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Eric Balfour – Eye on the Skyline

Updated: 2 days ago

Eric Balfour

Eye on the Skyline

by Jay S. Jacobs

Eric Balfour is one of those actors that you see all over the place. He started out as a child actor in the early 90s as a short-lived regular on the series Kids Incorporated. Since then, he has played a varied and interesting series of roles in TV and film.

Balfour was Claire’s misunderstood delinquent boyfriend in Six Feet Under. He was the smart and competent counter-terrorism independent contractor in 24. He was one of the first victims in the series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He was an unfortunate traveler who got caught up in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Balfour is currently co-starring as the enigmatic local eccentric with some hazy childhood connection to a decades old mystery in the current hit Syfy Channel series Haven, which is loosely based on Stephen King’s novella The Colorado Kid. He has also just done an arc on the popular ABC series No Ordinary Family as a killer cursed with wolf-like superpowers.

You may even know him as the lead singer of the indie rock group Born as Ghosts.

However, one place he really hasn’t been seen before was as the lead actor in a hit studio production. That changed last year, when his alien-invasion film Skyline was released to surprising popular success in theaters.

In Skyline, Balfour played Jarrod, a New York native who is visiting Los Angeles with his fiancée (Scottie Thompson of Trauma). While staying in the luxurious townhouse of his oldest friend (Donald Faison, formerly of Scrubs), they become witnesses and survivors of an invasion of spacecrafts that lays siege on Los Angeles. Despite the film’s low budget (or perhaps because of it), the film was considered a big box office success and is being considered for one or more sequels.

A few days before Skyline was to be released on video, Balfour gave us a call to discuss his movie and his career.

Skyline was your first lead role in a major film. How did it come about and what was it like to experience?

You are correct; it was definitely my first lead role in what turned out to be a large studio movie. In some ways, to be fair, it didn’t really start out that way. We made the movie for a million dollars. (chuckles) So, it was a gamble, like a lot of independent films. You go in hoping for the best and doing your best work. I honestly didn’t know that I’d be shouldering something as big as I was. And I was very excited when it turned out to be that. We’re really happy with the outcome. Obviously, the final budget of the movie ended up being like ten million – all in with the effects. We’ve made almost ten times that internationally on the film. I guess there is an economics and a commerce to what we do, as much as I’d like the ability to be an artist. As a career, I also understand there is a commerce involved in it. To be able to prove and show that I can carry a movie that far was really important. I don’t have a ceiling or a limit to how far I want to go. I’ve never been satisfied with any one particular place that I’ve been. I’ve always wanted to learn more and strived to do more. I hope this opens up the door to more opportunities like that. As we got closer to the release, I definitely felt some of the pressure of it, but was excited. I was excited to get out there and speak on behalf of the movie. I think in hindsight we learn things. Although it was a great blessing for us to have this giant machine of Universal and Relativity behind us to promote the movie – and they did a fantastic job – I think in some ways we lost sight of the fact of how small the movie really was. It may have confused audiences. This really was a little, independent film and – especially right now, we’re getting compared to Battle: LA. Well, Battle: LA was a 100-million-dollar movie. I guess I wish in some ways we had focused more on the independent spirit of the movie and the accomplishments that we were able to create such a visually grand-scale movie with such a small budget, but, you know, you live, and you learn. I’m still really proud of what we did, though.

I agree, the special effects were terrific for that small a budget. As an actor, how weird was it to be acting with and reacting to things that weren’t there – like the aliens, the lights, and the ships?

Honestly, it’s never been something that’s affected me that much. A lot of what we do is about believing where you are. Whether you are talking to a person in front of you or an inanimate object, you have to believe what you are saying. If you’re talking to another human being and having to convey that you actually love them, when they are someone you just met weeks earlier, it’s not that different. So that part never really bothered me. There are always logistical issues – trying to figure out: Okay, if I’m looking at the sky at this alien ship, is it 50 feet away, or is it 100 feet away? Or is it a mile away? (chuckles) Those things were harder than anything else. But I don’t mind it.

Do you believe in aliens? And if so, do you think if they do come down, they will want to be friends or eat our brains like in Skyline?

You know, I have a couple of really strong thoughts about the subject. I think it would be really egotistical of us to believe that we are the only similar or intelligent life anywhere in the universe. In that regard, you have to believe statistically there must be something else out there. Now, Stephen Hawking makes an interesting point. The elements that created humanity and created the Earth are really pretty spectacular. For all of these things to line up [is so unlikely], you know? So, for another civilization similar – or of similar intelligence – to exist at the exact same time that we do may not be possible. The fact is, there may be a life form that was similar or an alien life form that existed a million years ago somewhere else, but by the time they could reach us, it would take a million years to get to where we are today. The idea that there are two existing at the exact same time in different places in space may be the logistical issue and may be really where we should be focusing our energy. Not so much trying to explore space as it were physically right now, but more from a time standpoint.

One interesting thing about the movie is because it is a smaller indie, while LA is being destroyed; you’re basically seeing it only from the point of view of one building and maybe ten people affected. I hate to say it, but it seems like your character Jarrod was the last person in the world to notice that his girlfriend Elaine was pregnant. However, when he did find out, even though he wasn’t sure he was ready for a baby, do you feel it made him even more protective of her?

Obviously, as an actor, that was the intention of what you are trying to do with it. You’re watching this character start as – for the lack of a better word – as a boy. Through the course of this calamity, he is forced to become a man. That was the goal. That was what I had to hold onto as an actor. And that was the thing, too. I think a lot of people were frustrated, because obviously the movie doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. It doesn’t have a classic popcorn ending, for sure. There is no scientist that shows up in the third act and explains what the aliens are doing or why. That was the goal of the movie. Everyone was like, “where’s the explanation?” Well, in reality, if you were stuck in an earthquake, a flood, or a tornado, you wouldn’t always have an explanation. If you were in a building and that building collapsed, you may not necessarily know exactly what caused it for quite some time. That was what we wanted to convey with the movie: the isolation of being stuck in this one place and not having contact with the outside world. One of the biggest distinguishing differences between us and Battle: LA is that Battle: LA is this large-scale war. Ours was really about the people who were stuck in the buildings, not knowing what was going on and how it was going on.

If you were in Jarrod’s position, would you have stayed in the building or tried to run for it?

I definitely would have tried to make a run for it.

I was reading that the Brothers Strause are planning on making Skyline the first of at least two, maybe even a series of films. Obviously, without giving the ending away, your character was left in sort of a precarious position, is there any way that your character or maybe Scottie’s will be in the future movies – even in flashbacks or something like that?

I think the idea has been discussed in using almost a Robocop model. If you took Jarrod the alien, who is fighting the aliens – like in Robocop you would see the flashbacks of when he was a human being. There’s been talk of something like that.

You are probably best known for television, though you have made quite a few films as well. How do television and film work differently?

Honestly, nowadays it’s not that different. (laughs) The fact is, big television shows have very stretched-out, long shooting schedules and have lots of time, and conversely smaller films have to shoot very, very quickly and move very efficiently. The line between film and television is very blurred. In my opinion, and I’m really quoting Jon Cassar, who was a producer and director of 24, he was referring to now as the golden age of television. The fact is you’re seeing more interesting work being done in television than you are in a lot of films. You think about shows like Big Love, Californication, Shameless and Boardwalk Empire – these are really complex stories that are long arcs and really fascinating. I’m a huge fan of television. It’s a really fantastic place to work. I’m excited to go back in about a week and start shooting season two of Haven.

Without giving up any real spoilers, what can we expect from the second season of Haven?

The second season is going to be absolutely 100 times bigger, faster, and darker than the first season of Haven. Towards the end of the first season, the writers really found their footing and really found their voice. This season, in some ways it’s weird, it feels like the shackles have been taken off and we’re allowed to run now. I’m really excited about where my character is going. I’m excited to get back and play him. I really like playing Duke. I have a really great time playing that character. I’m excited to get back up into the Maritimes and get to be Duke again.

Duke is such an interesting character, he’s very charming and yet he’s rather mysterious and possibly dangerous. Do his contradictions make him more fun to play?

Absolutely. There was a great line that someone said to me: “Uncompromising men are easier to like.” I love that Duke has lots of compromises. He’s fallible. He’s not simply good or bad. Some of my favorite characters are reluctant heroes. I was never a fan of Superman. I always liked Batman. You know what I mean? You think about, like, Ari Gold on Entourage, who I would never compare myself or my character to, Jeremy Piven and that character are in a whole separate league, the most amazing thing ever. But I love that character, because one minute you hate him and he’s such a dick, and the next minute he shows you that glimpse of humanity that it’s hard not to fall in love with him a little.

Were you familiar with the book The Colorado Kid before taking the role?

I wasn’t familiar with it before the show, and I read it before we started shooting. I had to go, what the hell does this have to do with our TV show? But it was really a jumping off point. There was something about it that inspired the writers and the mystery of the Colorado Kid murder that inspired them. Then this whole world evolved out of it. So, I’m very grateful to Sam Ernst and Jim Dunn in that regard, because they created this amazing character from it.

You also are playing a villain in a couple of episodes of No Ordinary Family this month. What is your character like in that?

The character was this criminal who I think in some ways wasn’t as evil as he was portrayed. We talked about him being one of these guys who came from a very blue-collar neighborhood, didn’t have a lot of options, and maybe didn’t have a bad heart but was sort of forced into this life of crime. Now, he’s once again being forced into being this super-evil villain – because he has no other options. He has these sort of Wolverine-like powers, or werewolf-like superpowers. It was fun. It was cool. It’s a really cool group of people over there. It was one of those things where they called me up and said, “Hey, do you want to come and play a werewolf supervillain?” I was like that sounds like fun. Hey, getting to hang out with Michael Chiklis for a couple of weeks. He’s awesome. It was really cool.

You mentioned it being like the golden age of television. I first remember seeing you on Six Feet Under, a show that definitely deserves mention in that kind of discussion. That was such a classic series, what was the experience of being on the show like?

Oh, thank you. It was a blessing and a curse because working on that show was one of the most creatively satisfying experiences of my life. It’s a curse because it’s very difficult to match the level of quality, sincerity, and talent that was on that show. But I’ve been lucky. Getting to be part of a show like 24 and now Haven and this great group of people I work with now, I’ve been lucky in that way. But Six Feet Under, it was special – special in ways that I can’t completely put my finger on. There was an intangibility about what made it what it was.

Another really well remembered TV role for you was in 24, which obviously had a much different structure than most series. Was it a special challenge as an actor to have the action take place in real time?

The biggest challenge was having to wear the same outfit for nine months.

Marisol Nichols [his season six co-star] told me the exact same thing.

I warned Marisol. I warned her on day one. She had this shirt that buttoned into her pants. I told her, you need to talk to them. You are not going to be happy. Two months later, she was like “I can’t believe I didn’t listen to you.” Yeah, I know, the first season I wore these drawstring pants that I wanted to kill myself after three or four months of having to tie and draw this string every frickin’ day of my life. I hated them. But Kiefer Sutherland is one of the most amazing professionals I’ve ever worked with, so, again, it was an honor.

Your acting career is so busy, is it tough to fit time in for your band and your singing?

It is difficult. What I’ve had to start to do is incorporate my music career into my acting career, so I have been developing a television show with the Fuse network – a comedy about a band. We’re working on getting that put together.

With things like Skyline and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even Haven and No Ordinary Family, you have done a lot of genre work. Are you into the sci-fi, horror and fantasy worlds or has that just been a bit of a coincidence?

Honestly, it’s really a coincidence. (laughs) My favorite movies are romantic comedies and musicals. It’s one of those weird things like where you hear that Rob Zombie’s favorite type of music is jazz and you’re like, “Really?” But, you know, I guess it’s just a coincidence. I honestly have no explanation for how it happened.

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: March 29, 2011.

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2010. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2010. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2010. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2010. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.

#5 © 2010. Courtesy of Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.

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