Sal Rendino, the veteran actor whose over 130 film and TV credits range from Frasier and Charmed to Billions and Law and Order, spent some time recently recording the lead role in The Strange and Astounding Memoirs of Watt O’Hugh, a Weird-Western sci-fi podcast that’s just been renewed for a full first season. The serial’s eponymous hero is an unlucky-in-love Civil War vet, “falsely accused” outlaw, dime novel and Wild West star, time roamer, and a square-jawed action who would rather absquatulate (i.e., run away) than fight. Audere recently caught up with Rendino to ask him about this new role.
Audere: Tell me about your career so far, and how Watt fits in. Is he a departure?
Rendino: In over 30 years of professional acting, I’ve never had the opportunity to do a fictional podcast, so it’s been a welcome and interesting detour. Good fortune has smiled on me since I took the nervous plunge at that very first professional audition in 1991, with some wonderful stage, film and TV roles and many blissful collaborations with gifted artists like John Travolta, Kelsey Grammar and David Hyde Pierce, Penny Marshall, Baz Luhrmann, Jimmy Smits, Danny Aiello, Jim Rebhorn and so many more, and this story is another nice gift in a long line of them.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
Just like any acting challenge, I simply sit with what it might be like to live this other life, and what that might do to my approach to various people and situations. Not having to memorize all the spoken words also helped open me up to taking some risks with performance.
What did you bring to the role of Watt?
I can sometimes be a sarcastic and ironic guy, and Watt certainly has those qualities, so it was fun to mine those further.
How do you see the character?
Generally, he’s who we all are — just someone meandering through life trying to find and hold onto love, and uncover the truth about who he is … just on a much more fantastical and grand scale than most of us get to experience.
Is this your first Western?
I’ve never had the chance to do a Western, so that element was a blast to investigate, especially having grown up sharing a deep admiration for John Wayne and Clint Eastwood Westerns.
Is it something you’ve always wanted to do?
Who wouldn’t want to light out on a trusty steed, chasing justice, or defending the honor of a beautiful woman, the hero in the white hat? Heck, I’d even jump at the opportunity to wear the black hat and chew some high plains scenery! How much fun would that be?
How much of Sal is in Watt?
I put all that I could into Watt, and let my imagination fill in the gaps. I am big fan of fairness, a staunch opponent of bigotry and bullies, and I always pull for the underdog and celebrate true love.
How do you differ from the character?
I’m not nearly as tough as Watt, despite my macho fantasies, and I catch myself sometimes acting from too jaded and cynical a perspective, which blinds me to the real beauty in the world.
The podcast actors recorded their lines separately, and then Danielle [Wu, the producer] spliced it all together – was this difficult? Tell me about this.
Yeah, it’s a different animal without another actor’s input, even just vocally. It can feel like you’re living in a vacuum, which is rarely good for performance or storytelling, but that also became an unexpected blessing, having to work harder to help create that world, which could only ultimately benefit the project. I’m so interested to see and hear how it comes together!