Perhaps due to the decade-plus that he spent away from the industry, Jackie Earle Haley has packed a lot of achievements into the delayed second act of his career.
He’s been nominated for an Oscar, starred in an adaptation of the most revered comic book ever, worked with multiple award-winning filmmakers and helped to reinvent one of the horror’s most feared characters. He’s currently working as a regular on a network TV show.
I’ve talked to Haley at Comic-Cons, TCA press tours, in full “Nightmare on Elm Street” makeup and on the luxurious lawn of a suburban Vancouver mansion and the “Breaking Away” and “Watchmen” star has never been less than humble, accommodating and friendly, which isn’t as easy as it sounds under some of those conditions.
The aforementioned Vancouver mansion was the scene for the season’s second episode of “Human Target” and Haley caught me up on his hopes for Season 2, the changes to the show and the importance of keeping his character, Guerrero, mysterious.
Full interview after the break…
HitFix: I hear somebody showed up at Comic-Con actually dressed as Guerrero?
Jackie Earle Haley: Yes. Someone did and it was hysterical. We were doing the autograph session. Chi was the one that noticed. He looks up and goes, “Harry Potter? Wait. Harry Potter with a mustache? Oh my God! It’s Guerrero!” He starts tapping me, “It’s Guerrero!” I thought it was great, because I’ve seen a lot of Rorschachs and Freddys running all over the place, but I never thought I’d see a Guerrero.
HitFix: Do you hope that becomes a thing?
JEH: Absolutely. Next year, I hope everyone shows up as Guerrero.
HitFix: I remember that when we first talked to you about this show after you’d only done the pilot, there were questions like “What should we make of this guy being named Guerrero?” and you said that Guerrero was such a mystery man that you couldn’t never be sure if Guerrero was his real name. A year later, do you feel like you know who this guy is?
JEH: Well, I’ve got much more of a bead on him, but in talking about him, what you just said? I’m still right in the same spot. And that’s great! But yeah, with every episode, there are little layers that we start to get. I’ll learn about Guerrero just from learning stuff about the other guys, things that might inform my character. One of the things I thought was the biggest example of learning things about the character was the season finale, where we discovered that Guerrero had some skill and was able to throw down a little with Chance. But what was more interesting was like, “Oh wow. He was there with Chance six years ago. He was part of that. He was part of what Chance was doing, part of that team.” Was he an assassin? I’m not quite sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was an assassin, or at least assassin-support. But it came with questions and I always love that about Guerrero. We learn something and there are two or three questions that come along with it. To me, it brought up the question about how it was clear these guys knew each other then, so they must have known each other for a lot longer before. How far? What is the depth of their relationship?
HitFix: Do you think this season is going to explore more of that? Will flashbacks come more into play?
JEH: You known, I’m not sure about how they’re gonna deal with the flashbacks, but I do know that they’re getting after more character development. The plots and the subplots are anchored a little bit more on character. While all of the fun is still there, there seem to be things that are personally at stake for one or more of the characters involved in that subplot. It’s kinda cool.
HitFix: How trustworthy do you think Guerrero is? How much would you trust him if you were someone else? I loved how in the first season, it seemed plausible that at any given moment, Guerrero could just go rogue. Is that still the case, or do you think he’s committed to these guys and being on the straight-and-narrow?
JEH: [Long pause for thought.] I don’t know what I want to say about that, because one of the fun aspects about Guerrero is that he does have this mysterious quality and it’s hard to tell where his loyalties lie. I think that through his interactions with these guys, one thing is clear: This guy is connected to Chance in a very strong way and it’s fun trying to get at that. Through that relationship, you can see that there’s not just distain and mistrust between Winston and Guerrero. That definitely is probably the driving force. They do things differently and they come from a different place, but there are other aspects there. It’s hard to really call it. It’s tough. He’s a mysterious character and I don’t know how much I want to say about it, because I love the fact that he’s mysterious.
HitFix: How much of that mystery have they let you in on? How much did you want to be told about this guy to play him properly?
JEH: I’ve had a lot of conversations with the writer guys and of course a lot of things just formulate in my head, things that may never bear out, that I may be playing or thinking only to be like, “Oh the guys were thinking something else, but this is still cool.” And sometimes the conversations back and forth find their way into the script. It’s neat how it all develops and comes together. The important thing for me is that we do kinda learn some things about Guerrero, but like I said, hopefully when we learn those things, they come with another couple questions.
HitFix: So you’ve felt as if your conversations with the writers have helped advance the character?
JEH: Oh, definitely. Those guys are awesome. Any idea that I have might have might lead to or help lead to another idea, but they’re the guys with the good ideas. They’re just so good at this. I may have an idea and then they’ll spin it around and it becomes 20 times better.
HitFix: In terms of the new writing staff and showrunner, what are you feeling makes this season of “Human Target” different?
JEH: First off, Matt Miller’s a great guy, just an amiable, friendly guy. And I’ve been witnessing the scripts coming out and they’ve just been phenomenal. This third one we just got, “Saving Ames,” just blew me away. There are twists and turns and it’s just awesome. The main thing I think they’re doing is that they’re just tapped into all of the best aspects of “Human Target” Season 1 and now they’re trying to ground it a bit more in character connectivity, character development. Plots have something at stake for a character or two and that helps to draw you in. I’m sensing it as I’m reading the scripts. Like I said, in the third one, part of what made me go like, “Wow! God!” and I set it down and I felt like I was thoroughly entertained reading the script and it’s because of my relationships with the characters. I care about these guys, so it’s neat to learn more about them as the dots are connected better. And getting to learn more about these new characters, Ames and Ilsa, it’s fun.
HitFix: What’s the new energy that those two characters, and having Indira Varma and Janet Montgomery on set, brings?
JEH: They really seem to fit right in. One of the things that’s been so cool about being on this show is working with Mark and Chi. The three of us get along swimmingly and there’s just never been a bad moment. It’s just a couple guys hanging out and doing their craft and that’s just the coolest job in the world, when you can go and you love all the people there and you’re having a blast doing it. Well, Indira and Janet, they just fit right in. I feel like we just have two more members of the family. Now I think of the five of us instead of the three of us. It’s sheer joy. I’ve been working mostly with Janet thus far. I’ve worked a bit with Indira and I’ve seen her just around the set, but they’re both just absolutely sweethearts. They’re real professional and just good actresses.
HitFix: What’s the relationship like between Guerrero and Janet’s character?
JEH: It’s neat and it’s a neat place to grow and change. She’s sorta a Guerrero Mini-Me in a sense. There’s a despicable quality to her, but she’s green. She definitely have a little talent, but she still has stuff to learn. In a weird way, she’s to Guerrero what Guerrero is to Winston — a pain in the ass. It’s a fun dynamic.
And Ilsa? Somebody asked me today what it’s like for Guererro to have a new boss and that was the first time it dawned on me. I know she owns the company and she’s the one who brings in the dough, but I don’t think that Guerrero thinks of her as Chance’s boss. She’s just the one with the money. In a sense, she’s the new boss and it’s fun watching her character learn and grow, because she decides to become this new benefactor, to take over the company and really help, but I don’t think she knew what she was getting into. There’s some moral ambiguity to what it is we do and how we do it to get the job done, so it’s interesting watching her come to terms with that, if she even can come to terms with it.
HitFix: You mentioned how well you, Mark and Chi have gotten along together, but in the first season, you didn’t really have any scenes with Mark until the finale.
JEH: Dude. That was amazing. Yeah, not really. Little bits and pieces, but no real scenes. So yeah, our first scene was so cool, with that history and that cool fight sequence.
HitFix: Are you going to get more time together this season?
JEH: No, I don’t know that for a fact. I sure hope so, though. There are little beats and moments, but yeah, I hope some stuff does come out about who they are in relationship to one-another. It’s a tough thing, though. Again, Guerrero’s a really mysterious character and you don’t want to lose the mystery.
HitFix: Does wanting to protect Guerrero’s mystery mean that you don’t want to see him fighting more? That was such a pleasant surprise in the finale, but if he’s doing that every week, will it become less interesting?
JEH: Well, definitely Chance does the heavy lifting in the action department, but I think we might see Guerrero move around every once in a while, but I don’t think it’s important. It’s more about what’s going to serve the characters and the plot.
HitFix: But as an actor, that had to have been fun?
JEH: Dude, that was super-fun! I’ve got some martial arts training, but I’m really rusty and I only had a week-and-a-half before I knew that fight was coming, so I started stretching. I do a lot of working out, but I haven’t been kicking for a while, so one time I was rehearsing a spinning roundhouse and darned near threw out my leg. Luckily, on the day I did that kick, I wasn’t wasn’t really rehearsed, but it came out fine and I did it in one take and I was like, “Wow. Thank God I landed it right.” You could really pull something when you’re not stretched out. It was a super-blast and what was so cool was that it wasn’t just a fight sequence. It was Guerrero and Chance at this critical moment in their relationship. It was a moment where The Code said “Shoot him.” Regardless of how close they were, The Code was “I’ve gotta stop you now,” but Chance decided “No,” because something was changing in him. I’m not saying that’s what was responsible for this apparently loyalty between them. I think it goes way beyond that, but it was definitely a defining moment.
HitFix: Are you finding that this show is giving you the opportunities to sneak in other work during light episodes or during the summer hiatus?
JEH: It’s challenging for stuff to center up. Right now, my schedule’s mostly been about “Human Target.”
HitFix: Given just how strong your film career has been recently, are you OK with that?
JEH: Yeah. I hope to do some other stuff, but I’ve got nothing booked right now. Like I said, the schedule’s pretty full. Look, I’m thrilled. I love working on films and I’d love to do some interesting work, but if somebody asked me, “Would you like ‘Human Target’ to continue to be picked up?” the answer is “Absolutely!” I love working on this show. I love playing Guerrero. I love seeing where it’s going. I’m of two minds: One is the actor playing Guerrero, but the other one’s just becoming a fan of the character and digging the show.
“Human Target” returns to FOX on Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m.