Peter Weller on 'Dexter,' 'Fringe,' 'Robocop,' reality TV, and more: an interview

If you watch Dexter, Peter Weller is currently making your head swivel as the corrupt cop/P.I. Stan Liddy. Weller plays Liddy like a human rattlesnake, all slithery menace, and tonight’s episode promises to further stoke the budding Liddy-mania among fans.

Weller credits Dexter co-producers Manny Coto and Chip Johannessen for bringing him into the world of Dexter:

“Manny and Chip are friends from 24 — they also wrote that wonderful wacko Henderson character for me in the fifth season,” said the Los Angeles-based actor. “And Manny wrote Odyssey 5, in which I also appeared. When they tell you they’re writing a role for you, you can’t help but get some sort of synthetic hard-on for it. So I put the drapery around the character, made him a sort of cocaine cowboy.”

Weller’s take on Liddy: “He’s the dynamic antagonist — not the lead guy Dexter’s going after, but this guy is the thorn in Dexter’s side that’s going after him. I read the script and said, ‘Let’s swing it, man.’”

Liddy is only the latest in a career full of remarkably diverse characters for Weller. Best known for helping to make 1987′s RoboCop one of the most fascinatingly satiric and mythical of sci-fi action films, Weller has also starred in many fine, underrated movies ranging from Shoot The Moon (1982) to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) to Screamers (1995), as well as giving a shrewd, precise portrayal of Beat-era novelist, poet, and all-around pork-pie-hatted eccentric William Burroughs in David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch (1991). History buffs know him from his hosting gig on the History Channel series Engineering an Empire.

Oh, and Fringe fans adore Weller for his tender performance last season as an emotionally fragile widower in the second-season episode “White Tulip.”

“I steer away from episodic TV; it burns you out. But my wife read the Fringe script and said, ‘You’ve got to do this, it’s beautiful, it’s about a guy who wants to save his wife.’ There was a four-page scene between me and John Noble. That’s rare for television — wonderfully written. I was thrilled to do that [show].”

Did you also know that Weller is a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA?

“I’m finishing my Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance history. I just passed my oral exam. One of the guys on my committee is from Cambridge, a professor, Peter Stacey — he’s a genius. He’s also a Dexter freak. I brought him to the Dexter set, and he had this great take on the character. He said, “‘You know who Dexter is? If you watched Dexter from outside the US, you’d see immediately. He’s the history of America: a child born in blood, condemned to tyrannize — like a child — but possessed with the voice of its Founding Father, pointing him in the right direction. He’s the ultimate vigilante. A creation like Dexter sees itself as the world’s police force except it has a conscience, which is the voting public.’ Stacey told Michael C. Hall, ‘Your inner monologue the conscience of America.’”

Weller paused, and added dryly, “Manny Coto, who’s an arch-Republican, said that sounded like a gifted, intellectual, but Marxist tract.” Weller gives a hoot of appreciative laughter.

The actor is well aware that he’s intensely identified with his RoboCop role, and he’s comfortable with that. “It’s a landmark film, a classic. I never did more training for anything in my life. It’s moving and funny and has a perfect structure, and it’s socially hip. I think it’s the best of its genre, me in it or not. [Director Paul] Verhoeven is as mad as he is is tremendously profound, because he’s a medievalist from Holland — he knows legend. I knew he’d take these scenes and set them against this big operatic backdrop. The outer world was shifting and changing as the characters led their inner lives. So I knew he would make it great. He had a sense of history.”

Weller plays jazz trumpet in a “bebop sextet” that performs at least once a month in L.A. He may also become a reality TV star. “It’s a cultural food show my wife and I are pitching to Discovery and other places. It’s a reality docu-soap, not unlike Jersey Shore.” Really, Peter? Jersey Shore? Sounds a bit more up-market than that. “You get the insanity of marital drama set in the Mediterranean paradise — we spend part of every year in Europe. It’s our marriage in front of the camera — we tool around and get lost. We shot a pilot in which we get lost near these pesto markets and a gardenia fair, getting detoured. In fact, that’s what it should be called Detoured.”

Hmmm… it sounds blessedly Snookie-free; I’d watch.

Twitter: @kentucker

For more: ‘Dexter’ producer dishes on Sunday’s episode ‘Teenage Wasteland’

Comments (17 total) Add your comment
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  • tracy bluth

    LOVE this guy. Such a great, underrated actor. He was amazing on Fringe, especially when paired with Noble. As soon as he appeared on Dexter the season finally kicked off for me.

  • Anjali

    Weller was fantastic on Fringe! One of my favorite episodes from season 2!

  • D’s Advocate

    As much as I love “Robocop”, Weller will always be Buckaroo Banzai in my eyes.

    • justjack

      Me too!!!!!!! LOVE that movie, and Buckaroo!

      • Dicazi

        I first saw Banzai in a theater with only 3 other people. I stood and applauded at the end and the others looked at me like I was nuts! LOL

  • abraham

    Too bad he didn’t tell you what a giant tool you are, Tucker. Just too bad.

  • trish

    His “Fringe” performance was moving and intelligent. He and John Noble played their scene so incredibly. Weller’s stint made a great show even greater.

  • Pink Lemonade

    I adore Peter Weller. I adored him before, during and after RoboCop. He had some of the best movie star hair.

  • Chappel

    Very talented guy, for sure, but I’ll pass on the “reality TV”. When I want reality I read the news, not watch semi-scripted soap operas.

  • Anne

    I’m just here to say that I’m so glad EW is spending more time covering Dexter. Even in its worst season it’s better than 99% of other shows on air right now (which I personally think is season 3 but whichever season you think is the worst this statement still holds true).

  • Greg

    He’s a great actor but he’s being wasted in Dexter because of the god awful writing this season.

  • HP,NY GUY

    Peter Weller is class. He is well educated, pick roles that are interesting does a great job in them, has the ability to make a statement about America that is discomfoting yet somehow not insulting and avoids being pompus. If all of Hollywood acted like him, it might get more respect. I’m looking at you, Mr. Clooney.

  • Dennis

    His best stuff is the role he played in the short-lived SciFi show “Oddessy 5″

  • Dicazi

    With his many interests, he really sounds like the Renassience man Buckaroo Banzai was. Cool!

  • Robert

    Loved Peter Weller as the cinematic hero Professor B. Banzai. He is such a gifted performance actor.

    He rocked in Fringe.

    • Sofiane

      This sounds a ilttle familiar. I may have to hop into my time machine again. Super 8 and Cowboys and Aliens in my que. So is Tron and the recent sequel (hope my wife will let me watch those. Got the evil eye when she saw them in the que )

  • Movie

    and it also doesn’t reveal any of the new S5 cast. Although, if you remmeber my ThinkHero intro piece this season does star *someone* I’ve worked with. I simply can not WAIT for new

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