After chasing TV guest-star spots and supporting roles in movies for more than 20 years, Michael Wiseman was ready to "pull the ripcord" on Hollywood.
So just over a year ago, he and his wife, Caroline, an Emmy-nominated makeup artist, moved to Lafayette, where Wiseman, 45, grew up and still has family. They wanted to establish a more stable, less hectic life for themselves and their two daughters, Dalilah, 11, and Olivia, 7. As for acting, Wiseman figured he'd get his fix in local theater.
But then came a chance to play hotheaded mobster Johnny Rizzo, a recurring character on the CBS freshman drama "Vegas," which stars Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis. It was an offer he couldn't refuse.
"It's like that line in 'The Godfather,' " he says. "Just when I tried to get out, they pull me back in."
Now, Wiseman, a graduate of St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley, makes weekly commutes between the East Bay and the gorgeous 1960s-circa "Vegas" set in Santa Clarita. Highly grateful for his first extensive prime-time role, he took some time recently to field some questions.
Q How thrilled were you when this part came your way?
A I was stunned. I'm told that it was a part some big-name actors coveted. ... Apparently, good things really do happen to those who wait. I love it. I feel like a kid again.
Q What made you and your wife decide it was time to leave Hollywood?
A We were tired of the roller-coaster
Q And what drew you back to the Bay Area?
A I grew up in the Lafayette/Alamo area and rode my bike to school every day. I still see friends I grew up with. In L.A., we were spending an hour and a half each day driving our kids to school. They didn't know their classmates from year to year.
Q So now you're on this show with a big-name cast. Tell us about it.
A It's amazing. You show up to work, and you're looking across at an Emmy-winning actor (Chiklis) and a big movie star (Quaid), and it's like you've been accepted into their family. ... It's not an immature set. They are so professional. You get out there with them, and everything clicks.
Q And you're on one of the best sets, right? An incredible reproduction of Fremont Street in Las Vegas.
A Oh, my God, it's two football fields long. It's got fancy old cars, real slot machines, tables, women in fancy costumes. ... I couldn't believe it when I first saw it. It's beautiful.
Q In your first appearance on "Vegas," your character brutally roughs up a guy. But he also gets slammed into a blackjack table by Dennis Quaid. What was that like?
A He kind of blew me away on that scene. I weigh 200 pounds, and he's not a real big guy, but he just hoisted me up there. He's as strong as an ox.
Q Doesn't sound like a lot of fun.
A I prefer giving a beating over getting one any day. You just look cooler doing it.
Q What's the best thing about playing a mobster?
A As an actor, you get to put your moral code aside. With mobsters, it's play by our rules or get clipped. It's that simple. It's fun and liberating to be able to play that.
Q You've appeared in more than 65 TV shows, including some real classics -- "ER," "Cheers," "The X-Files," "NYPD Blue," "Melrose Place" -- do you have a memorable anecdote that stands out?
A When I did "Cheers" (1992), I was obviously a just baby. On Day 1, we sat down for the table read (of the script), and there I was with Woody Harrelson, Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley ... I was in awe, and very nervous. But within 30 seconds, Woody chucked a bagel at Ted and suddenly a food fight broke out. Stuff was flying everywhere.
Q And what was your reaction?
A It calmed me down. It was the coolest thing. I thought: "These people are real, after all." Before, they were iconic.
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