Skip to main content

BLOG The Mark Sheppard Phenomenon

Can a Mark Sheppard appearance be too much of a good thing, wonders Steven Ellis?

Last week’s Blogbusters question was, “Which actor or actress are you always happy to watch and why?” I was very surprised to see that no one mentioned Mark Sheppard. The opening blurb by my fellow blogger Al Stuart even jokingly makes reference to Mr Sheppard and Shepparditis. But strangely enough the man himself wasn’t mentioned in any of the bloggers answers. I myself considered mentioning him but thought he’d be too obvious and that everyone would say his name.

So, my question is, is anyone sick of the sight of Mark Sheppard? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not. I think he’s a great actor and I am always happy see him turn up in stuff, especially his recent recurring role in Supernatural , but for a while now whenever he appears it’s a bit like the Mark Sheppard guest spot rather than a new interesting character for him to play. A friend of mine said she is reminded of those old American sitcoms, the ones with the live audiences. When someone famous appeared and there was a pause while the audience applauded… The fourth wall was broken for a moment before everyone got on with the show. It feels a bit like there’s a moment like this every time Mark Sheppard shows up in something these days.

Maybe he’s happy playing these guest roles and if he’s a sci-fi fan then I bet he’s having a great time, I know I would be. Maybe he doesn’t want to be tied to the same show for long periods of time, I don’t know, although it must be said he’s racked up quite a few episodes of the previously mentioned Supernatural now. But it can’t be denied that he’s swiftly become the most prolific guest actor in sci-fi TV.

Some of the character he’s played have been fantastic, but he’s in everything, isn’t he? And more and more he seems to play the same sort of character; the lovable bad guy, the gruff shady rogue type. It does feel a little like he’s not playing characters anymore, he’s playing the Mark Sheppard cameo role. I do wonder if these roles are being written with him in mind sometimes.

Mr Sheppard isn’t the only one at it , far from it in fact.There are many other prolific sci-fi guest players: Callum Keith Rennie, Zeljko Ivanek, Ty Olssen and even James Marsters come to mind. There are many more.

But none are anywhere near Mark Sheppard for his numerous genre appearances, off the top of my head the shows I can name that he’s been in are Firefly, Medium, Dollhouse, Supernatural, Warehouse 13, BSG, Doctor Who, 24, Leverage, The Bionic Woman and Chuck . Did I miss any? Was he ever in Star Trek ( yep, Voyager – ed ) or Stargate ( don’t think so – ed ). Do you reckon he’s got a bet with someone to appear in the most sci-fi shows he can? If he has I think he’s winning. Maybe somebody should give Mr Sheppard his own show, God knows he’s earned it…

Show-swappers

There’s also the thing about the stars of American and Canadian sci-fi TV guesting in each others shows… People from Star Trek show up in Stargate , people from Stargate show up in Smallville , people from BSG appear all over the place and on and on... There’s even been a spate of guest actors playing the same character in different shows, tying those shows to the same universe. There seems to be a revolving door policy with sci-fi actors sometimes. I’ve not even mentioned Joss Whedon and his merry band of reusable actors. Even stars of the big screen like to make the jump to sci-fi TV. And while it’s always nice to see these actors, these familiar faces, show up from time to time in other shows it does sometimes break the mood. Nothing can break the flow of a good story than finding out the bad guys is Daniel Jackson from SG1 can it?

And it’s not a phenomena isolated to just our corner of the TV world; crime drama and Police procedurals seem to have a lot of sci-fi actors in guest roles too. I know actors have to work and that shows need guest stars, I’m not being judgemental, or saying it’s wrong, I’m just highlighting the practise and asking people’s opinion on it.

So, what do you think of the Mark Sheppard phenomenon or the sci-fi guest star roundabout in general? Are you always glad to see familiar guests? Do you have a favourite role you’ve seen Mr Sheppard or any other guest star in? Are there other prolific guest actors you’d like to see more of?