Before Season 3
the end of last season, you got your arms and legs broken. What's up
with your character, Tobias Beecher, now?
LEE TERGESEN: I'm rehabilitating a little bit. Three months have
gone by and I'm pretty healed, except I wear a brace for a little
while and then I use a cane.
HBO: How important is the facial-hair design for your character?
TERGESEN: When the show started, the character was very nondescript.
You almost couldn't see any shape to him--he was just like a lost
guy and he was sort of a white blob. In the second season he was
trying to hide. Gradually, I've been trying to make him come into
focus. Also, it's scary. I saw this movie about the Trojan War, and
all the Greeks guys like Menelaus and Agamemnon were wearing these
things without mustaches. I thought it was just too weird.
HBO: What happens when you're walking around on the streets with it?
Do you get strange looks?
TERGESEN: You get your odd look here and there. It's not as bad as
when I add black hair with a blond streak down the back, which used
to make old ladies yell.
HBO: That wasn't for OZ, was it?
TERGESEN: No, for POINT BREAK, years ago.
HBO: Last time I was here, last year, you guys were shooting with
Kathy Bates as director. This year you've had Matt Dillon, Chazz
Palminteri and Steve Buscemi. What do they bring to the table?
TERGESEN: What's great about working with actors is there's clear
communication. Sometimes directors who haven't had any acting
background will convey a result to you, or a visual idea, where
another actor will speak to you about emotion. It's more like a
musician talking to another musician about how to play a certain
line. It's much more about where the movement for the actor is going
rather than the overall picture.
HBO: Do you ever collaborate with Tom on story ideas for your
TERGESEN: Before this season we started talking about where the
character was going to go--what is the significant change for the
character. Between the first and the second year, Beecher sort of
decided to take things into his own hands. He becomes a force that
people wouldn't necessarily feel they could mess with. And he ends
up vulnerable again at the end, and almost loses everything. So we
talked about how he has to do something when he comes back. What
does he do now?
HBO: In your scenes with Chris Meloni, you guys have a lot of very
intimate, tender moments. Is that particularly challenging for you?
TERGESEN: This year, the tables have turned. I am the aggressor now.
It's more about how it works for me rather than anything I feel. I
think that my character's now really shut down. He had deluded
himself into thinking that he could find love inside of prison--that
didn't happen. So he's much more hardened now.
HBO: It feels like he's become one of them.
TERGESEN: That's what we were trying to go for this year. When he
first came in, for killing somebody while drunk driving, you sort of
looked at the character and said, "Yeah, he killed somebody, but is
he a killer?" This year those questions aren't gonna be asked
HBO: How about the kiss [with Meloni]? What was it like doing that?
TERGESEN: We didn't really rehearse it before we got to the set.
Chris and I had spoken about it a couple of times, and my first
thought was just to avoid this as much as I could until it had to be
done, and then just skim through it, somehow. But--this show is so
much fun to work on because it challenges you in so many ways--by
the time we got to [the kiss] I'd gone through so many things that I
was like, you know what, what if we made it beautiful? What if you
made it so that people, when they saw it, went, "That's sort of
sexy." Or, "Oh man, that is such a kernel of beauty right there in
the laundry room." And then it turns into a world of shit right
after that, which is OZ.
HBO: Could you do a quick summary of all the horrible things that
have happened to your character?
TERGESEN: Somebody asked if there had ever been anything you said
you wouldn't do when it came out in the script, and I was thinking,
"Yeah. No nudity, no swastika on the butt, no shitting in the face,
no biting a dick off." I never said no, and I've gotten a lot of
television "firsts." I'm the first guy who ever bit a dick off [on
HBO: I was asking all the actors, and everyone seems really
intrigued by your storyline. Why do you think the Beecher plot is so
popular with your fellow Oz-mates?
TERGESEN: Because they're smart and they know good stuff when they
see it. No, I think it's because people relate to Beecher--they saw
him come into Oz and they say, "This could be me." And then they saw
him turn, and they got excited by that, by his violence. Then, when
they saw him falling in love with a man--with Chris Meloni, who's
not really a man--they almost wished that could happen. People are
looking for some hope. And they think they could find it in Beecher.
HBO: How much do you relate to Beecher?
TERGESEN: Completely. It's my life story [laughs]. No, what's good
about the show, even though it's about a prison and all these
horrible people, I think when people watch the show, whether they
acknowledge it or not, they know that it's a microcosm of the world,
and that no matter how good of a person you are, you're out there
fighting for survival.
HBO: You have a lot of scenes with Rita Moreno. That must be a real
TERGESEN: She's a diva. There's nobody like her. In some ways she's
like a mother to us. She's like your best friend's mother, and
you're like, "God, she's hot!" She really is such a warm, loving
person. She's a firecracker.
HBO: Does she give you guys acting advice?
TERGESEN: She told me to leave the business. Point blank. She was
like, "Get out of the business. You have no place here." Other than
that, not really. What else you got for me? Come on!
HBO: Do you guys ever do table readings on scripts?
TERGESEN: No. It's startling to me how little preparation there is
for any of us. We come to the set, and the first time we work on it
is like 15 minutes before we start shooting. It's very fast and
loose, and it plays into the speed of the show.
HBO: Is it tough to unwind after a day on the set here?
TERGESEN: Definitely. You want to sleep more when you're working on
OZ. You want to punch people more when you're working on OZ. On the
subway you're like, "If this woman doesn't get outta my way, I swear
I'm gonna shiv her" [laughs]. Then you realize she's got an infant
in her arms, and all of a sudden you're like, "What kind of a freak
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