Gaining insight into characters, performances and their own lives was a big asset of attending the question and answer panels during Omaha’s Comic Con convention May 29-31.
From Billy West’s “Fry” character in “Futurama” to Jamie Bamber’s role in “Band of Brothers” to Walter Koenig’s experiences on the Starship USS Enterprise in “Star Trek” television and movie series, attendees had the opportunity to interact with the celebrities.
Koenig’s panel was likely the most anticipated, given his background on the “Star Trek” and “Babylon 5” series. The panel with voice talents Billy West and Maurice LaMarche (both of “Futurama” fame) may have been the most entertaining.
If we learned one thing from attending the panels, it was never to underestimate or under anticipate the celebrity. Samm Levine is perhaps the best example of this.
Levine has played a number of roles through his career. I know him best as the son-in-law from last TV season’s canceled-too-early “Selfie.” Our daughters know him from “Freaks and Geeks,” another canceled-way-too-early series. He was 19 when he filmed “F&G,” but he looked like a freshman. We watched a couple of episodes at home that night. The series was good.
I didn’t realize Levine had a small role in “Inglorious Basterds.” The movie is one of my all-time favorites. This was one of Levine’s best experiences as an actor because he had the opportunity to work with Quinten Tarantino, he said.
Tarantino is the kind of director you either love or hate. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. Lisa and I are on the love side.
Levine said he had always wanted to work with him. When he auditioned for his first role, he auditioned with the director. It was an experience of a lifetime, he said.
Levine received a surprise at the end of his session. A fan from Missouri traveled about three hours to share a special “Freaks and Geeks” experience. He bought a Parisian nightsuit worn by John Francis Daley in an episode. Levine was kind enough to pose for a picture with the fan.
He has a short list of people he’d love to work with, and David Fincher is on it. The director is famous for multiple takes of a scene. “I’m Ok with 80 takes,” Levine joked.
Billy West and Maurice LaMarche’s panel was pretty much a laugh-a-minute hour. They were hilarious in sharing stories of their voice acting experiences.
They share a love of Katey Segal that could be unrivaled except for her husband, Kurt Sutter. She is a serious person about all performances, they said. Even comedy.
Segal is also a singer. She has a wonderful voice (and performed on the soundtrack to her TV series “Sons of Anarchy”). They once told her she reminded them of a certain singer, and she was thrilled because the singer had been her idol.
The duo entertained the audience with their version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine. For anyone under the age of 40 who has no idea what I am referring to, Google it or ask your parents (or grandparents). It is a great baseball story with words as the names of players.
Tara Buck shared her experiences in various projects, especially as Ginger on HBO’s “True Blood.” She talked about Ginger as though she were a real person. Actors often treat their alter egos as real people.
Buck shared that she is going to be in Paul Rueben’s upcoming Pee-Wee Herman movie. That has us eagerly looking forward to its release.
Jamie Bamber is one handsome dude. That is pretty the view of every woman (and most men, if they are honest).
The actor has been on a few hit shows – “Battlestar Gallactica” and “Law and Order: UK,” among them.
He enjoyed his five seasons on “BSG.” He said star Edward Olmos once told the younger actors to enjoy their time on the show, because they may never experience the feeling of being on something that special again. Apparently, he was right, as Bamber said he keeps looking for his next “Battlestar.”
“L&O: UK” was based on the original NBC series, that “tore” stories from the headlines. They adapted the New York-based stories so they could fit current British stories. The show included the famous “dong-dong.”
Bamber was especially proud to be involved with HBO’s miniseries “Band of Brothers.” It followed the travails of American soldiers after the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach in France in 1944. He portrayed a replacement officer on the show.
He said his first day on set was odd. He was told to go in costume in a large tent, shared by the actors. When he entered the tent, people were uncooperative and refused to acknowledge him. It turned out that replacement soldiers were not initially accepted since they replaced someone who likely died during battle, and they were not part of the original beach landing. In addition, the actors stayed in character, so they continued to treat him that way.
Bamber – who shares dual citizenship in Britain and the United States – said he doesn’t use his American accent as himself. When he speaks as himself, it’s always in his British accent, as the American accent sounds better with his characters. His father was from Michigan, so that’s the reason for the dual citizenship.
Naomi Grossman has gained a lot of fame in recent years as Pepper in FX’s “American Horror Story” series. She has played the character a couple of seasons.
Working on the series has been fun, she said. When she started, there was no back story for the character. As the seasons progressed, the back story became known.
“So, I found out I was married to this guy that I treated (like a regular person),” she said. “My maid of honor was a two-foot tall woman.”
Grossman wrote, produced and starred in a one-woman show “Carnival Knowledge: Love, lust and other human oddities.” It sold out and was extended in Los Angeles. She performed it overseas and off-Broadway, too.
The most anticipated celebrity panel occurred Sunday afternoon – featuring Walter Koenig from “Star Trek” fame. The room had more than 100 fans listening to Koenig share stories and answer questions.
I am of the original “Star Trek” TV series ilk, so I was a bit surprised at the several questions focused on his experiences on “Babylon 5” as Bester.
“Star Trek” seemed to provide the juicy tidbits a lot of people seemed to want. How was Shatner to work with? Did the crew get along? The answers boiled down to – not a great person and not really.
Following the Q&A, we went to the booth where Koenig was signing autographs. I told him that Lisa and I – along with friends Mark and Ron – were there the day he received his star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
I asked him how he felt about the honor and if he thought it took too long. I was a little surprised by his answer – it wasn’t a big deal, since there are more than 2,500 stars on the walk. But, he appreciated the fans raising the money for the star. He was the last of the original cast members to get his star in 2012).
I told Lisa I was bummed by his response. I thought it’s be a big deal to him. She answered that I asked his honest opinion and got it. I guess he and she had a point since Brittany Spears got her star a few days later. At least, he appreciated the fans supporting him. Plus, it was probably a bigger deal to the fans.
A thoroughly enjoyable panel included David Newell – AKA Mr. McFeely – from the PBS program “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The moderator asked how many in the room had watched the show as children, and about 80 percent of the nearly 100 people attending went up.
Newell shared stories about the show’s background, including a bit about a young would-be actor who worked the trolley on screen. Michael Douglas was an up-and-coming comedian, who later left for Hollywood. He had to change his name, since the name was already used by a seasoned actor and a TV talk show host. So, Mike Douglas from Pittsburgh became Michael Keaton – “Batman,” “Mr. Mom,” “Multiplicity.” Keaton was nominated for an Academy Award this year.
One humorous story Newell shared involved a trip to New York. Appearing on the old David Letterman show on NBC, Mr. Rogers was encouraged to go to the Saturday Night Live studio and surprise Eddie Murphy, who portrayed a parody of the PBS show, called “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood.” Mr. Rogers knocked on Murphy’s door. When he answered and saw who it was, Murphy got excited and hugged him like there was no end. He was a huge fan of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
We enjoyed the panels tremendously. Additional guest panels included actress Caroline Munro and wrestler Mick Foley.
For more information on O Comic Con, please visit www.ocomiccon.com.
Disclaimer: Thanks to O Comic Con for the complimentary media passes for the event. However, all opinions and views are ours. And yes, they are geeky opinions and views.