ROSWELL: Brendan Fehr
An interview with the show’s teen alien Michael Guerin.
Author: Edward Gross
How often do you hear from an actor or creator from a television series who has anything but the kindest things to say about his or her show? From that point of view, actor Brendan Fehr, who plays alien Michael Guerin on ROSWELL, is a breath of fresh air. “I expected the show to be a piece of garbage,” he admits, and it’s important to note that he is not joking. “I was hoping that it wouldn’t be, but I figured the chances of it being really cheesy and bad were pretty high, just because of the concept. It’s not a great concept in terms of pitching it. If I was the head of the studio and somebody came up to me and said, ‘I want to do a TV show about aliens in high school,’ I probably would have fired him on the spot. But everyone, from the writers to the crew to the producers and the actors, have pulled together and made it work.”
The brutally honest Fehr was born in New Westminster, B.C., and grew up wanting to play sports and become an accountant. In 1990, he moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba and he eventually decided that rather than be an accountant, he would become a teacher. He didn’t stick with this goal for very long, for while pursuing his education, he decided to take a crack at modeling. Securing management, he was steered, instead, toward acting and shortly thereafter landed a guest starring role on UPN’s BREAKER HIGH. Following on the heels of this appearance were guest starring roles on such shows as MILLENNIUM, NIGHT MAN and THE NEW ADDAMS FAMILY, and he has appeared in the feature films DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, CHRISTINA’S HOUSE and FINAL DESTINATION. ROSWELL. The role of Michael, represents his first regular series gig.
“I signed with ROSWELL with the hopes it would be something,” he says. “I figured if it was terrible, it never would have gotten picked up, and it would have nonetheless gotten me a little bit of exposure and I could build up from there. And if it did get picked up, I was hoping they wouldn’t pick up a crappy show. So it was a no lose situation in terms of that. If it was going to be bad, it was going to be really bad. If it was going to be good, it was going to be really good. Now I think the show is really good, especially in terms of all of the shows out there regarding teenagers and stuff like that. And even beyond that, especially with the last batch of [episodes] for the season—this show has taken quite a drastic turn and I think it’s a lot better.”
That drastic turn, naturally, has to do with the fact that ROSWELL has shifted away from teen angst and embraced a harder science fiction approach. When the show began, much of the focus was on the unrequited relationship between alien Max Evans and human teenage girl Liz Parker, with fellow aliens Michael Guerin and Isabel Evans, as well as Liz’s human friends, taking a back seat for the most part. The threat came from Sheriff Valenti, who was out to prove the aliens’ existence, in the hopes of clearing the name of his father, who was deemed a madman for believing that aliens were among them. Then, during the last six episodes of the first season, the aliens’ mythology began to be explored in myriad ways. That change, combined with a new timeslot, immediately resulted in a significant boost in ratings, which led the WB to renew it for at least the first 13 weeks of a second season.
Offers Fehr, “The science fiction approach is a good thing. I’m not a huge fan of lovey-dovey high school stuff, but I know that has to be in there and some of it’s great, but that’s what every show does. It’s when we bring in the sci-fi aspect and drive the relationship stuff via the sci-fi aspect that the show gets really good. I’m totally all for that. There couldn’t be enough sci-fi stuff in there for me, personally. It’s not that I’m such a big sci-fi fan, I’m just a fan of anything that’s good, and I think that’s what going to make our show good. In terms of that, I’m a fan of the genre. Definitely.”
In a strange way, Michael, even though he’s only one of three aliens featured as regulars on the show, is the most sci-fi oriented character on ROSWELL in that he has spent all of the first season in pursuit of information concerning the aliens’ past. It’s been an obsession that has, in many ways, driven the character, though, ironically, he is beginning to tap into his own humanity (read: teen angst) via his growing relationship with the human teenager, Maria De Luca.
“Even though he doesn’t want it to happen,” Fehr explains, “Michael is kind of becoming a little more human in terms of dealing with relationships. It might not be during the conversation itself; it might be once the conversation is concluded where he kind of realizes that he blew it. In a way, that kind of shows that he knows he should have dealt with it differently and he grows from that. Before, he would have walked away from a situation and just not cared. Now he’s showing a little bit of emotion that he knows he screwed up and all that. It’s kind of nice, but you can only go so far without being schizophrenic. But you try to do as much as you can with changing the character around and expanding it within the context of the script. I’m still learning, and I may not always do a good job week in and week out, but I try and, hopefully, the chances I take will pay off and the audience will enjoy it.
“The character’s evolution over the season hasn’t really surprised me,” he continues. “I’ve been excited about what the writers have written for him, but it wasn’t really surprising. I figured that was the only way he could go, which was to become a little bit lighter. Once in a while I kind of like it that he thinks he’s got a place in life, that this is his journey and he’s going to follow that journey, no questions asked. He’s going to question everything else and defy all authority. I kind of like that, because even when he doesn’t want to do something, I figured he would go against his heart and do what he felt he was meant to do. In one sense it’s admirable, but in another it’s kind of ignorant and stupid. I kind of like that loyalty on his part, but that’s slowly going to be broken down with the relationship with Maria and Max and Isabel, which will force him to kind of embrace the human side of life more. That’s going to be the real ultimate struggle for him. I don’t think you can ride the fence on that one; you’re going to have to fully embrace your alienhood or kind of go the other way, and I don’t think, mentally for the health of the character, that he can just stay with his alienhood. Overall, I think a choice will have to be made and that’s what he’ll struggle with.”
While actors such as STAR TREK’s Leonard Nimoy and ALIEN NATION’s Eric Pierpoint have said in print that they as human beings have been informed by their on-screen alter egos (respectively the Vulcan Mr. Spock and the Tenctonese George Francisco), Fehr insists that the only exchange that’s been going on is from actor to character.
“There are a couple of similarities there in the sense that I like to take the initiative on things I want to do,” he says. “I don’t want to wait. I’m impatient in that sense. I also don’t mind being alone all the time. I can deal with wandering around and doing the type of vagabond thing. But Michael’s got a certain spontaneity that I would probably take the time to think through. I’d want to do it as quickly as possible, but I would devise a plan first, whereas he’s kind of a do-first and get out of the situation later kind of guy, which isn’t like me.”
The actor admits that he’s looking forward to season two, and the continuing development of the show’s science fiction themes. “ROSWELL has a mature spin on it right now,” he explains, “and I’d like to see that continue. I think we can get away with being a very mature show while still holding the fourteen year olds. And at the same time, we can attract that older crowd. I’d like to see it go more the X-FILES route than the DAWSON’S CREEK route. That’s what we’ve done, and I just hope that they continue to do that. Other than that, I kind of just leave it up to the writers and kind of like to be surprised by the whole thing.”