Author's Note: Joel Tobeck brings an intensity and focus to his performances that many actors would envy. Whether he's the manic Strife or Deimos in Hercules or Xena, or the brooding Neil in Topless Women Talk About Their Lives, or anything in between, Joel gives the viewer value for their money. Joel's acting skills were noticed by the New Zealand Film and Television Awards when he won Best Actor in 1998 for his role as Neil in the 1997 production of Topless Women Talk About Their Lives. He's had an extensive career in film, television, and stage. He's also quite an accomplished musician, playing in a band with Kevin Smith from time to time. All this and more we talked about during a chat in a quaint Auckland pub in March of this year.
Santa Monica and Kiwi Humility (11-18)
Kiwi TV and Rugby (19-24)
The United States and New Zealand (25-30)
The Future (31-40)
Strife BRET RYAN RUDNICK:
One of the first things I wanted to talk to you about was the character Strife. You play that in such a wonderfully psychotic and energetic fashion. Is that how you intended to approach that when you first read for the part?
 JOEL TOBECK:
Well, before I was Strife, I played King Beraeus on Hercules [PROMISES (H31/218)]. That was three years previous. That was a fairly straightforward part. Since then I did several auditions. When it came to the Strife character, I went in to audition for that part. We did the thing and they said, "For this part you really have to be over the top with it". We did it again, and it really wasn't working out. I said, "Look, this really isn't working. Let's run tape again, and I'll just go nuts and do my best Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey impressions". They bought it, straight away. In retrospect, that character went more over the top as time went on, and I've relaxed with it. I was really nervous about doing it. But the more I relaxed into it, the better it got. I never really plan what I'm going to do with it until we're actually rolling. I have no idea what's going to come out, which is really pretty exciting.
Over time on Hercules and later on Young Hercules, the way you developed the character was very good. When it came to the time in ARMAGEDDON NOW (H72/413) where Strife is eventually killed, I found that a very powerful moment. It was very well played.
Thanks. I felt bad when I actually did it. This was before Young Hercules. I thought, "Oh, no, I'm just nailing the character, and now they're killing him off". I wondered why. When we shot that scene, I thought it would have more impact if Strife just sort of fell back rather than do a big, dramatic death scene. A "less is more" type thing. One moment he's really "up there", and the next he's nothing.
And that expression you had at the moment the character was stabbed was really something.
[smiles] Well, that's Hind's Blood, you know? I'd love to know what the mortal equivalent is, probably a nuclear bomb or something.
Strife's death scene was one of the best ever portrayed on HERCULES.
Then you got to carry that character over into Young Hercules.
That was a compliment to me because it meant they trusted me in what I was doing and liked what I was doing. I got to work with old friends of mine as well, like Dean O'Gorman and Kevin Smith, Megan Desmond. We all had a ball. We felt right at home.
I understand you're coming back on Hercules as a different but related character.
Yes, as Deimos, a cousin of Strife. I decided to play him very much like Strife, probably even a little more psycho. The way the character was written was very close to Strife, so I didn't want to change it too much. I think that's what people who watch the show know me for. At the convention I was at [Santa Monica, 1999], people seemed excited by the prospect of me coming back, so I wanted to keep it the same.
Santa Monica and Kiwi Humility RUDNICK:
Speaking of the convention, what did you think about that?
Dean and I didn't know what to expect as we were flying over. I was on a job at the time, so I only had two days to spare. I was really tired, but we were very excited. We had heard about these things before, but being the way we are, we were saying, "Oh, no one is going to be there for us", or we thought people wouldn't know who we were. I was really nervous backstage. I went out by myself, and there was this huge uproar. Cameras were flashing. It just blew us all away. At home we don't get that kind of recognition, unless you're a sports star, really, like an All-Black. It went on for hours. We were there all night, signing for hours. I think I must have done 3,000 signatures. We went back the next day, tired but happy.
I know from talking to some other people that the Young Hercules crew was taken aback by the huge response you and Dean and Ryan and Chris got. A lot of people came specifically to see you guys.
We weren't expecting it. The show had only been on for about three or four months. That was very surprising, as well as flattering. We found ourselves wanting to say, "Just relax. It's OK, we're not that important!" Our culture here is not to stand out too much.
I've heard that before about New Zealand. The public sometimes seems to just go against people who get too much recognition.
We don't have a great self-esteem as a nation here. If you're a rugby player, that's OK because of our love for sport. This is one of the things I admire about America - their not being afraid to stand out or be recognized. Perhaps that's just my thinking or perception. But in America, being told you're the greatest nation in the world, of course you're going to grow up and be confident. That's a great thing. But we're not really allowed to express how good we are. [smiles]
Joel at Santa Monica, his first USA convention. Photo courtesy Vixen and her site.
How do you compare the work you do for Pacific Renaissance versus some of the other things that I've seen you in, such as Topless Women Talk About Their Lives, an all-Kiwi film. You played a very different role there.
In this country I'm not known as a comedian or comic actor. I've always done drama. I've played bad guys before, and I've done "over the top stuff" before, but not as much. I've done some stage work, but I've mainly done television. That's where the money and steady work is here. It's been a great challenge for me, to be able to trust I could go as far as I could. Even now I still say, "Is that OK? Is it too much?" Tell me, and I'll do less or more. Eric Gruendemann is always saying, "No, that's perfect." I wish people here [in New Zealand] could see that work because it's so different from what I'm known for here.
Kiwi TV and Rugby RUDNICK:
I notice that New Zealand television shows Herc and Xena somewhat infrequently.
It's been on late at night usually. It'll go off for awhile and come back on again, sometimes showing old episodes.
It seems like in New Zealand people spend significantly less time watching television as contrasted to, say, the USA. They seem to like to just sample things more. You'll get a few episodes of one show and then that's it, on to another show.
That's true. It's also because we're such a small country, we can't really afford to buy a lot of shows. Unfortunately at the moment we're getting a lot of what's called "Reality TV", the equivalent of your Cops. Some of it is very good, some of it's absolute rubbish, but they're cheap to make. And we don't have the audience to maintain a lot of stuff. We're only three million people. There are rare exceptions like Shortland Street. I could be wrong, but I think we're a nation of workers who aren't really brought up in a TV culture. But then, sports ratings go through the roof. The country stops when the All Blacks are playing, or cricket is playing.
I remember when I was here last year, in this very pub in fact, there was a rugby game on the big screen television over there. People were crowded around it, yelling and cheering. The barman told me they were watching a video of a match that had played two months ago, but New Zealand won that one and the crowd was into it as if they hadn't seen it before.
[smiles] We love our rugby, and we'll go to a match and cheer and scream and yell, but not too much. When a goal is scored, there's not a lot of hugging and such - there's a bit more now, but in the old days they'd get right back to playing the game. I love the All Blacks. I'm going to see a game tonight, actually. Auckland are playing Canterbury. Kevin Smith's team is Canterbury, and mine's Auckland, and we're both going to the game. It's great when your team is winning. I guess it's like baseball or basketball in the States. You guys have a World Series, but you only play in America and Canada. But sport is, in some ways, the only excuse we have to let our hair down a bit.
The United States and New Zealand RUDNICK:
Having seen a little of America and spending a little time there with conventions and such, do you think you might like to come over Stateside and try for work there?
Totally. I'd be on the plane tomorrow if I had an opportunity. But as far as going to live over there and trying to crawl my way to the top, I'm not sure I could. It would be very hard. I may have a small advantage in that I'm already on a primarily American show. That might help in my favor. But I'm pretty realistic about it though. I work very hard, and I love America. If I did go back there it would be to travel around as well as work. And I'm very grateful for what I've got at the moment. Pacific Renaissance have been very good to me in the last few years. It does require a lot of work though. If you do this sort of work here, you do it because you love it, because there aren't a lot of jobs available. When Pacific Renaissance came here, that helped a lot. We didn't all think we were going to be stars, but it helped give people a lot more opportunity. It was fantastic to have so much work available. We don't let it go to our heads though. That's just not something we do here.
I've noticed that. People here are very down-to-earth. It must be something, though, to realize that on Herc and Xena you're watched in the USA alone by an audience that's greater than the entire population of New Zealand.
That's so bizarre. [smiles] We're very glad for it, though. We tend to be very modest about it, but deep down, we get a kick out of it.
In spending some time now in New Zealand, it's not only a very beautiful country, but there seems to be a very good rapport between people in New Zealand and people from the States. I'm something of a history buff, and in talking to people, I've had people mention a few times, for example, how glad they were to have America as an ally during the war and such. That's refreshing, considering some of my other experiences in other countries. I think New Zealand is about the best kept travel secret I've experienced.
I think part of the reason the relationship is good is because we've grown up with a lot of American influence - sport, fashion, entertainment. But America is a beautiful country as well. I think New Zealand is a best kept secret, and I'll tell you what, I felt the same way about America the first time I went there. I loved the sport and the people. New Zealanders also, I think, have a good reputation around the world because of the strong work ethic. We tend to go in and get the job done. Especially in World War II, my grandfather served there, in Italy. The Kiwis and Americans got on pretty well there. I think we both share a kind of "can do" spirit.
The Future RUDNICK:
What do you have coming up for you in the future? Any more appearances or films?
We're hoping Young Herc comes back, but I don't know how that's going to go at the moment. I do keep busy with music, Kevin Smith and I play in a band together. We're doing a gig this weekend, and I have to learn a few songs. Kevin and I have just done a telefeature together called Lawless where he plays a cop, and I'm a bad guy. If they want to bring Deimos back that would be great. That might be a way off, but if I get a break, I might travel a bit. For me, I've been in the business long enough not to worry too much. It'll be all right.
Deimos, with his cousin Discord, will appear anew in the next season of HERCULES.
Is there anything in particular that you haven't done yet that you'd really like to do?
I've said this before when someone asked me a similar question: I'd love to play Mick Jagger in his life story. I'd really like to do a role as a musician in a rock band. I'd like to continue with my music, and I'd love to sing and play for an audience, but to be realistic, I'm probably better at the acting than I am at the music. But the important thing for me, as well as others, is just to keep getting more work. You don't want thing to just dry up. I plan on studying a bit more, maybe one day directing or getting into another side of the business.
I understand that as far as things are going for you now, you've gotten a bit of recognition in that you have a new fan club.
[smiles] Yes, that's certainly something new for me. You can see it online now at http://www.globalserve.net/~thejoyces/joeltobeck.html. Lori Joyce has put a lot of work into that.
Anything we might see you in soon?
The Deimos episode I've just done should air soon. [Author's note: FADE OUT (H101/520), the Deimos debut episode, has recently aired, and we'll see two more Deimos episodes in Season Six.] I try to spread things out a bit, especially in the work I do here that's shown locally. There's a danger here of becoming a bit overexposed if you're used too often.
I don't want to keep you too long. Thanks for taking the time to chat and share your thoughts.
Nice to meet you, mate. Cheers.
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic-qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art. He and his dog hunt down stray Bacchae in New England.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)