Matt Frewer as The White Knight in Alice. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel
From Sci-Fi time traveller to a digitally enhanced artificial intelligence and even Sherlock Holmes, actor Matt Frewer has over the years brought these and many other characters to life in theaters as well as feature films and on TV. There is one role, though, he once longed to play but never had the chance to do so. And it was a role that would have taken him in a totally different direction as far as his professional life.
“I always wanted to be a pro hockey player,’ says Frewer. “However, at one point I realized I wasn’t going to be good enough, and if I was good enough, I would probably end up with no teeth, playing on a semi-pro team and talking with a French accent for no apparent reason,” he jokes. “When I finished high school I was all set to do an honors degree course in biology, but I backed out of that at the last minute when my drama teacher said to me, ‘You’d get a lot more girls with acting.’ Well, I was sold,” laughs the actor. “I’m happy to say I have no regrets. I love doing what I’m doing and would do it for free. Don’t tell anyone that, but I would, really.”
Last night, Frewer made his debut as The White Knight in Alice, the Syfy Channel’s take on the classic children’s story Alice in Wonderland. The image conjured up in most peoples’ minds when they think of his character is one of a noble warrior dressed in shining armor, carrying a lance and riding into battle on a mighty stallion. In this case there is the armor as well as a sword and even a horse, but the medieval melange that is Frewer’s character is far more than just a familiar stereotype
“The While Knight is kind of a cross between Baron Von Munchhausen, The Cowardly Lion and Don Quixote,” explains the actor, taking a break during filming last summer in Vancouver. “The idea for Alice sounded intriguing to me, and then I was completely sold on it when I read the script. The story, which is absolutely delightful, was written by Nick Willing, who’s also our director, and he has come up with some amazing characters.
“I have to say that this role has sort of fit me like a glove, so it hasn’t been much of a stretch to play. We’ve got this wonderful Salvador Dali-type beard and mustache that I wear, and that’s been a bit of a challenge, especially when it’s hot out because the glue starts to come loose. So there’s that business of people futzing with you right up until the moment that the cameras start rolling. You being to feel like a Christmas tree being continually dressed,” jokes Frewer, “but other than that the character has been a joy to play.
Our hero enjoys a laugh! Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel
“The White Knight has a huge heart, but he’s a bit mad, you know? He’s nuts and he’s noble, but he also has a big secret, so what he shows to the world is not necessarily who he is. And happily with Nick’s version of the White Knight, my character is able to reveal who he really is during a scene with Alice [Caterina Scorsone], and that was tremendous fun to play on many, many levels.”
In Alice, the White Knight crosses paths with Alice Hamilton when she comes to Wonderland to search for her lover, Jack Chase (Philip Winchester), who has been brought there against his will. He joins the Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts) in helping Alice find Jack, and in the process, the three of them also risk their lives to help oust Wonderland’s ruler, The Queen of Hearts (Kathy Bates) and break her stranglehold on the kingdom.
“The two characters that the White Knight relates to almost solely in the story are Alice and Hatter,” says Frewer. “He comes cross Jack in a couple of scenes, but most of my onscreen time is spent with Caterina and Andrew. There is kind of a begrudging friendship and respect for one another that evolves between my character and Hatter. And with Alice, I think the White Knight is more or less a temporary Wonderland father while she’s there.
“He is somewhat mesmerized by her because in his eyes, she’s Alice of legend. She’s the Alice who he has heard of and who was written about, and he will do anything for her. The White Knight really is her protector, and as inept as he is, he does his best. Again, this is such an incredible role, and, I think, probably the best role I’ve had since Sherlock Holmes. There are very few iconic characters that come along and that you get a chance to play, and the White Knight is definitely one of them.”
An unstoppable team - The White Knight, Alice (Caterina Scorsone) and Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts). Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel
What were some of the challenges the actor found working in his White Knight attire? “The first day of work on any new job is usually pretty chaotic, and in this case it was particularly so for me because they had only just begun to put my costume together,” he recalls. “It included a huge breastplate, chain mail and all the various other accouterments that a knight would wear. The breastplate was cumbersome to say the least. We ended up calling it the Volkswagen,” chuckles Frewer. “I then began to realize how hot it was going to be lugging this thing around, especially on-location, because it’s basically like being cooked in your own soup can.
“So getting all that together is my not-so-fond memory of my first day on the job, but it was still fun, and continues to be. The thing is, a lot of the stuff I thought I’d be able to [physically] do as the White Knight has been somewhat restricted by my outfit, so I’ve ended up, I guess, channeling any restrictions into the fact that my character is an older guy. He is supposed to be in his 60′s and slightly crazy, and that ‘madness’ has come from spending too much time on his own. So we actually found other aspects of his personality to highlight as a result of wearing the armor, and that’s been great.”
“Again, this has been fun. Typically on these sorts of productions, the work stops and everyone has a laugh, and probably my favorite memory of working on this as a whole is that the laughing has never stopped. We’re always having a good time and hopefully that translates to the audience.”
Frewer credits the show’s cast and crew, in particular, Nick Willing, with making Alice such a positive experience for him. “Nick is a real visionary,” says the actor. “He’s a little bit like the White Knight in that he’s slightly ‘mad,’ but in a wonderful way, as well as a very warm, gentle, kind and witty guy. That is all an added bonus on top of the fact that he is also a huge talent. You don’t often find that combination.
Ready to take on anything - the White Knight and Hatter. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel
“Andrew and Caterina are a blast as well to work with. Caterina is a real find for Alice. She’s so much like her character and is an open book. Caterina is, I think, one of those actresses who has such an immediacy onscreen. Whatever scene she’s in, she’s right there and reacts to it immediately. And like I said, her face is an open book, and she’s an extremely tender, sensitive soul and isn’t afraid to show that. Caterina also has this kind of tough curiosity about her. Such a combination is perfect for Alice, and I think she has knocked the whole thing out of the park.
“As for Andrew, he’s terrific, too. He’s from the north country in England, a place called Bradford, and he has sort of a tough guy swagger, but he’s very sweet as well. I think the girls are going to love him as Hatter. Andrew has this fantastic onscreen chemistry with Caterina, and hopefully audiences will go with that and be rooting for their characters to end up together.
“There are very few projects where, when you start talking about them, you feel genuinely supportive of them, and this is one of those times. I think Alice is going to do great and I have really high hopes for it.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Frewer trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and graduated from its three-year acting course in 1980. One of his very first roles was in the 1983 film Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. “There was a piece before the main film called The Crimson Permanent Assurance and it was sort of a pirate spoof where a group of young office workers were defending their building against a group of older ones,” says the actor.
“The older office workers would pull up alongside what looked like a Spanish galleon, swing through the windows and take on all the young office workers. One of the older pirate guys corners my character by a window, I yell, ‘S**t!’ and jump out the window. That was my first professional experience in front of the camera. All I can say is thank God for all that classical training,” he jokes.
The White Knight, dressed for action. Photo by James Dittiger and copyright of The Syfy Channel
A few years later, the actor became a familiar face, of sorts, around the world with his portrayal of a fictional British artificial intelligence in the TV series Max Headroom. “That was kind of a short sharp shock,” notes Frewer. “Originally, Max was meant to be this computer-generated man/video disc jockey and we perpetuated that ‘ruse.’ Then we realized the only way we’d be able to achieve the look and effect of such a character was to put someone in rubber make-up, and that guy ended up being me.
“Max Headroom started out in England [in a music video program] and then evolved into a talk show. Coca-Cola then picked it up and I did a bunch of TV commercials for [director] Ridley Scott. That then convinced ABC TV [in the States] to feature Max in an adventure series. At the same time, I was doing a Cinemax [cable] talk show along with various other ancillary things as Max. Long way around, what I meant by a short sharp shock is that from beginning to end, the whole Max thing really didn’t last much longer than three years. But Max made the cover of Newsweek, and it was great for me because it meant I was able to arrive in Los Angeles as an actor without having to pound the pavement. I was playing a double-lead in a very high-profile show for ABC, and even though it only lasted for 12 episodes, it was a wonderful introduction to Los Angeles for me.”
Besides his work on Max Headroom, Frewer has guest-starred on such shows as Robin of Sherwood, Miami Vice, Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Outer Limits and Intelligence. He also had a regular role as Matt Praeger in Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, and currently plays the recurring character of Jim Taggart in the Syfy Channel series Eureka.
Frewer as Jim Taggart in Eureka. Photo copyright of The Syfy Channel
“Again, some lovely people to work with on Eureka and a fun show to do,” says the actor. “My character only dips in and out every few episodes. He’s sort of a weirdo who lives in the woods, and I think whenever he comes to town, by sheer virtue of the fact that he is the weirdo who lives in the woods, the story sort of has to be about him. Jim is an Australian dog-catcher – I mean, you can’t beat that for weirdness – but he calls himself a biological containment engineer. He’s a nature boy, too, and tends to run naked through the woods a lot,” he says with a laugh,”so needless to say I have a ball when I do work on the show.”
On the big screen, the actor’s credits include The Fourth Protocol, Far From Home, Going The Distance, Dawn of the Dead and Watchmen, playing former super-villain Edgar William Jacob/Moloch the Mystic. “The first scene I shot on that was in a cemetary and I just remember being overwhelmed by the number of crew,” notes Frewer. “You suddenly realize that you’re part of a big-budget movie and being directed by Zack Synder. He’s a lot like Nick Willing in that he has endless positive energy and keeps his crew driven and wanting to perform for him. Zack is one of those rare leaders who has the power but also the wisdom not to wield it. He’s a really amazing guy and I had a ball working with him.”
The goal of most actors is to be able to practice their craft in as wide a range of projects as possible, and for Frewer, the wider the better. “I think the measure of success for an actor is that you can be on your deathbed – which hopefully comes later rather than sooner – and look back over your career and say that you did plenty of diverse and interesting things, as opposed to how much [money] you took to your grave,” he muses. “After all, what are you going to do? Get a more expensive lining for your coffin.
“I was trained as an actor to do lots of different things, and that’s what makes this [acting] such a joy for me. You can only hope to be lucky enough to go from doing a heavy drama to something light and comedic and then something totally different from the two. It also helps to be facile and quicksilver-ish enough to be able to slip easily from one role to the next and not pigeonhole yourself because so many people are willing to do it for you.”
The concluding two hours of Alice airs tonight, Monday, December 7th starting at 9:00 p.m. EST on The Syfy Channel.
As noted above, all Alice photos by James Dittiger and all photos copyright of The Syfy Channel, so please no unauthorized copying or duplicating of any kind. Thanks!