Leland Jones Orser is an American film and television actor. Orser is a character actor, whose career has included playing a number of deranged, psychotic, and degenerate characters. Orser has appeared in small roles in a wide variety of films and television shows, including Chief of Surgery Dr. Lucien Dubenko on the television show ER.
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Hi, reddit! My name is Leland Orser. You may know me from many projects including SE7EN, TAKEN, THE GAMBLER or ER.
I currently play “Ansel Roth” in the new film FAULTS, which is now playing in theaters & also available on iTunes.
You can check out the trailer for FAULTS here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ztZQKMt2cc
FAULTS is about an expert on cults (me) who is hired by a mother and father to kidnap and deprogram their brainwashed daughter (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), but I as the expert begin to suspect that the parents may be even more destructive than the cult.
I am looking forward to answering your questions today. Victoria's helping me get started. Go ahead – AMA!
Edit: Thank you all so much for participating in my reddit AMA! If you haven't seen FAULTS, please go buy it now on iTunes. Contact me on Twitter and we can talk all about it. I think you're really gonna like it.
Mr. Orser, thanks for doing this AMA. You have always popped up in my favorite movies over the years, thanks for all the hard work you put into your roles, no matter how big or small.
My question is how long did you stay awake for exactly to prepare for your scene in Se7en? Any other interesting stories from that set?
I stayed up two whole nights, drank alot of black coffee, and smoked a lot of Marlboro Reds.
I did over 40 takes of the interrogation scene. And I passed out during one of them, because of the emotional intensity in the scene. Morgan Freeman was an incredible acting partner, and he quietly directed me to find some point in the scene where I would look him in the eyes, and ultimately that became the high point of the scene, when I found his eyes.
How was it like working with Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan?
I think that SAVING PRIVATE RYAN was one of the best scripts I've ever read. Obviously Spielberg is one of the most important directors of our time. And to be able to portray one of the men that served our country that day on the ground in D-Day was a very special opportunity. He's a lovely, gentle, kind guy, and he made it, you know, very easy to do my job. And the scope of that movie was SO big. The main crew, the band of Brothers that you follow throughout the film, they had just finished filming all the beach sequences in Ireland, and my scene was the first scene from the rest of the movie that was shot. So they came to set that day, and they were just pretty much shell-shocked from the scenes they'd just filmed on the beaches, which was the opening sequence for the film.
Out of your many amazing projects, which cast has been the most fun to work with?
That's a really hard thing to say. We go from project to project. We become very close, very quickly, with the people that we work with. We say goodbye, only to see each other somewhere down the line in a different story as different characters. I've been lucky to work with a lot of actors multiple times. The actor's life is a very weird one.
Leland... Thanks for the AMA and thanks for the performances throughout the years. My question is when asked to lick another actor's face is there protocol? Any pregame discussion about ground rules?
Also, happy Charles Moore sort of survived Very Bad Things...
Absolutely! Especially when the actress that you're licking is the director's wife.
A lot of teeth brushing and mouthwash.
Yeah, poor Charles. I felt we were all going straight to hell for the end of that movie.
What was it like to worth with your wife? Since you've both been in different roles and genres of film and you both have different acting styles; was it hard to find a balance? Was it hard to direct her (i.e. if she made a mistake, how easy was it to tell her to retake a shot)?
We found our professional relationship to be a great one. Of course, you never know - but only the risk-takers are rewarded. In our house, we like to keep a separation of church & state - meaning business and our home - and we made some rules for ourselves, that we would never discuss the film while we're at home, but my wife is a great actor, and when I say "great actor" i mean one of THE great actors. And she was very, very easy to direct. She has a range of emotions that many other actors do not have. And she is able to access them with a snap of her finger. She also is extraordinarily photogenic, and filmmaking is a visual medium, and the camera loves her. So that combination of her acting instrument, and her emotional range, along with her physical image in front of the camera onscreen, is a killer combination. And I feel like she is only just begun, and has a huge career ahead of her still.
I only wish other directors would be so lucky and discover what I discovered.
You were in a great movie The Guest. Did you have fun making it because I had a fun time watching it?
I had a great time making that movie. We shot in a small town in New Mexico called "Moriarty." I stayed in a Best Western Motel right off of Route 66. My 12 year old son stayed with me while I was filming, and came to work with me every day. It was dirty, and dusty, but we ate a lot of good Mexican food, and bought fireworks.
What was it like working with Mary Elizabeth?
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a wonderful actress. She's the wife of Riley Stearns, the writer / director of FAULTS. And they invited me into their professional and personal relationships, and we spent 2 months, 2 very intimate months, together making this movie. I think that she is a rare talent with extraordinary skills, and an amazing acting instrument, and I was very lucky to act opposite her.
Leland, you're amazing in SE7EN. How do you give such an extreme performance when you're in just one scene? You can't launch into something like that 'cold' I assume, and don't have the benefit of developing your character over multiple scenes. Were there rehearsals on that movie?
There were no rehearsals on SE7EN. I had never experienced those emotions in my own real life, so it was pretty crazy to experience them for the first time on a set in front of people. David Fincher is a very exact and demanding director, looking for high, very high standards of performance. And I felt compelled to push myself further than I ever had before. And, you know, was lucky ultimately that it came out the way that it did. I had no control over that myself in the end. In fact, I was pretty out of control by the time we finished filming. And I stunk at the end of that day. I smelled like a stable full of horses and cows. And I drove home, with blood on me, and I was so afraid that I was going to get pulled over for speeding, and arrested for manslaughter, the way that I looked! You know... my scene was scheduled to shoot on a monday morning, and on Monday morning, after I'd stayed up the whole night before, I got a call from my agent saying that my scene had been pushed until the next day. So the big question was do I stay up all night Monday night, and do I sleep and screw up my whole process if I do? So I decided to stay up all night monday night as well. So I was so stressed, and not hungry, so I was in quite a messed up state of mind when I arrived Tuesday morning. They said I was first up Tuesday morning, and then they came into my trailer and said "Your scene has been pushed until the end of the day," so it was quite torturous, but it all served the intensity of the scene at the end.
I'm a huge fan of your work Mr. Orser Can I ask: What is the best thing a director can do for you on set?
The best thing a director can do for an actor is to give them lots of confidence, and create a relaxed environment. Gene Hackman once said that the secret to good acting is relaxation. And you know, if you're anxious or nervous, it's very difficult to recreate a natural, real-life situation. And knowing that a director knows what they want, and are confident with what they want, and everything you're giving them is going to serve part of a vision that is clear is important, for an actor. The worst thing is when you think a director is out of control and doesn't know what they're doing, that is the worst thing ever.
Do you have any directorial advice?
Watch other directors. Watch movies. Watch television shows. Go to the theater. Learn and steal.
Hi Leland,I've been a fan of yours for a while now. My first time seeing you was in NYPD Blue,followed by
I think the most important role was SE7EN. Because it was my first major motion picture. And the movie was very successful. And the movie got a lot of attention, and to this day, I still have people come up to me and want to talk about that, and that performance. So it had an impact of some sort. At the time, I was very worried about having done it. I thought it was a really crazy part to play, and I doubted myself, having done it, until it came out. I was very worried about seeing myself in that way, up on screen.
And I did 2 characters on NYPD BLUE actually. One was a little snitch, I think "Zeppo" was his name, and that was a great character. And then I think I played a British guy, I can't remember what his name was. I loved working with David Milch. I loved working with them. Steven Botchko created the show and David Milch ran it. I wonder what they are doing now.
What was it like working with David Fincher?
Obviously, David Fincher is one of the great directors alive today. It was really cool to get in on the ground floor with him. He cast me at the Zodiac movie, but I'd already been cast in Steven Soderbergh's THE GOOD GERMAN with George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Tobey Maguire. I hope to work with him again. I admire him greatly.
Hi Mr. Orser, I'm such an admirer of your acting, but I don't know much about you. I usually see you in supporting and character roles, like in Seven and Saving Private Ryan. What kind of roles do you seek out? Not just in film as in supporting versus starring roles, but theater? And do you do any other film work, like directing?
I wrote and directed a film called MORNING, which came out last year, and is available on iTunes: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/morning/
It starred my wife, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Elliot Gould is in it, and Laura Linney, and Jason Ritter, and Kyle Chandler, and it's a very poignant story about a married couple dealing with a family tragedy.
The types of roles I seek are epitomized in the role I play in FAULTS. A great story, a great script, a great director, great producers, great actors as collaborators, I love that the character I play, Ansel Roth, is a deeply flawed individual looking for meaning and salvation in his own life. Basically, what I look for in roles (big OR small) is good writing. And this role, and this script, and this film, have it all. It starts out as a dark comedy, moves into a drama, and ends up on with on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller.
What was it like working on Cheers? I saw you in the bar the other day. :~D
What do you think it was like working on CHEERS?
I had a tiny part on that show, with just a handful of lines. That show was the first - that show featured John Mahoney, who then went on to do FRASIER for many, many years. It was incredible. It was incredible to be sitting in the CHEERS bar. It was incredible to watch the CHEERS actors. Basically my jaw was on the ground the whole time I was there. It's one of the greatest shows that was ever on TV.
What was it like working on The Guest?
I loved working with Dan Stevens and Sheila Kelly and Mika Monroe and Brendan - I loved Adam Winged as a director, and his partnership with Simon Barrett, and I think that the producers, Keith and Jess Calder, are two of the best producers I've ever worked with.
It takes a very talented person to believably lose a fight to a quadriplegic. What was your initial reaction when you first read that scene in the script for The Bone Collector?
I shook my head. And thought it was a great idea. Denzel and I were strapped together for many hours. And I actually messed up my shoulder shooting that scene, because not only was I pushing my own weight off the ground, Denzel was attached to me, I was lifting his as well.
In the BOOK, there's a different killer, by the way. And it's the doctor. They changed that for the movie.
What was it like playing The Massage Parlor man in Se7en? what did you think when you first read what your character was going to do?
It was the last thing in the world i wanted to do. I was horrified. And repulsed. And the casting director convinced me to do it. He was very instrumental in getting my career started, and I trusted him, and he was right.
I think the first thing I saw you in was your various "Star Trek" roles (i.e the deranged hologram, the not-Romulan, the guy in the 21st century helping the Xindi). Any stories you can tell me about working on those and were you ever up for any other Trek roles?
Those were - that's a LOT of TREK roles by the way, and I think it's pretty unusual to have played that many in the franchise, you know?
The Homicidal Hologram was one of the greatest roles, EVER.
And I actually finished shooting that part in the middle of the night, before I got on an airplane that night before I had to fly to London to shoot SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.
I loved doing STAR TREK, and being a part of that extraordinary franchise, and I was very lucky later to meet and spend time with Leonard Nimoy, and was very sad at his passing last week. He will be missed in a big way. And did so much for so many while he was alive.
That is somebody who led a great life.
I loved you in Taken: Do you think Sam would ever get a spin off?
Hehehe! Um... we have done - I've been in all 3 TAKENS, playing Liam's best friend, and - hahaha- I don't think a spinoff would be a bad thing! I really don't! John Gries, who plays one of his other close friends, and David Warshofsky, we're like the 3 Stooges. Put a camera in front of us, and we're good to go. We always thought that there should be a behind-the-scenes second camera on us at all times, so the side-story or whatever you want to call it would be told as well. I have a great time with those 2 guys, and we love getting together every couple of years to shoot the next one. And I loved working in Paris, I loved the French crew... Olivier Megaton is a great director, and Pierre Morel is a great director too. They both have a gift with the camera.
Hey Leland, thanks for doing this reddit AMA; you're awesome! I'm a really big fan of yours! :D I'd like to know if you have any habits or rituals on set that you have to perform, and if so, what are they?
I have another question; have you ever thought of the rest of a character's life/background off-screen? Some of your roles deserved much more screen time! (cough) dubenko (cough)
We as actors always bring a backstory and at times, a future story, to the characters we play onscreen.
Mr. Orser, I have two questions for you:
David Fincher has been known to do many takes of a scene. Considering how intense your scene was and the method you used to achieve that intensity, and considering Fincher's persistence in "getting it right", were you ever concerned about it, or did you trust Fincher completely?
Were you hired to do Alien: Resurrection based on your performance in Se7en, and what was that experience like overall?
1.) Once we passed a certain number of takes, I was really just a prisoner of war. I forgot where I was, what I was doing, honestly it was like being tortured.
2.) Interestingly enough, what the two films have in common is their cinematographer, Darius Khondji. I screen-tested for ALIEN just like everybody else.
Will you be writing/directing again in the future?
I do have a completed script sitting in front of me, RIGHT NOW, which I hope to shoot next year in San Francisco. I'm working on making that happen now. It's a thriller.
What is the role you never landed but wanted, and what is the role you landed but never thought you'd want?
You're intensity in SE7EN left me with huge admiration for you back in the day. I even watched the Taken sequels hoping you'd be in there. Thanks.
Wow, that's hard.
I think the character that I played in
There are a LOT of roles that I didn't get that I wanted. But the actors that did get them did a great job. And deserved to get them.
Leland, thanks for being here!!!! 2 questions. 1. What's in the box? 2. Would you be interested in an interview for my movie-based podcast? It'd be an honor to have you on, and you'd have my eternal gratitude. I look forward to your other answers, and hope to be working with you shortly.
1.) Gwyneth Paltrow's head!
2.) And reach out to Prodigy Public Relations about the podcast.
I like your work.
You have been in a lot of my favorite movies. Saving Private Ryan, Seven, the Taken movies.I could go on.
What has been the most fun? What shoot did you walk away from thinking "I wish they were all this great?"
I've been really lucky so far with the projects that I've been involved with. I loved the movie VERY BAD THINGS. I loved the experience that I had with the guys on that. I loved working with Peter. I loved this last movie, FAULTS, maybe most of all - but it's also because it's the most recent. I was in 68 out of 69 scenes in FAULTS, so during the 19 days that it took to shoot the movie, I was more the character of Ansel Roth than I was myself, Leland Orser. I loved shooting
What's Spielberg's shooting process like? Is there a lot of trying things on the fly, or is everything according to a blueprint? Do actors get to contribute if they think they can help improve a line or the blocking?
To start off with the script - the script needed no improvement, so any input would've been stupid.
That script was perfect.
Spielberg's process is highly thought-out. There is definitely a blueprint. But he is VERY open to suggestion and collaboration and input. For instance, he asked me whether I thought the scene of the glider pilot that i played needing the band of Brothers - Tom Hanks and his crew- should be shot inside the glider, or out, whether the physical scope of the scene should be wide open, or closed in and claustrophobic. And he, and myself, and Janusz Kamiński the cinematographer, we all decided that the boxed-in claustrophobic hot-box of a glider plane would be the best location for the scene to take place.
I remember him saying to me, after we'd done a bunch of takes, "I have everything I need here. Let's do one more, and you just do whatever you wanna do." And that is the take that ended up in the movie, that last take. Because I, all of a sudden realized - this was one of my first jobs, I all of a sudden realized where I was and what I was doing - that I was standing in a tight space, staring into the eyes of Tom Hanks, and Janusz Kamiński one of the greatest cinematographers in the world was standing next to him with a camera on his shoulder - and the image in that camera was being sent directly to a monitor in front of which was sitting Steven Spielberg. And I thought Everything you've dreamed of doing, you're doing right now. And I was overcome with emotion in that moment. And that was an incredible moment in my life.
Hello, thank you for doing this AMA. I'm a big fan of all of your work. I loved the Bone Collector and ER was a favorite series of mine. Could you tell me a little bit about what it was like to work on those?
THE BONE COLLECTOR was great, in that I got to work with Philip Noyce, and Denzel Washington. We shot in Montreal. Again, a French crew, who were great, and the food is great in Montreal. Denzel is a great actor. It was fun to shoot that movie. It was fun to be the killer, haha! And try to kill Denzel, and to be killed by Angelina Jolie. I loved Angelina Jolie, I loved working with her, and have enjoyed watching her career and life soar from when we worked together.
ER was great. I came onto ER to shoot 2 or 3 episodes, and ended up staying 5 years. I LOVED the character of Lucien Dubenko - he was not your typical surgeon. He was super-smart, but also had a very big heart. And I learned a lot about the medical profession from playing him! I LOVED working with all of those actors and actresses on ER. And I miss them.
You were incredible in FAULTS, and I think it's your best performance to date. Without spoiling anything, your character goes through some very strong changes throughout the film. How difficult was it to make that transformation? What mindset do you have going in to those very emotional scenes?
I worked on the script for a month before we shot it.
Did a lot of research, wrote the script down into scenes - emotion, intention, conflicts - the writing was very good, so my journey was relatively straightforward.
I had, in the back of my head, the image of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, to keep a bit of levity in my performance. There's a 12 page scene at the end of the script that takes place in a tiny bathroom between me and Mary that is filled with emotional highs and lows - and that, throughout the filming process, loomed over me.
And I was very anxious and very nervous about shooting that scene, as it is an emotionally VERY volatile journey.
But, in the end, there was a camera operator, a focus-puller, and a boom man, Mary, and myself in this very tiny bathroom. And we found that confidence and that relaxation and were able to go very deep with our emotions.
Like I said before - acting is about relaxing. And at a certain point, you need to take a leap and hope that the truth of the scene carries you so that you can really fly and have it hold you up. And it felt like that happened.
Hi Leland. Firstly, just want to say it's always a pleasure to watch you work and you do pop up in the strangest places (Private Ryan, Alien and more). Well, always, bar one time; The Bone Collector. Because I recognized you in the background of an early scene and knew that an actor with your chops wouldn't just be in the background so you had to be the murderer! /u/beernerd has asked what your initial reaction when you first read the script for The Bone Collector? Did you think you might be too well known to be able to maintain the suspense?
Martin Bregman, the producer of THE BONE COLLECTOR, was very worried about that.
So he did not want me to be over-exposed in the film. He didn't want me to be seen in public, dressed as the character that i played. So he took great lengths to hide the fact that i was playing the guy who would ultimately be the killer. In fact, many of the sequences in the film where the murders are taking place - I'm not the one doing it!
I thought it was a great script, and I thought it was a great book. It's a great crackerjack serial thriller. And I thought it would be really, really fun to do. I felt, in the movie, like I could've done more - planted more scenes in the beginning of the film - but they were wary of overexposing me in the beginning of the film and it being too obvious that I was the bad guy.
Hello! Do you have any interesting stories from filming Saving Private Ryan? Thanks!
SAVING PRIVATE RYAN we shot outside of London, in the summer. It was a very, very hot day. And I remember thinking I have 4 brothers. Had we been born in a different time, we could very easily have been over here like the Ryan Brothers, wondering where we all were, and if we were all okay.
I could feel the ghosts on that day.
And I felt a great responsibility to get it right.
I loved your episode on ST: Voyager. It was one of the creepiest episodes and it's stuck in my mind for months. What memories do you have from filming Voyager and how did it compare to your experiences on Enterprise and DS9?
So VOYAGER was great, because I played a Homicidal Hologram. Say no more!
ENTERPRISE was different, because i played a contemporary human being on earth. So they were very different. And on ENTERPRISE, we shot here in Los Angeles, on the streets of Los Angeles at night. It was a full episode of night shoots.
How did you enjoy working with Mark Wahlberg in The Gambler?
I loved Mark Wahlberg. I respect Mark Wahlberg. I think it's amazing, what he's done with his life, his career, and his company.
He just might be the hardest-working man in show business.