Time Out visits the set of hit series Eli Stone to talk to star Johnny Lee Miller about the show, TV, living in LA and talking football with George Michael. Words Matt Pomroy
What made you want to try TV again after spending most of your career in films?
Well, I was on a show that got cancelled last year, [Smith] so I was really not that keen on the idea of doing television again, but the script is really great and the part was good… that didn’t obviously guarantee me a job, but I thought I’d go for it. Also I feel that I’ve got no snobbery or anything like that about what kind of medium I’m working in. If the writing’s good, if someone comes along and you get the opportunity to play a part that you think is really great, I think you’d be a fool not to take it. Everything is an adventure, you know?
It’s a big, impressive set, so how does it compare to working on film, especially films back in the UK?
Well, I’ve worked on films a lot smaller than an episode of Eli Stone. The pace is a lot faster and the sheer volume of pages that you shoot in a day is a lot bigger. But they shoot it with the same level of attention and also you really have to know your dialogue and really be on top of your game because they can’t be waiting for you to get it right.
It’s a big decision to do something like this that could be potentially seven years in Los Angeles, right?
Yeah, or a couple of weeks again [laughs]. Things get cancelled very quickly out here. I had rented a place here because I was working on Smith, a show last year that lasted a couple weeks. I was thinking, “What am I going to do now?” Then this project came along.
There are a lot of British actors heading up American TV shows at the moment. Is there any sort of fraternity you’ve set up?
There’s a coven. [Laughs] We have a coven and we met on the second Tuesday of every month and we plot the downfall of other actors in the U.S.
Was there any hesitation because you would have to leave home?
I actually do like being away and I like missing it, and I like going home. I don’t get extremely homesick, and I’m very familiar with Los Angeles. I lived here for a couple years in the 90s, and I like it. It’s an advantage. It’s weird to go to another part of the world and work and be employed and experience that for a long nice period of time whether it’s America or wherever. It’s a fantastic experience.
So what do you miss the most?
Family, and the fact that you can’t get good fish and chips out here.
George Michael was in the first series. So what did you and George talk about between takes?
Football and music. I’m not kidding either, actually. We chatted about England. It was nice, personally, for me to have another English person around. But also, we just talked about the project and helping each other out. He was very good, but then he was playing George Michael – it’s a role he’s quite familiar with.
Co-writer Marc Guggenheim has a background penning series like The Practice and CSI: Miami but also comics for Marvel. Would you prefer to see it go down the more comic book route or legal drama?
Well, the good thing about the show is that it can do both because of the concept of how his actions are being driven by the hallucinations and visions, which gives us a really good scope to work with. And I wouldn’t want to see it go in either of those directions permanently because the balance between the two is what makes it something different.
What do you think Eli Stone believes his purpose in life is, after having experienced these visions?
He doesn’t know. That’s the major drama for him, and that’s the journey that you go on. He doesn’t know and he’s completely confused and conflicted and scared by everything that has happened to him and everything that he has seen so far. He thinks he’s this hotshot corporate lawyer who seemingly has everything going for him, then is shown that he doesn’t really have any idea who he is or what makes him happy. So it all comes falling down. And then he’s a very confused, lost soul. He has to re-evaluate everything.
Is that what attracted you to the script?
He can be a real idiot, which is attractive to me because he’s human and he makes big mistakes and treats people badly, but has redeeming qualities and tries to make amends in whatever way he can. I don’t want to play someone who gets it right all the time. And also this weird stuff happens to him, just really crazy things, which keeps it out of the ordinary. His values are all completely wrong, and he actually realises how selfish he is.
So you think it’s a blessing for Eli that he realises we have a limited time on earth and we should do something about it?
He feels that he could die any moment and what’s he been doing with his life? I always know I can die at any moment; I’ve been like that for years. I love it. I’m a pretty happy person, to be honest with you.
Is there a moral message to the show?
I’m a bit weary of moral messages. Personally, I don’t think audiences should be patronised, but I think that you should be told a good story and then left to make up your own mind from that.
From Time Out, September 2008