A Zone’s Eye View with Robert Trebor

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BY Laura Alber and Albert L. OrtegaRobert Trebor

The Zone was recently fortunate enough to conduct an interview with the very talented Robert Trebor! His list of credits is sure to attract fans from any genre, stage or screen. Probably his most prominent role as of late, is his character "Salmoneus" from "Hercules" and "Xena" fame. He may also be known to some as the David Berkowitz look-a-like and wonderfully portrayed Son of Sam in "Out of the Darkness" with Martin Sheen. Or perhaps, his powerful performance opposite Roy Scheider and Ann Margret, in "52 Pick-Up". Whatever your taste, you've most likely seen, heard or watched this talented man on the stage or screen! 

Robert answered The Zone's questions and shared some personal experiences in the industry as well. Quite an intriguing man!!

ZFor those who don't know, can you explain for them how you came up with your stage name?

RT:  It's a Palindrome.....the only reversible name in the business! I just took my first name and reversed it.

Z: I can still remember your performance in "Out of the Darkness" with Martin Sheen and you playing David Berkowitz. What effects did the character have on you personally with looking so much like David, and having to portray that persona every day?

RT: Well, I only shot the film for a week....so "every day" didn't last too long. And I was performing in a wacky comedy at night called "The Crate" by Shel Silverstein off-Broadway. I was putting in 18 hour days. So I couldn't stay in the sociopath loner persona too long cause I had to do hot comedy after wrapping each evening. It was a very intense shooting period, but ironically...since my character had all the power, i.e. every other character wanted to know more about him....I was very calm and centered during the shooting.

Z: What was it like working with Martin Sheen? Do you still keep in touch?

RT: Martin is one of the most generous, warm, terrific, acting partners I've ever had the good fortune to play opposite. My performance was effective partially due to the fact I was playing opposite him. It was like when I was David being interviewed by Ed Zigo (the detective Sheen played) internally I felt, "Oh, Martin wants to know about Bob? I'm flattered, I'll tell him everything." It's hard to stay in touch with him cause of his schedule. But whenever we see each other it's very friendly.

Z: I know you had done quite a bit of research on David Berkowitz even before the movie was announced. How did that help with your portrayal?

RT: All the homework I did, about his living conditions, how he could commit a crime then a week later baby-sit for his stepsister a block away...how he would talk about the Son of Sam murders with his co-workers and tons of other psychological and behavioral details....made the work on camera very smooth. You learn all the character info...and then in a sense you forget it while you're acting...and it bubbles up onscreen in subliminal ways.

Z: Another favorite is 52 Pick-Up. I understand you had quite an unusual meeting/audition with John Frankenheimer. Could you tell us a little about that first meeting?

RT: My agent set up a meeting at the Cannon office in Beverly Hills. When I arrived the receptionist said "Mr Frankenheimer doesn't see people in this office. He's here in a production meeting, but not to see actors.
I said, "Please tell him I'm here, my agent set this meeting up and gave me this address." I waited for 20 mins or so....nothing.....Then I see this tall guy stride out from the back and push the down button on the elevator.
I recognize him as the director. I shout out across the hall "Mr. Frankenheimer I have an audition with you now!" He turns and says "Who are you? Nobody told me anyone was out here. I don't see actors here!"
I said "Well my agents gave me this address and I go back to New York tomorrow" He said "Ok come in the back and I'll read you myself...there's no casting director here" Usually a director likes to see an actor objectively so another person reads with him. But John took the Roy Scheider role in my big breakdown scene, 6 pages long. As soon as I started speaking he interrupted me saying, "Listen, are you a stage trained actor? Take it down, you're talking too loud...just take it down". So I think he's already pissed that I'm at the "wrong" address and now he thinks I'm too stagey. But I finished the audition, and the upshot was I got the part! Ironically when it came time to shoot the scene I had auditioned....he came to me on the set and said "Remember in the audition when I told you to 'just take it down'?"..........."Forget it! Do whatever you want, we'll adjust to you." And it remains my strongest sequence in the film. We took the whole day to shoot it.
(a far cry from the pace of shooting for TV)

Z: You finally decided to move from New York to Los Angeles, and luckily just at the right time. You landed your role on Hercules. They must have loved your work, since they developed a character that stuck and even carried over into Xena. Salmoneus is a favorite among many Hercules and Xena fans worldwide. This must be quite a coup for you. Did you help develop the character, and do you come up with any of your own material for the role.

RT: Thank you for your assessment that Sal is a fave among fans. Sal was originally written into just two episodes, Eye of the Beholder and As Darkness Falls. Before I finished shooting "Darkness" they asked if I were available for two more episodes in January. Then when the show was picked up for a second season, I was written into about 1/3 of the episodes. I'd like to think I helped developed the character beyond just being a greedy schemer. I insisted that he have some humanity and both Kevin and the producer encouraged me in that.
I would add some lines in the table read of the script the days before shooting, but very rarely on the set.

Z: What projects do you prefer comedy or drama?

RT: Either as long as the writing is good and the character has dimension and some surprises.

Z: If you had the opportunity to work with any star/director who would it be and why?

RT: Oh gosh, the list is so long..........Michelle Pfieffer, for obvious reasons, Al Pacino, Alan Arkin, recently saw Ryan Gosling (the original Young Herc) in a film called The Believer....wow was he good!!!!!!
Christine Lahti, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, Ian Holm, Cameron Diaz....... as far as directors, Sam Mendes, Scorsese of course, Spielberg, Rob Reiner, Ron Howard, Spike Lee, Sam Raimi....the list just is too long.

Z: You also got to work with Bruce Campbell on several occasions, I know all the readers are dying to know how that experience was.

RT: If you have to do a striptease with someone or take a bath while shaving your legs, and you can't find a girl, you could do worse then have Bruce. But he could sand down that chin a little.......

Z: How about Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless? It seems like you all would have the kind of connection together to have a lot of fun on or off the set.

RT: They were both great to work with....I hung out with Kevin more, cause I was on Hercules a lot more than Xena. I do remember having a nice meal in a Japanese restaurant with Lucy and her first husband Garth. Kevin and I used to hang out at a place in Newmarket, Auckland called the Olympic Cafe. Great kangaroo, Thai beef salad and homemade sorbets!

Z: Do you have a favorite episode of Hercules or Xena?

RT: Xena--The Greater Good, Hercules is harder cause I did 24 of them. I loved The Outcast and Men in Pink.

Z: Can you share some memorable experiences from the set of Hercules and Xena?

RT: Oh gosh,,,,,the most memorable thing I can think of now is after I wrapped the episode I directed "Rock and a Hard Place"....a very intense demanding episode for all of us. After I yelled "cut" for the last time, the AD yelled Ladies and Gentlemen, that's a wrap on this episode......the crew, Kevin, everyone got me under the rock and pelted me with styrofoam.

Z: How often did you suffer from writer’s block when writing “Dear Salmoneus.?”

RT: Hard to say. It took six months of writing at least 5 days a week.......averaging three hours a day. Some days no inspiration would come....so I'd force myself to sit at my desk until SOMETHING came out of my pen (yes, I wrote the whole book longhand...I'm a really lousy typist). I'd tell myself I could throw it away later....but I wasn't leaving that desk until something was on the page. That happened a few times.

Z: Is there a follow-up in the works?

RT: Not unless I get some financial backing <grin>

Z: Would you consider yourself:
a. A movie star (one that rides fame more on their looks than talent)
b. An actor (a pretentious thespian that always enunciates properly and quotes Shakespeare ad noisome)
c. A character actor ( a reliable recognizable face that everyone knows just can’t remember their name)
d. A diva ( A total wackjob, everyone around Hollywood has horror stories about them)

RT: Gee, you ask the question in such an unbiased, purely investigative kind of way. Hmmmmm. I'd like to think of myself as a total wackjob, but I'm afraid I'm just a character actor who has risen right to the middle of the heap.

Z: I know that you had an acting class that included at one time, Robert Blake. I know this is a tough question for anyone to answer, but do you have anything you'd like to say about his current situation?

RT: Well.....I'll tell you a true story. Four months after the murder I was doing a scene in class as Vaclav Havel, President/playwright of the Czech Republic. I found the Czech National Anthem, and I asked a friend of mine before class to ask everyone to rise when the anthem played and stay standing until I arrive at the podium. The friend asked "What if they refuse to rise?" I laughed and said, "You could always shoot them". The friend laughed, my eyes drifted an inch to the right, and there was Robert Blake sitting in the back of the class (he had arrived early, and I hadn't seen him there). He was not amused.

Z: You also just appeared in a play, "Awake and Sing". Can you tell us a little about this performance?

RT: It was a total pleasure! I gotta get back onstage in a big theatre more than once every 17 years!! The cast was wonderful, very harmonious on and offstage. It is great writing, the theatre personnel were terrific, they put me up in a splendid loft apartment two blocks from the theatre....and I played the richest guy onstage in a play about the depression! Everyone in or near Pittsburgh should support the Pittsburgh Public Theatre! I'm also proud to say some fans came to the play just to see Juliet Landau and me (from Buffy) who ordinarily would not come to see live theatre.

Z: Can you name any childhood and current heroes you may have?

RT: From childhood.........Shari Lewis and Hayley Mills.......I had the biggest crushes on them. Also, Soupy Sales and Sandy Becker who were outrageously funny to a prepubescent kid. Now.......... it changes from day to day. Under the current political climate I like Tom Friedman from the NY times a whole lot. Rudolph Giuliani--amazing steadfast work under extreme crisis. Also Eliot Spitzer in NY is doing some good courageous work holding corporate feet to the fire. And Jeff Wigand who blew the whistle on big tobacco is a genuine American hero.

Z: What is something about you that we would never guess? exp (accomplished musician or collect worms, etc.).

RT: I compose music ( a score I composed for The Caucasian Chalk Circle was orchestrated in '73 at the PCPA Theatre in California with a cast that included myself, Boyd Gaines, Harry Groener, and Robin Williams). I'm also a devotee of old pinball machines. I'd love to own an old pinball machine in good working order.

Z: Can you name a "guilty pleasure"?

RT: I clip coupons for fast food. I'm thrilled when I can get a buck off a Dairy Queen Blizzard or two for one roast beef at Arby's.

Z: If you had one wish what would it be?

RT: Reverse time so that 9/11 never happened, and Al Qaeda had never organized to execute its plans.

Z: What is the last good movie you saw and why.

RT: Saw a documentary called Sister Helen at the Directors Guild. Terrific! Look for it on HBO in the future. Funny and moving and has the whiff of truth. It won a prize at Sundance this year.

Z: Favorite midnight snack.

RT: Cheese-filled hot soft pretzel bits.

Z: With or without butter....

RT: You gotta be kidding!!!!! These are fattening enough.

Z: Do you have anything in the works we can be looking for soon?

RT: Come see me in San Diego at the Comic-con Aug 2-4, I'm the emcee for the Masquerade.
And remember the title "My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean", a movie I wrote and will direct when I get the financing.



On The Stage: "Awake and Sing"

On The Stage: "Awake and Sing"

On The Stage: "Awake and Sing"

On The Stage: "Awake and Sing"


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