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Chat with TVGen

Aug. 18, 1998

TVGEN: Welcome to the TVGEN/Yahoo! Chat Auditorium. Our guest tonight is Lee Tergesen. He plays the role of inmate Tobias Beecher on the HBO series Oz. Welcome Lee! Thanks for chatting with us!

Lee Tergesen: How are you doing? Good to be online!

iz65: What did you do before Oz?

Tergesen: Well, I was on a series on the USA Network called Weird Science. I was also in the Wayne's World movies and Point Break.

mmusn: Do you find it very hard to play a mentally unstable person looking for a new identity?

Tergesen: No, you know, I think we all experience things where we go through a transitional period, not to this extreme. Great or small, the things that happen are common, you know.

Sting_73_00: How does it feel to portray an inmate?

Tergesen: It's interesting, especially the character I play. When I first took the job, we were talking about a character who has no experience in this world, and what someone would have to do to survive and to assimilate. So it's a very interesting character to play, the journey has taken has been wild, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

silhouette_13: How did you prepare for the intense role of Tobias Beecher?

Tergesen: You know, a lot of different things. I talked to some people who had done some time in jail, talked to some lawyers, stuff like that. But basically,I allowed the place we were in, the setting of the show, to inform the reality. So I didn't go to any prisons, because I felt that the world being created was the reality form.

Big_Shooter3006: What do you like to do for relaxation when you are not working?

Tergesen: I like to water-ski, I like to ride mountain bikes, like to gamble. I just got back from Vegas.

cperez13: Lee, great job on Oz. Was the beard your idea, as the character of TB got his prison edge?

Tergesen: Well, as a person, I've always had fun with facial hair. I felt like,coming back this time, there were certain tactics he was using. I think the facial hair sort of looks scary. And that's one of things he does. Also biting the penis off is another physical reality of what I do to get people to stay away from me. I talked about it with the producers. They approved it.

rpm13: Do you enjoy doing the show?

Tergesen: Yes, I have to say, it's probably the most gratifying job I've had. Because,like I said before, just the range of emotions and stuff like that the character goes through. And also I've worked with Tom Fontana, one the executive producers,and Dean Winters is a friend of mine. So to work with these people is a privilege across theboard. It's a lot of fun, it's such a bizarre show.

toi_99: How is it, working with Adawale?

Tergesen: Good. You know, he's insane. The first year, he was my cellmate originally. And he works in a sort of Method kind of way. And during the first few weeks of shooting the show, he touched my d--- more than women I've dated a month.

skylarkster: Including all Oz episodes, which scene was the most difficult for you to act out because of it being so out of character for you?

Tergesen: You know, I don't really find any of the scenes all that difficult. I prepare myself in a way that by the time I get to the set, it's not confronting me anymore. Probably the first episode this year, where I had to bite his penis off, there were definitely a few moments that were kind of uncomfortable there. But the hardest time with these scripts is when you first open the script up and see "Beecher bites his penis off." After that, you sort of just relax and do. When it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it! LOL!!

Apocolypse_13: I liked the episode were you bit the penis off. How did you feel about that episode?

Tergesen: You know, I thought that episode, that scene, and also the scene with Charles Dutton were real turning points for my character. Whereas in the first eight, I sort of just took care of Schillinger. That now I was making bold statements that everyone should stay away or beware.

warder95: Why do they only shoot eight shows a season?

Tergesen: It has to do with the financial, you know, consequences. The idea behind television shows, this show will never run in syndication.It's almost a money-losing proposition for HBO. They're trying to figure out how to make more. They are going to try to make more than eight this year, I believe.

BSBFAN99: How do you feel about kissing other guys?

Tergesen: LOL!! Again, that was like the "Beecher bites penis off" episode. "They kiss" was a pretty startling thing to read when I first read it in the script.And I think Chris Meloni, who plays Keller, we both were thinking about trying to get through it as quickly as possible. But then we started to think, Well, what if we tried to make it kind of sexy? Instead of two guys trying to prove that they're macho, instead trying to kiss on this show. And it was fine. I've kissed my father - not like that!

BlackSunXr: Did you go through some type of training to see what prisons are really like?

Tergesen: No. I basically let the set that they had built and the guys that they had hired to be the other inmates and guards be the reality for me. Even though it is a reality- based show, coming close to what really happens in prison, for me it still is a dramatization. So I thought that I could get that from the set, looking at it for the first time and saying to myself, this is the place I'm going to spend 15 years in. But I did talk to some people who had been in similar situations, talking about some of the psychological aspects of it.

nunuz1: Is the set scary?

Tergesen: Yeah, you know, in a good way. We shoot only in that set pretty much, except for flashbacks, which usually happens only once for a character, when they show how they got into the prison. And we would spend 13 or 14 hours in there where there is no sunlight. And you come out and a day has gone by. And the extras who work on the show are great guys who are completely committed to building a reality. They work real hard. Like last year during the riot, when they are set free to just go crazy, they go crazy. It gets scary.

kristycheer: Since the show is so real, does anybody get mad at each other?

Tergesen: It's funny, actually for the most part, we all get along incredibly well. You know because the material is so intense, it just wouldn't be wise to try and sustain it all the time. We laugh a lot, actually, considering the material.

Duchess_f19: Do you find it hard to separate your character from your real life when you leave the set? How about others you work with?

Tergesen: You know, it's a little depressing when we're working on it, and it does take a little time to shake it off when we're done. When I come back to L.A. I'm usually in a bit of a daze for about a month.

warder95: How did you get this part?

Tergesen: I've known Tom Fontana for about 10 years. I worked with him on Homicide. And after the last episode of Homicide, I went up to NY and met with him. And he had just started discussing the show with HBO. And then he said he was interested in working with me on it, and we took it from there.

IMABEACHGIRL: How old are you?

Tergesen: I am 33, just turned 33 July 8.

rpm13: What are your hobbies?

Tergesen: As I mentioned before, water-skiing, playing guitar, gambling, and, you know, DATING.

iz65: Where are you from,Lee?

Tergesen: I'm from Connecticut.

iz65: Do you have any personal traits of Beecher yourself?

Tergesen: Yeah, I mean, you know, it all comes filtered through me, so there's always something of you in it. Like at the end of the riot episode, I'm standing at the door, screaming and sticking up the devil's horn, the two fingers, and I was a big Kiss fan when I was a kid, so that's where that comes from.

tootie82: So when is Oz going to get new characters?

Tergesen: It's always getting new characters. You know, Nino Schibetta's son is new this year. And his henchmen. So there are always new people coming in.

mickeysgirl_24: Lee, will they be focusing more on your character in the future?

Tergesen: They focus on my character a lot right now. And I think that they will continue to do so, because the character is really someone people watched come in. And I think he is the one most people can relate to. They think, Wow, that could be me. So I think that's what the value of that character is. If you've watched all the episodes, you know where he came from.

Sting_73_00: I am a corrections officer, and I find your show very real. Do you enjoy this kind of series?

Tergesen: Yes, it's exciting because there's definitely nothing else like it, before or now, and it's a fascinating world which is also an allegory for the world in general. Because everyone is really doing what they have to do to survive, on a certain level. So I think that the truths that show points up are universal.

And_so_on_and_so_forth: So why are the writers turning you into a homosexual? Is it because of the death of your wife on the show?

Tergesen: Well, I don't see it as they are turning me into a homosexual. It's more that my character is opening up for the first time since he's been inside to another person. And the Keller character sort of pushes it into that realm, and there's no one else around. It's more comfort than homosexuality. I think a lot of homosexuality that happens in prisoon is by default. So it's more homosexual behavior than turning me into a homosexual. 'Cause at the end of the day, everybody wants to be loved and held and told that everything's going to be all right.

BlackSunXr: What do you think of the other "inmates" you work with?

Tergesen: I have said it before and I've said it again, it's one of the best casts that has ever been assembled, and it's a privilege to work with them.

CB2B: Did you realize that scripts were going to take your character from one extreme to the other personality-wise?

Tergesen: Yeah, like I said before, I knew that the direction we were going was, What would a person who had no tools to deal with the environment, what would he have to do to survive and become a part of it? So I knew there would have to be a loss of self, that my character would be opening himself up over and over again to annihilation, on a character level, not a life-and-death level.

I_M_Webber: Is there ever a time when you find yourself, or fellow actors, becoming too involved in their characters?

Tergesen: No, that doesn't really happen.

And_so_on_and_so_forth: So how do you like the fact that the Beecher was given a harder sentence than he deserves?

Tergesen: Well, "deserves" is a tough thing to say. Ithink that, considering the fact that he had a previous DWI and that he killed a girl, you know, I think that driving under the influence is a really horrible thing to do, and so often does cause loss of human life. And I think that the justice system is completely messed up. And I think that what's more messed up is people that get life for dealing drugs. At least my character will find a way out - hopefully.

CANIBUS_420_98: Why did you drink the moonshine?

Tergesen: That's a good question. I think that an alcoholic, that there is talk in certain programs, that even when you're not drinking, your disease is there waiting for a moment when it can attack again. So a lot of stuff had happened, his wife had died, he had just seen his children. He opens himself up to a man in a way that he probably never thought he would, and questions whether he did the right thing or not. And then he's left alone. And he's aching inside, which is something that he can't show, because it's all about fronting in prison. So he looks for the comfort that he has known in that drug, which in this case is a can of moonshine.

mikehunt_1998: How old are you on the show?

Tergesen: My age, 33.

Lethario_98: Do you ever have trouble with the script?

Tergesen: No. I think in the first season, I was a little concerned at how the show would be accepted. Because you don't know. There was definitely a sense of working in darkness, until people see it and you start to get feedback. People might see it and say, What are these f---ing freaks doing in New York? But I always trusted Tom Fontana. I think he is a really gifted writer. And I think the trust I feel for him
allowed me to put myself in a vulnerable position with at least some feeling that everything was going to turn out all right. And it did. The response to the show was incredible, and people really felt for my character.

twilite13: Have you ever refused to do a scene because of any kind of its content?

Tergesen: I have never refused to do any scene. And you know, whenever they put us in the hole, we're naked, because that's the rule of the prison. And so in those scenes we are always completely naked, whether you see it or not. And I always start those scenes by saying to the crew that I'm a grower, not a shower. LOL!!

Hrofherbs: Where is Oz filmed?

Tergesen: It's shot on the sixth floor of a building that used to be a Nabisco factory, on the lower west side of Manhattan.

Noreaga2: Were you a little nervous about what people were going to say after you kissed that man, on the last episode??

Tergesen: No, at this point, I'm so over having fear about anything this character does. Most of the time, I think it's right. I think it's right to open up like this, because it's another lesson that he has to learn, that he should have learned last year. That you can't trust anyone, first of all, completely. And second of all, you can't isolate. You have to have some sort of structure, like the groups, the blacks,
the Aryans, they all have some group they stick with and that gives them some power. My character decided to isolate. And isolation makes you vulnerable.

Noisemaker007: Are we going to be seeing more of the mafia, in the future???

Tergesen: The mafia will always be represented, I believe, in Oz.

Hemp_Pimp69: Is it a different experience playing an inmate than a bossy older brother in Weird Science?

Tergesen: No, it's no different at all! LOL!

Big_Shooter3006: What were you in Wayne's World??

Tergesen: I was Terry, the cameraman for the show who told everybody, "I love you man!" I had really long blond hair back then. I was a freak, unlike now.

twilite13: What character do you get along with the best in real life?

Tergesen: It's tough to say. I'm really good friends with Eamonn Walker, who plays Said. And Dean Winters, who plays O'Reilly. And Kirk Acevedo, who plays Miguel Alvarez. And also Dean's brother, Scott, who's new to Oz, who plays O'Reilly's brother, Cyril.

IMABEACHGIRL: Are you married?

Tergesen: I'm definitely not, and I love beach girls!

silhouette_13: What is your favorite episode so far?

Tergesen: I have a couple. Last year, the sixth episode, where I sing in the variety show and throw the chair through the window. That show was an incredible release for my character, after having to eat all that sh-t all year from Schillinger. And then this year, the fifth episode, where I find out my wife had died, directed by Kathy Bates. She was great to work with. And then actually the one that was on last night, because it was challenging stuff.

warder95: How long does HBO plan on running the show?

Tergesen: Nobody really knows for sure. I know they are very supportive of it. I could see it running for a few more years.

Big_Shooter3006: What has your family said to you about playing such a hard-hitting role??

Tergesen: Well, you know, my family has always been incredibly supportive. And my brother is actually the music supervisor on the show. The only thing my dad did say, when he came to visit the set, he saw the guy playing Schillinger and he said, "I know what you're doing to my son, and I don't like it!!"

Vaugen: How long does it take to shoot a show?

Tergesen: Seven days.

BsB_WiLl_LaSt: How does it feel being famous?

Tergesen: I'll let you know when I'm famous.

mikehunt_1998: How long has the show been running?

Tergesen: Last summer and this summer.

BondDrill: Do you find your involvement in this production, in a prison setting, a deterrent to any criminal activity? Do you think showing it to teens would be beneficial?

Tergesen: You know, I'm a little ambivalent about the role of anything in educating people. Because I think while it might straighten some people out because it scares them, other people might think it's glamorous. You never know how people are going to perceive things. I would hope that it's a deterrent, but that's not my job.

darrenkking: Will Tobias Beecher be released from prison, or change back to the way he was? (Please say yes.)

Tergesen: I don't know if he can ever be like he was. I hope he gets out, too.

silhouette_13: What does the future hold for you?

Tergesen: I was just up at Sundance at the theater lab working on a musical. Now I'm just here, looking for work.

TVGOer: Well, thanks for chatting with us.

Tergesen: Thanks for chatting. Keep watching, if you have been, Monday nights at 10 p.m./ET. And stay out of trouble!!


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