Actor Mark Sheppard Earns a Black Belt in Geek-Fu

Actor Earns a Black Belt in Geek-Fu

Actor Mark Sheppard is what you might call a geek culture icon. His geek-fu includes recurring roles on Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, along with spots on Medium, Middleman, and most recently Leverage.

The upcoming SciFi Channel series Warehouse 13 is next on his list, though he’ll also soon be reaching the small screen in a different way. As the voice for the main character of Wii exclusive, The Conduit, Sheppard shows that he is not just a geek (or someone who plays one on TV), but he believes in the story telling of genre in all of its many forms. We caught up with the prolific actor at E3 2009 last week and talked about all this and more, finding out just what a geek he truly is.

Newsarama: So Mark, to introduce ourselves to you, we are at heart a comic book website…

Mark Sheppard: Oh, All my friends write comics; Javier Grillo-Marxauch… I’m in the Middleman, you know, I’m Manservant Neville.

NRAMA: Oh yeah!

MS: Mark Verheiden, he’s one of my dearest friends. They’re all my buddies. Jane Espenson is now in there. Yeah, a lot of my friends write a lot of comics. I’ll be at [San Diego] Comic-Con this year, and we might be doing a Middleman reading of the episode that never got aired, which is essentially the last graphic novel. The Middleman panel is coming together nicely. I never got to be David Horner, which is what I was supposed to be in the end, you know?

NRAMA: I don’t know why that show didn’t pick up the way it should have.

MS: It was fun. I was always happy to do it. I love Javier. And John Rogers did Blue Beetle, I work with him on Leverage.

NRAMA: You’ve become a bit of a geek culture icon…

MS: Well thank you!

NRAMA: With your roles in Battlestar, Firefly, and now in…

MS: [laughs] No, keep going! X-Files, Medium, Star Trek, there’s a lot of stuff out there. Jake 2.0

NRAMA: You’re a genuine genre fan then?

MS: Of course I am! Why would I do it if I wasn’t? I mean, even Leverage, I worked with Dean Devlin, and Dean’s the biggest geek of them all. He did Stargate. We love to tell stories, and we’re always going to tell good stories.

NRAMA: What about sci-fi do you think allows for great stories to be told versus any other type?

MS: Imagination! No constraints of space and time, no constraints of character. Grand stories, grand ideas, grand thoughts, the nuances, everything. It’s not a medical drama where you’re being operated on by George Clooney, it’s a medical drama where you’re being operated on by aliens [laughs]. I mean, there’s your choices. I like them both, but I get drawn to the fantasy level more. I’m just starting Warehouse 13, and I’m back on Leverage; I’m dead in Medium so I can always go back. Hopefully I’ll go back on Dollhouse this year, and we’ll see what else comes up.

NRAMA: Outside of the myriad of sci-fi properties you’ve worked with, what’re some of your other favorites?

MS: I wanna play House’s brother! He says he’s an only child, but it could be a complete lie.

NRAMA: Just so you can be a smartass on there, too?

MS: Oh, I am a smartass. [laughs]. But there’s a lot of good stuff out there. The fun thing is, there’s a lot of new stuff being created. Just as much as I might want to be on something that exists, there are some great writers out there creating new things. It’s always fun to wait and see what they’re going to do. You know, I’ve had some auditions this year for shows that I didn’t get, that I hope to end up on anyway, you know? There’s a lot of goodwill out there. I have a lot of fun doing what I do. I’ve met some great writers, great actors, and we get to play, have fun, and get paid for doing so. It’s kind of an honor.

NRAMA: You mentioned a lot of your friends being in comics. Is that something you’d ever think about doing?

MS: Well, we’re everywhere. It doesn’t matter what the medium is, if it works it works. People like Felicia Day and Joss Whedon are proving that it doesn’t matter anymore, “I just do this.” We’ll do everything now, telling a story is telling a story. I’ve read great graphic novels, and I’ve read some awful ones, but it’s a great format for storytelling.

Let me ask you something, what did you think of The Dark Knight?

NRAMA: Well, I thought it was amazing.

MS: Why?

NRAMA: Well, it distilled the idea of who Batman, Joker, and Two-Face are and presented them in a pure form on the screen.

MS: And that’s because Chris Nolan made a movie before, created the world for you, setup the world, and makes a movie where he doesn’t have to create the world again, and just hits a homerun with it. He really made a character story. There are three characters in the film! I love that Christian Bale stayed out of the way, and Heath Ledger’s performance was a performance that others will be held up to for a long time. But man, that’s what it’s all about, we want better entertainment, be it games, comic books, movies, and we’re not settling anymore. You know, people are smarter, so we just have to have better and better stuff in every medium.

NRAMA: Well that’s a nice segue into The Conduit here. You’re lending your voice to this game, and you just spoke about better entertainment, so how is this a better sci-fi shooter than what we’ve seen a hundred times already?

MS: Well, the main difference between this and anything else is it’s a first person shooter [FPS] that’s designed from the ground up for the Wii platform. Then everyone goes “why?” You get the controllers in your hand and you see why; this is what it’s built for. The Wii is the perfect analogue for the FPS. Shooting, pointing, scrolling, all these things work intuitively.

We have a 480p console here, and look at the graphics? They pushed this as far, if not further than anyone else has pushed this console. When you go to the single player game, it’s the most clever and evocative story beats. If you’re gonna build a game, it’s gotta be this good.

NRAMA: How early on did you get involved with this?

MS: Pretty early. They’ve been doing this for about 22 months, and I’ve been around for the better part of a year, and I’ve been aware of it as long as they’ve been doing it.

NRAMA: And have you been a gamer prior to this?

MS: Hell yeah. I’m a 360 player most of the time. I’m a big Call of Duty 4 player; my nine year old and I play Call of Duty 4.

I spoke to Jason, let me back up. I was doing an episode of NCIS with my dad. It was written by Jesse Stern. He also wrote Call of Duty 4. So Jason from Infinity Ward was visiting and I was like, “Dude, I love your game, I play your game all the time,” and he said, “Your dad’s Colonel Hargrove!” So we were having a geek out moment. I told him, “You got me with that nuclear bomb going off in the middle of the game,” which, if that’s a spoiler, you guys are asleep. I told him “I spent 45 minutes crawling around trying to get out of a nuclear wasteland.” He told me he went through hell to get that into the game. Those are smart, intelligent writers. That’s a great gaming company, and to know they’re coming back to give us that next push, I’m excited for it. I like the way that company approaches what it is they do.

The game market is changing. Voice acting has gotten very very good. They’re evolving, too.

Then you look at these guys [High Voltage, developers of Conduit], they spent 16 years making other people’s games. Then out of the gate, this is what they come out with on their own. Hitting a home run is really hard in the gaming industry, and I think they have here. I love the game, I love the story. They’re just a fantastic company the way they behave and the way the do everything. People are asking, “Are you going to put Wii Motion Plus support in?” and they say no. They’ve already got great one to one analogue that works really well, why add something just to have that bullet point on the box? I mean, who thinks like that anymore? It’s kind of different, it’s kind of interesting.

Here, we have 12 player multiplayer on the Wii, supporting WiiSpeak.

NRAMA: And real matchmaking! You don’t have to use friend codes!

MS: Pretty good, huh?

NRAMA: Yeah, that makes the Wii sound a lot more appetizing for online multiplayer.

MS: Well, Nintendo has its things that it does, but gamers tend to change that. You vote with your dollars. If you buy games like this, they’ll make more games like this, and that’s the bottom line.

You know, we’re Call of Duty fans, and we’re Batman fans, right?

NRAMA: Right.

MS: Well, we want better Call of Duty games and we want better Batman movies and better Batman comics, and we want better Wii games, [so we buy what’s good].

Screenshot from 'The Conduit'

NRAMA: Well, any other specific things that gamers should look forward to specifically with The Conduit?

MS: I just like challenging the player. The multiplayer is just a ground-up design. There’s a mode in here called Bounty Hunter that’s just amazing. If I’m wandering around the level here, I have a target that I’m supposed to kill, that’s my Bounty. If I shoot anybody else, I lose points. It’s great fun. No one knows who has the bounty on them. The problem is, then, there’s also a Bounty on my head, and I don’t know who that is. When you have 12 people doing it, it’s terrifying. I think there’s a lot of playability in this, and I think this is the start of something special for Wii games.

NRAMA: After this experience, do you want to be involved in games again?

MS: I hope so! I had a great experience. It depends on what the game is and who wants to play. But these guys? High Voltage? Without question. I’d do it again in a minute.

The Conduit is due out exclusively on the Nintendo Wii June 23rd, 2009. Mark Sheppard can be seen in Season 2 of Leverage this summer on TNT and Season 1 of Warehouse 13 on SciFi Channel, amongst many other shows.

Twitter activity