By Curt Wagner
11:42 PM CDT, April 11, 2011
These final episodes of “Stargate Universe” are especially bittersweet for Mike Dopud.
Dopud’s character, Lucian Alliance officer Varro, finally earns the trust of his shipmates on the Destiny in “The Hunt,” the latest episode of “SGU.” He also earns his freedom, and will have a lot more to do in the coming episodes.
That news, and the fact that “SGU” producers had hinted Varro would have a bigger role in Season 3, are the “sweet” part for Dopud. The “bitter”? Syfy did not renew the series for a third season.
“I knew [the producers] had planned to keep me around,” Dopud said by phone from Vancouver. “But I had a great time working on that show with everybody. And I loved the directors and the cast.
“Am I disappointed? Yeah. But I’ve been around long enough to realize that things like this happen sometimes, or actually happen often. You deal with it, but it sucks at the time.”
Dopud is dealing with it, apparently by jumping onto several movie and TV projects. I spoke with him Saturday while he was watching cartoons with his children, ages 2 and 6. He had returned to Vancouver Friday night from L.A., where he was filming a Fox pilot called “Exit Strategy” with Ethan Hawke. He took a weekend away from that project a few weeks ago to shoot the pilot presentation “Echoes” that is being developed by “SGU” alums Mark Savela and Ken Kabatoff.
He plays a major role in the Syfy movie/pilot, “Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome,” and on the movie front, he’s in “Mission Impossible: 4,” “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and “This Means War.” (Some of these were filmed before or as “SGU” was cancelled.)
But Dopud doesn’t want his “SGU” experience to be over just yet. “I still hope that we can get a movie or something going and that I will be part of it,” he said. “I think the fans deserve it.”
Dopud and I talked more about “SGU,” his other projects, his Illinois connection, lifting up David Duchovny and, yes, even his abs (in the movie “300”).
Tell me about “The Hunt” and the future for Varro.
I think it was one of the great things for Varro as far as being part of the team. He finally is able to show what he could do and how he could help the rest of the guys on the Destiny, especially with T.J. being abducted by that creature. As far as his character, he knows exactly how to deal with these situations. He’s able to take hold and sort of become a leader of this expedition at some point and then ends up helping save and rescue along with Jamil [Walker Smith, who plays Greer], to rescue Alaina [Huffman, who plays T.J.].
Does Greer trust him?
Oh, Greer and Varro, yeah, they have trust issues. And I think it’s a great exploration of their relationship throughout this process because they end up going on the hunt together and they don’t necessarily get along so swimmingly at the start. There’s a nice progression as the show goes on.
It looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of Varro.
It is funny with Varro because, even the producers were telling me, “Don’t worry.” I think they had planned him more for Season 3 if things kept going. But “The Hunt” is a good one and there are definitely other sequences in the rest of the episodes that bring Varro’s relationship, especially with T.J., to light and that kind of thing. He definitely has a couple more episodes where he is in there quite a bit.
So everybody’s dying to know if they ever will be together?
[Laughs.] Well, you never know. It’s one of those things where I can’t really say right now, but it definitely looks like it’s going that way.
I’ll just write, “He laughed.” And that will pretty much do it, I think. How did you react to the cancellation news?
We all seemed fairly confident that we were coming back. It was really disappointing for me. I was working on “Mission Impossible 4” and I started getting tweets about, “Ah, man!” A couple of guys from “Stargate Universe” who had moved onto “Mission Impossible 4,” and they’re like, “Hey, did you hear? We just got cancelled.” I’m like, “What?” It was kind of weird because I’m just in between scenes, I’m ready to shoot something and then I hear, “Well where we’re cancelled. So it was a bit of a downer on that day. It was a bit of a shock to me.
You had a great experience being part of it?
Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s probably one of the best experiences I’ve had on the series. Everybody was great and especially coming in later on; after [my] first couple of episodes, I was literally treated like one of the regulars. … Everybody just opened up their arms and that’s why it was great.
Obviously, I had known the producers for years and worked with them before. But as far as the cast too, they were all great. It was really fun to go to work. It was one of those shows that you just really enjoyed going to work.
Tell me about shooting the pilot presentation for “Echoes.”
Oh that was a blast. Kind of a whirlwind couple of days for me because I was shooting “Exit Strategy” and then we were doing this. I literally wrapped on Friday night and flew to Vancouver Saturday morning. Drove to the airport and took the 7 a.m. flight. Made it to Vancouver and then Angela, my wife, picked me up with my kids because I hadn’t seen them in a couple of weeks. Drove me to the set and then literally got dressed, walked on the set and started shooting and we shot the whole day. And then again the next day, the same thing.
Then I had to fly back at 6 in the morning to L.A. because my call time was 10. So it was crazy, but it was fun working with Savela and “SGU” people. I knew a lot of that crew. And it is Mark’s project and Ken’s project and this is going to be great. And working with Will Waring again, our director who I have a great relationship with.
I have some good friends who were there—obviously, Jennifer Spence, but Lochlyn Munro is a really good close friend of mind and Victoria Pratt as well. They’re great actors and they’re great friends, so it was the best of every world.
Imagine working with your buddies who you know are great at their jobs, but they’re also great fun people and they work hard. Right? So we were able to accomplish stuff in that limited shooting schedule that I don’t think you would have been able to get through in a lot of other places.
It sounds like it was basically going back to work with the “SGU” crew almost?
Absolutely. The crew’s great. They’re excited for the project as well; you can sense it. I don’t care who you are, you can sense when people are excited about a project or when they’re just doing it and saying, “I’m here to do my job, blah, blah, blah.” And that happens a lot. You’d be surprised, but these guys were totally into doing this project and totally do whatever it takes accomplish it. Everybody’s humming, moving props or doing whatever they can to help in the situation. I had a blast. And then being involved in every scene, for me, is great.
What I like about the story from Mark and Ken is that, for once, there’s a woman in the lead.
It never happens, right? I think it’s great. I think that Marks’ story and concept is a great one. I think he can do really well and I think people will relate to it. People say there aren’t enough strong female characters out there and this is the perfect example of how you can have a great story with a strong female lead character.
So what were you just working on in L.A.?
In L.A., I was doing a [Fox] pilot with Ethan Hawke called “Exit Strategy.” It has Ethan Hawke, Tom Sizemore, Lily Rabe. I’m the guest star. So it was a great opportunity to get to work with Antoine Fuqua. We shot it like a feature. It’s more of a feature than it is a pilot as far as I’m concerned.
Tell me about “Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome.”
It’s a two-hour movie that you hope it gets picked up in full by Syfy.
And it’s a regular cast part. Are you excited about that?
Oh absolutely. I just love working and I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people. I did like four or five episodes of “BSG,” well not the original “BSG,” but the one…
The original good one?
[Laughs.] Yeah, there you go, how’s that, yeah. [Laughs.] You said it, not me. All right.
Is “Blood and Chrome” going to be cool?
I think so, yeah. It was really interesting because we shot everything on green screen. It was different compared to everything else I’ve worked on. I mean, it was similar to “300,” I guess, because it was all green screen. I’m curious to see how it looks. I have no idea at this point. But they’re very smart, so I’m sure they’ll be able to come up with something that looks fantastic.
And a good story?
Yes. I think there’s a little more action. I think there’s going to be a lot more action because this is basically about the war with the Cylons. I think there’s a lot of action. I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully it gets picked up.
Tell me about your character.
I play Deke Tornvald. Deke is basically the top Viper pilot; he’s the hero pilot. He’s got the most kills and he’s who Adama looks up to. He is the government picture of what a pilot should be. He’s the hero, the star, but as the story goes on you sort of find out that he’s not all what he’s cracked up to be. He’s still a great pilot and all, but he’s not necessarily the nicest person in the world. He’s been around. He’s been through the war and he’s got the scars to prove it.
Would it be your first time in a leading role on TV?
No, no, no. I was on a series for MTV called “Kaya.” I was Kaya’s dad and the manager of the rock band, so that was a big one. I’ve done “Durham County,” I was a regular in Season 2, which was a Canadian TV series.
Which I loved, and have on my list to talk about. You were on the Michelle Forbes season, right? That show just always scared the crap outta me.
Yeah, it was pretty intense. It was a pretty intense show. But it was great to work on; great writing, great actors, and yeah, I was proud to be apart of that one.
I don’t want this to sound sexist or anything, but women are in charge of that show. Did it make for a different experience at all?
It was very dark and I wouldn’t picture these three women, and especially Laurie [Finstad-Knizhnik] writing all these dark episodes and dark characters and a dark series. I guess that would be the only thing. … For me it was, “Wow, this is what they’re writing?” Unbelievable.
You mentioned “300,” did you have to go through the whole process that everybody else did with that very bizarre training thing?
All of the training and all the Crossfit and all the rehearsals, oh absolutely. There were full days. We started at like 6 a.m. and got home at like 9-10 p.m. Then it got later and later during the week, especially when we were shooting. We’d end up being there all day and we’d wrap Saturdays at, whenever it was, 8-9 a.m. So it was a long three months of really intense, tough work.
Throwing tires and everything?
[Laughs.] Oh yeah, we did that. They had me throwing tires around, the sledgehammers; doing stuff like 100 squats and doing 300 workouts for the testing. Then we just had to really focus on all our rehearsals and all the fight sequences so that we wouldn’t get hurt. You can easily get hurt doing some of those exercises. So we just sort of modified it a little bit more, but at that point, we were all in great shape.
Were you happy about that or were you thinking, “Is this really worth it?”
[Laughs.] Well, at first you’re totally fired up about doing it and then you start and you’re, “Oh my God, this is a lot harder than I realized it was going to be. And then you start doing it and getting in the rhythm and then you’re enjoying it.
But toward the end it was tough, especially at Kraft Services, we would have our shakes brought to us and we’d get blocks of cheese and six grapes for a snack. [Laughs.] And you’d see everybody else eating all this great food and having cake and ice cream pie and we were separated from it. It was pretty funny; we had our own section.
You’re talking those protein shakes?
Oh yeah, but not the good ones. I’m talking the protein shakes that have no taste. On more than one occasion, I was sort of known to get a little crabby, according to my wife. [Laughs.] … They would stop production to bring us our shakes and to bring us our food because we were almost like machines; they knew every three hours we’d have to eat. And if we didn’t then everybody would start getting edgy and it’d screw everything up.
Maybe you can clear up on thing for me. Were the abs were painted on?
No, not at all! [Laughs.] Well, they enhanced them, but we worked our butts off to get that look. You have to understand, it was such flat lighting that they had to enhance the abs with makeup. We had to tan every day. If you notice, if it were just painted on, it would all be flabby the whole time. … Everybody was solid, especially in the super slo-mo stuff. But yeah, I have to admit, they did enhance our abs.
Were you in better shape during “300” than when you were playing football at Southern Illinois University?
I was always in good shape at Southern Ill. I always trained hard. It was probably just because of my knee and I had so many surgeries I worked hard. At Southern was probably the best shape I was in, but it was very close. For “300” I probably looked better, you know, a bit leaner.
How did a guy from Canada end up at Southern Illinois in downstate Illinois?
Well, I always wanted to play football, and that was a dream of mine. And for being out of Montreal, which isn’t known exactly as a football hotbed—although it’s getting better now—but at that time … I went to camps in New York and I wanted to prove myself to see how I would do against the best of the best. I went to this high school camp, an All-Star camp in New York and all of a sudden got a bunch of interest from a lot of different schools. I started sending out my tapes of games to all these universities across America, probably about 200-300 universities and started getting some offers. I ended up at Southern, which was kind of fun. It was a great time.
And you were there four years?
Yeah, actually four-and-a-half. I got hurt my freshman year; I broke my shoulder. Yeah, I got wrecked my first year and then I played the next four.
And then you went and played pro football.
Yeah, in Saskatchewan.
And then you played pro hockey.
Yeah, I played more in the minors, but technically, you’re getting paid. There’s an East Coast Hockey League, and I played for the Columbus Chill. Even when I played football, I still played summer hockey; it was part of my conditioning…
When I got to the East Coast, there was lot of fighting and stuff like that. I guess things went OK and I played it for a little while and then I realized, “OK, I think I’ll do something more serious with my life.” I knew at that point I was behind the eight ball. I knew I wasn’t going to make it any further as far as the NHL or anything like that
And then I got into action, [laughs] the steady gig of acting.
Right. Did you do acting in high school and college or did you just get into it through the stunt work?
In high school. I loved doing it in high school, and then in college I didn’t do it. How do I explain this? I guess where I grew up in Montreal it wasn’t, I didn’t know anybody who was an actor, I didn’t know anybody who was in New York. But I always wanted to be involved in that kind of thing, especially like “Mad Max.” When I saw “Mad Max,” that was a movie that I really wanted to do. My mom reminded me that I used to reenact these scenes in my backyard.
Yeah, “Escape from New York” and all that kind of stuff. All those action movies, my brother and I would rent and I just loved them. My brother is seven years old than me, so I probably started watching movies sooner than I should have been at that time.
How did you start professionally?
I wanted to act, but I literally had no idea how to get into it. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to all the union offices. I remember in New York I went to the SAG office and I asked them, and someone said, “You’ve got to study, you’ve got to do this, you have to take classes.” And when I moved to Vancouver I decided to look into it. So I went to the union office and asked what I should do and they all looked at me like I was weird.
I started taking classes and I started studying. I remember on “The X-Files,” and it was like my first day doing background work and they asked me to pick up David Duchovny and count to three [while playing] an orderly. I did and that rush that I had with them calling “action!” and me having to say something was really cool. I was bitten at that point. I then I just studied.
Stunt-wise, people found out about my pro sports background and I was bigger back then, so they figured I could play the bad guy or the cop or that kind of thing. I said a couple of lines and got hit or got shot and it evolved from there.
So you did starting acting first? Before stunt work?
I started working on big movies right away. I was fortunate enough to get called in and to work and to have things go well, so that’s kind of why everybody knew me as a stunt actor. But I was still acting and still learning about it and then I started doing plays and all that kind of stuff. Like the whole time I was doing my stunt work, I was still acting.
It seems most actors will say you should do theater. Is that right?
I would highly recommend it.
How did you get into theater work? Your acting coaches?
Yeah, but for me it was more my colleagues, other actors I knew. … I’d do it and I’m like, “Oh my God, this is what they’re talking about.” It was great, absolutely.
I was just talking about the yesterday on set. Ethan and I were sort of talking about it, and he just thinks it’s the best thing in the world. And I agree. I like doing plays. I’d love to do more of them, but it doesn’t necessarily pay that great. When I get to that point where I can pick and choose things, I’ll get back to doing more plays.
Tell me what you did on “MI: 4”?
It was a nice. It was an offer to come in and play in a couple of scenes with Tom Cruise. It’s nothing huge, but it’s nice to be on a set with Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise.
I had a couple of other things, but again, I’m not supposed to say much about it. I was on “Rise of the Apes.” I get these nice offers to come in and play these supporting roles for a little while. And I’m in “This Means War” also; that’s actually a pretty good one. With Tom Hardy and Chris Pine and Reese Witherspoon.
Do you like popping in for short gigs like that?
Yeah, absolutely. It’s just the way my career’s been going. I think more and more I’m starting to get, I guess, noticed for different series leads. And I’d love to be on a show. That’s number one to be a regular, but right now with the industry, and I guess especially with features, you’ve got to be a big name before they even look at you. But I guess I’m making headway where I’m getting these offers to play these cool little characters and so I’m having fun. I always hope that it could lead to more, but I’m very fortunate to be working.
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