I met Al Sapienza, who plays Councilman Rose on the upcoming Syfy event series Ascension which debuts next Monday night at 9/8c, in October with the rest of the cast (check out our previous article on the show and cast discussion), and then had a one on one discussion with him recently to talk about the upcoming series.
Rose is the head politician of the show. On the face of it, he’s second only to the Captain, played by Brian Van Holt, who is still an elected official but is ultimately in charge, followed by a council – something similar to a city’s mayor and council. But Rose has eyes on the Captain’s uniform – as well as for the Captain’s wife (played by Battlestar Galactica‘s Tricia Helfer).
Al’s a busy guy too…he recently appeared in a recurring role as a detective in Person of Interest, he played Mikey in The Sopranos, and many many guest roles. IMDB lists 24 future roles as well!
Al LOVES to talk about the show. He genuinely seems enthralled by all the various thought-provoking aspects of the show – the history (or lack thereof – see below), the culture, and yes, the politics. Alas, this stretched in to areas that would be some serious spoilers…so I can’t tell you a lot of what was said…yet. Next week, maybe. 🙂
Doc: One thing you said [during the press panel] that I thought was very interesting was that when researching the role, as opposed to trying to learn a new role, one thing you have to do in this show is you actually have to forget everything you do know.
Al: Exactly. The Kennedy Assassination – it absolutely in my opinion, it absolutely changed America. We have not recovered from it. Most people today don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but they are suffering from it, the don’t even realize it, because they weren’t alive then. It changed the whole fiber of our country. We stopped trusting government. We had this incredible hope, this absolute hope for mankind this man brought with every appearance, every speech, every press conference – he was super bright, super funny, super handsome.
And then Watergate again made us just be sickened by the abuse of power in the federal government, and then the Beatles and the effect they had on you. And then Martin Luther King and the black people deserved equality. And then women deserved equality.
Well, we’re planted on a stage where none of that happened, in our brains and our memories, and in our personal experiences. So yes, you usually research a role. In this one, you have to contemplate and sit there and forget these things, and think how would you apply them yourself without culture doing it for you, if at all.
Doc: You seem to have a big grasp on this, especially for the setting of this show which is almost like a period drama, set in space, but taking place at the present time, so it is a mix of things all together. It’s almost like a social experiment…it’s very interesting. How far would the culture progress in the same amount of time but without any of those external influences, those big events that you mentioned. Are things going to remain status quo, are they going to progress more slowly, are the same things going to happen…
Doc: Does your character have a first name? Do you know it?
Al: Yes. [laughs] I forgot it! I’ve been working on Gotham, I’ve been working on Public Morals…I’ve forgotten it! It’s “Councilman Rose” on IMDb…
Doc: They give all the names to everyone else, but he’s just “Councilman Rose”…
Al: I think I’m James? They mention me a couple times…I think it’s James. I’d have to look at a script.
Doc: I just noticed that. Everybody has got a first name, and you’re just Councilman.
Al: It’s James, or Philip…as I’m talking to you I’m looking around on my desk for anything that might have it on it…and when I find it tonight I’ll text it to you…
Doc: Your character is the total politician in the show, doing all the wheeling and dealing to increase his standing with the crew and the population…is there anything in particular that drew you to that character and the show in general?
Al: I love playing politicians. The political arena is the most complex exchange of power, especially in the United States. Politics, you’re dealing with more money than any corporation on Earth. There is the federal treasury. Nobody, nobody on planet Earth has the money in the federal treasury. You’re dealing with staggering amounts of money, people’s tax dollars, people’s lives, people’s futures. So I’m always drawn to a politician. From fixing potholes to separation of Church and State. You can do amazing things on any of those levels.
So on the ship, he’s supposed to running the ship. And running the ship supposedly for the greater good of all. And that’s the question – is it for the greater good, or is it for his ego? What kind of politician is he? What kind of politician do you want him to be? The greater good is what his job is supposed to do. How much of it is for himself? So l love these characters because they are complicated. You hope – you hope they are complicated. The more complicated the more interesting.
Doc: And it seems like, as opposed to a lot of political-type roles on large stages, this is dealing almost like small town politics. Because you’ve only got 600 people.
Al: Definitely. There is only 600 people in your town. You’ve got 600 citizens, but that ship’s worth a lot of money, the equipment…the real estate you’ve got is very serious, next to a little town in Idaho, if you make a mistake – you can’t always patch the road or build a bridge, you make a mistake on that ship, everyone could be dead. The stakes are different. But it is a small town, population wise.
Doc: And you have to deal with these people. It’s not like they can’t just go away and never be seen again, move out…you’re stuck on the ship! You HAVE to deal with these people.
Al: You have to deal with them no matter what you do. You can’t hide from your constituents.
Doc: You’ve done a variety of guest appearances on science fiction or SF-tinged shows over the years…is there anything in particular about the genre that you enjoy?
Al: You know, I’m one of those guys – I’m not saying this – I love my job. I love my job. I love creating. When you go to work – if you’re a good actor, you’re doing the same thing if you’re in a five thousand dollar paralegal experimental project or and eighty million dollar movie. The acting damned well better be the same, and you better have the same commitment, and it’s the same process. What’s hard…if you’re doing a really serious drama, let’s say you’re doing a play with eight shows a week, that get’s hard. If you’re a good actor you’re dealing with the reality of the moment – you’re believing it. If you believe it, the audience is going to believe it. And if you believe it, you forget about ISIS, you forget about your mortgage, you forget about everything. You’re in this artificial worked. It’s a great place to be. But when you’re doing a serious type, like “Virginia Woolf” let’s say, it get’s depressing. It get’s into your psyche. When you do lighter stuff like comedy, you laugh a lot. You crack jokes on the set all the time. So I love it all. I love it all. I love the whole creative process. And like I said, I like more complicated and interesting and intelligent characters, but I love it all.
Doc: Is there anything about Councilman Rose that you think would be helpful to know going in to the show?
Al: Just know that he’s a politician. We hope that he would be…well, let’s just leave it at that…He’s. A. Politician.
And that’s all I can tell you…for now, until you’ve seen at least the first night of Ascension, so don’t forget to tune in next Monday at 9/8c on Syfy, and then again on Tuesday and Wednesday!