Broken Toys and Found Families: An Interview with Christian Kane

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Photo by Brandilyn Carpenter
Photo by Brandilyn Carpenter

Between Angel, Leverage, and The Librarians, Christian Kane is well-known to audiences around Dragon Con. He took some time at the end of the day Friday to sit down with the Daily Dragon and answer a few questions.

Daily Dragon (DD): How much of the similarities between Eliot Spencer and Jacob Stone is a factor of John Rogers and Dean Devlin and how much of it is what you bring to the roles?

Christian Kane (CK): I was actually told not to play anything resembling Eliot Spencer in The Librarians. So that was a conversation with Dean early on. I was fortunate enough to where they actually wrote this role for me. A lot of actors don’t get that opportunity. And Dean and John had talked about it, and John wrote this role for me. I didn’t have to audition for it; it was given to me, which was an unbelievable blessing.

I had a conversation with Dean while I was on a bus with Skeet Ulrich and we were promoting our movie 50 to 1. We were travelling across the country and Dean literally said, “You have to unlearn everything you know about fighting.” It was kind of weird for me. I was like, “No problem, no problem.” I didn’t realize how tough that would be: to let Eliot Spencer go, working for the same people.

It came out really great, and it was fun because I had a huge problem with not being the tough guy. Noah Wylie actually was the one who showed me it’s okay to make fun of yourself. Once I got that down, which took me a bit, it was so much fun to be able to really dive into the character. It wasn’t until I really saw Noah in action, where it was really fun for him to make fun of himself… once I saw that, I felt like this whole road was paved for me, and I started walking down it. It was great.

DD: It’s such a great show and so much fun. One of the things that I think makes you so effective as a fighter in that role—whenever Jacob has to be a brawler or Eliot Spencer as a hitter—is that you’re not a super big guy. You’re not the stereotypical big, tall, imposing physical presence as a fighter. So when Eliot takes out a whole bunch of guys it really makes an impact. How did you bring that to the fight choreography you did?

CK: A lot of it is being smart. A lot of it is seeing the next move. Especially with Eliot being ex–Delta Force, ex–Navy Seal, he had seen that stuff in his life. So I had to grab that and it was scary at some point. The fact of the matter is that, I got to fight Urijah Faber on Leverage, and I’m bigger than him. I’m a wrestler. There’s no question about the fact that he can whoop my a$$ in about two seconds. I throw punches on TV … but I also grew up wrestling, I also grew up with MMA, and he will destroy me. So, size doesn’t really have that much to do with it. There’s a weight difference, and that’s why there’s wrestling classes.

It’s the thinking. It’s the being smart about what’s going on. It’s about being able to maybe, maybe somehow figure out your opponent’s next move that I think Eliot was so great at. He always knew what was coming because he played in his mind in 0.001 seconds that three things could happen, and he was prepared for all three.

DD: I think one of the brilliant things about Eliot and also Jacob is that people underestimate them, and both of them use that to his advantage. There’s a vulnerability to both of them. The moments that we get to see Eliot Spencer be vulnerable are brilliant. It keeps them from being just one thing. Jacob Stone has this amazing duality because has to pretend to be one thing to his family and the people in his community, but he speaks nine languages and has all these PhDs and has this passion for art history that he can’t show. Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences with those things?

CK: These are two different characters so I can’t really relate both of them into this whole thing. Eliot was a product of the government. That was his family, which was not a family, so suddenly he had to become part of this family. The two bridge because on The Librarians we’re all broken toys, and we’re all individuals, and so we have to become a family to do this. That was the only thing that I thought these two shows had in common between my characters: two sets of broken toys forced to become a family.

But the Jake thing, John Rogers told me this… I said I don’t understand why it’s not cool now, because it’s the age of the geek, baby. I mean, I’m quoting Hardison, why is it not cool? He said, “Look at it as if you have to tell everybody that you’re gay. From Oklahoma.” And I went, oh wow, that’s a really strange way to look at it. Because being smart and being all that other stuff, you’re not supposed to be that, you’re supposed to be this whole thing. I took that to heart because with all my friends that have gone through so many struggles, I just went, wow, that’s an amazing thing. I almost played Jacob Stone as if he was gay and he just couldn’t tell anybody. That’s what I used a lot. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say; I don’t know how to talk about stuff like that. I’m just saying that I really did take that, especially when I met my dad in The Librarians. I didn’t really tell my dad that I was smart; I was telling him that I was gay. That really helped me. I talked to Jeff Fahey. I talked to him numerous times about that. It was a really great note that I got from John Rogers to me.

DD: Now that you say that, when I think about those performances, I can totally see where you’re coming from. That coming out narrative is different for everybody and everyone has their own different struggles with it. When is the right time to come out? Should I come out? All those things.

CK: That’s kind of what John Rogers brought up, because I just got off Leverage where one of my best friends in life is Aldis Hodge, and he’s playing Hardison. I mean. Age of the geek! What we used to hide in the closet, which was me playing video games and loving Rick and Morty, that’s mainstream! So I don’t get that I would hide that I was smart, and he came back with look at it this way.

DD: So, one of the things you said was that both characters are these broken toys that kind of have to come together and form a family. That found family aspect of the shows is something that I really enjoy. The types of shows that I enjoy tend to have that aspect to them.

CK: Let me ask you a question. What was the first show you saw that on besides Leverage?

DD: Besides Leverage… probably Firefly.

CK: Oh, I guess! You know, I tested against Adam Baldwin for Jayne. I didn’t think you were going to be able to say anything, but actually Firefly… Joss is pretty smart.

DD: And Joss does a lot with the found family. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the same way.

CK: I lost Jayne and it was a heart-breaker. But Adam is such a good friend. He was on Angel, he was on Leverage. He’s one of my dearest friends. But honestly, take Firefly. I don’t know what year that was, but you didn’t really get that before. I know of one other show, which is the A-Team, and the fact of the matter is that I based his whole character off of Mr. T. Eliot Spencer is based off of Mr. T. That was the only other show I’d ever seen where you get a whole bunch of broken toys and you throw them into a mix and they have to become family.

DD: Does that translate to the friendships off screen? Do you guys become a family on screen and also become a family off screen?

CK: Man, we just had dinner a week ago. It was all five of us. Gina [Bellman] had come in from London. Tim [Hutton] had gotten off work. He’s working on How to get Away with Murder right now, which I’m so proud of him. And me, and Aldis. It was all five of us, and it was like time didn’t… nothing had happened. You become a family.

The greatest thing about Leverage was that we were taken out of LA. First season in LA, second season in Portland, Oregon. They threw us into a city—none of us knew it. Portland had never seen anything filmed there, maybe once in a while, but not anything like that. We were the first people to actually film there. Now there’s a load of stuff filming there. But we had to become a family. And it was not just us five. When we got off work, we’d go to dinner with the producer, with a grip, with sound, with wardrobe, because we were thrown into this city that had never seen film before. So we’d all go out and hang out and we became a family.

That really helped us as the show because we all became so close. As a matter of fact, sometimes on Leverage we’d have to remember we’re not a family just yet even though we’re so close together in real life. I talk to them every day. We’re all together all the time. And that doesn’t happen on TV shows.

DD: I first became aware of you in Angel, but it wasn’t until someone gave me a copy of Acoustic Live in London that I knew you could sing. I pretty much wore that album out. Are you writing/recording anything right now? Can you give us a sneak peek of anything new coming out?

CK: I’m writing right now. It took me a little bit. I did the music thing for a long time, and I really gave it everything that I had. I mean, I quit a Bruckheimer show. I quit Close to Home because I wanted to do music. We were the number one show on CBS and I left because I really wanted to do music. I gave it my all, and for some reason Nashville just would not let an actor come do other stuff. They were like, you’re gonna get another movie; you’re gonna leave. And I’m like, yeah but isn’t that great? And they were like, well, we don’t like that.

And Nashville is not so much Nashville as a town. Nashville is Chicago radio, is Minneapolis radio. Minnesota has one of the highest rated country… you know if can’t make it in Minnesota—which is the strangest thing to think about—you’re not gonna make it in Nashville. Nashville is not just the town. Nashville is spread across the nation. Bob Ezrin produced my album, who produced Pink Floyd The Wall, Kiss Destroyer… so they didn’t want to let a rock god and an actor come in and do the whole thing. They were just like we’re not really in on that, and I was like, that’s so funny because I just did a movie with Tim McGraw called Friday Night Lights. And you guys rolled the red carpet out for one of your boys that’s gonna go be an actor. But you’re not going to let an actor go be a singer. I started on Fame L.A. I started as a country singer/actor. I started both careers the same day—the exact same time, the exact same second. It’s not like I’m trying to lie to anybody.

But I got kind of a bad taste in my mouth, and then a couple of years ago I just realized that this is for me. This is for me. I love making music. I love singing, and I love singing to people. I don’t necessarily have to be on the radio. I can come to conventions. I can go overseas. We do little coffee shops in London, which by the way are always sold out. We do a 500-seat to a 1,000-seat venue.

DD: Yeah, James Marsters will come here and perform.

CK: Exactly, the same thing with James. We’ve played a lot together. So it became something for me. And now I’ve kind of learned that again. I’m not going to be Garth Brooks. It’s become an art again because it became a business for so long. And though acting is a business, I’ve always looked at is as an art, and I’ve always been really fortunate. I’d pay money to do what these people pay me a load of money to do. Don’t tell my boss Dean Devlin that though!

DD: [laughing] I promise, he will never read this interview. Can you tell us a little more about your charity work, especially with Clayne Crawford and the Crawford Foundation?

CK: The Crawford Foundation is outstanding, and it’s not just one thing. Crawford asked me to be a part of this from day one, and of course I’m in. I’ll be a part of it until it goes away. Crawford’s one of my best friends, if not my best friend, and it’s something that you know… anything I can do to help people, and to help kids. Patrick Warburton, I’m a part of his golf tournament every year and we raised $2.5 million for St. Jude last year. And that’s something that I want to be a part of. Anytime you can help kids, especially when they’re sick, is something important to me.

Crawford, he does a great job. He also reaches out to veterans who are going through a tough time. That’s why I love Crawford’s foundation as well. I’ll never stop doing it when they ask me to do something. I will never not have the time to help people out in situations like that. The Lord has blessed me, and so the fact of the matter is that I have to pay it back.

DD: And it’s great to see your Kaniacs respond when you put out that call. Thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure!

CK: Thank you so much.

About the author

Maggie Birge-Caracappa By day, Maggie Birge-Caracappa is the editorial director at a medical communications company in Yardley, PA. The rest of the time, Maggie sees to the needs of her kitty overlords; polices the grammar on all kinds of published material including signage, menus, and food packaging; and cuddles with her wife while watching her favorite shows (Killjoys, Game of Thrones, and Doctor Who among them). She continues to be far too excited to be working for the Daily Dragon.

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