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HBO/TalkCity Chat

July 20, 2000

HBO: Welcome to Oz Chat! Tonight's guest is Lee Tergesen who plays the unpredictable Tobias Beecher. Lee's been with the show from the beginning and has watched his character take on many changes and challenges. Lee will answer questions about his career and his unique experience portraying Beecher.

Lee Tergesen: Hey, how you doing? I want to say hello and happy birthday to Dean Winters. I hope everybody is having a good summer!

Petey: How did you get this role?

Lee Tergesen: Well, I had worked with Tom Fontana on "Homicide" and he asked me to come do this after I had done my last episode of "Homicide".

PreciousOne: How did you feel at first when you joined "Oz"? Your character was right in a mess at first. How did you handle that emotionally?

Lee Tergesen: It was scary on a bunch of levels actually. You know, no one had seen the show, so the stuff we were doing, well, we were sticking our necks out. We didn't know how it would be received. The set itself is very intimidating. And that all fed into Beecher, as he was torn away from everything that he knew.

Symmy: Lee, How do you get into the character of a Yuppie who is convicted of DUI and murder? How did you research your role?

Lee Tergesen: I talked to a few prisoners, guys who had done time; specifically one guy who had done 10 years for killing his girlfriend while he was drunk. I asked him what his time was like. A lot of what I did the first year was tough to do and humiliating. I kind of let the base of Emerald City for the idea of the prison. I didn't visit any prisons. I used Emerald City for the prison, as it were.

BrightAngel: If someone had never watched "Oz" and asked you to tell them about it, what would you say?

Lee Tergesen: It's a prison show that uses prison to point out how things are in the world. It's a microcosm. It's a show that allows people to look at characters that are despicable and repulsive. But after you sit with them a few episodes, you begin to understand them and why they do what they do. And that's what is powerful about the show. We all know Schillinger is not a nice guy, but you can understand it. People get a connection to that which is not like them.

CindyB: Mr. Tergesen, if you could play any of the other characters on "Oz", who would it be and why?

Lee Tergesen: You know, the O'Reilly character comes to mind. He's just so diabolical. On the other side of what Beecher is. Something's always happening when he comes around. He's an exciting character.

Viewer: How realistic is the feeling of the set for you, and does it help or hinder your performance any?

Lee Tergesen: Especially now, we're shooting some episodes from 7am to 7pm at night.and we totally miss the days. Under those florescent lights, it really starts to feel like prison. It's predominantly a male show, and it resembles a prison. Card games will start up, and it has a sense of a little city, which a prison is. And that helps tremendously.

Curious: What is a typical day's shooting schedule like for you? Can you walk us through one, please?

Lee Tergesen: It varies. Three days a week, we're in for the entire day for the common room scenes in Emerald City. Everyone has to be around for those, as everyone is present. Then, you may have a couple other days where you have a half day, and the other days off. Those would be the days when our personal plot lines would be getting filmed.

Marty1: Hello, Lee. Why does "Oz" have such a following among its fans of the show?

Lee Tergesen: It's intense. It's compelling. It moves quickly. Those into are 'IN' to it, it drags you along, at such a pace, and what is going on with the characters is always interesting. It has a strange sort of alchemy and sort of works perfectly, and if you love "Oz", you LOVE "Oz."

Marcus: Have you ever wanted your character to be more of a tough guy?

Lee Tergesen: Well, you know, the first season, when he first comes in and gets brutalized, I think a lot of the people on the set really were like, "Why doesn't this guy fight back?" They wanted me to be a little tougher. By the time we got into the sixth or seventh episode, when I got a little 'hinky', I was ready to get there. I think since then he's gone a little crazy, and he's developed a 'fight and die' attitude. He's tough now. I had this relationship going on with this guy, so the character IS sensitive. But Beecher is now ultimately ready to kill - or die. He's committed.

Guy: What was your first impression of your character?

Lee Tergesen: Seemed like a nice enough guy. I thought he was a guy at a place where he was out of control. His journey led him to Oz - to the prison. The lessons he needs to learn are there, whether he likes it or not.

Zombcat: Hi! I asked Chris Meloni this same question, were the kissing scenes tough to do?

Lee Tergesen: Well, yeah. The first scene we had to do that, we got together and talked about that. We were nervous, to say the least. But when we talked about it, we started thinking about the show, and it would better serve us if we went into it. We may not have wanted to do all the physical stuff, but we knew we had to 'go there' and see what was there. So we didn't try to shy away from it. Since then, sometimes they're hard, sometimes they're not. We're definitely always interested in seeing how they turn out. He's great to work with, by the way. Working with him has been one of the great gifts of my acting career.

TobyIsTheBomb: As an actor, what is the most interesting part of Beecher's transformation? He started as a mild-mannered lawyer that made a mistake, and he has progressed well, interestingly. What do you have to say about Beecher's changes since arriving in Oz?

Lee Tergesen: In some ways, I feel like what was really him at a base level is what has risen to the top. Recently, when I saw this season's first episode, I was taken with the fact that he is a working part of this prison. It seemed before he was always fighting against it, and trying to pull himself out of it or something. And now he seems to be a good member of the society - which is scary.

JubileeAngel: Okay, you'll probably get a laugh out of this, but the Beecher/Keller fan fiction writers have looked at this for ages as a barometer of sorts for Toby's mental state, the facial hair! Clean-shaven,Toby's more open and trusting, scruffy, he's scheming or has some revenge in mind, and full-on beard, he's in defensive, paranoid mode. Did either you or Tom Fontana make a conscious decision to do it that way?

Lee Tergesen: My idea with all that has happened with Beecher, from when he comes in - when I weighed 20 pounds more than I do now. He was kind of doughy-kind of soft person. He grew the facial hair to kind of make himself something terrifying, the way he carved it up. He wanted to look like a monster because he was becoming one, he wanted others to stay away. There are times he tries to get back to himself, too. I wanted to make him come more into focus, so that he comes in like this round thing, and by the end, we will see what is left that is chiseled.

Alcatraz24: In last night's episode, Beecher seemed almost renewed - reaffirming his belief in the justice system. There's a certain level of calmness in his tone now. How have you, as an actor, responded to these? I like Beecher more now than ever , and I've always thought he was the best, most dynamic character.

Lee Tergesen: Well, you know, that's what I was saying in the earlier question -- how he fits in now. He is actually in some turmoil, because of Keller being shot and stuff like that. And when he is down and out, he tries to grab on to something that is true to him. For example, law.

Lexa C: Does Beecher still qualify as Everyman? Do you think he should, given some of the things that he's done at this point?

Lee Tergesen: This is what I am trying to say - what I said about watching the show, the characters who repulse you, but then you see why they do what they do. He comes in as the Everyman, and people relate to him - I mean, they say, "It could be me!" And then they see these horrible things. And they realize that every man IS Everyman.

IngridNY: Have there been scenes in which you had trouble walking away from? Ones that stayed with you after it was over?

Lee Tergesen: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. The thing about the show is that it is really affects all parts of my life somehow. It's really an interesting show to work on, and it's a great group of people. And it is hard to shake it off sometimes.

IngridNY: How did you spend your birthday? Happy belated birthday! - And a big hug from me.

Lee Tergesen: Thank you, Ingrid! Actually, Tom Fontana had a party at his place for a bunch of people who all had birthdays all around this time. So we were there, and I also went water skiing up in Connecticut.

Selissah: If you could influence the writers, what would you have happen to your character?

Lee Tergesen: I would never want to influence Tom in any other way than I already do. I just love watching him go, watching the Beecher character go. I just like to sit back and say, "Wow! This is interesting!" I like the surprises, and just like to hang on.

Mobhood: Mr. Tergesen, love ya much, any way the sinister facial hair will return?

Lee Tergesen: I don't know. At this point, no. Do you only like me for my facial hair? I mean, if I HAVE to grow it back, I will!

Oreilysgirl: Does anyone stop you on the street and ask you questions about your character?

Lee Tergesen: No, never. No, really, I am stopped quite a bit, and it's great. I have a great time talking to people. They're so into it. And you have to go with it. People are really into it. They're like, "Does he really love you?"

Dalia: Hi, Lee! What do you think is the most dangerous trait of Beecher, besides, well the biting thing?

Lee Tergesen: I think his mind. he's really an intelligent guy. Which is why he's so hard for me to play! He's very manipulative, he's a lawyer, hello! So when he puts his mind to it, it usually turns out pretty wicked.

Diamond Icis: What do you think of the current jailbreak by Busmalis and Alvarez? Do you think that they will get caught?

Lee Tergesen: I can't answer that! You'll just have to keep watching!

Diamond Icis: How many years does Beecher have left to serve in the prison system and what do you plan to do after your part is up? And who is closer to getting out of the prison Hoyt, you, etc.?

Lee Tergesen: I don't really know for sure. As far as I am concerned, I have a 15-year sentence, up for parole in four. We're dealing with that issue, but you know, Beecher has been such a rascal, I don't know if he'll get parole. I could be wrongfully accused, who knows!

Zombcat: Do you feel that people can identify with Beecher because he represents someone who is in a situation any one of us can find ourselves in?

Lee Tergesen: Yeah, you know, I think people see the drunk driving thing, and we've all heard stories of someone who has killed one or more people on a bender, and have driven under the influence, it is a crazy place to be. And we know there are laws about it and we don't break laws. I wouldn't rob a bank, but you know there are things we do that could have us end up in jail. And that's terrifying. So, yes, people relate to it. I also think they can relate to him because he's a damn handsome man!

Mikiel: What is the conflict between you and officer Murphy?

Lee Tergesen: There really isn't a conflict. He's just sort of dismissive, and caught up in the other stuff going on in the prison, so he makes fun of Beecher. The guards don't care.

Horatio: Can you name one scene that was really gross or disturbing to the viewer that you laughed while filming?

Lee Tergesen: Probably when my arms and legs got broken. You know, Meloni and J. K. Simmons and I were just having a time, rolling around on a mat, pretending to break bones.

Oreilysgirl: Do you ever watch the show when you're at home and are shocked that it is you?

Lee Tergesen: No, my short-term memory loss isn't that messed up.

Gj: In the show, is Beecher/Keller just a storyline reflecting life in prison, or a symbol of a necessary step in a man's journey in discovering his true self?

Lee Tergesen: I think you're more prepared to answer that one than I am!

JubileeAngel: I really have to say that I love seeing Said and Beecher being friends, they really seem to be good influences on each other. Where do you think/hope this friendship will go?

Lee Tergesen: Well, you know, playing the scenes with Eamonn, we're good friends. We don't always see eye-to- eye, but he's somebody who believes in Beecher. He's someone, when it's all going crazy, is an anchor to Beecher, and Beecher needs all the help he can get.

TrevorLee: Is Oz based on a real prison? How do they come up with such great story scenes for you?

Lee Tergesen: The plexiglass and stuff is taken from a couple of prisons, from Colorado or New Jersey. where you can see in at all angles, with no privacy. And they're sort of clean like that, too.

IceeMocha: When did you start acting? How did you get into it?

Lee Tergesen: I always knew I wanted to be an actor. I went to my 15th high school reunion last year, and I ran into this guy I knew, and when he went to "Wayne's World" (he didn't know I was in it), he remembered I had said back in school that I wanted to be an actor. When I got out of high school, I went to New York and started studying, doing plays. I met Tom Fontana at the Empire Diner in 1989 (I was waiting on tables). I was doing a play and he came to see it. And he thought I was 'ok'. A couple weeks later, we did a reading of a play at his house. We became friends, and then that summer we went to L.A. to move his stuff back, and a friend of his, a casting director, was doing "Point Break". I went in to audition on Monday, and I got it, and it was six weeks of work. I stayed nine years after that and now, I'm back in New York!

Popkid: If "Oz" were "Survivor", which inmate would YOU vote off the island?

Lee Tergesen: Me. 'Cause I HATE that show!

Dimiya: What was it like going from "Homicide" to "Oz"? Which role was more challenging?

Lee Tergesen: I'd have to say Beecher is the most challenging thing I've ever done. I was working on another show called "Weird Science," a broad comedy, which I finished in January (1997) then went in April to "Oz" - so that was a dramatic shift.

Jfc: You seem to take work on behalf of breast cancer charities seriously. Could you say something about that?

Lee Tergesen: My mom died of breast cancer about ten years ago, so I've done some work with that.

Owl: Sounds like you're quite the riot around the set. What's the silliest thing you've ever done to amuse your co-workers?

Lee Tergesen: Dress up in drag and sing "I've Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." It was a scene in the show.

AnneM: You've made Beecher into an unforgettable character. Do you have any acting ambitions that you haven't fulfilled yet? Any 'dream' roles?

Lee Tergesen: I've always wanted to play Jesus Christ in "Jesus Christ, Superstar". I was a fan of the musical as a kid. I went to musical theatre school, so I've got it in me.

Moxie1884: Would you say that stage and theater is a necessary step to becoming an actor? Also, what would you recommend for an actor with stage fright?

Lee Tergesen: I think that stage is definitely where you will get your first opportunities. I don't know about the stage fright stuff, get over it. You're not that important. I WANT them to stare at me, maybe you shouldn't be an actor if you don't want them to stare at you!

Cypress434: I'm seeing Oz actors appearing on other shows. Are you among them and, if so, what outside projects have you been working on that we should keep an eye out for?

Lee Tergesen: Well, I'm in "Shaft" right now, that's what I'm in right now.

Darthwife: When you are old and gray, sitting in your rocker looking back on your career, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Lee Tergesen: I hope that I get to the end and am still grateful.

GoldieLuv2002: Mr. Tergesen, Beecher is definitely my favorite character because he seems to be the most humane. Who is your favorite character on the show and why?

Lee Tergesen: My favorite character. That's tough. Obviously, I love the Beecher character, but I love them all. I love the Alvarez character. O'Reilly. They're all good.

Lizzie D: What was it in your family background that caused so many of your family members to gravitate to show business?

Lee Tergesen: I think my parents gave us a lot of support, and a sense that anything we wanted to do we could do. They allowed us to dream.

Seth: Are any of your enemies on the show good friends with you in real life?

Lee Tergesen: Seth, we all get along really well. J.K. Simmons (Schillinger) is a nice guy and we don't have to hate each other off-camera.

Xev: Hi, Lee. When fans who have done time talk to you about the show, do they comment on its realism or do they believe it to be more fiction than fact?

Lee Tergesen: You know, as far as the realism thing, I think there's a reality that we have established that we stick to. But I don't think it's necessarily reality. It gives you a feeling of prison. We had some correctional officers from Rikers Island come to the set last year - they were big fans of the show, and they said a month or two will go by where nothing happens, then a bunch of things will happen. On "Oz" though, we always have to something happening.

HBO: Unfortunately, we are almost out of time. Lee, are there any last thoughts you would like to leave with your fans?

Lee Tergesen: I just really appreciate everybody's interest in the show. It's a pleasure to make, and I hope we can do it a lot longer. Be good to each other!

HBO: Thanks for hanging with Lee.


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