After tormenting Claire Bennet, along with her biological and adopted mothers last season on Heroes, it was quite a surprise to see Eric Doyle reemerge and ask Claire for help. Even more surprising was the fact that Claire did indeed help him.
But then again, maybe we shouldn’t have been too surprised. While Doyle can certainly be a very creepy and unsettling character, there is something likeable about the puppetmaster who controls other humans with the flick of his wrists. Perhaps that likeability comes from David H. Lawrence, XVII, the charismatic actor who portrays Doyle on the show.
We had a chance to talk to Lawrence about Heroes, his work on Saints Row and his short film My Name Is Wallace.
How did you get into acting? When did you decide it’s what you wanted to do for a living?
If we’re going back to when I was a kid, my first acting experience was sitting on the counter at the pharmacy at age three or four reading the stock market stories to the passersby from the Cleveland Plain Dealer and enjoying immensely the applause and the smiles and all that sort of thing. I was hooked.
So you were always a naturally outgoing person?
Yeah, absolutely. Someone who wanted to perform, someone who wanted to please. Incredibly, incredibly intelligent, enormously cute, all the things that have served me well as an adult.
When did you decide acting was something you actually wanted to do for a living?
About 10 minutes after I got back home to my place in DC after being shut out in 2003 in February by a snowstorm. I lived in Washington, DC for probably 14 years doing morning radio and midday radio for ABC and then my own radio show that I owned for a decade or so. And I traveled to Florida in February of 2003 for a funeral and coming back on Sunday, I thought, “You know what? I better check the Weather Chanel just to be sure” because there’s this condition in Washington, DC about the weather where they think they’re in the Keys.
Seriously, they think they’re in the Deep South and they completely ignore the fact that they’re situated on the Chesapeake Bay. And having grown up in Cleveland, any time you’re on a big body of water, it amplifies the weather. And DC has never had the temerity to actually budget enough money for true snow removal. They just sort of assume it never happens, even though it does every year. And there’s lots and lots of snow and it’s worse because they are on the Chesapeake and it just paralyzes the city. Their whole budget for snow removal is some guy named Joe with a plow.
So I’m watching this and I’m seeing that snow is moving in and I said to myself, “You know what? They’re going to shut down the airports.” And they did, even before it started snowing. Because there was a rule when I used to do radio in DC – we were not allowed to say the word “snow” in our weather forecast until it was actually snowing because people would panic. They would abandon their cars; they would clear the shelves off at the Safeway and the Giant. It was not pleasant. And it was because they knew the city could be shut down for a week at a time. And that’s exactly what happened when I was in Florida. I was actually stuck in Tampa for three days because it just dumped massive amounts of snow.
And I got home and the homeowner’s association had followed the rules to the letter. They had dutifully cleared the sidewalks and the stairs leading up to our townhouse and they had done it by shoving all the snow up against my front window. If I had slammed my door, my front window was bowed in about six inches, it would have shattered. And I’m like, “This sucks. I’ve always wanted to be on-camera. I want to move.” I hated this area at this point. And it was only because of the weather thing. Everything else about DC is awesome. Except August. August is horrifying because it’s built on a swamp, so the weather is just disgusting. But all the rest of the year is great.
But I’d always wanted to see if this goofy face could do well in front of the camera. I had a very successful career as a voiceover artist, as a narrator, I performed at the Kennedy Center. But, the occasional stage work and the occasional bit part in a film that’s shot in the area or ensemble work in Cleveland or news reporting that I had done over my career, I’d never actually put it to the test. I thought, “You know what? I’m going to come out and I’m going to put it to the test. I’m going to try it.” So I did.
You were a writer, producer and voice actor for the video game Saints Row. What was it like making a video game?
It was awesome. It was a life-changing experience. It was very akin to what’s happened to me with Heroes in terms of the change in direction of my life. I worked on that game for a year and a half with the people at Volition, which is one of the studios that THQ develops their games at. And I worked with some really, really great guys who really let me go crazy.
They very proudly say that they are a Grand Theft Auto clone. But the difference is, when you play Grand Theft Auto you can turn the radio on in the car while you’re running over hookers and shooting cops and whatnot, but in the case of Saints Row, we created an entire cluster of radio stations modeled after a typical major market Clear Channel cluster, where all of the same economies of scale were in place.
All of the stations are in the same building, they are served by the same news department – Jack Armstrong. The weather reports are absolutely as accurate as they are on the radio. They’re accurate, but they’re randomized to be inaccurate. So most of the time, if the DJs or the announcers on all of the radio stations give you a weather report and it’s “partly cloudy tonight with a chance of rain in the morning,” there’s probably a 70 to 80 percent that that’s what will happen. The exteriors will start to cloud over and by morning there will be rain falling. That’s how precise this stuff is.
And what they let me do was create a bunch of different formats from rock to world music to classical. You can actually go about your missions wreaking havoc in Stilwater, which is the city in the game, while listening to classical music and a very pompous classical music announcer who does all of the same things you would hear on a regular radio station, but this station is so exclusive, you can’t find it on your dial unless you’ve been invited.
Your classical music DJ sounds like Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island.
Yes. “Lovey.” And I did 64 voices in the game. Everything for a former rock jock who was doing beautiful music like Mantovani and Frank Chacksfield all the way up to an elderly black woman who was doing mornings at a soul station. Then, of course, in the game there’s all these different places where you can take your car to get it blinged out. You can go and buy music. You can buy gun, clothes. And all of those places advertised on all of these radio stations. So we also created over 100 different radio commercials that would play various versions. If you did really well in the game, the store where you would buy your clothes or your guns may be offering you a 20 percent discount for a while.
And the best part is I wrote, with my writing partner Mike Schmidt, and produced every single one of those 11,000 some odd assets that the game calls upon, including callers calling in and requesting songs, different intros for all of the music that was licensed in the game by the DJS. I got to go out and hire DJs like Bubba the Love Sponge from Sirius and from Tampa, Kat Corbett from KROQ here in Los Angeles and have them record different intros for the song. You could play this game for three and a half years and never hear the same content in the same order twice. That’s how many different options there are for the game.
There are people who write me to this day and they say, “I take Saints Row and I drive the car out to the outskirts of Stilwater where it takes a while for the zombie public and the criminals to find me and just listen to the radio stations because they’re hilarious.” We even had a conservative talk station. It was an amazing experience. It was a year and a half that was fantastic.
Were you involved with Saints Row 2 at all?
I was not. They saved a lot of money on Saints Row 2.
So it wasn’t as complex as the first one?
I don’t know if it was as complex. I haven’t been able to find anybody writing about what’s going on with the radio stations in Saints Row 2. I know that the guy who produced Saints Row called me the day that Saints Row 2 came out and said that he thinks they kind of cheaped out on it because they had other things they wanted to put their money towards, which is fine. And I don’t know that the person that actually did the radio stations had any radio background. Maybe, I don’t know. I heard his name once and I was like, “I don’t know him.” I don’t think they went as high profile with it.
Are you a big gamer?
I’ve been a gamer ever since the eight-bit days. I had an Atari 400 and 800, a GameCube, I have a PS3 now and an Xbox 360. I try not to spend too much time playing games. More than that, I covered games for a long time. I used to be the anchor for GameSpy and IGN at E3. We did a daily three-hour show from E3 for the last five or six years before E3 kind of imploded and became a suit meeting.
In 2006, you were the lead in My Name is Wallace, which seems like it would be a fun film to do. How did you end up making that film?
It was a character that I had been doing on radio since the late 70s – just this really socially-challenged guy who in the very first – in fact, one of the extras on the DVD is the morning show bit where Wallace was first heard across the country, called “The Personals.” The Personals were basically a collection of outtakes from dating service personal tapes, you know where you go in and say, “Hi, I’m 35-years-old, I’m a plumber and I’m looking for a good woman that I can settle down with.” Well, you know, sometimes these tapes don’t necessarily lead to a match. And it’s because the people who are making the tapes are goofballs.
Wallace was a guy who, just in audio, we didn’t actually see him; just in audio for decades he’s been on radio stations across the country. He basically in his very first appearance was like, “Hello, my name is Wallace and I would very much like to meet you. I promise I will take a shower before I go out on our date. Although this morning I was in the shower and I cut my torso actually while I was shaving my chest hairs, but that will be completely healed by the time you call the dating company and say yes. So I hope you do.” He was just that kind of a goofy, socially-stunted kind of guy. And my buddy Bob, who is one of my best friends, he’s the reason I’m in radio, wrote a script around that character.
So we did this film and it got into I think 108 film festivals and won 30 or so of them and won awards in over half of them. I think that people really relate to the character. He’s this sort of vulnerable guy who tries to make sense of the world.
Do you think you’ll do anything else with Wallace?
We’re actually working on a feature version of the script. We think Wallace could meet the Wolfman and go to space and go to camp and that kind of stuff.
You are perhaps best known for your role as Eric Doyle on Heroes. What was it like to come in to the show during season three and get to play such a creepy villain on the show?
Creepy villain is just one of the attributes of this character and this experience. Just to be recurring on the show, to be involved with Jessalyn Gilsig’s character Meredith, to have his own lair – because let me point out that Eric is the only villain on the show with his own lair, Doyle’s Marionette Theatre in Los Angeles, California. It’s been fantastic.
I tell my friends who are actors – they ask the same questions. It’s one of those things, like one of my friends is Drew Carey and I asked him at one point, “What’s it like to have this amazing, very successful television show when I know you? You were living in your car for 12 years and everybody thinks you were this overnight success, but you worked your butt off to get to that point, to get on the Tonight Show to have that happen and have that be a turning point. What is that like?”
And he’s like, “Dude, I never have to work again. What do you think it’s like?” He’s just loving life.
And I can tell you, since June 12, 2008, when I found out I was casting’s pick – I went in for the audition that day and then that afternoon I found out I was casting’s pick and production’s pick and Tim’s pick and then it was just the network – my life has been completely different. And I’m not even a series regular. I can only imagine what life is – well, I don’t have to imagine, I can read it in the trades or the tabloids what life is like for people like Hayden Panettiere and Milo Ventimiglia and the series regulars.
It has been like a little person sitting on my shoulder with a checklist – pages and pages on this clipboard – and the front page, the title of this checklist is “Things to do to make David’s life spectacular.” And just check, check, check, check, check. Every time I turn around, there’s something new about this experience that is just really, really amazing to me and so much fun and not the least bit expected. If you’d told me I would be in London, England signing autographs for fans and traveling over to the BBC to do some work while I was there because I was there for Heroes and that I would be playing a villain on this show that when I first watched it I thought, “Well, that’s not going to be on my target list. These people are the prettiest people in the world. Even the villain is hot. I’m never going to get on this show. Sylar is like, Zachary Quinto is a beautiful man. There’s nobody on this show that doesn’t have chiseled features. Even the extras are hot.” Then, all of the sudden, I’m on this show.
It’s been absolutely amazing. The whole experience has been so fantastic. And to have been given a part that you really get to sink your teeth into. Eric Doyle is so in love with Meredith and has so many dimensions to him. And really, he’s creepy in the process, but there’s a logic to what he does. Everybody operates in their lives by a set of rules and Eric’s set of rules is just a little bit different from everybody else’s. And his choices are different.
Claire was quite surprised to find you standing in the Bennet kitchen eating popcorn two weeks ago, as were the viewers at home. Were you surprised to be invited back to the show this season or did you know all along that the writers would be bringing Doyle back?
Somewhere in between – we’d filmed that episode (at the microwave) during the time that episode 13 was airing, so I knew. I just didn’t know what they further had in store for me.
Your character definitely seemed very upset this season when telling Claire that the government burned down his puppet theatre. How sad were you to learn that Doyle’s “lair” had been destroyed?
It can always be rebuilt, can’t it?
Eric Doyle tried to convince Claire that he had changed his evil ways, but you gave a knowing smile at the end of last week’s episode that seemed to indicate that Doyle hadn’t changed one bit. Do you think that Doyle could ever be one of the good guys?
Absolutely. I think Eric Doyle is one of those guys who, when he’s pissed off, he does things impetuously. In fact, that’s sort of a recurring theme that we’ve seen from most of the villains is that they had their powers manifest either during the eclipse or when they got pissed off, when somebody provoked them or when they were really, really sad or when they were frustrated or when they were angry or when they were frightened. I think some of that was sort of involuntary. And I think Eric Doyle, he’d have been in jail a long time ago if he was constantly doing shows for kids and was a real creep.
He’s not a pedophile, he’s not a common criminal, he’s the guy who in high school was picked on because he wasn’t a jock, he wasn’t a cheerleader. He was probably a drama geek, hence the puppets. He kept to himself.
You can read the Attribute Tracker over at NBC.com at Primatech. NBC has done some really great work filling in the backstories of all of these characters. They filled in the backstory of Eric Doyle’s character after I had shot the scenes. You can actually find out when his power first manifested when his uncle that he was sent to live with made him go to the beach and he didn’t want to go to the beach. He just wanted to play with his puppets. The uncle thought, “I’m not going to have any kid I’m taking care of playing with puppets.” So they went to the beach, he hated it there and he so hated it that he forced his uncle to swim out to the ocean and not come back. And that was his first kill. I had no idea. I had my own backstory. I had my own backstory about how Meredith and I met and it turns out we met in a flea market and I became smitten.
So I think Eric Doyle has the potential and has shown in the past kindness and love and strength and camaraderie and his own personal brand of heroics.
Will we see more of Eric Doyle this season or should we assume that once Claire rescued him, he is off living his new life in peace?
You should pay attention to the webisode series coming up on the site called “Nowhere Man” – it’s going to be just that, a look at what happens to Eric … er … Jason, after he walks off from Claire. It’s going to be awesome.
What would you be doing for a living if you never got into broadcasting or acting?
Probably what I did in addition to broadcasting and acting, which is working with technology. Way back in the 70s when I was in high school, I was working on mainframe computers with teletypes and then card readers and then DEC PDP-8’s and 11’s with the terminals that actually had dot matrix printers and daisy wheel printers. I’ve been working with computers forever.
What does the future hold for you?
I think I can carry a show. I’d love to do sitcom work. I’d love to carry a show or be a series regular and I’d also like to do feature work. That’s what I’d love to do. And I will do that.
A friend of mine said, “You know, you’re the only guy in Los Angeles who declares, ‘I’m going to be an actor!’ and then actually goes and does it.” Everybody else is like, “I’m giving it a shot. I’m trying my best. I’m working as a waiter or a waitress, but I’m living the dream. I’m going for the brass ring.” For me, it’s like this is just another thing that I want to do, I will prepare as much as I can for doing it well – intern at places and take classes and give workshops and take workshops and just really continue to fire on all cylinders in my career.
I don’t know what the future holds and even if this is it – even if this is the pinnacle, this has been insane cool. I just have a feeling there’s more in store for me and I really am looking forward to finding out what that is.
Interviewed by Joel Murphy. Heroes airs Monday nights on NBC. For more information on David H. Lawrence, XVII, visit his official site.