.) That first couple episodes, I wanted the end of the world to happen, damn it. And when it didn’t, I go, “No way! I’m not going to go through that ride. You said on this date the end of the world happens, damn it. And I want it to end.”
You are now playing Sgt. Gregory Parker on the CBS show Flashpoint.
Can you believe it? (Laughs.) I never thought I’d ever play a guy named Greg in my life. Well, you know, they certainly don’t make them like a Greg. He’s more an Enrico than he is a Greg.
For those unfamiliar with it, what can you tell us about the show and your character?
You know what? I have to say it’s a really wonderful show. It’s everything I liked about TV as a kid – it was SWAT, it was Starsky and Hutch, it was The Rookies, it was all of those shows I remember as a kid. It’s beautifully filmed. It’s exciting. The characters are interesting. It’s just so much fun for me just to get to play Cops and Robbers just for one thing. Then, just to see it all unfold on this cop drama that I’m so in love with. I mean, anybody who likes these big shows like Numbers and CSI is really, really going to like our show a lot.
What separates Flashpoint from the other police dramas on TV right now?
It does have its excitement and it does have its sort of technical mumbo-jumbo, it has all the humanity that we want to see in a good drama. I think what separates it from the rest of it is that it has all of it.
So the focus is broader than Numbers and CSI?
Yeah. It really, really focuses on the consequences of being a hero and the cost of heroism. So we see these people going through very tense moments, trying to use non-lethal means to resolving situations, as opposed to just going in and storming the castle against a bunch of terrorists or psychopaths. We’re dealing with real people and we have a compassion for them. So we deal with that. And sometimes it resolves itself nicely and other times we deal with the consequences of having to extract subjects.
Does it hold any special significance for you filming the show in Toronto?
Well certainly, I’m from Toronto and my brother was a Toronto policemen for some 30 years. When he read the pilot, he really, really liked it. He really thought it was authentic and accurate and that made me really pleased that I could be associated with something that had that much integrity. Because it is specific to these people, these Toronto policemen. It’s specific to how they do business up here, situations they’ve had to deal with in the past that we dramatize. I’ve always been a big fan of the cop because of my brother and it’s a chance for me to pay homage to them and to his friends, who I’ve met throughout my life.
Did you ask your brother any questions to help you prepare for the role? Are you ever worried that he is going to watch the show and tell you that you are holding your gun the wrong way?
(Laughs.) We have consultants for that, but yeah, I’ll check in with my brother once in a while.
Of course, with any police drama, you have to worry about the writers taking dramatic license and your brother saying, “That would never happen.”
I know but that’s the line we have to walk every time we make a television show. If it was all based in reality, I don’t think it would make good drama. We have to push the envelope a little bit, which might disappoint people to one side or the other. It’s not real life. We still have to entertain these people. But I draw the line at carrying my gun incorrectly. I won’t do that. Gone are the days we used to watch shows like Starsky and Hutch and they’d carry the muzzles of their pistols right close to their face. And they just kick the door down and come in shooting.
Have you gotten any feedback from CBS about the show?
You know what? They don’t have to because I can tell by how they are promoting it in the states that they are really, really behind it. There are promos on CBS all the time. That’s usually a telltale sign of how they feel about it.
What goals have you set for your career? What would you like to see yourself accomplish in the future?
As an actor, I’d like to keep doing television because it satisfies the blue collar guy in me. Movies are fun, but I like having to go to a place every day. And if that can be another sitcom in the near future, that would be terrific. The other thing about being in Canada is that the playing field seems to open up for me here. I’m writing a screenplay, I’m going to direct it, it’s going to be produced up here. I like to know that what I want to do is sort of leaning towards that and I know it probably wouldn’t happen as easily in the United States because everybody wants to do that. But up here, there seems to be a whole playing field that’s available for an actor who has spent time in the United States who’s got a little experience under his belt. So that’s been made available to me and I’m very excited about that.
Can you talk about your screenplay at all or it is under wraps?
It’s sort of a labor of love, an exorcism of sorts that I’ve been playing with for some four years. It’s a coming of age story and it’s uniquely Italian and Italian-Canadian. It has to do with grief and love and just growing up.
Did you pull a lot from your own experiences?
Like I said, I sort of vomited it out. It does come a lot from my own life. But again, reality and entertainment, there’s a big, thick line dividing the two. I’ve been doing it long enough to know how something has to work dramatically. It’s not a complete autobiography.
What would you do for a living if you never got in to acting?
I’d be teaching. English, history, I don’t know, theatre arts. At a high school level maybe or a college level.
What do you do to unwind? What hobbies do you have?
You mean like other than going to the gym and going out with friends, huh? I like to snowboard, but that’s a seasonal sport. I like to play hockey. I like to watch hockey. I could watch hockey all day. And I discovered writing, which is sort of all-consuming at times.
Is hockey easier to find on TV in Canada these days than it is in America?
Are you kidding? (Laughs.) It’s on every channel.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I’m impatient around youth. It’s sort of a pet peeve I have. The older I get – and I started to feel this a lot on Veronica Mars, and don’t get me wrong, I loved all of the actors on Veronica Mars, I thought they were exceptionally talented. But young actors these days – I’m only pointing them out because those are the ones I deal with – just don’t have an idea of the responsibility they have as an actor. They seem to be sort of involved in other things.
When I have to deal with them, I really, really lose my patience. And that’s the teacher in me, that’s the part that wants to end my career as somebody who takes them all aside, sticks them in a room and somehow teach them a degree of integrity in what they’re doing and the importance of what they are doing and just not to take it lightly. They just fall off the turnip truck and say, “I want to be an actor,” and suddenly they’re just fumbling around, being good-looking and talking. It’s like, come on, step outside the comfort zone, take a chance, explore and learn something.
The idea of taking 10 years to become an actor is probably crazy to young stars today.
Its like, “You’re absolutely nuts. Didn’t you want to get in there and start working?”
So basically what we’ve established in this interview is that society is doomed. Network executives cast you aside, people’s lives aren’t worth as much as they used to be, kids today don’t care …
(Laughs.) And the only thing that’s going to save us is Flashpoint on CBS, Friday nights at 10 o’clock.
That’s how you should sell it – it’s our only hope for humanity.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy, June 2008. Flashpoint premieres July 11.