Cult Times: IT’S LIFE, JIM (BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT)

Thanks to SciFiFan for this.

IT’S LIFE, JIM
(BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT)
By Ian Spelling

You might think he’s the ‘old man’ of the series, but
William Sadler’s alien-hunter-turned-helper is one of
Roswell’s biggest assets. They’ve even taken his hat
away and sexed him up.

Unlike his boss Jonathan Frakes, William Sadler was
worried that Roswell might get the axe; that the WB
might not renew the show for a second season.
“I was a little concerned,” admits Sadler, who
co-stars on the Sci-Fi series as Sheriff Jim Valenti,
who began as the show’s main villain. Relentlessly
chasing Max, Isabel and Michael, and looking on as his
son Kyle lost his girlfriend Liz to Max – he soon
emerged as one of its unlikely heroes. “It was
nail-biting time. We weren’t clobbering anyone with
the numbers. I guess there was a real possibility, or
so it seemed, that we might not be asked to return. I
was very happy and relieved when we were picked up. In
terms of the back nine for the second season [which
Roswell earned after posting solid ratings during its
13-episode reprieve], I wasn’t really surprised that
we got that. Once we came back on, the numbers went
up. In fact, if the numbers continue the way they’ve
been going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Roswell got
picked up for a third year. That would be lovely.”
The ratings rise can no doubt be attributed to the
tinkering done to the show. Where once it moved slowly
and focused on the romance with the Sci-Fi elements in
the background, it now zips by and centres on the
Sci-Fi elements, with the romantic entanglements
shifted somewhat to the rear. Those changes came about
near the end of the first season, in the last
half-dozen or so episodes, and they’ve been carried
through into year two. “I think we’ve cranked up the
pace,” says Sadler, whose genre credits range from The
Green Mile, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, Disturbing
Behavior (which was directed by frequent Roswell
helmer David Nutter), Tales from the Crypt Presents:
Demon Knight, Tales from the Crypt the TV show, Rocket
Man, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, The Outer Limits and
Poltergeist: The Legacy. “We’ve sort of tightened the
screws. That’s my impression of it, but the show’s not
so much about ‘Does he love me? Doesn’t he love me?’
and long, longing gazes. There’s a lot more at stake
in these episodes. The one I’m shooting right now is
terrific. They are thrillers with romantic overtones,
rather than romantic stories with a couple of tense
twists and turns. I think that makes it a lot more fun
to watch. I think it’s a little more engaging. We have
not thrown away the romance, though. All of those
aspects are still there. What we’ve done is we’ve
ratcheted up what’s at stake. I think they’re just
more interesting shows for people. They’re more
engaging for people, like myself, who enjoy a good
thriller.”
And what do all the changes mean for Sadler as an
actor?
“I think Valenti’s more fun to play now,” he replies
instantly. “One of the things that I worried about
when we first started the show was that we’d find
Valenti at the end of every episode standing in the
street, saying, ‘Curses! Missed them again! Those darn
kids!'” he notes. “That’s not as interesting, somehow.
I know we started the season that way last year, but I
was assured early on that Valenti would evolve. And he
has, which I think makes him more fascinating as a
character. He is alive. I think it would have gotten
old very quickly if he were always chasing them. If
they did that and the show continued, he would always
have to lose. He’d always have to miss. Instead, he
learned and he grew. His understanding of the
situation grew over the year, until he could do a
whole 180 degree turn and land on the other side at
some considerable risk to himself. So I find it much
more interesting to play him this way.
“Right now, I think he is to be trusted. His heart is
in the right place. I think he’s demonstrated that
time and again. When the chips are down, he weighs in
to the fight on the side of the kids. I think what
you’re going to see is more and more of that. He’ll
weigh in on the side of the kids, as I say, at his own
expense. It’s going to cost him to have taken that
route. It would have been safer and easier to remain
part of mainstream America. But he can’t anymore. He’s
made himself their protector and it’s causing
conflicts in his life. It’s hard to be the sheriff of
Roswell and the keeper of lay and order and so on and
to also be burying bodies out in the desert and hiding
evidence. Valenti is breaking laws all over the place
in order to protect the kids. And I think it’s going
to get him in trouble.”
Asked if there’s one scene, one moment, even one line
of dialogue that sums up all Valenti can be, Sadler
pauses for a moment. “God, that’s a hard one,” he
says. “Let me think about that. I liked the last
episode of last season [Destiny], the scene in which
Valenti has shot his son, he’s dying and Valenti turns
to Max for help. That was a moment that kind of
crystallized Valenti’s new position. That whole scene
– where he asks Max to help him and then what follows
after Max saves Kyle, which is Valenti pledging his
support: ‘Anything you need, anywhere, I’m there’ –
was kind of a defining moment. Everything that
happened during the whole season had been building up
and it came to pass in that one scene. His life has
changed forever now.”
As for what Sadler’s not yet gotten to do as Valenti,
that’s an easy one. He’s pining for the writers to
whip up some more romance. “I’d love to explore the
relationship with Amy DeLuca [Diane Farr],” he says.
“It’s a selfish, personal thing. But I like her so
much, the actress. Every time I’ve gotten to play
scenes where Valenti has explored the romantic side of
himself it’s been great, great fun. And I understand
that she’s coming back in a couple of weeks, so I’m
excited.”
Most of the time of the Roswell set, however, Sadler
finds himself surrounded by Behr, Fehr, Appleby,
Wechsler, Majandra Delfino, Colin Hanks and Emilie de
Ravin. They’re all actors who are far younger. And
that, for lack of a more eloquent term, makes him the
old man of the show. “I don’t think of myself as the
old man of the show,” he says, laughing. “First of
all, that’s not a fun way to look at yourself. We’re
all professionals in a working arrangement, in a
working situation. Every once in a while I’m reminded
of the fact that I’ve been doing this longer than
anyone else on the show. But I like to have fun. And,
by the way, for the most part I’m very pleased with
the amount of talent and professionalism and the
quality of what everyone brings to the table on
Roswell. Every once in a while I see their youth
popping up. It’ll be late at night and you’ll realize
you’re working with younger people. We come to it from
very, very different backgrounds. For some of them,
this is the first job they’ve ever held. And I come to
it from 11 years in New York City, on Broadway, and
another 12 years of making pictures. I look at this
job from a different point of view. I look at acting
in general with different eyes. It’s kind of
unavoidable.”
Unavoidable, too, is the urge to compare Roswell to
his many previous genre experiences. “I think that the
main difference between what I’m doing on Roswell, and
all of the other Sci-Fi and genre work that I’ve ever
done, is that this is a character that keeps
changing,” he says. “Every week you get the next
chapter in this big, long novel. I’ve never played a
character for so long. If I think of The Grim Reaper
in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, or Brayker in Demon
Knight or Luther Sloan from Deep Space Nine, none of
them really changed. They were there for that one time
or, in the case of Deep Space Nine, those three times.
There wasn’t any time for evolution. You are there to
serve a purpose when it’s a one-time thing. You are
the threat. You are the hero and you have this task.
When you’re doing a series like Roswell, the tasks
keep changing. Sometimes you’re the comic relief.
Sometimes you’re the chorus. You have to deliver the
exposition that allows the audience to enjoy the story
that you’re otherwise not in. Or you inadvertently
bring the villains right into the heart fo the show –
as I do in the Dupes episodes of Roswell – and the
step back and watch the fun. So that’s the biggest
difference between what I do on Roswell and my
experience with the other genre work that I’ve done.”