AP: William Sadler Goes To “Roswell”

I just did a double-take myself when I saw this on AP as it just went on the site a few minutes ago.

William Sadler Goes to ‘Roswell’

By CHELSEA J. CARTER, Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) – A woman taking the Paramount Pictures studio tour does a double take as a man walks across the parking lot. She recognizes the actor’s face but can’t place his name.

“Isn’t that the guy from `The Green Mile?”’ she asks.

William Sadler, one of the most familiar character actors in Hollywood, says he gets that a lot. Not surprising, considering his resume includes notable performances in “The Green Mile” “The Shawshank Redemption” “Hard to Kill” and “Die Hard 2.”

But his most challenging, if not rewarding role, Sadler says, is that of Sheriff Jim Valenti on “Roswell,” the WB’s teen alien-ation series, which airs Mondays at 9 p.m. EST. The series is based on the “Roswell High” book series by Melinda Metz about the fabled 1947 spaceship crash in New Mexico.

“There are a lot of firsts for me with this show,” the 50-year-old actor says. “I never had an on-screen romantic entanglement until now. I’ve never worked with these kind of special effects.

“Over the years, people have recognized me when a movie came out and said, `Aren’t you that guy?’ Now I get it a lot more, mostly from teen-agers. It’s kind of funny.”

Sadler was offered the role by series co-creator David Nutter, who cast him in the 1998 alien-horror film “Disturbing Behavior.”

“We didn’t know whether he would consider doing it. He had a very successful, steady film career going. But we needed somebody of his caliber because we wanted a three-dimensional character,” says series co-creator Jason Katims, who also created “My So-Called Life.”

Sadler says what sold him on his first full-time television outing was a well-written script. He appeared previously in “Tales From the Crypt” and had a recurring guest spot on “Roseanne.”

“In this town, when somebody writes something good, it’s like a nugget of gold,” he says. “I wasn’t too worried about what effect it would have on my film career. People go back and forth all the time. I was more concerned about the direction of the character.”

“Roswell,” a struggling series populated with young unknowns, may seem a strange choice for Sadler, who has held his own with Morgan Freeman and Tom Hanks, and has been called the “actor’s actor” by Freeman.

Not so, Sadler says.

“I learn from everyone, from every experience,” he says.

For a recent scene, Sadler’s character is literally disappearing, thanks to the enemy aliens among them, and he’s trying to tell his son that he loves him.

In one take, Sadler nails the emotional scene with his TV son, Nick Wechsler. Thirty minutes later, he does it again, this time alone in front of a giant green screen that will allow computer special effects to slowly fade him out.

”`The Shawshank Redemption’ was an 11-week shoot. I can remember whole days spent on getting one scene perfect. You had the luxury of time to get it right,” he says. “With a television show, you have to be on. Otherwise, you’re wasting everybody’s time – the cast, the crew.”

It’s that work ethic that has earned him praise from the cast and crew.

“When we started, it was unclear what the part would be and where it would go. He’s taken the character from just a hard-nosed sheriff to a complex man dealing with issues – from his relationship with his dad to the one with his son,” says series executive producer Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”).

As the most seasoned actor in the cast, Sadler says he’s careful not to give unsolicited advice. Rather, he leads by example, says actor Brendan Fehr.

“Last season, I was having a really hard time with this scene. He didn’t really say anything to me, he just sort of did it. It was cool because I got what he was saying without feeling like he was telling me what to do,” he says.

Jason Behr, who plays the show’s teen lead, says Sadler has been open to discussions about character development that have helped him with his role.

“When we were filming the pilot, we just sat and talked for hours about what was behind the characters’ actions, what led up to that moment,” he says. “For him, it’s about the craft.”

Sadler began his career as a musician, first with a high-school band and later with friends. But when members of his band died in a drunken-driving accident, he turned his attention to drama, first college plays, then Broadway, appearing in 75 productions in 12 years. He headed to Hollywood in the early 1980s, first taking small parts in television and films before moving on to bigger roles.

“I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I came out here 20 years ago when I was cute and stupid,” he says. “These days, I think what would make me really, really happy as an actor is to find myself in that little circle of actors who are offered the great character actor roles. I think I’m getting there.”