TV Zone – William Sadler – The Valenti Files

TV Zone
Issue 127

William Sadler
The Valenti Files

Sporting his Stetson, sunglasses and jeans of tightness, Sheriff Valenti searches for the truth about Roswell’s resident teen aliens

In 1959, something happened that forever changed the life of Roswell High’s Sheriff Jim Valenti, Jr. While on duty, his father James, the then-sheriff of Roswell, discovered a corpse with a strange handprint on its chest. He was convinced that this bizarre death was somehow connected to the UFO that reportedly crash-landed near Roswell in 1947, and spent the rest of his career trying to prove his theory. Nicknamed ‘Sergeant Martian,” his friends and family, including his son Jim, thought he had gone crazy.

Thirty years later. Jim Valenti finds himself faced with a similar mystery. He suspects that siblings Max and Isabel Evans and their friend Michael Guerin are extraterrestrials and is determined to expose them no matter what the costs. However, it turns out not to be that easy. Fellow teens Liz Parker, Maria DeLuca and Alex Whitman have pledged to protect their friends, meanwhile the FBI has sent out their own alien hunters after the kids. Is the sheriff headed down the same self-destructive path as his father? No way, assures William Sadler, who plays Valenti, Jr.

“In the beginning, Valenti is the guy in the black hat who’s chasing Max and the others,” says the actor. “He’s the hard-ass sheriff who wants to clear his father’s name. Little by little, though, he’s starting to realize that the situation is a lot more complicated. If there are people in the FBI who want these kids dead, then perhaps he’s got things wrong, you know? As Valenti gathers information about Max, Isabel and Michael, he finds that they’re not a threat to Earth. They’re just kids, the innocents and maybe, just maybe, he should be on their team. So that’s been Valenti’s story arc so far and I’m very pleased with how things are going,” continues Sadler. “When I first became involved in Roswell I asked a lot of questions as far as how the character was going to be developed. You sign a seven year contract when you do a pilot and if it’s not something that you’re going to be happy doing, then you’re not going to be happy for a long time. If the show is picked up you’re going to be saddled with that role and its function in the story. I didn’t want to turn out to be the stereotypical villain who stands in the dust at the end of every episode saying, ‘Curses, foiled again!'”

“I was told that I wouldn’t be wasted in this role. It was going to become more interesting and that my function as the ‘heavy’ might not last for very long. Well, they were true to their word. Valenti has a teenaged son who he’s having a hard time relating to, an elderly father who he’s just now getting back together with, and he’s even got a girlfriend. Most importantly, though, the sheriff’s relationship with the teenagers is changing. He’ll most certainly find out the truth about where they’re from but what he will do with that truth is still up in the air. But it looks to me like he may very well end up being their protector at some point.”

Sadler’s Roswell High character is just one of the many-faceted roles the veteran film, television and stage actor has played in a career that spans over 30 years. He made his debut on stage in New York where he performed in some 75 shows over a 12-year period, earning him the Obie and Villager awards. The Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard 2, Rush and Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey are just some of the many features in which Sadler has appeared, while on television he has guest-starred on such series as St. Elsewhere, Newhart, Roseanne and Tales From The Crypt It may surprise some to learn that acting was not Sadler’s first foray into the entertainment world.

“Actually I wanted to be a musician,” he reveals. “I started playing the ukulele and then the banjo, guitar, and mandolin, which led to my involvement in folk groups, garage bands, rock ‘n’ roll groups, etc. I was also a stand-up comic for a while. I called myself Banjo Bill Sadler and I played the banjo and told these corny jokes. The act was very successful and I enjoyed it. People laughed and I thought, ‘This is great!'”

“I did this for a couple of years and then one night I experienced a stand-up comedian’s worst nightmare-an audience that didn’t laugh. It’s the longest, most horrible silence you’ve ever lived through. Around the same time someone asked me to play Elwood P Dowd on stage in Harvey. It became obvious to me that this (acting) was more fun and I seemed to have a knack for it,” notes Sadler.

Terrific Casting

Sadler became involved with Roswell High thanks to director and former series co-executive producer David Nutter, who asked him to come in and read for the role of Sheriff Valenti. The actor had played a mentally challenged janitor in the film Disturbing Behavior, which was directed by Nutter and also featured Roswell High star Brendan Fehr (Michael Guerin). He says that Nutter’s talent for casting was one of the reasons that the pilot was such a success.

“David is terrific at casting, which is an area where tv pilots can either go terribly wrong or wonderfully right. If you cast the wrong group of actors in a pilot, well, you’re stuck with them. First of all, it’s not going to work and the series is probably not going to get picked up. If it does, you’re saddled with the limitations of the group unless you start all over and recast, which is not often done.”

“Fortunately, we have a great cast. I’m constantly impressed by the work of the young actors. They’re a nice, tight group of performers and that makes the work so much more fun. Of course, for a while there, I felt like the old man of the group. But thank God, they’ve hired John Cullum to play my father, so now he’s the veteran actor on the series and I’m somewhere in the middle,” he jokes.

In the show’s pilot episode, Max Evans (Jason Behr) uses his ability to manipulate molecular structure to save Liz Parker’s (Shiri Appleby) life when she is accidentally shot while waitressing at her parents’ restaurant. While Max and his friend Michael manage to leave just before Sheriff Valenti and a medical team arrives, Liz lies to the sheriff about being hurt, but two customers swear that she was shot. Max eventually reveals to Liz that he, his sister Isabel (Katherine Heigl) and Michael are aliens. As she and Max get closer, Liz’s relationship with Valenti’s son Kyle (Nick Wechslar) deteriorates. Valenti tries his best to be there for Kyle, but his preoccupation with learning the truth about Max and the others always seems to get in the way.”

“Valenti loves his son. I don’t think there’s any question of that, but he won’t tell Kyle his secret,” explains Sadler. “he refuses to share this obsession he has with finding out who these three aliens are. Valenti doesn’t want Kyle involved and as a result he shuts his son off from a big part of his life. There are some wonderful scenes where the two of them sit and eat ice cream and talk about girls or Kyle’s problems but they always seem to end the same way. Just when it looks like the two characters might have a meaningful exchange-boom! Valenti gets a lead about Max or another of the teens and rushes off to check it out.”

Going Camping

“Things between both characters really come to a head when the two of them go camping in the episode Into the Woods. Naturally , the sheriff isn’t really there to be with his son, but to keep an eye on Max, Isabel and Michael. Kyle catches him at it and says, ‘I just wanted to see what was more important in your life than me,’ and he’s right. There’s no way around it. Kyle puts his finger right on it and it’s then, I think, that it dawns on Valenti that what he’s been doing to his son is pretty much like what his father did to him. So they’re definitely having trouble communicating, but they’re trying.”

Although the sheriff may have problems talking to his son, there is a clear line of communication between him and his new girlfriend Amy (Diane Farr), who just happens to be Maria DeLuca’s (Majandra Delfino) mother. “I was pleasantly surprised that the show’s producers and writers did this because it humanizes Valenti,” says Sadler. “I thought for a while that something might happen with my character and Agent Topolsky (Julie Benz) because they had this flirting, jousting and fencing type of relationship. I think our writers realized, though, that things would get too complicated if she stayed with the FBI. If Valenti was going to fall in love it had to be with a hometown girl like Amy.”
“You know what’s funny? It takes the kids on our show something like nine episodes to get around to kissing each other, but when you reach my age things move so much quicker,” laughs the actor. “We don’t have time for any of this teen angst stuff like ‘Does he like me? Is he looking my way?’ There’s a great scene in the episode Independence Day when Liz and Maria go back to Maria’s house one night to study and they hear noises coming from the next room. A few seconds later, Valenti and Amy walk into the kitchen looking a bit dishevelled, much to the girls’ surprise. So the relationship between these two adult characters goes from zero to 60 in 4.8 seconds,” he jokes.
Fan Forum
Apparently, Amy DeLuca is not the only person that is enamoured of the sexy sheriff. “Every now and then I’ll go on this Internet site called Fan Forum to read what the audience is saying about the show. For the longest time it was all about Max’s ears and Max’s lips or how cute Brendan is. Whenever Valenti was mentioned it was, ‘Oh I hate that guy. He’s so mean to Max!’ One day the most remarkable thing happened. Somebody must have felt that the sheriff had been kicked around long enough because they started a Valenti Appreciation Society. Now there’s a wonderful group of people who get on and chat about nothing but the sheriff and his jeans of tightness,” chuckles Sadler. “It’s great fun and I truly appreciate the fans’ interest in the show and my character.”
The actor was already a familiar face to television Science Fiction audiences before ever appearing on Roswell High. He played the duplicitous Section 31 operative Luther Sloan in three episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and also guest-starred as a wheelchair-using paraplegic in The Outer Limits episode Valerie 23.
“I had a ball playing Sloan,” he enthuses. “It was so much fun to portray a character who held all the cards. I’m just sorry that I came aboard as late as I did and only got to do three episodes. I would have loved to have done more1”
“My role on The Outer Limits also provided me with some great acting challenges. I actually went out on the streets of Vancouver (British Columbia) in a wheelchair. First of all, it was just professional pride-I wanted it to look as if I knew what I was doing on the screen-but I also wanted to really understand what it meant to never be able to get out of that chair. It was a huge eye-opener for me.”
Besides Roswell High, Sadler can currently be seen in the movie The Green Mile and the HBO film Witness Protection. After all these years in the profession, he says he is having more fun than ever acting. “I used to take myself and my work very seriously and fret myself into a frenzy, but now I don’t. Life’s too short. Have a great time doing what you’re doing today because you may never know what tomorrow may bring.”
~Steven Eramo