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Peter James Smith 1
Self Portrait in Costume for "Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy"
Photo by Peter James Smith

Peter James Smith will be guest starring as Agent Keao in "Mr. Monk and the Really, Really Dead Guy" this week's (February 23rd) episode of Monk on USA 9pET/8pCT.

Peter kindly agreed to an MFP interview and we spoke on Saturday... but first a little biographical info I've gathered from across the internet (mostly from the IMDB, Peter's website, and his MySpace blog.)

He was born February 20th 1971 on a U.S. Air Force base in Taipei, Taiwan.

“I am half Chinese.” Peter writes in his blog. “My mom tells me that while she was growing up in Taiwan, people never asked, ‘How old are you?’ They asked, ‘What sign are you?’ Since each sign is 12 years apart, one can figure out someone's age that way. I am a pig...or a boar.”

Peter’s probably best known for his role as the Congressional liaison Ed on The West Wing for seven seasons. He also appeared in the 2005 film Serenity, directed by Joss “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer” Whedon.

“I'm an actor,” he writes on his Myspace um… space. [I really have to look into this Myspace thing.] “Some of the things I enjoy are films, theater, walking, KCRW, my ipod, food (trying new recipes and discovering new restaurants), reading, yoga, and being a tourist in whatever town I'm living in.”


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Chris Williams, Peter James Smith
and Jason Gray-Stanford in
"Mr. Monk and the Really Really Dead Guy"

Saturday, February 17, 2007

After a few technical "glitches" we got right down to business.

So you’re going to be on the next episode of Monk airing this Friday?

Peter: Yes, I’m very excited about it. They just posted the clip on the USA Network website. [Peter is the F.B.I. guy with the gadget in the clip.]

Was there anything in particular about the role that made you think you’d be good for it?

Peter: Hmmm. That’s a good question. I guess a lot of people find that my kind of deadpan delivery and sense of humor works for me well and it seemed to fit that character pretty well: he’s a kind of no nonsense type. And you know I was interested just because Monk has got so much great acclaim. The casting directors Anya [Colloff] and Amy [Britt], I’d worked with them last year on a movie called Serenity so they thought of me when this role came out. So that was nice of them.

Serenity? That was a science fiction film, right? [Based on the short-lived Firefly series, if I remember correctly.]

Peter: It was a science fiction film directed by Joss Whedon.

So you were familiar with Monk before you got the role?

Peter: Yes. I don’t actually have cable, but I’ve seen a couple of episodes through iTunes and at friend’s houses. And of course I see it win all those awards, because I watch all the awards shows.

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What was your first audition like for the role?

Peter: That’s actually kind of an interesting little bit. When one auditions if the casting office isn’t familiar with you, they’ll have you read for an assistant first before you go in and meet the producers and directors. Since I had been cast in Serenity I assumed that I would be going straight to the director/producer

session, but when I arrived it was just the assistant in the room and I was a little confused, but I went ahead and auditioned and he said, “Great job.” And it turns out that I just had the wrong building. [laughs] He said, “Why don’t you go over next door to the producer’s session?” I’m like, “Oh, I thought I was at the producer’s session. He said “You did a great job. Just do the same thing and you should get it.

I guess he was right.

Peter: He was right.

What was your concept of the character?1

Peter: Concept of the character? Well, after reading the script, I mean he’s really no nonsense. He’s very into his electronics and computers. So I just kind of took a cue from that and made him a little, not mechanical per se, but probably less emotional than your average person.

So that’s kind of the conflict of the episode the technical gadgetry versus Monk?

Peter: Yes. I would say that is definitely the theme.

What do you think you brought to the character that wasn’t in the script?

Peter: Well, this is something that I tried and I don’t know if they are going to keep it, because editing can do wonders, but there was definitely my character’s version of flirtation with the Traylor Howard character. I think whenever she spoke or whenever I would talk to her I would kind of get this little smile or something and in my mind it was him flirting with her. I don’t know if that comes across, it might come off kind of odd which is fine… for the character. I have no idea if they’re going to keep those moments in but I tried. We’ll see.

So Traylor is pretty noticeably pregnant in this episode, right?

Peter: What? What do you mean? Just because she’s holding clip boards in front of her belly, doesn’t mean a thing.

Oh... right. Okay. Any chance that your character will return?

Peter: I haven’t been told that it would. One of the reasons that I added the little crush on Traylor was hoping for “Hey, that’s interesting maybe we’ll bring him back.” I haven’t heard anything yet, but there’s always a possibility.

Your character, despite being in conflict with Monk, is a good guy, right?

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Peter: He tries to be definitely. He thinks he’s a good guy. He just has very different methods.

What was your first impression of the Monk cast members?

Peter: Well my first day was on location in downtown L.A. outside and it was a big day, lots of extras and lots of action and a big wide kind of park setting. We pretty much had to get down to business right away because there’s so many things, so many variables on a day like that. But they were welcoming and professional and there was definitely joke telling behind the scenes which always is… I don’t know what word I want to use… a nice distraction while you’re waiting in the sun and stuff between takes.

And who’s the funniest member of the cast?

Peter: Well, my gosh. Each one has their own kind of style, but Ted Levine definitely told the most jokes. Which I have repeated and they always are a huge hit. They are very funny.

Can you give me an example of a Ted Levine joke?

Peter: Hmmm… A little too racy I think.

Okay, so where were your scenes filmed?

Peter: We had a couple of on location days in downtown L.A. near City Hall and locations kind of in the Hollywood area of L.A. in the neighborhood and then the rest of it on the sound stage which is in Hollywood.

How long did that take?

Peter: The episode took eight days to film and I think I worked seven out of those eight days with one day off in the middle somewhere.

What was your experience like as a guest on Monk compared with working on The West Wing? Was it more or less pressure, more or less fun?

After seven seasons on The West Wing it became fairly less stressful than your average job. On West Wing, I don’t know if you saw my stuff there, but I would come in maybe one or two scenes and have a line or two, just kind of be support for the rest of the staff. So I got used to that rhythm. So having the multi scenes in Monk and having the technical jargon to spew out…. I mean the director, Tony, was probably one of the more supportive directors I’ve worked with. He was very complimentary. He was very supportive. He noticed the little things I did like the Traylor stuff, the crush. Who knows if it will make it, but it was nice to be noticed.

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Do you have any anecdotes about the filming?

Peter: I can’t really think of anything. I mean I thought that audition story was funny. And I definitely made friends with some of the people who played the bodies in the morgue.

How do you qualify for that role?

Peter: [laughs] I’m not actually sure. I didn’t ask that, but you know they had to stay pretty still and they’re lying on the cold hard metal thing for upwards of more than an hour sometimes for takes. But they’re good natured and they were having a great time.

You’ve done lots of stage, film and television. What do you like the best? Which was most rewarding?

Peter: Interesting. Stage is kind of where I started so I definitely have a special place for that, but one of things I love about film and TV is that I can actually see my work. In theater it’s pretty much impossible. Even videotaped versions of plays just don’t have that same quality of seeing something live. They’re both rewarding for different reasons. I mean with plays I tend to have larger parts and get to really sink my teeth into a character. That’s comparing, like right now in my mind, the stuff in West Wing where I come in and say “We’re down in the polls” or “We need to change this line in the speech.” There wasn’t a lot of prep for that. But just being a part of something that’s so big like West Wing or even Monk it feels good. They both have their rewards.

Carl Jung

So what led you to acting?

Peter: What led me into acting? Well, I don’t really have a solid answer, I have theories. My mom wanted to be a singer when she was growing up. My dad wanted to be a professional athlete. So there was always, it seems, kind of an audience craving in my family. I’m going to be a little philosophical here I think it was Jung that said, “There’s no greater influence on a child than the unlived dream of the parents,”

I watched a lot of TV growing up, it was kind of my babysitter, and there was this one episode of M*A*S*H where there was a Korean orphan I think Trapper was about to adopt. I was a young Asian kid at the time and I saw this young Asian kid on TV playing this orphan on M*A*S*H and I think it was the first connection I had with thinking, oh I can do that. Yeah, that was probably the first little click in my head.

Who have been your role models?

Peter: I can’t think of any off hand, I do admire certain actors, I think Miranda Richardson is great. She’s a chameleon with each part that she does. And then Gary Oldman back when he was still living in Britain, doing British films. I always very much admire any actor who can be unrecognizable from part to part.

You think Tony Shalhoub can do that?

Yeah, from what I’ve seen of him. He can really control like his little mannerisms and tics for his character and make them really distinct.

What was your best acting experience?

Like what’s been a high point of my career or an actual moment of acting?

Actual moment of acting… or a high point… or both.

Actual moment of acting? It might have been when I did a one man show when I lived in San Diego. There were moments after the end of the show when people would come up. This one particular woman I remember had tears in her eye and told me how much she liked it. I guess my theater experience in San Diego is probably so far my most rewarding because I got to do a lot of different characters for really appreciative audiences.

So in San Diego you worked at a theater with Duane Daniels, is that right?

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Peter James Smith on Stage in San Diego

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Duane Daniels in Veronica Mars and as Sweeney Todd

Peter: Yeah, do you know him?

Just from Veronica Mars, which I’m a big fan of.

Peter: Veronica Mars for the first couple seasons was shot in San Diego so I saw a lot people I know in that.

The most disappointing part of the third season is that he’s not in it.

Peter: Oh, I’ll let him know that.

And career-wise?

Peter: Then as far as career-wise I would have to say it was being on stage at the Emmys when West Wing won Best Drama for season four. That was pretty exciting.

How fun was that, just going to the Emmys?

Peter: It was great. It was a lot of fun, it was kind of unreal and then, you know, I was very excited because the next day on the front of the LA times they had a picture of the whole cast on stage and you could just see the top of my head. So I was sending the photo out via email to everybody.

And what was your worst acting experience?

Peter: Well. I’m not going to name names or theaters, but there was one play I did once where… how do I describe the experience? It was with a theater company that I was not a member of so I was kind of you know an outside hire. So they were supportive of their own members but not so much of the new guy.

You didn’t have that kind of experience on Monk though, right?

Peter: No, not at all. Actually I sent a note recently to the production office to thank them and to say how it was probably one of the more supportive sets I’ve been on. It was great.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Peter: Nothing slated as far as TV, film or theater, but I’m involved with a couple of writing groups and theater companies where I’m always doing staged readings. We do a reading once a week for the audience to give us feedback and I’m always doing something with that. I love getting in on the ground floor of new writing and new work so I’m doing a lot of work with them right now. Playwrights 6 is probably the main group that I’m involved with.

Well I’ve reached the end of my list of questions, but if there’s anything you’d like to add?

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Peter: Gosh, I can’t think of anything. I’m thrilled that you contacted me. How did you find me?

You put your contact information on your website.

Peter: How’d you find my website?

I just did a search on your name [I googled him, what else?], and it popped up. And I found your name on captions of pictures they released for "Really Dead Guy".

Peter: Oh, where would I find those pictures?

On the NBC Universal media village site.

Well if I can’t find those pictures, I may send you an email to ask for a link.

Okay. And did you take any pictures yourself on the set when you were there?

Peter: [laughs] Yes, I did as a matter of fact. In my cop outfit and then a couple of the morgue set and there’s this nice shot I got of Chris Williams my co-star sitting off the set with a dummy next to him and there’s a scene where we use a dummy.

Well, if any of those pictures are digital that you have, I would love to have them.

Peter: Okay, cool. I have your email address so definitely.

I’m digitally recording this, so I’ll send you the file and whatever I transcribe which will probably be a little different.


Peter: Sure. You’ll make me sound more charming. [Actually, that wasn't necessary.]

Exactly. And I’ll make me sound less stuttering and kind of smooth it out.

Are you going to put in the three phone calls at the beginning?

Absolutely not.

Peter: Well great. This was a lot of fun.

Well thank you very much, Peter and for putting up with the technical difficulties at the beginning.

No problem. I’ll send you those photos and I’ll go looking for those NBC Universal ones.

Okay. Bye-Bye.


Photos taken by Peter on set with his cell phone including a detail from the morgue set (left),
Chris Williams — and one version of the really, really dead guy in Culver City (center)
and Los Angeles City Hall--one of the locations (right)
Click to enlarge.


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