Peter Macon puts his almost 30 years of stage and Yale School of Drama experience to good use with his fabulous portrayal of Lt. Commander Bortus on FOX’s new hit show “The Orville.” Fans will also know him from his roles in “Shameless,” “Bosch,” and “NCIS.” What they don’t know is that he is a huge nerd from way back. Macon was in to “Robotech,” Japanese animation, and could often be found playing BattleTech after school. Get to know this super talented actor and find out why he hates ants.
Colleen Bement: Geek and non-geek viewers alike are loving “The Orville.” How has the experience been for you so far?
Peter Macon: Fantastic. I studied at the Yale School of Drama and have been performing on stage for almost 30 years (I started really young), so I can say that the language is great because Seth is a wordsmith. He’s written most of it, and he is very particular about every pronoun. He writes it to a rhythm. If you watch “Family Guy,” or “American Dad,” or “Ted,” you can hear the cadence of his where his sense of humor generates from. There’s not a ton of improv–pretty much none, but we’re all goofing around and we’re all laughing. Some days there are 18-20 hour days, and after hour 14 you’re just nothing, so goofing around was always high and we kept each other in stitches play jokes on each other. It’s very family oriented. The make-up department that did my prosthetics every day were great. It was like a zen time for me.
CB: What’s it like being on “the ship”?
PM: So it was very structured, but very freeing in that because everything is right there. On our bridge, our viewscreen that we’re looking at is about 2,000 panels of all LED screens. We’re watching as we go through wormholes and dark matter, and with all of these great CGI effects; we’re actually seeing them as we film. Sometimes it’s blue screen, but most of the time it’s actual imagery that we’re playing to. It felt very much like he built a giant scale model spaceship and we get to play in it. Seth (MacFarlane) works really hard and it’s great to somebody at the helm of everything. He still works seven days a week in post-production and I have a lot of respect for that. It’s so much fun and I can’t wait to get back to work.
CB: Tell us a story or two from the set of “The Orville.”
PM: It’s funny in watching them and remembering the antics, like when Scott Grimes‘ character loses his leg, and he comes back in with that foot (laughing). It still cracks me up because it’s so gross. We had to keep a straight face because the stakes were high, and it was impossible. I think we did like ten extra takes.
There was one moment where we had an ant problem. California ants can be pretty rambunctious and relentless. I fell asleep in my trailer. I go back to set, and they seal me up, and like two minutes I feel this sensation. There were ants inside! It was a nightmare because it’s literally glued to my skin. I had no recourse but to beat myself until I killed them all. It’s like rats in the skull and bugs in the brain. It was the worst sensation. I was running around screaming I have ants in my head!
CB: Your character Lt. Commander Bortus is from a planet that is “almost all” male. The third episode ‘About a Girl’ was as thought-provoking as it was hilarious. How did you feel about tackling such an important issue?
PM: It’s so rare to get that opportunity; I mean especially now with the administration trying to set us back like 75 years, it’s great when art and life; or politics when you can comment on it without spoon-feeding or beating you over the head. It was very thoughtful and very smart. There are many levels to this guy, and you will see that there’s an arc. It’s not a light thing. Imagine your child being born with a deformity and you’re not allowed to change the deformity. He wants to have the child undergo the procedure, and then as wack-a-doodle as this is, if that’s even a word, he watches “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” This shows the gravity of the situation and the zaniness of watching “Rudolph.” When I was at the table read I was like oh wow; this is so great. Not only does it tackle such a serious issue, it doesn’t have this Hollywood end to it, ya know? There’s disappointment.
What’s great about this show is that it balances comedy and drama. I studied clown for two years in grad school and my clown teacher said, “Without the possibility of tragedy, comedy cannot exist.” I feel like I’m really getting a good workout as an actor being able to play this range of emotions. It feels good to be a part of the conversation. It’s one thing to have my own political views, but it’s another to be paid to turn it on its ear that 400 years in the future we’re still dealing this issue of tolerance and acceptance. We’re not just entertaining; we’re engaging the conversation of gender politics. You will see what happens to his character as a result of that episode. episode 12 is going to be a doozy! It all comes back around. You heard it from me first. It’s so unexpected what happens. I can’t wait for the phone calls: WAIT; are you serious?
CB: Are you a sci-fi fan and if so, what is your “go-to” TV series to watch?
PM: I’m a nerd from way back. I played BattleTech after school. I was into “Robotech” and Japanese animation and building models and science projects. I love reading science fiction- I love watching science-fiction. I’ll even watch bad sci-fi just to see a spacecraft you know, doing its thing.
CB: What is your go-to sci-fi series?
PM: I’m all over the map. I really like “Black Mirror,” I re-watched “Star Wars” and my wife thinks I’m crazy. I haven’t had the chance to catch the new “Star Trek.” I’m a fan of “Firefly.” I think I get to see “Blade Runner 2049” tonight and I’ve probably watched “Blade Runner” like 50 times. Sometimes I listen with the sound off just for the visuals.
CB: It’s World Series time. If you were a baseball player what would your walk-up song be?
PM: I’m all over the place with music. Bortus dances a lot off-screen. We do a lot of radio trivia games. I mean the raunchier the better! There’s disco 70s song called “Ain’t gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” I think Bortus goes to the disco tech on Moclus.