SFX Issue 145

July 2006

SFX historical note: As with some other reprinted interviews in this feature, we thought it was great to get this out of the mothballs because Gretsch is back on our screen in V


Joel Gretsch

With the third season of The 4400 ready to kick off, its star talks to us about family, fandom and being Captain Kirk’s son-in-law…

He’s said in the past that he’s not really a science fiction fan, but with the two biggest TV roles of his career so far having been in sci-fi series, it’s hardly surprising that Joel Gretsch is warming to the genre. “It’s really growing on me,” the star of Taken and The 4400 tells us. “I find that sci-fi fans are very sophisticated. They all remember little details: ‘Why did you do this… and then you had that other thing…’, and I’m like, ‘oh my God, I didn’t even know that!’ They’re very specific and very sophisticated that way, which I really appreciate.”

But while sci-fi is growing on Joel, it was the human element of the writing on The 4400 – and on Steven Spielberg’s Taken before that – that initially appealed to him. “I didn’t set out with the mentality of ‘I just wanna do some sci-fi!’. But Taken and The 4400 both had a great duality – a duality of sci-fi aspects, and of human needs and wants. It’s not just one or the other, and I like that. I also love the concept behind The 4400 – that people from the future are intervening in our lives now to prevent a disaster later on. I mean, you look at the way we treat the world, with pollution and stuff, and we could be doing a lot of damage for our future. And the way technology is, who knows? Maybe we will be able to come back and say, ‘Hey, stop it! You’re screwing everything up!’!”

But despite the increasing appeal of the genre and the fact that he’s married into sci-fi royalty – in 1999 he got hitched to Melanie Shatner, William’s eldest daughter – he remains keen to have a varied career. “Before I did Taken and The 4400 I did The Emperor’s Club and The Legend of Bagger Vance – completely different stuff,” he says. “In the acting world it’s like what you’re doing now is a reference to where you’re at. But I just like to try different things. I wouldn’t be interested in trying Star Trek , for example, although no offence to Star Trek – I think it’s extraordinary.” It must be pretty cool having William Shatner as a father-in-law though? “He’s great. Relationship-wise, the main thing we talk about is, ‘You’re an actor and you’re working? That’s fantastic!’ He’s really supportive, and he’s just a great guy. He’s an older man, but he runs around like he’s younger than I am! He’s wonderful.”

Family is a big deal for Joel, in terms of both his personal life and his role in The 4400 . As Tom Baldwin, he is an agent assigned to NTAC, a division of the Department of Homeland Security set up to monitor the 4,400 people who mysteriously disappeared over the course of 50 years, only to reappear equally mysteriously on a Seattle beach. But his interest in the returnees extends beyond the professional and into the personal – his nephew Shawn is one of them, and Tom’s son Kyle, who was with Shawn when he was abducted, has spent three years in a coma as a result and has been plagued with blackouts ever since awakening. In real life, Joel is a family man too, although his is decidedly less fraught with anxiety than Tom’s.

As he speaks to us, he’s also supervising the elder of his two children. “I’m sorry, my daughter’s distracting me – what was the question?” he asks a couple of times. It’s his experience as a father that plays a key part in his performance in The 4400 , albeit with a few improvised elements. “I had a hard time in the first season, to be honest. It was difficult for me. I mean, Tom has a 20 year-old son – I have a three year old, so that was a different thing! And I still think I’m 20, so it was a hard thing for me to grasp!”

But he managed it, and he attributes this to the relationship he has with co-star Chad Faust, who plays Kyle. “In the second season, Tom’s relationship with his son really took off. I love Chad – he’s a wonderful guy and a really wonderful actor, and we’re really good friends. So you incorporate that relationship into the scene. I put everything about myself that I can into it; you want to make it as believable as possible. My first acting teacher said that if you don’t believe it, the audience isn’t going to believe it, so you have to take that leap. It’s a fine line: you want to be able to keep yourself sane, but you’ve also really got to put your shoulder behind it and be you. I think our writers are fantastic. But sometimes you go, ‘Really? My character’s going to do that? Okay, I have to get behind that’. You justify it.”

With all the plot twists thrown into the closing scenes of The 4400 ’s second season, the hotly-anticipated third season looks like it’ll be packed with major new developments. But Joel can’t tell us much about what to expect. “It’s all set up on a tee right now, and [writer and executive producer] Ira Behr has the best ideas! I’ve had dinners with him in the off-season. He’ll just throw some ideas out, and I’m just blown away! It’s really fantastic stuff, but I can’t tell you any of his ideas – I don’t know if he’s written them or not!”