From Xpose, April 2002, pp 36-40. Photos at the end.
Now You See Him...
Vincent Ventresca chats candidly to Steven Eramo and reveals his feelings about the early demise of his cult TV show 'The Invisible Man'.
Two years ago, the Sci-Fi Channel took HG Wells' classic tale 'The Invisible Man' and gave it a makeover for the new millenium. The updated version starred Vincent Ventresca as Darien Fawkes, a small-time thief whose luck finally runs out. In order to avoid a lengthy prison term, Darien agrees to be a guinea pig in a secret US government experiment that his brother Kevin is in charge of. A living gland containing a substance called Quicksilver is grafted onto his brain, which gives Darien the ability to turn invisible at will.
Much to his chagrin, the reformed thief and ex-con is subsequently drafted into service by a two-bit intelligence organization called The Agency and becomes a secret weapon in its fight against the bad guys. The show worked, and built up a dedicated following, but unfortunately, after two seasons, 'The Invisible Man' (or 'I-Man' as dubbed by its fans) had the rug pulled out from under it and was cancelled this past January.
"I think people became fans of the show because they dug the world we created and felt a connection with the characters," says leading man Vincent Ventresca. "My family and I drove to Florida and then to Indiana over the recent holidays. We'd stop for gas or go into a McDonald's and people would come up to me and say, 'I love your programme.' When I told them that we only had five more original episodes left to air they were shocked. The series was unique to TV and was just starting to find its footing. We had such plans for next year, too. That's the real sad part."
In the first 13 episodes of 'The Invisible Man', Darien and his partner, the slightly offbeat but loyal Agent Bobby Hobbes (Paul Ben-Victor), faced a number of dangerous adversaries. These included a former Agency 'lab rat' whose touch caused instant death ('The Catevari'); a blind man who predicted Darien would kill Hobbes ('Tiresias'); illegal arms dealers ('Separation Anxiety') and even 'The Other Invisible Man'. The show premiered to record-breaking ratings and the Sci-Fi Channel quickly ordered an additional nine episodes to make up a full season. A second year was then commissioned and began airing in April 2001. Although it looked like the same show that viewers had come to love, there were differences, as Ventresca points out.
"The second year was a real hit or miss and it mainly had to do with the consistency to the world of 'The Invisible Man,' he explains. "I really felt like the characters as well as the rhythm and language of the series were finally starting to come into focus. Unfortunately, if a script doesn't have those elements written into it then it's hard to impose them on it. There were times when we tried to do that and it didn't fly. The problem with some of the scripts was they were rushed and that had to do with the threatened writers' strike. As a result, a lot of outside writers were brought in to help. We had some great writers on staff, such as Craig Silverstein [series co-producer] and Dean Orion, but it wasn't easy finding people that could write for this type of show. After all, its fan base is pretty hardcore. They know what's what and if you're not consistent then they cry foul, as well they should."
"My biggest disappointment with the second season was with the Hobbes character. I didn't feel as connected to him as I did in the first year and I thought that was so important to the show. I wanted 'The Invisible Man' to be about these two guys that found one another and became each other's saviors as well as best friends. For the most part, though, the writing in year two didn't reflect that. Paul and I tried our best to introduce it into the scripts but, apparently, it wasn't what some people wanted the series to be about."
Does Ventresca feel his approach to playing Darien differed at all in the second season? "Again, a lot of that had to do with the writing," notes the actor. "In the first year Darien spent a lot of time whining about his circumstances. At some point I wanted him to stop whining and start looking at why he was given this gift [the gland] and finally claim some sort of accountability for it. One of the things I liked about the second season was the sort of quiet pride Darien started taking in his life. I think he finally began to realize that he was somebody just because he was The Invisible Man. Nowhere was this more evident than in the episode 'Mere Mortals'. At first, Darien was glad to be rid of his invisibility, but by the end of the episode he was thrilled to get it back."
"What I also enjoyed about 'Mere Mortals' was Darien's struggle with who he was when it came to companionship. In the pilot episode he was a thief, so he always had to lie to people about that. What if, though, you were dating someone and out of the blue they told you they were a secret agent, or even better, that they could turn invisible! I find that interesting as well as amusing and complex, and it plays right into the tone of what our series should've been. The reason why I was first drawn to 'The Invisible Man' was that it was oddly complex. That's a mark of good Science Fiction. I mean, take a show like 'Smallville'. They weave so many elements into their scripts. I feel that some of our scripts in the second year didn't do that. That said, when we did tackle a variety of elements that's when the show was at its best."
"Honestly, what I feel good about is that we did some pretty nice work. The cast always stuck together and we made sure our characters were fleshed out even if there were inconsistencies in the script or the circumstances we were filming under weren't great. Even when it came to a script I wasn't happy with, I'd watch the finished episode and usually end up finding something I liked about it. So I'm proud of the work we did and I stand by it."
Besides 'Mere Mortals', another of the actor's favourite second season episodes is 'Brother's Keeper'. In it, The Keeper injects Darien with some of his brother Kevin's DNA, which allows him to channel his brother's personality and memory. "I loved the emotional aspects of that story," says Ventresca. "I always found it fascinating any time we dealt with the character of Kevin and in this case it was a challenge to play him as well as Darien."
"I also had fun filming 'A Sense of Commmunity.' After we shot that one it was held back for months because one of the Powers That Be didn't care for it. Paul and I watched it along with the director [Jay Tobias] and we thought it was cool. The story was all Hobbes and Darien, and that's what 'The Invisible Man' was all about. You had two guys caught up in these circumstances and they had this team of The Keeper [Shannon Kenny], The Official [Eddie Jones], and Eberts [Mike McCafferty] backing them up. That's the 'Invisible Man' we loved. However, at some point someone stopped loving it and that's the battle we ended up losing."
The second episode of the season, 'The Camp,' introduced viewers to a new regular character, Agent Alex Monroe, played by Brandy Ledford. This no-nonsense gal with friends in high government places was foisted upon her fellow operatives and their superior, The Official. Alex arrived with her own agenda - to find her baby, who had been taken by The Agency's chief nemesis, Chrysalis. However, once she achieved her objective, Alex seemed to take a back seat to the action.
"It's obvious the Alex character didn't work," elaborates Ventresca. "The writers tried to set it up so that she could find a place amongst this dysfunctional family [The Agency], but it never paid off. I love Brandy and I think she did everything that she could. She had to persevere through some negative feedback and I felt bad for her. I thought Brandy had a couple of really good episodes including one called 'The Choice', which was a bit of a departure for the show but really worked. The strange thing was that on paper the idea of adding Alex was a good one. In reality, though, it was too much seasoning in the stew and it sort of diluted what we already had going on."
In 'The Invisible Man's two-part series finale 'Enemy of My Enemy,' our heroes take on Chrysalis. The organization plans to unleash a hoard of invisible locusts on a field of genetically-engineered corn containing an element that could be the key to curing cancer. If they succeed it will guarantee Chrysalis' eventual takeover of the world. According to the Invisible Man himself, Ventresca states that he was happy with how the series ended.
"Craig Silverstein had a lot to do with that," he says. "I think deep down he had a feeling that we might be cancelled so he wanted the show to have a proper finish. The final scene of 'Enemy of My Enemy' (transcriber's note: I think he's referring to the episode that aired as 'The New Stuff') basically wraps things up and closes the first chapter of our characters' lives. I was on a show called 'Prey' that ended and left its audience wondering what the hell was going to happen. I didn't think that was fair to the fans that had been supportive of the show. I'm so happy the same fate didn't befall 'The Invisible Man'."
"Maybe I'm crazy, but I'm hoping the series isn't totally dead," adds the actor. "It's showing now around the world in places such as West Africa and New Zealand. Apparently it's doing very well in France, and has just started airing in Canada and Australia. If we get the same kind of fan support that we got here in America then maybe down the road we could do a movie for the Sci-Fi Channel. So who knows what the future might bring."
Nevertheless, Ventresca's fans can look forward to seeing the actor in the feature film 'Madison' due for release in April as well as the upcoming 'Robbing 'Hef,' which is currently in post-production. He recently tested for a new ABC series and is busy auditioning for other work. No matter how many other characters he might get to play, none will be quite like 'The Invisible Man.'
"It's the best part I've had so far in my career," says Ventresca, "and hopefully it won't be the last. One of the things 'The Invisible Man' gave me that I'll always be grateful for was a chance to mine my [acting] instincts and experiment with them. A lot of shows aren't like that, but to the credit of our executive producers they let us go for it. They trusted us and let us do what we wanted. It wasn't always right and, believe me, they'd cut it out if it wasn't any good," he chuckles. "However, we never went home at the end of the day wondering, 'What if?' That means a lot to an actor."
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