For Stephen Blackehart, acting is that thing that he knew would make his heart soar. From his first acting class to his extensive career thereafter, hearing him as he declares his love for what he does is infectious. This is the second time Mr. Blackehart has spoken with FreakSugar (check out our first interview here) and on both occasions it’s impossible not to get excited reading about everything from his acting process to what DC Comics character role he’d want to tackle on screen to working with director James Gunn.
Mr. Blackehart has reunited once again with Mr. Gunn for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, in theaters now. Mr. Blackehart once again portrays Steemie Blueliver, the Knowhere Dispatcher seen in both Vol. 1 and the Holiday Special streaming on Disney+. (Also make sure to check out his turn as Brahl, one of the Ravagers featured in Vol. 2.) In our interview, Mr. Blackehart discussed his acting method, how he prepares for a project, his role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and his affection for westerns and urban thrillers and how he would love to tackle those genres.
FreakSugar: Thank you for talking with us! It’s always a pleasure and you’re always so kind with your time. I really appreciate it.
Stephen Blackehart: Oh, it’s entirely my pleasure! Glad we have the chance to do this.
FS: You have an extensive filmography. Why did acting become the thing that makes your soul sing? Do you remember when acting hooked you?
SB: I remember precisely! I wasn’t an enthusiastic student in high school, to say the least. I was a jaded, cynical teenager and was on the verge of dropping out of school entirely when my sister suggested I sign up for drama class. That was a very definite “no” for me until she told me that there were lots of cute girls in the class, and she knew that I was girl-crazy enough for that to make me give it a try.
The very first time I had to go up in front of the class to do a short scene (it was from a Greek tragedy), I had something like a religious experience. It’s bizarre for me to recall it, even now. It was as if – right there in the classroom – clouds appeared and then parted, and angels were singing to me… it was really powerful! I didn’t actually see those things, but it felt like that, if that makes sense. I didn’t even remember the scene afterward; I was in such a daze. I’m not a religious (or particularly spiritual) person, but it felt like a calling. I just knew that whatever “this” was, this experience… from that moment onward it would be my life. And I’ve been chasing that ever since. It sounds silly now, or like something that a far more impressionable person than I would say, but that’s how it seemed to me at the time.
FS: I know every role is different, but when you secure a new project, do you have any particular method you consistently use when you try to figure out how you approach that project or character?
SB: Study, study, study! And then get out of your head and let it be as natural as possible! Easy, right? I studied with a number of teachers over the years, all of whom have a different approach. The most accurate answer is that each role requires a different way into it. That said, I often will try to break down the characteristics of the part according to a thing called Laban Notation, which is a movement and dance analysis system that I studied some time ago, but it can pertain to anything that moves. The basics parts of that just ask you, when you look at your character; is he (figuratively) light or heavy? Fast or slow? Straight (direct) or curvy (indirect)? If I can answer those things, I can find some music that embodies those qualities, and maybe some imagery too. And then I can use those things as sort of a background or inspiration for getting into the movement of the character, all while I do the more left-brained memorization and note-taking and rehearsal that goes into every role.
FS: I’m sure that’s nothing you can reveal about your role in GOTG Vol. 3, but you’ve showed up recently in Guardians’ world in the Disney+ holiday special and now this. How does it feel to be back in this world?
SB: I absolutely love it! I’m playing the same guy that I did in Vol. 1 and the Holiday Special. His name is Steemie Blueliver, though in the first film he was only onscreen briefly and he was only known by his job title – the Knowhere Dispatcher. He was the guy that Drax threatened at knife-point in order to get him to send for Ronan the Accuser. Back then, Steemie worked for The Collector, Taneleer Tivan (Benecio del Toro), but post-Endgame he’s become a good friend of the Guardians of the Galaxy. He has a lot more to do nowadays, helping them rebuild and run this big space station inside the head of a dead Celestial.
FS: You and Mr. Gunn are longtime friends and collaborators. When he approaches you to appear in one of his projects, how does he sometimes pitch it?
FS: He doesn’t have to pitch me – he knows I’m down for anything he comes up with! Yes, we’ve been working together since shooting Tromeo & Juliet in 1995, which is where we met. We have so much of a similar sensibility about things that I trust him and he trusts me without having to say much.
As far as projects, I don’t usually know anything until the last minute. James is a considerate guy. He doesn’t like anyone to get their hopes up, lest they be disappointed if things don’t work out. In this business, things can change very quickly. So I don’t usually hear anything until it’s definite – often a month or so before it happens. I don’t mind the uncertainty, though. There are plenty of actors who’d gladly trade places with me!
FS: You’ve appeared in The Suicide Squad and Peacemaker. Is there any other DC property or character that you’d love to tackle?
SB: Any of it! I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’d love to play a major cool guy like Martian Manhunter or Deathstroke or Spectre. There are so many roles that would be a blast. The little bits that I’ve read of Azrael are really interesting too. Adam Strange, Bizarro… it’s such a huge universe of characters that there are amazing roles that neither you nor I have ever even heard of. But anything that’s well-written and directed is a joy to work on. It’s really as simple as that. It could be French Fry Guy if the writing is there.
FS: Do you have any first-day-on-set rituals you do at the start of a project?
SB: Yes, I like to show up prepared! Knowing my lines – homework done – ready to forget it all and play. Ha ha! I know it sounds dumb or obvious, but that’s the best ritual there is.
FS: Is there a role—comic book or otherwise—that you’d love to tackle?
SB: I’m a sucker for a good Western – especially in the style of the old Italian ones from Sergio Leone and Corbucci. That said, I also love the great urban thrillers like The French Connection or the Lumet movies like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. I grew up on those and love them, along with gritty actioners like Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and the original The Getaway with Steve McQueen. Anything like those would be a dream come true.
FS: Are there any other projects you have down the pike you want to discuss?
SB: I wish I could say! There are a few things in the hopper, but unfortunately I’m not free to discuss anything yet. Stay tuned!
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is now in theaters nationwide.