You know one of the real joys in this season of Scandal? More George Newbern. We’ve enjoyed watching this guy ever since he adorably romanced Connie Britton in the pilot of Cupid, only TV’s most heartwarming show ever made. Which makes it both awesome and mind-bending that he’s now playing the sociopathic assassin Charlie onScandal. He’s too likeable to be killing people; he voices Superman, for heaven’s sake! And it’s entirely because of that charisma that we’ve come to love Charlie…inasmuch as you can love a murderer. BFTV had the chance to catch up with George last week and try to figure out how he got to the point of playing our favorite B6-13 operative.
“I’ve read for [Scandal creator] Shonda [Rhimes] for a couple of things. I did a guest star for Grey’s Anatomy and one for Private Practice,” he explained. “She and Linda Lowy, the casting person, have been super-loyal and really good to me. It came up and I guess they saw something in me that resonated with what they had in mind. They don’t want the character of Charlie to jump out [as a] bad guy. It’s been kind of a dream to get to play.”
“This was supposed to be one episode,” he said of the role that’s now spanned 23 installments over all three seasons. “And that’s what’s just been so lovely. It’s such a capricious sort of thing actors do. They don’t know when they’re going to work. Also, a show like this, they’re sort of finding the story and finding the plot as it went along. I think it turned out that Charlie kind of works for them, and helps them sort of thread storylines together.”
We’re certainly hoping that the Scandal writers keep coming up with reasons to bring him back, because it’s a pleasure to watch George play sort of against type. He’s one of the only actors we can think of that we just can’t bring ourselves to hate, even when Charlie and Quinn are torturing a guy in some undisclosed location, or he does something creepy like move himself into Quinn’s apartment uninvited. And he’s the one who’s put an uncomfortably appealing face on the series’ big bad spy agency (sorry, Scott Foley, but we still haven’t forgiven you for that episode); even though Olivia Pope and company are fighting to bring them down, we can’t quite root for Charlie’s demise.
Even as he’s played a bigger role in season three, we still haven’t learned too much about Charlie. He doesn’t even have a last name. So we asked George if he has any ideas about who this oddly endearing crazy person really is. “My idea of this guy, I think he was in a division of Special Forces in the government that what they do, they have guys who sort of don’t do well in life or they grow up in a bad family,” he told us. “And they say, ‘You now no longer exist.’ I think that possibly he’s one of these guys that didn’t have a life. And he loves his work. I think he’s redeeming himself – in his mind – by killing the bad guys.”
“Personally, I think he meets Quinn and he takes her under his wing, and I think that’s the closest thing to a relationship he’s ever had. It may be twisted and it may not be healthy, but to him, I think he has feelings for her,” he continued. “It’s almost sort of a middle school playground love triangle. They act like kind of kids in a weird way, but with guns and knives.”
Plus, Charlie gets to be the closest thing Scandal has to comic relief. “That’s what’s so brilliant, I think, about the writing. They give everybody room to be flawed. To find the humor in some of this really dark world,” George said. “At least my character. They give me stuff every week that I’m like, ‘I can’t believe they gave me this.’ I think Charlie’s character doesn’t necessarily adhere to the rest of the show, in terms of tone and strict character guidelines.”
We couldn’t resist asking him about last week’s episode, “Mama Said Knock You Out,” which was directed by Tony Goldwyn. What’s it like to have the President as your director? Pretty much as cool as we thought it would be. “I’ve known [Tony] for over 25 years. I met him in acting class when I first came to Los Angeles,” George told us. “I feel like I’m just talking to him like we’re having lunch. He’s very approachable. He’s so good at it, because he still manages to command the attention of the crew and the set.”
But if Scandal has been your introduction to George Newbern, you’ve missed out on a lot of awesome (and thankfully less lethal) stuff. He’s one of those people who’s been working steadily in film and TV for a long time now, that you can just always depend on to give a good performance. He and Tony were both in the critically acclaimed TV miniseries From The Earth To The Moon in 1998, there was a recurring role as Dr. Scott Frank on Chicago Hope before that, and he’s put together a pretty impressive voice-acting resume.
“I was on Providence with Melina Kanakaredes, I played her love interest for two years. I did an arc on Friends; I played this weird guy on Friends which was fun. I’ve done guest arcs on pretty much every procedural show,” he laughed, giving us some of the highlights. “I did a series for TNT called Bull that was on for a season; that was an amazingly fun job. I’ve done the voice of Superman for the last 10 years at Warner Brothers. I play the evil villain Sephiroth for Final Fantasy.” Okay, so maybe he’s not always the good guy.
But he is a good guy off-camera, and a great actor that we’d love to see get more exposure (hey, just imagine the pitch for a Charlie spin-off series!). He certainly could carry a show in our opinion, so we asked George what kind of series he’d love to be at the center of. “I’m loving the thing I’m doing now,” he said, adding, “I think a single-camera comedy I would love to do. A kooky workplace comedy I would love. Maybe a romantic comedy. But I love the single camera half-hour format.”
And he doesn’t mind that he’s not a huge name in the small-screen world, even if he deserves to be. “I’ve always sort of been a usual suspect in a lot of these TV shows. My credo is just keep showing up, and just keep doing good work, and eventually you’ll get on something,” he reflected. “And that’s been what’s so great about Scandal. It’s a great part on a show that’s seen and it’s a good show.”
“I’m just grateful for people who are still fans and still watching,” he told us. “You feel like there are people cheering for you.” And we’ll definitely keep cheering for him, even if Charlie’s going to continue to make life complicated for our Gladiators. We couldn’t ask for a better complication.
Scandal continues its third season tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on ABC. You can also follow George on Twitter (@GeorgeNewbern).