|Eric Etebari interview|
Back in 2001, before paranormal exploded onto the scene, I had a difficult time finding much on TV that I enjoyed. But one night, I stumbled into the middle of the first season of a show on TNT that was years ahead of its time, and totally riveted me.
A gritty paranormal cop-drama set in NYC, Witchblade is Urban Fantasy at it’s finest, with complex characters and plotlines involving time travel, reincarnation, demonic possession, occult, ancient artifacts, mythic motifs and dark conspiracies. The heroine, Sara Pezzini, a NYC homicide cop, discovers that she is the reluctant wielder of the Witchblade—a legendary artifact of immense and potentially corruptive power. She swiftly becomes the focus of several fascinating, sexy, ruthless, dangerous men. With music from Rob Zombie, Peter Gabriel, Enya, The Crystal Method, Three Dog Night, U2, the show rocks.
But the character that really got under my skin, sucked me in and kept me thinking about him long after the show was over each week, was megalomaniac-billionaire Iron’s dark, sexy and mysterious bodyguard/assassin, Ian Nottingham, played to perfection by Eric Etebari.
Ian came to life each week, infused by Eric’s passion for the character, and precision for the subtle nuances of the enigma that was Ian Nottingham. Eric even performed the majority of his own stunt work for the show! He lived and breathed Ian, which made Ian live and breathe for all of us.
As the season unfolded, Ian ended up stealing the show for me, which was a feat, because there were many fascinating characters in Witchblade. He began as an almost child-like, subservient, deeply conflicted character, and evolved into a strong, obsessed-in-the-sexiest-of-ways, protective, committed, but still dangerous and deeply conflicted man. Member of a highly elite squad of assassins who were experimented on to make them more of everything: more dangerous, ruthless, harder, stronger, faster, smarter, Ian had a past he could never escape and a future in which his every breath was dictated by Iron’s brutal whim--until one lovely day, Ian was free...well, mostly.
Much to my dismay, I only caught seven or eight episodes of the show toward the end of the first season and somehow managed to miss the second season entirely. But I never got the show or anti-hero Ian out of my head and, when I discovered that Witchblade was going to be released on DVD last July, I couldn’t buy it fast enough. When I finally got to watch the pilot and the rest of the episodes I’d missed, I was startled by some of the commonalities in the Fever series and Witchblade. There’s no doubt we all draw from the same mythological pool.
At the end of the second season, I was devastated that the show had been cancelled. I wanted more Ian Nottingham!
So, I turned to the man who made the magic happen, to discover his thoughts on all things Witchblade, recent projects and current ones.
Actor, model, musician, athlete, director and producer, Eric’s film credits include Witchblade, CSI Miami, Cellular and one of my favorites, 2 Fast 2 Furious—where he raced the classic 1970 Dodge Challenger.
KAREN: Eric, did you always know you wanted to be an actor?
ERIC: Yes and no. My mother was a photographer and I always seemed to be in front of the camera. I went out on a few commercial auditions as a kid but was very shy. Because I’d been through about 7 different public schools, growing up in Hollywood, I started playing more sports to fit in. It seemed the best way to stay safe and keep the tough guys on your side! After I realized sports weren’t enough to occupy my mind and my creativity, I eventually drifted back to being an artist.
KAREN: You were a model first, did you pursue modeling or were you discovered?
ERIC: I was attending San Diego State on a Volleyball scholarship when my roommate found an advertisement for International Male’s Open Call Model Search in the school paper. I didn’t think much of it but he kept teasing me about it. Then he dared me, even called me a chicken! At 17 years old, those were fighting words. So I took the challenge, and he and another buddy went with me to the open call. The whole way there they were pumping me up. "E, you’re the man! You’re going to nail it! Come on, how many people do you think are really going to show up anyway?"
Well, we got there, and there were over 500 guys--all colors, shapes and sizes--and everyone was very good-looking. It was intimidating. Then my buddies started saying, "Good luck dude. You don’t have a chance!" I signed in at number four hundred thirty-six, and it took about six hours before my turn came. I got a call two weeks later, saying I’d made the top 100. Then a few days later, I was in the top 10, and the winner would land the cover. I didn’t end up as the winner--at least not yet. They chose someone else. Then when I least expected it, I got a call from the photographer who’d taken our pictures at the open call and he told me they weren’t happy with the guy they’d picked. He suggested I let him shoot more pictures of me, and he would get them to reconsider me for the cover. So I went to his studio and shot all day, and I got a call the next day telling me I’d been picked to do the cover! That was my first professional job. I worked for International Male a lot after that. Did some funny stuff. I still have a close buddy that kept a few of the catalogs I did like UNDERGEAR and he blackmails me every now and then.:)
KAREN: You had an incredibly successful modeling career including an ad campaign featuring you in Davidoff’s Zino campaign.
What was that time of your life like?
ERIC: It was a great time for me. But it didn’t happen easily. I tried to get representation in Hollywood, to no avail. I was turned down several times. Then one day a scout for Bruce Webber, a very famous photographer, came to the school campus, took my picture, and sent it to him. I got the call to shoot with Mr. Webber a couple weeks later at the Chateau Marmont hotel.
I was able to use the pictures to get representation and start my career. I traveled all over the world. I was fortunate enough to work with a few immensely talented designers like Gianni Versace, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld, and Giorgio Armani. But one of my biggest thrills was working with Cindy Crawford on a Versace campaign shot by the late Richard Avedon. It was some of the most fun I have ever had. I traveled all over the world and met the greatest people. I even had a private dinner at Gianni Versace’s villa in Paris that he cooked himself. He’s a great cook!
KAREN: How did you make the transition from modeling to acting?
ERIC: I’m free spirited. I draw energy from new inspiration and growing as an artist. I walked away at the height of my modeling career, jumped into an acting class, and got a puppy I named Brando. It was a time when you would not be taken seriously as an actor if you were a model. So I found a class that really inspired me, grew a long beard and devoted every day for the next two years to my craft. I didn’t show my face around town for two years. I did a few commercials then, when I thought it was time, I began auditioning.
KAREN: Do you have a favorite story from your early days in the business you like to tell?
ERIC: I have a few. I was auditioning for a show called "413 Hope Street". It was for FOX and one of the producers was Damon Wayans from “In Living Color.” I was so excited about auditioning for Mr. Wayans. My turn came and, just as I walked into the room he walked out to take a call. I was so upset that I bombed the audition. As I was driving away, I was beating myself up for being so bad and distracted. I decided to turn around and try again. When I got back, the casting director told me I wasn’t right for the part and they’d decided to go in another direction. I didn’t give up. I kept asking her to ask the director and Mr. Wayans if I could just have another shot. Finally, she agreed, and told me if I waited until everyone else had their turn, they would let me try again. I waited, went in, knocked their socks off—and got the part! I’m a firm believer in: "If you don’t succeed try, try again."
Then there was the time I was working on "The Honorable." I was cast to play the right-hand man to the lead villain. During the first week of shooting, the guy who was playing the villain decided not to show up to work unless the director agreed to additional demands. After a two-day stand off, the director called me at midnight and asked me if I could pull off playing the part, and told me the biggest scene in the film was being shot the next day at 5am. I said you bet. I stayed up all night, showed up in the morning and rocked it! The actor arrived later that day to apologize but it was too late, the role was mine. But my favorite story is how I landed the part of Ian Nottingham…
KAREN: And that was my next question. How did you get the role? And did you consider Witchblade your big break?
ERIC: I used to hang out at a bar in Hollywood where my buddy bartended. One Friday night, I was there having a good time with my bro, when this guy sitting next to me who was drunk began harassing the woman he was with. She started getting very upset, so I suggested he settle down. He looked me over, and said it was none of my business. He continued yelling at her, then got physical with her, and the woman started to cry, so I asked him once again to "please settle down". He stood up, got in my face, stuck his finger in my chest and told me to stay out of it. Next thing I knew, I was holding him by his throat, back up against the wall, asking him politely one final time to settle down. Due to my tight grip around his throat, I couldn’t hear what he said, but I believe he apologized. The lady thanked me and the guy calmed down and even started being nice. Unknown to me, a producer from Witchblade was there, and had been watching all this go down. A week later, my buddy the bartender called and said the producer that was there that night had called the restaurant, looking for me. Apparently, they were having difficulty casting the part of Ian Nottingham and this producer thought I might be right for it. He brought me in and had me read, and several auditions later, I got the part! I truly owe that opportunity to a wonderful producer and a drunk guy! Yes, this was my first big break as an actor.
KAREN: Wow, what a great story! Your role as Ian Nottingham was obviously meant to be. (I hope actors all over town don’t start grabbing drunk guys by the throat just in case a producer is watching, LOL!)
Paranormal shows have become all the rage now, but in 2001 the scope of television was very different. What did you think of the premise of the show when you read for it?
ERIC: I thought the premise was going to be your typical cop show. Boy I was in for the ride of my life. I loved it and was very intrigued by the role. I knew right from the start it wasn’t your everyday show nor was this your everyday character. I rushed out and started reading the comic to get a grasp of it. I knew we were going to have something very special.
KAREN: You did such an amazing job bringing Ian Nottingham to life, through his smallest gestures and expressions, that it appeared effortless. I was especially struck by how completely different the first Ian in Season 1 was from the second, cruel, cold Ian that finished off the season. You did a fabulous job giving them such disparate personalities! It made me wonder: Just how much of Ian Nottingham is there in Eric Etebari?
ERIC: A lot! I think all actors tend to pull as much from themselves and their experiences as possible. It keeps it real! Ian allowed me to be the hero you dream about and the kid you wish you could stay!
KAREN: Many actors create a back-story for their characters to explain their motivation. Did you and could you share some of the back-story you created?
ERIC: My plan was to create a character I could develop throughout the show. In the comic book, Irons was a very powerful character physically and would physically dominate Nottingham into submission. When they cast Anthony Cistaro for Irons, he brought an intellectual quality to the character. So I used that difference to come up with the idea that Irons kept Nottingham mentally underdeveloped in order to control him more easily. It would allow Irons to manipulate Nottingham like a child and at the same time allow me to create a very unusual arch to such a complex, unpredictable, exciting, dangerous and, most of all, vulnerable character as the show progressed.
KAREN: What was working on Witchblade like?
ERIC: It was fantastic. It was my first series regular job. I was playing the role of a lifetime where the sky was the limit mentally and physically for ideas and choices. It was the first time I had been to Toronto, Canada. I love that place. The people are very friendly and the crews were great! Yancy led the way with her unmatched work ethic and professionalism. She was great! The crew really liked the show and everyone was always in a good mood. I met some of my closet friends being on the show- Peter Mensah, David Chokachi and Anthony Cistaro to mention a few.
KAREN: What made you decide to do most of your own stunts? They were fantastic!
ERIC: I really wanted to give Nottingham a unique body language. Being an athlete, I was always up for trying the stunt and making it original. I love to think outside the box.
KAREN: What was the most demanding stunt you performed?
ERIC: I think the most demanding stunt was jumping into the air and removing my jacket at the same time to fight Mobius (Peter Mensah). Fighting him was so much fun. We came up with our very own style. If you watch the fight, it’s pretty different. It looks like Roman Gods striking a pose. And I can’t forget about beating up Jake (David Chokachi) that was real fun as well! I’d say all the stunts were demanding and I seemed to always make them even a little more so by adding an Etebarian flare.
KAREN: That’s such a great fight scene, and Jake definitely took a trashing at the stadium! I love that Nottingham never loses in a fight. Witchblade was a critical and commercial success yet it was cancelled after two seasons. How did you feel about that? Was it difficult to say goodbye to the world, characters and actors?
ERIC: It was very sad. Those opportunities come around once in a lifetime. It was hard to say good-bye. But I have been blessed with keeping the memories alive with a strong Etebari fan base and my relationships with my buddies mentioned above. I would love to climb back into that world of dark mystery and play a shadowy, intriguing and dangerous character. Hmm... have any ideas? Did someone just say Darkfever!?
KAREN: (Laughing.) Yes, definitely! Ian evolved tremendously during two seasons. What did you envision happening to Ian if the show would have continued? Would he have become Sara’s equal? Ultimate and most dangerous enemy? Lover?
ERIC: I ask myself that question all the time. I introduced him as a 5 year-old child with the idea that every year he would grow up and experience all the growing pains, trials and tribulations of a young adult. Toward the second season he was just entering his teens. And, once I caught wind the show might be in trouble I tried to speed up his age and development. I had really wanted to play him as a teenage delinquent. I would have imbued him with a rebellious quality and given him a cool hairdo like a Mohawk with a long tail or something very edgy; eventually Ian would have grown into your classic leading man with long black hair blowing in the wind. The ultimate goal was to emotionally develop him into the Ian Nottingham that was based on the comic book.
KAREN: What is your dream acting role?
ERIC: Tough question. I don’t think there is one. I dream of traveling all over the world and playing a variety of roles that have sophistication along with physicality. I always wanted to go to Dublin! :)
KAREN: :) You’ve worked consistently as an actor since Witchblade went off the air, but you also recently wrote, directed, produced and starred in Bare Knuckles.
Here’s a quick synopsis.
Women will go to extreme lengths for those they love and single mother Samantha Rogers is no exception. Along with her young daughter, Milla, Sam struggles to make ends meet, taking her licks as a stunt double by day and cocktail waitressing at a rowdy bar at night.
When Sam uses her skills to avoid a bar fight between two drunk women, down-and-out fight promoter Sonny Cool (Karate kid’s Martin Kove) sees an opportunity to get back into "The Show" a high class, but highly illegal all female Bare Knuckle fight tournament, where brutality and elegance mix with high stakes and deception.
To provide for her family, Samantha is forced into taking Sonny’s offer. Is the price too much for her? "Bare Knuckles: A knockout punch of strength and determination inspired by a true story."
KAREN: Eric, what motivated you to get behind the camera?
ERIC: I operate from strength not fear. The same way I left modeling to become an actor, I got behind the camera. It’s part of my growth as an artist. I’d always wanted to get my own film up and running. Initially, a producer I knew asked me to read the script. I wasn’t interested in it, but later, after I put some thought into it, I felt that by adding the element of a single mother struggling to raise her daughter, the concept really hit home (it draws inspiration from my own mother’s story.) Once that element was written there was no stopping me! Originally, I was going to play the lead role of Sonny Cool, and Martin Kove was going to play the lead villain role of Nedish. During pre-production, I had so many ideas about the film; and at the same time, I was having a hard time finding a director and producer that believed I could deliver the film on budget and on time. So I decided to take on the challenge as director and producer. My next move was to put Martin Kove in the lead role, which he played perfectly. I really enjoyed making the film. As an actor, I wanted to treat my actors like I would like to be treated on a film. I gave them a lot of room and confidence to find their characters. I also wanted to create a wonderful working environment where people were excited to be there and give it all they had. I achieved both!
KAREN: What was the experience like for you? I hear Anthony Hopkins made an unexpected appearance!
ERIC: It was like putting on an old pair of blue jeans that fit perfectly. Everything went so smoothly. If an actor fell out due to scheduling, a better one seemed to fall into place. We had a lot of good fortune. One day we were shooting at the famous Malibu Castle Kashan. I had a boxing ring set up right in the middle of this stunning circular driveway surrounded by the castle. I was in the middle of shooting a scene and all of a sudden I hear people whispering "Anthony Hopkins is here." Sure enough, I turned around and there he was, standing by our camera monitor. I thought I had to be dreaming, LOL. So, I just kept shooting. But then all my actors left the set and headed over to see him. Before I could walk over and introduce myself, someone came up to me and said, "Anthony Hopkins wants to be in your film!" Later, I found out that my mother was standing next to him when he commented on how great the film was looking and she asked him if he would like to participate (thanks Mom!). So I walked over to him and introduced myself. There was Anthony Hopkins standing right in front of me, in the flesh. Wow--talk about being blown away! He asked if I would like him to participate and before I knew it, I had my arm over his shoulder and we were walking away from all the camera crew and star-struck cast to a quiet place where I could fill him in on the story. We came up with a character name (Xavier Jonas) an idea for a scene, and a brief back-story. So, I had him interrupt the scene we had already in progress and do an improvisation. The first two takes were so funny. Every actor and extra couldn’t take they’re eyes off of him. He was gracious and nice and fast on his feet. His presence on set made the experience even more magical then it was. I had Anthony Hopkins on my set on my first film! If you’re wondering if he made cut, of course he made my cut, but unfortunately he will not be in the film as distributed. But, the visit and experience was priceless. Thank you Mr. Hopkins!
KAREN: What a thrill that must have been! So, Witchblade and Bare Knuckles...hmmm...is it safe to say that you enjoy the strong, independent, powerful female archetype? (Gotta love a man that is strong and self-possessed enough to enjoy a strong woman!)
ERIC: Yes it is, and yes I do. My mother is that strong, independent, powerful female archetype. She is my inspiration. I think that’s why I have always been drawn to the damsel in distress who--once she discovers her personal power--can kick ass and still rock in a pair of high heels!
KAREN: If you could have a garage full of all your dream cars, or if you already have them, what would they be?
ERIC: I like the new Challenger and Charger. I love the convertible Bentley. I like all the early Corvettes and the black Porsche 911. I own a 67 Buick Rivera, a 62 white Lincoln Continental, and a 72 Harley Davidson. I used the Lincoln and Rivie in Bare Knuckles.
KAREN: You’re a musician also. Has music always been an important part of your life?
ERIC: I formed a band called Knuckles. We were a three piece band. But I was having a hard time getting my buddies to come see me sing. So I decided to add the Knockouts, three female background singers: a redhead, a blonde and a brunette. Now my buddies come all the time! For me it’s another creative outlet. It also helps pass the time between developing and waiting for good roles. Here’s a gig we did at the Knitting Factory.
KAREN: With all your different career options, which do you prefer most and why?
ERIC: I love the opportunity to escape reality, enter the unknown, and play a role that challenges me, and allows me to depart from my everyday life. Directing is slowly moving up my list. I like being in charge and being part of a family that creates something memorable and an environment that’s fun to work in. Being a rock star would be fun too. I just don’t know how well I’d do in a tour bus with a bunch of guys traveling across the US. But then I do have Knockouts, so I might have to rethink that one!
KAREN: You’re involved with various charities. Can you tell us a bit about them?
ERIC: I’ve participated in several charities that my fan base has also generously supported—a big thanks to all of you! I put most of my efforts into the Holly Grove Orphanage. I went to grade school next door to it, and was friends with a few of the kids that were orphans there. It’s a rough place to be as a kid. I definitely have a soft spot for abused children. If you think I was tough on the drunk guy in the bar, that’s nothing compared to what happens if I catch someone abusing or putting their hands on a child. Let’s just say: no apologies accepted!
KAREN: Do you have any spare time and if so, what do you like to do in it?
ERIC: Ever since I took on the job of Directing and Producing Bare Knuckles I haven’t had much time. But when I get the chance I like to clean my house, I like to play basketball. I’m in the Entertainment Basketball League. It’s a lot of fun. I love to run on the beach and do just about any outdoor activity. I like to keep moving!!!
KAREN: What projects are you currently working on, and what do you envision for the future?
ERIC: I’ve been developing a contemporary version of Robin Hood with bleached-blond hair that comes back from the war to save his neighbor from the Mayor taking his property through eminent domain. Also Xerxes the Persian emperor; a very talented writer, Renee Hakim wrote a version of this for me to play Xerxes. I heard Zack Snyder (the director of 300) might be making his own version of the film as the prequel to 300. (I was in one of Zack Snyder’s first Directing jobs for a JBL Speaker commercial with Lois Chiles.) Also, Witchblade, the Movie playing Ian Nottingham. It’s rare they let the TV actors reprise their roles for the film, but I’m planning on being the exception to the rule! Then there’s Bare Knuckles 2 .The husband that’s MIA in Bare Knuckles returns in Bare Knuckles 2, only to find that his wife has been abducted and he has to reintroduce himself to his daughter and find his wife.
As far as the future, it’s up in the air. The exciting thing about not knowing what’s next is that you’re always in for a surprise, and I’m ready to go on a new ride!
KAREN: Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?
ERIC: Life is full of the unexpected. I’ve had to fight many battles and walk many miles to achieve my dreams, and my journey has just begun. I’d rather live one day as a lion, then spend a life as a mouse. I don’t believe in the phrase, "I can’t" but live for "I will."
I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful Holiday and a bright and exciting New Year! Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts, aspirations and dreams.