Mark Valley as Christopher Chance in Human Target. Photo by David Gray and copyright of Fox Television
MARK Valley is a versatile film and TV actor who is known equally for his comedic, witty turns as he is for his dramatic, weighted performances. He is a familiar face to Fox viewers, having appeared as FBI Agent John Scott on the hit drama Fringe. His additional television credits include a three-year run as Brad Chase on Boston Legal, starring roles on Keen Eddie and Pasadena as well as recurring roles on Once and Again, ER, The 4400 and Swingtown. His film credits include John Schlesinger’s The Innocent, The Seige with Denzel Washington, John Frankenheimer’s George Wallace, The Next Best Thing with Madonna and Rupert Everett and Shrek III as the voice of Cyclops. Valley also wrote and performed in Walls, Wars and Whiskey, a one-man show about his experiences growing up in upstate New York and serving in the military.
Valley graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and began his acting career while serving overseas in the Army. The Gulf War veteran is a native of Ogdensburg, New York, and these days divides his time between Vancouver and Los Angeles. Currently, he stars as Christopher Chance in the Fox action TV series Human Target. On March 8th, I and other journalists had the pleasure of speaking with the actor on a conference call. The following is an edited version of that Q & A. Enjoy!
When did you realize that you had lightning in a bottle with the chemistry between you and Jackie Earle Haley (Guerrero) and Chi McBride (Winston)? When did they come into the project? I’m sure you got the script first and then they were added.
MARK VALLEY - Yes, I got the script first. I was the first one cast, I know that. I think we all realized that we had something pretty amazing when we were shooting the pilot in downtown Vancouver. I think it was at the very end of the episode. It wasn’t the end of shooting, but it was the end of the episode, and rarely are the three of us together in any episode, but in this instance we were. They were getting ready to set up a shot, and we were sitting around in our chairs and started talking, as actors do. Suddenly we just realized, my God, we all come from different places in terms of parts of the country and experience in the industry and so forth, and the three of us just kind of clicked. The thing I liked about Chi and Jackie is that I was just really kind of curious about them and wanted to get to know them better and thought they were both quite interesting. I think the three of us had that same feeling about each other, which is kind of cool and rare as well. And that kind of shows up on the screen and, perhaps, makes the viewer wonder how did these characters meet up, or come together, and what’s their history.
I know that you cannot possibly take risk taking and thrill seeking to the extreme that your character of Chance does, but how much of a daredevil do you allow yourself to be in real life? What are some of the more outrageous adventures that you might have taken? Have you ever jumped out of planes for fun, or any of those things?
MV - Yes, I’ve done that. I’m a little more now into taking calculated risks. I like to mountain climb, and the better prepared you are, the safer it is. I don’t just run out and climb a mountain with a T-shirt on, you know? That would be kind of foolhardy. There are some inherent risks, you know, with mountaineering and stuff, but yes, I generally like to be well-prepared. I had parachuted. I did it in the Army and I also did it trying to get my certification to parachute down in Paris Island. I did it a few times, and that was pretty exciting, but for the most part, I’d say now the biggest risk I take is probably every once in a while I forget to put my seatbelt on. That’s about the limit of it these days.
How much has your military training helped you with acting, especially with Human Target?
MV - It’s funny, because they lay out all these weapons and talk about the ammunition and its effectiveness and so forth, and you know, we worked with weapons obviously in the Army. It’s actually something, though, that you can pick up pretty quickly. The hand-to-hand fighting, I learned a little bit of that in the Army, along with boxing as well as wrestling and those sorts of thing. But I think for the most part it’s working as a team under extreme circumstances with a limited amount of time to get something done. That’s probably the biggest experience I got from the Army that applies to this job because we’re really making a little movie in eight days, and that’s an awful lot of work that has to be done. So yes, it’s sort of that kind of teamwork and camaraderie that I experienced in the Army that seems to be showing up again here in this show.
So far your character has had cases in Los Angeles, Canada, the Russian Embassy, an airplane and South America. Is there anywhere in particular that you’d like to see Chance travel to?
MV - I would like to see Chance go to Paris. We do go to London in one episode. Where else? Africa, I think, would be kind of an interesting place. There are all kinds of places he could do. Somewhere down south, maybe Texas? I’d love to do an episode that is sort of a quasi-Western. That would be interesting. There’s Vietnam and all these other places in Asia that he could go, and there are things going on in China. You name it. We could even write an episode that takes place inside a contained area, like the airplane episode, for example. We really didn’t go anywhere for that. That all took place inside the fuselage of an airplane, so maybe we’ll be doing something like that as well.
What were some of the acting challenges you found first stepping into the role, and how have you seen the Chance character grow and develop in the episodes you’ve shot so far?
MV - When I first read the script, which is based on a comic book character, there are certain things that comic book characters can get away with that regular actors can’t really do, or at least do convincingly. One is to hold a pose for a long period of time, or to look concerned as if you’re in a comic book. So there was that. The show sort of had a feel of a comic book, so there was a challenge of trying to find a way to bring a real person into this. It wasn’t written in any sort of hyper-reality. I mean, there’s kind of a casual thing that can exist in John Steinberg’s [series creator/executive producer] writing, so it’s not that hard to kind of do it. It’s not complete melodrama or anything. That was the biggest challenge. Reading it and enjoying it like it could have been a comic book, and then thinking, “OK, wait a second, this is me now. How am I going to do this?” It’s kind of hard to explain, but that was the biggest challenge. And maybe picturing all the other actors who could do better at it and thinking, “OK, so I’m going to do this?”
As far as development, the way I’ve grown as an actor is that I’ve become much more comfortable with some of the action and fighting scenes, and the way Chance’s relationships with Jackie’s and Chi’s characters are starting to become a little bit clearer. And with Chance’s development, I’d say he’s beginning to come to terms with his past. He made a big change in his life about six or eight years prior to the present that we have now on the show. And I think the reality of why he made that choice and the repercussions that it’s going to have is starting to come back to him, so essentially his baggage is starting to arrive.
A lot of shows spend their first season throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. Do you feel like Human Target has found its groove and, if so, was there a particular moment for you when you felt like it really clicked?
MV - I think when it really clicked for me was probably the episode Rewind, where we didn’t have a lot of locations or big set pieces going on. It all took place in an airplane and you got an idea of, OK, very simply, this is something that has to get done in this plane. And it was broken down and all our characters were – well, Chi and I were in the same location shooting as well, which was kind of cool. Then I think it was the second or third episode in, and the pace that we came up with as well as the shorthand that we developed with the crew and the cameras was pretty amazing. We realized, “Oh, wow, this is what we can do. We’ve really got something here.”
Did you have a vision for what you expected the show to be when you first came onboard, and has it lived up to that?
MV - I didn’t have that clear a vision of how it would be. I’d been on shows before that have been new, and with this one, not only is it new, but I’m new to this genre, and Chi is kind of new to it as well, and even the show runners are sort of new to this. So I went into it with an open mind and thinking, “This is going to be exciting as to how it’s going to come together” And it has been. It is sort of a collaboration in some ways, where everyone’s influence is, if not heard, then it’s felt and reacted to, and the end product is something that everyone feels a part of.
How do you balance comedy and drama on the show? Particularly in your performance, you always seem to bring the humor to certain scenes where other people wouldn’t, but then it doesn’t get too serious, either. How do you guys manage that?
MV - Something I really love to do is find the lighter moments. A lot of it depends on the scene and the person you’re working with and where the jokes can come in or seem appropriate. So there are a few elements that come into that. And, of course, there’s the way that the scene is written as well. Maybe it’s my soap opera background, where there were no jokes at all. It was all complete melodrama and I wanted parts of it to be funny, so I remember searching and combing through the material and saying, “Well, there’s this moment or that moment.” I was just so hungry for something to be funny, that I developed, perhaps, a perceptive eye for it.
What’s it like to play a lead character when you don’t have all the pieces of his background? Is that more difficult for you at all?
MV - Well, it’s definitely easier to have some of the pieces. It’s somewhat of an advantage to have a bit more of an idea because as actors, we create characters and create things in our imagination, but, ultimately, we’re interpretive artists and interpreting what the writers have created. Some people will say that doesn’t matter. If it’s not in the script, it really doesn’t exist, so don’t make a big deal about it, but I think in television, it’s different. Yes, it would be nice to know, but there are two sides to that. It would be nice to know ahead of time because then maybe I could plan a scene or have that in mind if this might have happened before. On the other hand, it’s pretty exciting to find it out as you go along with the rest of the viewers. So not only are you working on a show and acting in it, but it’s also fun to be experiencing it as a viewer as well and finding out things as they reveal themselves.
Is the master of disguise aspect of your character from the comic books ever going to make it into the TV series?
MV - Nobody’s ruled it out. I know John’s attitude was like, let’s start off the show where you get to know the central character before we begin dressing him up in disguises. Chance does have an aptitude for languages and my theory with that is he doesn’t use it more than is necessary. I mean, he doesn’t wear a mustache or glasses or anything if it’s not really necessary. or become that other person unless it’s absolutely necessary. So that was an adaptation for the TV show, I think, but, again, the disguise aspect hasn’t totally been ruled out.
So what’s in store for the season finale, and what other guest-stars can we expect to see in the second half of the season?
MV - Well, in the season finale, Baptiste, who is played by Jericho‘s Lennie James, comes back. His character is Chance’s nemesis and is probably the most talented assassin who’s still out there working for hire. He and Chance come to blows in an episode called Baptiste and then again in the season finale. Amy Acker shows up and plays a pivotal character from Chance’s past in that she was sort of the catalyst for his ultimate transformation into Christopher Chance. Lee Majors is in that episode, too. Armand Assante plays Chance’s old boss, and there’s a couple of major confrontations there. Emmanuelle Vaugier returns in another episode, too. She plays an FBI agent in Baptiste and Chance, Winston and Guerrero have to figure out a way to enlist her help. Autumn Reeser comes back as well. She sort of has a recurring role on our show. Grace Park is in an episode called Corner Man, and Leonor Varela is in Sanctuary. She’s a beautiful and talented Chilean actress who made this one episode look and feel like a movie. She just came in and completely took on this character of an ex-revolutionary who lives in South America and is an ex-lover of Chance’s. She was just fabulous.
As noted above, photo by David Gray and copyright of Fox Television, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!