Peter is currently working on a new series Queen of Swords. He plays Doctor Robert Helm
Methos almost loses his head to an evil Duncan MacLeod in Deliverance
By Lyria Wollich
The Methos Mystique
He's Welsh, he's handsome and he's vaulted into the hearts and minds of Highlander Fans everywhere as Methos, the oldest living immortal and as his alter ego - Watcher Adam Pierson; He's enjoyed every minute of it. "Methos was fantastic to play because he was a different guy every time I met him." Peter admits to us during a recent interview. (which was forwarded to us by his wonderful personal assistant Kelly Andrews.)
According to David Abramowitz, the shows head writer, the Methos character was truly original, "Well, Methos was great fun because we thought, rather than playing him as the old sage, we thought about someone who had been through the old sage moment and through the irony moment and through all those moments in his life for every couple hundred years and now he comes to this conclusion that - I have to say what Methos' philosophy was. It was "Shit happens" - and deal with it, and survive. That's what Methos was about. "
It took an actor who fully understood this philosophy to be able to play it well and to really, fully realize the part that Methos would become. Peter Wingfield did so, so very, very well that he became an enduring presence on the series. His ability to play the wise yet unpredictable 5000 year old immortal brought this charming, charismatic actor to the forefront of Highlander lore.
Hardly a newcomer to the genre, being a veteran actor on British Television for over ten years (see Peter's Bio), Peter found Methos to be a challenge and ever-changing. "The thing I hate about TV, and playing the same character is that actually you are basically playing the same story week in and week out. All the fun and excitement is in episode one. So, for all the rest of the season it just gets more and more boring. Methos was never like that. He was someone else every time I met him and that was thrilling."
So who is Methos, really? Peter explains, "Some weeks it was comedy - some weeks it was high drama. I think that is the enduring appeal of Methos - his mercurial nature - you never knew who he was and the same was true for me. I still don't know lots of stuff about him. You never know who you are going to meet each time he appears - or each time the script lands on your doormat!" And there were some moments he really enjoyed. "Great Moments: Methuselah's Gift - the train station. Indiscretions - road movie section with Jim. Comes A Horseman! It would be easier to say where there any moments when you didn't enjoy playing him. Yeah there were a couple - wallpaper episodes that were boring." But, overall, Peter says "It was full of great moments and great one liners!" One immediately comes to mind in his first episode appropriately named "Methos" with Duncan MacLeod that has become somewhat of a staple for Methos fans where he turns to Mac and says "mi casa su casa"
So what about Peter? How did this Welsh actor, with a background in Medicine - he dropped out to pursue his acting career; and training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London come to be associated with Highlander? Peter replies in his self-depreciating way, "They offered it to me and it was four days in Paris. It is fairly rare to turn a job down - it would have to be pretty awful before an actor would turn down a job. " Peter was initially only offered the one episode and was signed as a "day player" . It wasn't until almost two years later that he realized the significance of what Methos had become. "I wasn't aware of it for the first two seasons. It was only at the end of season four, when looking back at it; I realized that I'd done three in season 3 and eight in season 4."
"When they approached me to take part in season 5, it actually occurred to me that I was a recurring character. When I did realize that Methos was clearly as important to the show at that stage as either Amanda or Richie, I did push for some contractual changes - instead of being contracted as a 'day player' I was contracted as a regular member of the cast - with a recurring (regular) role."
And Peter reprised that role recently in Highlander: Endgame, once again playing the 5000 year old immortal who saves his friend Duncan's life when he's abducted by a band of rogue watchers. Peter talked about Endgame and his role along with fellow cast mate Jim Byrnes who played Joe Dawson. "Yes it's exactly the same character. The significant thing about having me and Jim in the movie is that it turns the world of the movies into the world of the TV series. It brings in Adrian, who is the same guy he's been for the six years of the series, and he brings his friends with him. They are the same people - it is the same world."
But during the filming of the movie - which everyone agrees was difficult at best; Peter and Jim got to share more than a spot in front of the camera. It seems getting from one place to the next became somewhat of an adventure. "Think it was my last day of filming, definitely Jim's. Got up at some god-awful hour in the morning - down to the hotel lobby; no one there to pick us up."
"No one there to pick anyone up. The camera crew were all there, the camera equipment was all there, all the stuff to lug out to the set. No one around, and like minus ten outside, December in Romania! Freezing bloody cold and starting to snow. We all kind of hang around looking for something to eat for about an hour, when they finally decide 'OK we'll just order you guys a taxi'. "
"Jim and I get in the back of one of these cabs and drive out to the location which is a cemetery. We've been driving for about twenty or twenty-five minutes when we drive in to a cemetery which is completely void of human life - a lot of ex humans, but no one around at all. At this point, we establish in appalling pigeon Romanian that there are -of course; many cemeteries - Orthodox Christian Cemetery, Roman Catholic Cemetery, Jewish Cemetery; the list goes on..."
"We of course have no idea - as we are just actors, picked up, taken to the set, say our words and go home; which of these is our location. We have numbers for the office and various people. none of those phones are picking up, no one is answering their cell phones."
"The cab driver just gets out of the car, and walks of into the distance - presumably to try and find out what is going on; leaving me and Jim in the middle of a cemetery at seven o' clock in the morning, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with the snow starting to fall. This is not one of the nice neat tarmacked cemeteries of the western world - this is just a clearing in the forest. Absolutely no question of Jim getting out and walking anywhere - even if we knew where to go; so we just sit there for twenty minutes or half an hour. I call Vancouver because it's still early enough there for people to be awake and enjoy the humor of the situation - and also because I am hysterical! "
"Finally, somebody comes and finds us. The cab driver comes back with another cab driver who appears to know what's going on. So we drive from where we are, around a few trees down a few winding bits of pathway and then we stop in the middle of another bit of nowhere. At which point he enthusiastically waves us out of the car and we have to walk down a little forest path, down a big steep slope and over a couple of fences to where the location is."
"Jim was pretty happy I can tell you."
And Peter Wingfield fans will be thrilled to know that he has been filming in Spain recently for a new show, Queen of Swords in which he plays - oddly enough; a doctor called Robert Helm. When I asked him about how he got the role, he was quite frank. "It was the Highlander Cruise in November '99 (LA to Mexico). David Abramowitz came on to just do a Q&A session and asked if he could have a chat with me over lunch."
"In essence, he said that he was developing this new series. It was at that stage fairly certain, although not guaranteed, that it would happen and he said there were two possible roles in it that he was considering me for. He very much wanted Valentine and me to be part of the show because he is a big fan of ours, and he wanted strong reliable people on his show to guide it through what was going to be clearly very difficult filming conditions."
"At that time there were two possible characters, one was called Grisham, who is kind of the bad guy's sidekick. Valentine is the bad guy and Grisham is his underling who does his dirty work for him."
"There was very much the sense of that being Methos and Kronos to me. The other character that he was thinking about for me was a doctor who had done something terrible for which he could not forgive himself. He had left the army to become a doctor to atone for his sins and run from his past and the wars in Europe. He comes to the New World where he answers an advert to become the doctor in a village in Southern California."
"We talked a lot about it. I was very much more attracted to that role rather than the Grisham role and over the course of the next four or five months, David, in essence, wrote the part for me. He wrote audition scenes for me and we talked about them at great length. I put a couple on tape, went down to LA and did a couple of scenes with the girl they had cast as the Queen of Swords and over and over again the Producers of the show said 'he's not really what we're after'."
"They were really looking for a show like Buffy and they were wanted a young sensual couple - the girl who plays the lead is 24, I think, and they wanted a guy of around 28. Which I ain't! "
"David refused to let them actually turn me down - he just let it simmer. They kept seeing other people. Many, many people. I know of a handful from England that they saw. But, also when I went to LA they had a guy from Montreal testing and another guy from Canada. They saw just about everyone available. Finally, they just ran out of time or were beaten down by David's dutiful watching of all the tapes and all the people who came to audition and pointing out all the things that the character needed that these actors didn't have."
"Finally I got a call, just as I was heading for the airport to go to England, and the call initially was from David saying 'you can't tell anyone this but I think they are going to offer you the job. When they do, don't let your agent f*** it up.' They did call, half an hour later and I had to be in Spain, I think, a week after that, so I had to cut my trip to England short. I arrived in England at the weekend."
"I had to leave again on the Monday, fly back to Canada to pack up and leave, with my family, for Spain. Thus the long tenuous tale of "Hey Pete I'm writing a show and I'm writing in a part for you" finally unwound itself. I shall be eternally grateful to David for his doing that!"
And Peter seems to be having fun and not without his fair share of adventure. During a recent interview with Roberta Brown - stunt double for Tessie Santiago, she related us that Peter wasn't above doing his own stunts. "We were shooting a jump which Dr. Helm needed to make off a rocky cliff face onto the Queen's horse. Chencho, a terrific and very experienced stunt man, jumped onto Natalie on horseback to get the landing effect, but then director Brian Grant went back to get the jump from below, which was done as a 15 foot or so jump onto a big pad. Unfortunately, although Chencho is a great double for Peter from behind, his face looks nothing like Peter, so they couldn't get the shot Brian had hoped for. That's when Peter volunteered to do the jump himself."
"Let me just point out that jumping off of cliff faces is one of
those stunts that actors never offer to do themselves!! But Peter climbed
up and startled us all not just by doing it, but by doing the move like a
professional stunt man, jumping face down into the pad and tucking at the
very last second - a very difficult thing to do!
So what does Peter think about his work and his cast mates? That's a pretty simple answer. He loves it! He enjoys the time he gets to spend with his other Highlander Alumnist Valentine Pelka and new Cuban actress Tessie Santiago. "Great to be working with Val again - he is a terrific actor. He is very, very good in the show and he is exciting to work with. He is always there. You play a scene with him, you look in his eyes and he is alive and that is great."
"Tessie is one of those ephemeral tales of overnight success. She decided she wanted to be an actress, went to acting school, she did an audition at the end of acting school and this is it. She got the first job straight out of drama school. She is suddenly going to be a huge star - and to be perfectly frank she deserves it. She's got great presence! (She's got really good eyes!) She's got a terrific attitude, she is not fazed by any of it, totally down to earth, she has not become any kind of prima donna - she is just a real good person and I have a lot of time for her. This has been very demanding, she had a lot of things she had to learn very quickly, she is working very hard at it. I think she is going to be a huge star."
And Queen of Swords has even more Highlander Alumni...."Ken (Gord) is a terrific Producer and it's lovely to be working with him again, and also a lot of Highlander directors - Richard Martin, Paolo Barzman, Dennis (Berry) is coming in to do some..."
Even Elizabeth Gracen has found her way to the set of Queen of Swords, playing the "Counterfeit Queen". Peter was disappointed when he missed her part of the filming. "I miss Lizzie - very, very sad about that. She came into do an episode that I wasn't in so I missed her. I have a lot of really good friends from Highlander and a lot of really good memories."
But Peter has also had a lot of other changes occur in his life since he started with Highlander, good changes including marrying his Highlander makeup artist Carolyn. The couple just had a baby boy last February. "He is a delight and his full name is Edan Stewart Wingfield." The new father crows. "He is just a really nice kid. I know every parent thinks that about their kid and so they damn well should. But he is very easy and nice to have around." And Peter and Carolyn have started a charity in his name. "it's a UNICEF charity for kids without parents. They raise funds for children anywhere in the world that don't have parents. Whether they are orphaned by ill-health, war, famine - whatever. Give, give, give!" Though the six month old is still to young to talk, Peter is working on that. "He does have two bottom teeth and we are just starting to teach him sign language so that we can hopefully alleviate some of his frustrations in the 18 months or so before he is really talking and enable him to express himself in words, so he will be able to ask for stuff and communicate. We're just learning to sign for milk at the moment."
But an actor's life is not always easy and the couple has found it hard to be apart now that Papa has a new series far away from home. "It's been really tough. For the first block of filming the family came with me and it's hard work being a long way from home with (at the time) a ten week old baby in a part of Spain that is really not the modern western world. It's pretty barren down there and life is hard."
"The alternative is me being there and my family being six thousand miles away which is also very hard. That is what I am doing at the moment. We talked very seriously about it before I accepted the job, right from the moment David approached me about the role. Carolyn and I were both at that initial discussion and we discussed the implications of accepting it from the outset, and ultimately you decide what you can live with and what you can't. Some hardship is part of the job. When the hardship starts to become detrimental to the family you say "OK well, I'd really like to do this but it's not the most important thing in the world". At the moment I am very happy to say that the balance is working out. But when I accept a job it's not just me that accepts it, it's the whole family, because it's the whole family that has to do the job."
So what else is in the works for Peter? Well, besides filming for Queen of Swords, Peter has also just finished filming an upcoming episode of First Wave in which he gets to play alien bad guy and he also has a few more projects in the works so look for him in the future and don't forget Queen of Swords premiere's the week of October 2 nationwide. For Complete listings see our Queen of Swords TV schedule. I know that you will join us in wishing Peter well in all that he does "...because the alternative is unthinkable."
For More information about Peter's life check out his official fan club at PWFC.
Methos confront his past as one of the Four Horsemen
Peter Wingfield and Valentine Pelka as the Horsemen