In the land of Hollywood, the life cycle of an actor is pretty scary. If you are lucky enough to land a gig that puts your name in the public consciousness, then it becomes just as arduous remaining there. And don’t forget to factor in the effects of fame, lack of maturity, money, addiction, etc…on the actor’s psyche and their ability to remain grounded. No surprise then that far too many crash land under the weight of it all, getting pigeon-holed forever or just imploding a career that never recovers.
But there are the few that leave the biz, lick their wounds, restore their perspective and return once again, stronger and more prepared to handle what’s thrown at them. Jackie Earle Haley can now count himself as one of the rare Hollywood actors experiencing an even more successful second chapter to his career.
“I’m an actor so I am perpetually nervous and scared and frightened,” Haley laughs when talking to members of the press about this new series (Fox’s "Human Target” Wednesdays at 8 p.m. starting Feb. 2), "but t I am pinching myself that I am getting to work on so many different things and genres.”
Once best known for his iconic role as Kelly Leak in “The Bad News Bears” movie and its sequels in the ‘70s, Haley became a superstar by the age of 15 and thusly experienced all the thrills and spills of early fame. But that momentum petered out as he got older, until he became so unhappy with the course of his acting career that he bowed out.
In the early ‘90s Haley left Los Angeles to successfully direct commercial videos in Texas until 2006 when he was wooed back on the screen for the tense drama “Little Children.” He played Ronnie J. McGorvey, a pedophile released back into the community and gave a searing performance that blew the industry away. Haley was even nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award; an impressive unofficial invitation for Haley to fully come back into the thespian fold.
Since then he’s been on a successful streak taking character roles in films like “Semi-Pro,” “All the King's Men” and in genre related projects like “Watchmen,” the upcoming reboot of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Human Target.”
“It’s a blast to get to work on movies and in TV,” Haley says. “I’m having an incredible time. It’s amazing. I’m doing the work and it can be arduous, and time consuming. I’m flying all over the place so I’m not even sure the last time I was home…September or something. But just to be able to practice this craft again and get to work so much is incredible.”
Turning 49 this year, Haley reflects his age is a big part of why he’s doing things differently in his career this time around. “Perhaps I bring more maturity to it, meaning I probably took it for granted as a kid. I was definitely in love with the craft as a youngster but I didn’t fully understand it and fully get the depth of it. I think I appreciate that more now. All of those fears and insecurities I was joking about, being older and more mature helps temper them than more than when I was 20.”
This go around, Haley’s found a particular niche playing very dark and morally dubious characters, many of which happen to be in comic book properties being translated to film and TV. Whether you loved Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” or not, Haley’s take on Walter Kovacs (aka Rorschach) was almost universally hailed as the best thing about the film. And while it remains to be seen if he can successfully take the claw from Robert Englund’s Freddy Kruger, Haley is getting plenty of kudos for his shady character Guerrero on “Human Target.”
Asked why he gravitates towards such malcontents, the actor muses, “I think part of it is a function that you do a few pieces of work and people like to put you towards similar characters. I have been trying to find some diversity within those types of characters. There is something definitely very interesting to me about troubled souls and unhinged characters. But at the same time I try to find the differences. There are similarities to characters like Ronnie, or Rorschach, or Freddy or Guerrero but yet there huge differences in approach, demeanor and what these guys are about. So I look for the stuff I can sink my teeth into and find some diversity.”
If it seems like Haley has DC Comics on his speed dial with his roles in “Watchmen” (based off a DC comic) and “Human Target” (based off a DC/Vertigo comic), he laughs and says there has been some bonding going on since he played Rorschach. “I purchased some stock in the DC universe,” he jokes. “Their material rocks. And it’s not a coincidence that the DC guys thought of me after “Watchmen.” After “Watchmen” I really started to get into the comic book world. I’m still nowhere near where some of the fanboys are, but after “Watchmen” I went on an Alan Moore jag as well as a few others, and I’m still poking around through some comics.” One of those titles will definitely be the Green Lantern if the rumors of his casting as the villainous Sinestro come true.
In the meantime, Haley is living up in Vancouver shooting “Human Target” until early March. As Guerrero he gets to take some time to flesh out a character over a season, which is something he says he’s really enjoying. “I loved the idea of getting in there and working on a long term basis, on one specific character as opposed to what you do on a movie,” he explains. “This is an ongoing process and that’s kind of neat. And when I read the script and I just thought it was real kick ass. I thought it was a lot of fun. I like how it was comic book related and light in tone. It was led by an action hero character (Christopher Chance played by Mark Valley) and the character of Guerrero supporting that character was well written.”
Haley says he also like the mystery of Guerrero, who is a very behind the scenes kind of mover and shaker. “What’s fun about this guy is it seems like we are all learning it together. Obviously we have done more shows than you have seen, but it feels like I am coming up with more questions for him than answers. But as each week goes we get at a little bit more of Chance’s background and there was some event in his past that caused him to go from one side to the other and I think Guerrero was part of that which is very interesting to me. I know that Guerrero has worked on the dark side of things and now he’s working more on the righteous side of things with Chance but what’s neat about Guerrero is you never know where his loyalties are. It’s fun working with the writers on that but I don’t think we want to get those answers real quick. It’s fun exploring the multi-dimensionality of this guy and seeing where it leads and what makes him tick.”