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Whether you know him as wily Ryan OíReily on the lost, lamented prison drama Oz, or as Denis Learyís younger brother on Rescue Me, or Dennis on the hit comedy, 30 Rock, Dean Winters is one of the most recognisable faces on television.  Dean took the time to chat with us about his new feature film, Splinterheads and along the way talked of Terminators, Beeper Kings, popular Nazis, carnival barkers and Lana Turnerís milkshake.

Dig it!



Dean Winters


The Lady Miz Diva:  Youíve been everywhere on TV lately, with Rescue Me, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and 30 Rock, but there were a couple of years right after Oz ended where we didnít see too much of you.

Dean Winters:  Yeah, well, you know, when Oz ended, I got really picky with what I wanted to do. And the jobs I wanted to do, I wasnít a big enough name for and the jobs that people wanted me for, I didnít think the writing was any good.  So I did Rescue Me for the four years after Oz and I did little things here and there, but the last couple years have been pretty good to me.


LMD:  How did that happen?

DW:  I think I just got lucky and I felt like it was just probably my time.  You know, Oz was such a particular show; who would have thought that the breakout star of Oz would be the Nazi?  I think Oz was so good; it was so ahead of its time; I really think that Hollywood wasnít ready to start buying into the actors, but things change and like I said, itís been a good couple of years.  Knock on wood.


LMD:  How did you come to Splinterheads?

DW:  It happened a long time ago. The director, Brant Sersen, he had this script out there and he and I took a meeting together, it mustíve been a few years ago.  I told him if it ever got made, I would love to be a part of it.  I remember it was July fourth, two years ago; I got a text message saying that they were shooting in August and September and two months later we were shooting.  It really turned out to be one of the most rewarding jobs Iíve had.  It was a really great group of people, it was fun, there were no egos and a great crew.  It was just a nice job all the way around and Brant had only directed one other feature before that, this is really, I think his first true feature and he did a really good job.  It was a really nice time.


LMD:  Tell us about the research you did to play Reggie, the crazy carny?

DW:  When I first met with Brant, he had this big book with him it was all his research; photographs and sketches and real life splinterheads.  There was a picture of a guy with a mohawk with star tattoos all over his arms.  I told Brant, ďI wanna be that guy.Ē  I was in LA doing the Terminator show and I left Terminator early to come back to do Splinterheads and when I was in the hair and makeup chair I told them, ďGive me a mohawk,Ē and I came back and I remember Brant -- he was not happy.  But we got to the set to with the real splinterheads - cos it was shot at a real carnival - and the lead splinterhead had a mohawk.  So, I told Brad, ďSee, there ya go.Ē  I couldnít really do a lot of research, I couldnít go work with the circus; Iíd been doing another job across the country.  Iíd go on the internet and got a little history on them and we shot during this carnival and I spent some time with a number the carnys.


LMD:  Do you need to find something in yourself to relate to when you play a bad boy like Reggie or Ryan OíReily?

DW:  No... I mean, I guess if I said that, Iíd be setting myself up.  For me, the character is in the writing, and if the character is not in the writing, then Iím not gonna take the job. I donít wanna have to do that much work.  You know, Oz was my first major gig and the writing on Oz was just pristine, so I got spoiled right out of the gate.  So I think that with every character that I play, whether itís someone like Ryan OíReily, or Reggie, or whoever, even on 30 Rock, the character I play is really kind of a moron, I think with every character I definitely find something in that character that I can relate with.


LMD:  Who you do prefer, the bad boys or the good guys?

DW:  Oh, bad boys.


LMD:  Why?

DW:  Theyíre so much more fun.  Youíre able to go to work and just kinda be an asshole for twelve hours.  Look, who doesnít wanna be an asshole for eight hours a day?  Thereís something kind of liberating about it.  Yeah, the bad boys are fun.  I havenít been offered a lot of hero roles and Iím not saying I donít like playing them, but if I had a preference, yeah, itís always fun to be bad.


LMD:  Do you find that people come up to you on the street expecting you to be like Ryan OíReily or Dennis from 30 Rock?

DW:  Yeah, I think some people are stupid enough to expect that and you know, for that Iím truly sorry.  Iíve had my share of psychos over the years, Iíve had many incidents.  For the most part, people will respond to the characters and most of their questions have to do with, ďWell, how did you inhabit that person?Ē  I think when they meet me on the street, they know Iím neither one of those people.


LMD:  Whatís been the reaction since 30 Rock has everyone talking about you?

DW:  30 Rock is such an intrinsically New York show, and once again, itís about the writing.  You know thereís all this geek humour right now on television, where people are talking to the camera and Tina {Fey} kinda flipped that on its head, and Robert Carlock and John Riggi, all those guys, their writing is so sharp and itís really, truly funny.  I mean a lot of these shows I watch, I donít laugh at, and 30 Rock I seriously laugh out loud at the television and that doesnít happen a lot.  I donít know if thatís because Iím from New York, or because Iím able to reference the humour, or because of the age Iím at, but whatever, itís working for me.  But Iím really happy for their success and Iím really happy to be a part of that show even though Iím kind like a cousin.


LMD:  How seriously do you take acting now? It seems like Oz came to you through Divine intervention.

DW:  It came to me through Divine intervention, but I had been working extremely hard for seven years before I got Oz.  I had been doing theatre, I had been doing TV commercials, I did all the requisite guest stars on shows like NYPD Blue and New York Undercover.  Oz was not a Lana Turner story where I was buying a milkshake in a drugstore and they discovered me.


LMD:  Thatís been the lore about you for years; that Tom Fontana discovered you when you were a bartender.

DW:  Thatís not it at all. I was working in a theatre downtown selling tickets, I was doing little plays, I was guest starring on TV shows and I studying with William Esper.  I was bartending with my brother {Scott William Winters} in a bar, when we met Tom Fontana, the creator of Homicide at the time, and two years later he gave me a shot on Homcide.  Then three years after that, he was doing this experimental pilot for HBO about a prison.  Yes, he wrote the part for me, but Iíd been working very hard for years before that to get to where I am, but Oz was the kickstart and that was the first show that brought me any notoriety, but Iíve always taken the craft extremely seriously.  I mean, there have been times where Iíve gotten a little bit lazier than I would have liked to have gotten, but still, to me, itís still what I know how to do and I love to do it and every time I do it I learn something new about myself and about the craft.


LMD:  Whatís next for you?

DW:  Well, Iím going back to 30 Rock soon.  I took a little break in the last two months, but Iíll be going back to 30 Rock, probably in January.  I have this movie I did last year, right after Splinterheads, called Todayís Special, with Aasif Mandvi {The Daily Show with Jon Stewart}.  It opened at the London Film Festival and it did really well.  Itís making the rounds right now and I think theyíre hoping itís gonna come out some time in the spring.  I havenít seen it, but I heard itís great.  Itís a really great New York story; I have a really small part in it, but Aasif plays a sous chef in a major New York restaurant and I play the top chef and we pass him over when we open a new restaurant and he gets very upset.  He ends up going back to Queens to work in his familyís restaurant to revamp it.  Itís a really great story that he wrote.  I was happy to come in and do a couple of days on it.  I just really believed in the story and Iím happy that itís got some legs right now.


LMD: What do you think people are going to take away from Splinterheads?

DW:  You know what?  Itís not one of those movies thatís gonna shake anyoneís core, but you know what it is, itís a nice, feel-good movie.  Thereís really not a lot of those anymore.  Everything is usually really serious, really dark, or just super-over-the-top CGI bullshit, and this is like a really sweet movie.  Mike Simmonds, the DP, shot the shit out of it.  Itís so beautifully shot.  I saw the rough cut in the spring and I was just rocked by how good it looked.  Between Thomas {Middleditch}, it was his first movie, and Rachael {Taylor}, whoís kind of new at the game and you have people like Chris McDonald and Lea Thompson, that just kinda add to the flavour.  I just think itís a really sweet movie, you know?  Itís a stop-and-smell-the-roses story and Iím just happy to be a part of it.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

October 29th, 2009





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