After a reunion special that reunited the main cast with the show creators, the cult hit comedy Reaper, which lasted for two seasons when it originally aired, is now re-airing on FEARnet on Tuesday nights. The quirky series focuses on the life of Sam Oliver (Bret Harrison), a college drop-out who, on his 21st birthday, learns that he now must work as a bounty hunter for the Devil (played fantastically and brilliantly by Ray Wise), as part of a deal made many years ago when Sam’s parents offered up their firstborn son in exchange for good health for his ailing father. The show also stars Tyler Labine and Rick Gonzalez, as the slacker friends who help Sam in his new secret double-life as a reaper.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, acclaimed veteran actor Ray Wise talked about how surprising and thrilling the resurgence of Reaper has been, how great it was to revisit the experience for the reunion special, why he thinks people responded so strongly to the show, that he would reprise the role at the drop of a hat, and if there were ever the opportunity to do more episodes or a movie. He also talked about what attracts him to a project and role, after 44 years in the business, the experience of playing Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks, and his recent music video for the Beach House song “Wishes.” Check out what he had to say after the jump.
RAY WISE: It was totally surprising, but thrilling. I’m just so happy that they decided to do it. The whole Reaper experience, for me, and playing the devil was one of the best I’ve ever had. I certainly didn’t want it to end, when it ended. The fact that FEARnet is bringing it back, in whatever form people choose to watch, it’s a wonderful thing. I couldn’t be more thrilled by it. I always felt that Reaper got the short end of the stick. We weren’t really the network’s demographic. It was more Gossip Girl-ish, and we weren’t that. We were something very special. We were funny, and we were current, and we were hip. Maybe on another network, we would have flourished, but who knows. But, I’m so happy that FEARnet is doing this, and we’ll see. I think people will be turned onto it again. We loved each other, and we really enjoyed working with each other. It was a very happy, very loose, very creative experience. We had a great time.
Even though this show was only on for two seasons, it developed a really loyal fan following. What was it like to revisit the series and reunite with the cast for the special?
WISE: It was great! They all still look pretty much the same. Tyler [Labine] looks smashing! I think he’s lost a little weight, he’s trimmed his beard and his hair is a little bit shorter, but he’s still the same old Tyler Labine. And Bret [Harrison] and Ricky [Gonzalez] looked great. It was a lot of fun, getting back together again and talking about Reaper again.
What do you think it was about this show that led people to identify with it and enjoy it so much?
WISE: You know, I think it was just an extremely interesting and different way of portraying the old The Devil and Daniel Webster story of the devil meeting up with somebody whose soul has been sold. We did it in a way that was charming and funny and witty, and a different kind of a devil. It was not your average devil, that you see in movies. I always said he was like a cross between a really, really good used car salesman and a talk show host with a really good fashion sense. He was the kind of guy you would gravitate towards, in a room. You’d want to talk to him. And I think that my devil inspired that kind of feeling in others. That’s what a good confidence man is, after all. He gives you confidence in yourself and in him. And the slackers – Bret, Tyler and Rick – were a funny bunch. We had great situations and a wealth of material to draw on. I’m very sorry that we didn’t get a chance to go into the third season and the fourth season, and see where this story would take us. I was anxious to maybe go down into Hell, a little bit.
WISE: Not really, no. I do know that they had plans and ideas for what would happen. When we ended the show, you could see that all hell was going to break loose. It was getting very intense.
If something were to happen, and you could do more episodes or a two-hour movie, is that something you would want to do?
WISE: I would do it at the drop of a hat. They wouldn’t have to try to convince me, at all. I would do it tomorrow. The character of the devil is one of the greatest that I’ve ever played. To have a chance to do it again would be thrilling to me.
When you enjoy getting to play the devil so much, or you find yourself identifying with him, does that make you worry about what that says about you?
WISE: Oh, no, not at all! After all, if there is a devil, it’s certainly not me, and it’s not the devil that I played. I enjoy all the mythology of it, and all of the stories about different devils. When I researched for Reaper, before I started doing the show, I checked in on some other devils that I liked. I loved Walter Huston’s devil, in The Devil and Daniel Webster. The Jack Nicholson character in The Witches of Eastwick was interesting. Al Pacino’s devil in The Devil’s Advocate was interesting. Peter Stormare in Constantine was interesting. Gabriel Bryne’s devil in End of Days was way too serious.
Having been in the business for 44 years now, what is it that attracts you to a project, these days?
WISE: Just a great character, an interesting story, and a take on it that is a little off-kilter of a little askew, and not so uniform. I look for something a little bit different, that I can sink my teeth into. And then, of course, there’s the other people who would be cast and the director who’s doing it. A real treat was working with Kevin Smith on the pilot of Reaper. Directors are very important. And then, there’s an attraction, if they offer it to me.
Your work on Twin Peaks, in both the series and the film, was just so phenomenal. Did you ever have any hesitation about signing on to do that show, or could you see the possibilities that were there, when you read it?
WISE: No, we never expected [what it became]. When I read it, I thought it was great. And then, I had a meeting with David Lynch and we talked about everything under the sun except the script. We talked about our first cars and some actor friends that we had in common. We had a nice 20 or 25 minute chat. And then, I found out, a day or two later, that he wanted me to play Leland Palmer. I thought I was going in for Sheriff Truman, so I had to look at the script again. I saw, “Leland cries at the morgue,” and then, “Leland cries on the phone when he hears about his daughter being killed.” I thought, “Well, this guy’s just a crybaby.” And then, I thought, “No, wait a minute. There is a real challenge there, to play this guy because he’s emotionally right on the edge.”
There were different levels, variations and degrees of that fragility that he was going through, and I thought that would be challenging and a great character to play. And then, of course, it was David Lynch. That was the big attraction. That show was so well-written. Everything had double and triple meanings. It was just well-plotted, well thought out and well-written. It was a joy to do. Only with Reaper did I feel the same kind of happiness, driving to the set every day. Reaper and Twin Peaks were great working situations.
Is there still a type of role that you’d like to do, but haven’t gotten the chance to do yet?
WISE: Oh, my, that’s a good question. What would be the next step? For me to play God in something? No, that’s a joke. Although, I suppose it could happen, couldn’t it? I just want to keep working, really. That’s the key thing. I just want to keep doing as many different things as I can. I want them to be worthy and I want them to be good. That’s the main thing. I just want to keep working and playing characters that I’m interested in doing. And I try to spread it around in different areas. I just did a voice for a new animation thing for Fox late night. I can’t give any of the details on it because I don’t think any of it has been set yet. But, I like to do different things in different areas. I do that Newsreaders show on Adult Swim. And I like to work on things with the Funny or Die people.
You also recently did a music video?
WISE: Yeah, I did a music video for a band called Beach House, for the song “Wishes.” It was directed by Eric Wareheim, of the Tim & Eric Show. To me, it’s very Lynchian. It has a white horse in it. So, I was out at Coachella for the festival there, and I saw Beach House. We got together and talked about the video, and I had some pictures taken. I ran into Bono from U2 and found out that he was a Twin Peaks fan. And his 17-year-old daughter’s favorite band is Beach House, and she knew all about my “Wishes” video. I’ve become relevant with the younger set now.
Reaper airs on Tuesday nights on FEARnet.