As Citizen in the Temple continues in post-production, I thought it might be nice to let members from the cast and crew answer a few questions. To kick off this series, I had a conversation with Jay Disney, a Chicago SAG board member who plays the villainous Templar Ceres in the film. I hope students find his advice on working with SAG actors useful. Enjoy!
You work with SAG. What is your role and how has SAG changed in the past few years?
I was elected to the Chicago SAG Branch Council for a three-year term, and as most people know, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television & Radio Artists) voted to merge a few months ago, so I am now continuing to be a member of the new SAG-AFTRA Chicago board. I am one of the chairs of the Chicago Background Committee and sit as an alternate on a few other national committees, but since the merger those committees and the organization of SAG-AFTRA is in flux, so I’m waiting to see how things develop. It’s an exciting time to be with the union because it unites two of the three acting unions (Actors Equity Association being the third, which is for theatre).
Students also have a copy of the SAG Student Agreement, which outlines many guidelines expected on set — but the best route is simply to ask the actor. For instance, ask the actor if she or he has any food preferences, any special needs on set. Be aware that acting requires concentration and alertness, so having certain things on set at all times isn’t a luxury, but part of the trade to keep an actor working at optimum level. E.g., though students might be able to survive an entire day on potato chips and rice, most adult actors need a more balanced diet and some sort of caffeinated beverage if their energy begins to lag.
But simply asking the actor if he has anything special he’d like is the most important first step.
Also remember that generally speaking, a SAG actor has experience and might be able to bring another layer to the production — so if she or he suggests something, it might be because that’s the way it has successfully worked in the past. However, actors all want to do their best, so if you have a specific action that needs to be done, by all means, simply explain what you’re trying to accomplish and the actor will most probably accommodate your wishes without hesitation.
Tell us a little about your personal / acting background.
I received a BFA in acting/theatre from the University of Illinois. Two of my classmates were Ang Lee (winner of an Oscar for best director) and Robert Greenblatt, who is currently the chairman of NBC Entertainment (and produced shows such as THE X FILES and SIX FEET UNDER). After college, I moved to Minneapolis where I worked at the Cricket Theatre and the Guthrie Theatre; later I moved to Memphis, Dallas, then to Chicago. I left acting for quite a few years and when I returned I was fortunate enough to start as a stand-in for Aaron Eckhart on THE DARK KNIGHT (starting at the top, as it were). Thus began my return to this field — and film acting, specifically, which is my passion. I’ve traveled extensively and have reinvented myself throughout my life several times, but film acting is unquestionably where I feel most at home, much more so than on stage. For me, film is a perfect fit: theatre is a squeeze.
You played the ruthless Templar Ceres in Citizen in the Temple. Can you talk a little about the character and how you prepared?
Generally with film work, the actor must bring a fairly complete characterization to the set since there is usually little to no rehearsal time. So in this case, the development of the character came about from contemplating the script as written combined with discussions had with the director — and luckily for me, we were able to have a rehearsal prior to shooting to try and solidify a few things. Through this I was able to glean what the intent of the character was in the story and how he needed to be played. It was entirely possible to portray Ceres as less ruthless, but part of the fun of the story is to see how calmly (sadistically?) he pulls out the stops. Additionally, during filming new ideas regarding how to play scenes would arise, and these could be discussed quickly and used as necessary. So the character developed as the film progressed: which is not an uncommon occurrence. But preparation also includes mentally reviewing similarities between Ceres and other characters one has encountered over the years; people who are evil but flawed, those who are basically good but do bad things, those who are purely evil. Ultimately, all characters (even evil ones) believe they are acting for the welfare of others and do not believe they are doing wrong. Therein lies their humanity — otherwise they would be cardboard cut outs, two-dimensional beings who are utterly predictable and ultimately boring because there are no surprises.
Tell us something about Ceres that we don’t know.
He is longing to find the person who is his equal. If he had an equal in power and intellect he could trust, he believes he (they) could rule the city of Nok Tiris. But trust requires vulnerability, and once he is vulnerable, he has lowered his guard and would be open to attack.
What was it like working on Citizen in the Temple?
It was great fun — mostly because it allowed me the opportunity to develop an evil character, to tap into archetypes of good and bad and explore the idea of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I’d also never worked on a science fiction film, so the experience of heavy prosthetic make up and black scleral contact lenses was intriguing. The people were great — very good script, costumes, make-up — all around a most satisfying experience.
What was also evident from working on this was that there is so much more than what is seen on screen — or even in the script — so the segue to a feature film would be an easy extenuation of this world with these characters. It was kind of like scratching the surface — there was plenty there, but so much more yet to discover. Ceres’s relationship with Jennon is just beginning in CITIZEN, and the revolution Jennon is planning (and Ceres combating) is introduced but far from finished. It’s rather like a chess game in which the first three moves have been made — it’s far from over.
You are ridiculously ripped. What is your secret?
Ha ha! No secret, just two tried-and-true words: diet, exercise. I wish there were a magic bullet but, alas, there isn’t. Believe me.