YHU Interview with Nathaniel Lees - 2014 (June 8)

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The following text is from The Young Hercules University.

The YHU extends its deepest thanks to Nathaniel Lees for taking the time to grant us an interview.

Interview with Nathaniel Lees

      Young Hercules University: Does it surprise you that there are people talking about "Young Hercules" after all these years? Have you come across any other groups of die-hard fans like us?

      Nathaniel Lees: No, it doesn’t surprise me. It was a very popular series. There are ‘die hard’ fans for the Matrix series, Hercules and of course the Lord of the Rings stories.

      YHU: What is your favorite color?

      NL: Blue

      YHU: What is your favorite food?

      NL: Seafood

      YHU: What's your sign?

      NL: Sagittarius

      YHU: Do you have any pets?

      NL: No.

      YHU: If you hadn't been born in this century, where and when would you like to have lived?

      NL: 17th Century France.

      YHU: Do you have any fun stories from your experiences working on set with the "Young Hercules" cast and crew?

      NL: There were plenty. It was a very enjoyable shoot with the lads. The cast and crew got on very well together.

      YHU: What was your favorite scene during your time playing Cheiron?

      NL: Difficult to pick out one scene. There were times in the shooting of scenes when we had some great laughs, and there were also some great action scenes which were also a lot of fun.

      YHU: What was the audition/casting process like to get the role of Cheiron first on "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys"?

      NL: I didn’t have to audition – I was offered the role.

      YHU: In both Xena and Hercules you played lots of different characters. What was that like? How was playing just the one character on Young Hercules? (Even though you played Cheiron before in H:tLJ)

      NL: I am an actor, and so the opportunity to play several different characters meeting Xena and Hercules was great. The opportunity to develop a character across a long running series was also intriguing.

      YHU: What was it like working with things like puppetry for Cheiron's costume? How did the costume itself work? Was there any sort of special training you had to receive?

      NL: Working in the Cheiron costume took a bit of training. Balance, walking on raised footwear to achieve the required height for the computerisation, swaying action of the walk, being aware of the size of the body.

      YHU: Other than working with the costume, did you have to learn any talents or do any special training for the role of Cheiron? Did you get any special instructions on how to play the role?

      NL: The producers and directors left the interpretation of the role up to me.

      YHU: Cheiron was a wise mentor, but it also seemed like there was so much more to him than met the eye including a past that we got to see sometimes in the show (including some serious badassery). Did you as an actor ever make up a backstory for Cheiron, or headcanon about his off-screen life that the audience never saw?

      NL: As an actor I always work with a backstory. Whether the audience get to know it is up to the series writers, creating a backstory adds richness to an actor’s performance. There were elements in Cheiron’s past which made him travel a solitary path.

      YHU: What was it like to work with Kevin Smith?

      NL: Kevin was a great friend and we had known each other since he started his acting career. He is missed.

      YHU: What was it like to work with Ryan Gosling, Dean O'Gorman, and Chris Conrad?

      NL: They were a good team together. They had a lot of fun on and off the set. Ryan was also working hard on his characterisation and this shows in his work now in feature films.

      YHU: Do you ever get stage fright?

      NL: No. I have done a lot of martial arts and I learnt to channel nervous energy.

      YHU: What is currently your favorite author/book?

      NL: Mango’s Kiss by Albert Wendt.

      YHU: Have you ever read the "Young Hercules" novels that were released after the show ended?

      NL: No.

      YHU: Do you have a mentor or a person in your life who is your personal Cheiron?

      NL: I have had teachers and masters in my martial arts learning.

      YHU: Cheiron is known for giving good advice to his cadets. Is there any piece of advice that you wish someone had told you when you were growing up?

      NL: If YOU don’t take yourself seriously, no one else will.

      YHU: Who are your heroes?

      NL: My daughters.

      YHU: How did you get started in acting?

      NL: A long story but basically – I always knew I was a storyteller.

      YHU: How much do you draw on your own experiences when you act?

      NL: Everything about acting is drawing on your own experiences, no matter how small the experience. The actor’s job is to expand that experience into the character.

      YHU: What was your favorite role to play out of all the projects you've been in?

      NL: Captain Mifune in the Matrix films. It was like being in a video game.

      YHU: What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve had as an actor?

      NL: I have done a lot of theatre and that is my passion. Each role I play on stage is an enjoyable challenge. King Lear, Othello.

      YHU: You've had roles in both fantasy/sci-fi and more realistic fiction. Is there one genre that you prefer over the other? Is one easier than the other?

      NL: Fantasy/ Sci fi is probably more fun in that there is more chance of something completely unexpected happening. Both are still about character relationships, so I don’t think one is easier than the other.

      YHU: You played Uglúk the Uruk-Hai in "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers", which included what must have been many hours in makeup and prosthetics. What was it like being an inhuman creature in Middle-Earth and working with Peter Jackson?

      NL: The makeup and prosthetics took up to 4-5 hours each day before shooting, then 1 -2 hours after shooting to remove. Long days. It was very difficult doing very physical work in the makeup, teeth, contact lenses and costuming. Peter was very easy to work with.

      YHU: From Cadet Aimée: Some of us have been Power Rangers fans since it began 20 years ago, so it was really exciting to see you pop up in Jungle Fury as Master Mao. It was also very sad when he, ummm...went away. However he still came back in some ways. Can you tell us how they filmed that ways in which he was sort of semi-transparent?

      NL: I filmed those sequences in which Mao appeared after his physical death, on my own in the surround studio, in front of a green screen. These were then digitally layered onto the ‘real life’ scenes with the ability to fade in and out.

      YHU: Do you have dream role(s) to play?

      NL: Not really.

      YHU: Do you have any movies or projects coming up? Are you involved in any projects outside of film and TV?

      NL: I am just completing the writing of a new play. I directing two other plays to be premiered early next year.

      YHU: What do you do in your free time? Any other outlets or hobbies?

      NL: I enjoy travelling and spending time in different countries.

      YHU: Is there something that people would be surprised to know about you?

      NL: Yes, but if I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

      YHU: How do you try to improve on your acting skills?

      NL: Keep honing my observation skills.

      YHU: What advice would you give to an aspiring actor or actress?

      NL: Everything you will ever do as an actor will revolve around learning about yourself. Learn and understand how and why you personally react in different situations. Then you can begin to play.

      YHU: For the cadets of the YHU Academy, the first Tuesday of the month is known as Hoolie Day - an all-out epic virtual food fight. If you were participating in the events of Hoolie Day, what would be your hoolie (all-edible food-based weapon) of choice? (Examples: chocolate grenades filled with pineapple syrup, buckets of melted ice cream mixed with tuna and creamed spinach, and of course flying pies with various appetizing and/or unappetizing fillings).

      NL: All of the above.

      YHU: Do you still have any scripts, props, or other memorabilia from your time on "Young Hercules"?

      NL: I’m not sure, I have a lot of ‘stuff’ from TV, films, plays etc.

      YHU: Is there a fanmail address that we could send a self-addressed stamped envelope to you to get your autograph? Additionally, can we send some fan art to you as a gift?

      NL: Please send any requests or artwork to my agents address, and it will be forwarded on to me.

      YHU: Are you still in contact with anyone you worked with on "Young Hercules"? Do you have any contact information for other cast or crew who worked on "Young Hercules" and might be willing to be interviewed?

      NL: You should get in touch with acting agents in New Zealand and they may give you contacts for actors who worked on the series.

All the best,
Nathaniel Lees