From Cult Times, March 2002, pp 24-28. Photos at the end.
Nobody messes with Bobby Hobbes. Paul Ben-Victor looks back on two seasons as the visible half of a partnership with 'The Invisible Man'
While UK viewers may only have seen the first season of 'The Invisible Man', going round and round on Bravo for these last few months, the second has recently finished in the States, to the dismay of 'I-Maniacs' everywhere. Why? Because the show was cancelled, seemingly with no good reason, despite its fast-growing fan base. Regular viewers will be aware that the series revolves around The Agency, a government organization run by the tough-talking Official (Eddie Jones) that tackles all manner of unusual cases. Into this environment is thrust Darien Fawkes (Vincent Ventresca), a thief and the recipient of a government-owned gland that enables him to coat his body with Quicksilver, a substance that bends light and renders him invisible. Converts will be aware that one of the biggest draws of the series is the close and fun buddy relationship between Darien and his tough, grumpy but likeable partner Bobby Hobbes (Paul Ben-Victor).
"I've done a lot of these tough little New York guys, tough cops,a little bit one foot on the wrong side of the tracks, they say, a little bit south of normal," Ben-Victor replies when asked what his original take was on the character. "I've played a bunch of these guys, so this was just another, and they're all different. I have a real sense where to come from, it's not like I'm searching to figure out who these guys are. So I just tried to make him my own, and Matt Greenberg, who wrote the original script, he had written a terrific little character so it was pretty easy. I just sort of went with the flow an I think he wrote it a lot like me, there was a lot of stuff in there I could just grab from, just an angry little embittered New York guy." So which bit of that could he relate to best? "All of it. I've always had a side of me that's a little miserable." He laughs, continuing, "I don't know about being bitter, just a little...what did a friend of mine say? He said my tombstone would say, 'Here lies Paul Ben-Victor; he was a little upset'."
It's clear that the relationship between Fawkes and Hobbes was giving off great sparks from the outset. Ben-Victor is happy to share the credit. "Well, I think everything was really a combination of what Vinnie [Ventresca] and I brought to it together. He would wind me up. He would say, 'Try this, let's do this,' and I would just go for it and I'd get in trouble for it but most of the ideas were his. I was like a little monkey; I just did it all. It was a playground. We both have a tremendous need to make things funny, a little bit quirky and goofy and it's kind of fun when you live life like that. So I think it became more of this comic strip-based series instead of something that could have been a lot more technical and a lot more stuffy."
"In the first year there was such a strong bond, because Vinnie and I had just met and it's kind of like a honeymoon, y'know? You meet another actor, you're working every day together and the first season I was in most of the stuff - a lot more than the second season - and we were just working hand in hand together all day long and it was a blast. We hung out together all day long in between takes, we were discussing things, we had constant little meetings about how we were gonna adjust things and make it our own. There was a constant creative situation, which is better if you have somebody who you respect and can work with that way."
It's becoming clear that Ben-Victor keeps referring specifically to Season One. Did he feel things weren't as good in the second year? "I prefer the first season because it was sort of innocent. The creator of the show, Matt Greenberg, had left and the new guys came and they were trying to find out who the good writers were and it was clear the Craig Silverstein was just in a class by himself, he was writing these fabulous episodes."
"It took a whole turn the second season," continues Ben-Victor candidly. "I could get specific but in my eyes it began to fall apart. They messed with the chemistry of the show and I think they messed with the writing of the show. I guess they were trying to be creative and that's fine, I just don't think it was done to the best passion. I don't wanna badmouth anybody."
It's suggested that the arrival of new character Alex Monroe (Brandy Ledford), a tough, humourless, professional agent, may have upset the delicate balance of the cast and how they sparked off each other. Ben-Victor chooses his words carefully, wanting to make it abundantly clear that he's got no grudge against his co-star.
"I think Brandy's terrific. Brandy just came in and got a job; she was an actress who did a terrific job and worked hard and did whatever she could to fill the shoes. And she's a great lady and a lot of fun and a real team player and a lovely girl."
"People were trying to be creative and they brought on another character, and I think the character could have worked great. They took a family that was very well-loved after a season of camaraderie and they bring this hot chick on and they made her less likeable than they should have. And the audience, I think, would have appreciated another character to come on, but they should have made her so they'd fit in or make us really like her."
"I had the idea to bring on Brandy, and she could be a bitch but you would love to hate her. In other words, you bring her on and she goes, 'Oh, Hobbes, you're this sexy little thing,' and 'Darien, big, strong, and strapping,' and 'Chief, I've heard so much about you,' and the one person she did it with was Shannon [Kenny, The Keeper, in charge of the condition of Darien's gland]. She did offer her services [to her] but everybody else she made fun of. And the audience, they love these people, and you don't wanna make fun of them, you wanna embrace them. So she should have been more like Catwoman from 'Batman', who comes on and keeps everybody in the palm of her hand and seduces everybody. That would have been [better], to recur her first and not necessarily have her on full time and then slowly bring in this Catwoman-type character who can do anything and she's sexy and beautiful and everybody wants her, and even the audience wants her. Instead, she came in and she said, 'Hobbes, you're an asshole, Vinnie, you're a schmuck,' and whatever. That was the problem. It should have been a smoother, more likeable character to bring on."
One of the potentially more offputting things about 'The Invisible Man' for newcomers was the fact that Ventresca and Ben-Victor appeared to be making much of the dialogue up on the spot. "Y'know, people say there was so much improvising, ad-libbing or whatever you want to call it," defends Ben-Victor, "and there was a bunch. If there's a moment where we're running from the house to the truck and there's no lines, we just went with what was going on; I remember one time we were walking up some stairs [and Ventresca] goes, 'I want some warm things in my life...' We still had to arrive at the scene and play the scene so we were just filling in, kind of like little riffs that should have just flavoured the story. The stories were all there, we just sort of filled in the blanks."
So does this mean Ben-Victor comes from an improvisational background? "Yeah, I do, but not because I've studied it. I've just always used my instinct to improvize a bit when I had an audition and it seems like I got a lot of jobs by doing that. I don't recommend it to everybody because people can screw it up. I started out doing commercials early on and I think commercially these new directors in the mid-Eighties and Nineties were looking for that 'real guy' to do something real, so I would throw in little things. I improvised a lot when I was auditioning if the material was a little thin. It happens when I'm preparing for an audition, I'll just sort of depart into the character a little bit. And as I go, sometimes it's a line or a word, [but] as I'm doing it over and over again, eventually you find other little notes."
"It's like jamming, it's like jazz. And if I found something that I thought was terrific, I said, 'S**t, I've gotta show this to them tomorrow, they may like this,' and more times than not they would go, 'That's terrific' and I literally got a couple of jobs doing the audition where the director said, 'I want you to do that when we shoot this.' So when I got on the show I just kept doing what I'd been doing for 15 years. I'm sure they've got me in trouble too; I've come back from an audition or two, not often, but once in a while my manager will call and say, 'Paul, the writer really wanted to hear his script and they said you just went off and told some story'. It's like,'Oh, sorry.' They could have just told me to do it again and stick to the script..."
So has he gone back to his agent sometimes and found them tearing their hair out going 'No! What were you doing?' "Yeah, I have, that's happened," laughs Ben-Victor. "I've had a couple of phone calls, 'What the f*** did you do in there?' but not recently. That was in the earlier days. I used to do some crazy s**t. I used to sneak into auditions... as the coffee boy."
"Remember the TV show 'Fame'? I auditioned for 'Fame'; there was a huge cattle call in New York. We all showed up and there was, like, hundreds of people trying to meet these two producers and they were seeing people in this big arena and they were going in two at a time to sit and meet these people. I was there for hours and hours, and me and this other guy decided to go get a beer. We ended up sharing a six-pack."
"I got my nerve together and said, 'You know what? Screw this. I'm not waiting in the line. I'm gonna go deliver them some coffee.' And I went up and cut through hundreds of people, ran into this room and said, 'Time out! Coffee break!' and I had two coffees and two little coffee doughnuts for these guys, with sugars. And I proceeded to put on this big grand show, presenting these coffees that were presented by Paul Ben-Victor, who's working in the deli downstairs; he knew you guys were working hard and he wanted to send you a couple of coffees and 'Would you like a few sugars? How many would you like? Two? Thank you. And here's some milk.'"
"And I just served these two people coffee and coffee cakes. I put the napkin out, little plastic spoon, 'cause I wasn't waiting in the line anymore. I didn't get the job but I did get a couple of callbacks. It was a lot of fun. And I kept doing it, I did it two or three times for auditions because I didn't have an agent. Then finally I got an agent, they got me an appointment and I did it anyway. And they called and they said, 'Paul, you had an appointment, you don't have to do the coffee,' but I was so used to putting on this coffee show. They were like, 'What is he doing?' And I realized at that point I had to stop doing it."
"I wouldn't do it without having a few beers," he qualifies, laughing.
It's clear the cast of 'I-Man' was very close, and Ben-Victor agrees with this assessment wholeheartedly. "Yeah, Vinnie and I are very good friends, I think we're gonna be friends for life. Mike McCafferty [The Official's yes-man, Eberts] and I, and his wife Sarah - she was one of the casting directors on the show - became friendly and he's a terrific and funny guy. Yeah, we definitely created some friends here. Shannon and her husband Nestor [Carbonell, recently seen Stateside as Batmanuel in 'The Tick'], they're having a baby. We're definitely all pretty tight. They will always be invited to any dinner parties or any kind of festivities that I do, and I do a lot of entertaining like that. They're part of my family now."
And what about coming back for more in maybe a TV movie? "Oh, I'd love to," smiles the actor. "Wouldn't that be great? Vinnie [and I], we've talked about that. Wouldn't it be great if we did four TV movies a year, just to go in and work for two weeks, three weeks and do a TV movie, that would be great and keep it alive. You could do a sort of series that way, I guess. It's like waiting for an issue to come out, you know, like a holiday issue." Here's hoping his wish comes true, as 'The Invisible Man' is a sad loss to the TV landscape.
Click on the thumbnails below to see the pictures that accompanied this article.
Return to 'Invisible Man Links'
Return to 'Jose Cheung Memorial Website'