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A Chat with Mitch Pileggi

You may know him as FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner on “The X-Files” or, more recently, you may have thrilled to his recurring role on “Stargate: Atlantis” as Col. Steven Caldwell, but either way, if you’re a sci-fi fan, you probably recognize the face of Mitch Pileggi. Pileggi’s resume is wide and varied – he’s recently popped up FX’s “Sons of Anarchy,” has turned up on CBS’s “CSI” and “Cold Case,” and was a regular on ABC’s short-lived (but thoroughly brilliant) “Daybreak” – but now it’s The CW’s turn. After a one-off turn on “Reaper,” Pileggi has found his way onto a flashback episode of “Supernatural,” playing Sam and Dean’s grandfather. We spoke to Pileggi in conjunction with the episode, which airs on Oct. 2nd, which gave him the opportunity to praise the cast of that show, speak to the variety of work he’s done, and stand bemused at people’s fondness for his 1989 cinematic collaboration with Wes Craven.

Stay tuned for…

Mitch Pileggi: Hello, Will! How are you doing?

BE: I’m good, Mitch. It’s a pleasure to talk to you.

MP: Well, thank you.

BE: Not only is “The X-Files” one of my all-time favorite shows, but it seems like you pop up in another one of my favorite shows every time I turn around.

MP: Oh? What are you watching?

BE: Well, you were on “Reaper,” and I spotted you in “Sons of Anarchy.”

MP: Yeah, I’m actually still doing “Sons of Anarchy.” They haven’t killed me yet. Somebody…actually, everybody…is looking to me kill me, I think. I just don’t know who the bullet’s gonna come from.

BE: How did you turn up on “Supernatural”?

MP: Eric Kripke (the show’s executive producer) called me and asked me if I would do this, and I had worked with Eric before, and he said he’d been looking for something for me to do on the show. And then this role came up, and so he thought of me, and they asked me to do it. And I was…I love Eric, and I knew that Kim Manners worked on the show, and a lot of the crew was crew that I had worked with on “The X-Files,” so I didn’t even wait to look at the script. I just said, “Absolutely I’ll do it.”

BE: Did you find that the younger cast members were in awe of you from your having been on “The X-Files”?

MP: How do I answer that? (Laughs) You know what I found? I found both Jensen (Ackles) and Jared (Padalecki) to be just really cool guys that love what they’re doing and they’re having a good time doing it. They work their asses off, and there’s no attitude, no B.S., and as somebody who’s been doing this for a long time, going on a set and seeing that kind of behavior is, to me, a blessing. And I was very, very happy to be able to be around it.

BE: It seems like it’s going to be a very important show, as far as the series’ mythology goes.

MP: Yeah, a lot happens! A lot happens, and a lot of information is revealed.

BE: I wanted to ask you about a few other things from your career, but I have to start by saying that I remember you fondly from your starring turn in “Shocker.”

MP: (Sighs, then laughs heartily) You know, it’s funny, because I still have people walk up to me…I was at the grocery store the other day, and a guy walks up to me, and he’s wearing a regular shirt, but he pulls that open, and he’s wearing a t-shirt with me on the front of it, sitting in the electric chair. A “Shocker” t-shirt! And I’m, like, “Why are you wearing that? What is wrong with you?” That was so long ago!

BE: People have their fond memories. What can you do?

MP: It was fun. I had a great time, and I loved Wes Craven. I had a great time working with him.

BE: When you first got onto “The X-Files,” did you have the feeling that it would be a breakout role for you pretty early on?

MP: No. I thought I was just there because Gillian was pregnant and they needed somebody there to fill the void. I mean, as an actor, you always have your hopes, but I’ve had my hopes dashes so many times in this business… (Laughs) …that I feel stupid when I get my hopes up about anything! But I didn’t know where it was going to go or what they were going to do with it. I just knew that I was there and was going to enjoy the ride for as long as it lasted.

BE: Well, certainly, as a result of “The X-Files,” you’ve been able to carve out a nice career as a go-to guy for character work.

MP: I’ve been real fortunate, knock on wood. Things have gone well, and I’ve been blessed. I have very few complaints.

BE: I particularly enjoyed your work on “Daybreak.”

MP: Thank you! I was talking about that to somebody else, and I…I wish that we had been able to hang in a little bit longer with that show. It was a good role, and it was a lot of fun, and I was interested in seeing where they were going to take that character.

BE: I think it’s destined to be cited as one of the best single-season shows of the decade.

MP: Hey, I thought it was pretty good!

BE: You’re also on “Stargate: Atlantis” these days. You definitely seem to fall into the sci-fi genre on a regular basis.

MP: I seem to, don’t I? (Laughs)

BE: Had you been a sci-fi guy before “The X-Files”?

MP: I had. I’ve always been interested in sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. It’s something that’s always been there for me and that I’ve always stuck with, so the fact that I fell into it as an actor is kinda cool.

BE: You were on a show called “The Mountain” for a brief period. I like to ask people about their favorite underrated projects; does that series fall into that category for you?

MP: I think they probably could’ve done something with it. (Hesitates) As far as projects that I’ve done that were underappreciated, I have to go back to “Daybreak,” as far as a show that didn’t get a good deal. “The Mountain” was fun, and it was a great group of people, but I think that they wanted it to skew younger than what I was able to bring to it. You know what I’m saying? It wasn’t “Gossip Girl”…although it did have Penn Badgley in it! (Laughs)

BE: See? Maybe the potential was there, and they just didn’t realize it.

MP: Yeah! Y’know, it’s funny, because the first time we did a table read for “The Mountain,” Penn was there, and he didn’t really have that much to do in the episode, but after we talked out of it, I looked at him and said, “Kid, you’re gonna steal this show.” And I think he pretty much did, because they sure hung onto him and have given him more stuff to do.

BE: You were also in the movie “Three O’Clock High,” an ‘80s teen movie that never seems to get the love it deserves.

MP: There’s some great camerawork in there. That was a lot of fun, and it was an interesting project, shooting in Utah. That was a fun character to play, also. Yeah, I thought that was a good movie.

BE: And you’ve done some voiceover work as well, most recently playing Commissioner Gordon on “The Batman.”

MP: Yeah! That was fun…and it’s easy! I had actually done another previous incarnation of “Batman” (“Batman Forever”), just one character, and I had done a few other things, but not a whole lot. But I sure do like doing that type of work. You just go stand in front of a mike on a soundstage. You don’t have to shave, it doesn’t matter what you look like. (Laughs) You just go in there and do your character. It’s fun.

BE: Is there a role that you’re most surprised to have people come up and say, “Omigod, I loved you in that”?

MP: Probably “Shocker.”

BE: Y’know, I heard a report that they were planning on remaking that, by the way.

MP: (Long silence) Um…yeah. (Laughs) Okay. But they’ll be doing it without me, that’s for damned sure!

BE: With “Sons of Anarchy,” what led you to that role? Because it seems at least a little bit different from your usual work.

MP: You know, I just went in and read for (executive producer) Kurt Sutter, and it was what they were looking for, I guess. And he actually said to me…this is usually the kiss of death, but when I walk into the audition process, I walk into a room and the producers are there, and if any of them say, “I’m a big fan of yours,” it’s the kiss of death. I might as well just turn around and walk out the door. And this is one of the first times that a producer said that to me and I still got the job…so I was kind of stunned! But, yeah, I just went in and read for it, and it was what they were looking for, so it worked out.

BE: I don’t know if IMDb can be trusted, but it lists your first actual episodic TV as being an episode of “The A-Team.”

MP: I think it might’ve been, yeah. In fact, that was when I was shaving my head, and one of the A-Team guys refers to my character as “Bullethead.” My brother got quite a kick out of that, and I was “Bullethead” to my brother for quite awhile. (Laughs)

BE: Last question: is there one TV guest spot that you’re most proud of?

MP: (Considers the question) That’s a tough question, because I can’t think of everything that I’ve done. Um…I couldn’t even answer that. But I’m getting ready to do a character on “Criminal Minds” that’s really interesting. The guy’s a real mess. He’s a character who’s kind of like Michael Douglas in “Falling Down.” I’m just starting to shoot it tomorrow, actually. But I’ve really got to prepare myself for that, because it’s gonna be a tough one…but it’s gonna be fun.

BE: Excellent. Well, thanks, Mitch, it’s been a pleasure talking with you.

MP: Good talking to you, too. You take care!

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