Interview with Scott Cohen

I'm always complaining about the low level of acting in adventure games. Whether it's voiceover or video, our games rarely shake up the world of dramatic interpretation. Therefore, a good performance in a game really tends to stand out. I've always considered Scott Cohen's work as Jake Quinlan, the lead in Ripper, to be one of those rare performances that actually adds to a game's quality, rather than compromising it.

Cohen filmed Ripper in late 1995 and has since continued landing small movie roles and television guest appearances.

His relative anonymity may soon be a thing of the past, however, because, as Josh Chetwynd said in USA Today on February 15, "All three major networks are relying on Scott Cohen to some degree during the February sweeps."

Fans of ABC's NYPD Blue have been enjoying Cohen's several-episode arc as disturbingly sleazy Detective Harry Denby. On Sunday night he competed against himself, playing another detective--this time real-life Detective Steve Thomas in the CBS miniseries Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, and on NBC starring in the gigantic, 10-hour miniseries The 10th Kingdom.

We caught up with Scott on Friday, after he graciously agreed to give us an interview, despite the jammed schedule of what must surely be a crazy week.

So, Scott ... I'll bet you never thought Ripper would come back to haunt you!

I sure didn't!

How did you get cast in Ripper?

I auditioned in New York--Sheila Jaffe and Georgianne Walken were the casting agents. They're casting The Sopranos now!

Going into the project, what was your attitude about appearing in a computer game? At that point in your career, was getting the job like, "Eesh ... I'll take anything, won't I?"

No, I was very excited! My wife and I had just had a baby, and it was good money and six straight weeks of work. Plus, it was the lead. Most of the other actors were already on board when I was hired. And who wouldn't want to work with that cast? I was thrilled! I thought, "Hey, I get to work with Burgess Meredith and Christopher Walken!"

What was the business perception of these CD-ROM acting jobs in 1995?

No one knew how it was all going to work. At the time, everyone was saying, "Wow! A great new source of jobs for actors! We won't have to do commercials anymore!" But nobody knew how to negotiate these kinds of jobs. It wasn't even clear which union would govern this kind of job.

Was it the Screen Actors Guild?

It turned out to be AFTRA [The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] finally, since it was shot on video.

Did you actually get to film with any of them, or were you all shot separately?

Oh, no, I did lots of scenes with the other actors. There was a lot of dialogue.

What was the work like?

The challenge was the fact that there were six to eight versions of every conversation to film. Keeping the varying narrative straight in your mind was very challenging. And you wouldn't always have the whole story. Like they might just tell Chris Walken, "Okay, you're the really threatening bad guy here. Say this." You had to just concentrate on getting across an essence of the scene and the character.

How about sets?

The entire shoot was done on in a single small area. We had minimal set pieces, like tables, chairs, and props. But everything else was to be animated in later. We did almost everything in front of a blue screen. This was my first experience with blue screen, and that was fun.

Was that difficult?

It was cool, actually, because all the animation guys were always right there, creating each new environment for us. That aspect of the project was very fun.

I have to ask. Have you ever played the game?

No, I never played it! I don't have a PC. Is there a Mac version? Of course, they gave me a copy. And I was very impressed with myself ... "Hey, look, my picture is on the CD!"

Jacob's Ladder is one of my favorite movies. What was Adrian Lynne like to work with?

He's amazing. I think it's such a cool movie.

I've always been sorry it wasn't a bigger hit.

Yeah, but it has a cult following. I did this low-budget film called Vibrations. It dealt with the rave scene. And I was amazed to learn that the young kids in the rock bands in the movie just worshiped Jacob's Ladder.

For Perfect Murder, Perfect Town, you play a real life detective. Did you get to meet him?

Yes. They flew me to Boulder to meet with him. The whole JonBenet Ramsey story is so weird ... none of these people ever expected to see their lives etched in stone, you know?

Okay, so who killed JonBenet, anyway?

Going into the project I felt sure it was the parents. But after working on the story, I'm much less sure about anything. The whole story is so strange and confusing. What's interesting about Larry Schiller's script is that it tells how the real story--the murder of a six-year-old child--slipped away. It's important to remember that.

I have to say your scene with Kim Delaney in the bar on NYPD Blue just made my flesh crawl. What a creepy guy!

Yeah, when I read the script, I couldn't believe how long the scene was! Seven pages for one scene in a television show is practically unheard of. Working on NYPD Blue was so great. David Milch is like a TV god. Everyone on the show conveys this sense of feeling proud to be there; the integrity of the actors is quite enormous.

Will we see Detective Denby again on Blue?

Don't know yet!

Okay, so let's talk about The 10th Kingdom. Was there a lot of drama involved in getting the job?

Yes. I auditioned three times. I know they wanted a name actor for the part. The writers and producer didn't have final casting say, the network did. But early on I got the impression that the writers and producers were really rooting for me, and I'm sure that helped.

So, a seven-month shoot! What was it like?

Even though it's definitely an American miniseries, so many of the creative team were British that there was a definite British theatrical element in our approach, and I think it really paid off.

What was the biggest challenge of such a long shoot?

Keeping the dramatic through-line. I mean, it was a 600-page script! Over seven months of shooting, it was challenging just to keep track of where everything fit into the story.

So tell us about your character, Wolf.

Wolf is a sort of part human, part wolf character who is very much Red Riding Hood's wolf. He's passionate, he's bestial, and he's a bit psychotic! He's got lots of issues. If he was to be plopped down in contemporary life, he'd have lots and lots of issues! He has an eating disorder, he'd be in AA, he'd be in therapy!

So, are you having a good time with all this positive attention?

Yes! But I'm remind myself of something a friend said to me recently: She said, "The thing that got you here is not reviews--it's the work."

You realize, of course, that when you become a big TV star you'll have to leave NY and move to LA. How do you feel about that?

Moving to LA? In a second.

If video-format games have a comeback, would you be interested in doing another one, or was once plenty?

If the money was right, sure! Actually, I think the setup of Ripper was very interesting. A 21st Century detective. I think Jake Quinlan should have a television series!

Well, good luck with everything. Soon you'll be "That guy from The 10th Kingdom" ... and everything is going to change.

I hope so!

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