Reg E. Cathey spoke to The Knockturnal about his role in ‘Outcast,’ acting with Kevin Spacey and more.
What’s it like fighting with demons? Reg E. Cathey can tell you. In an interview with The Knockturnal, the actor known for his roles in shows like The Wire and House of Cards talks about starring in Outcast. A new Cinemax show based on Robert Kirkman’s comics of the same, Outcast centers around a man named Kyle Barnes whose loved ones have been possessed by a vicious demon. Cathey plays Chief Giles.
Q: What attracted you to your role in Outcast?
A: Talking with Robert Kirkman. He called me and it’s one of the few times I didn’t have to audition, which is like really special. I mean I could count on both hands while juggling and smoking and making a pie how many times I’ve been called without auditioning. So Robert called me and talked about the show and the part and I was so taken with talking to Robert that I said ‘Yeah, let’s do it’ because in the pilot, you know, it’s just the one scene, and in the comic book, he’s a white guy so… It was fun.
Q: So how would you describe your character?
A: Well he’s a hometown boy, he’s from Rome, and he really wants more than anything to keep the community together. What makes him him, is he wants to keep the community together because it represents family to him, so he’s willing to do anything. And as a black man in a predominantly white town in the South, he has had to go through a painful maturation into himself and that’s always fun to play. So it’s good.
Q: Is race explored in Outcast?
A: Yeah, a little, just very little, because it’s more, what’s at stake is more important. Demonic possession kind of trumps everything.
Q: Most things I would think.
A: But it is, it is touched on, in a very intelligent, thoughtful way.
Q: So how does your character feel about demonic possession? Does it change?
A: It’s interesting. Without giving away spoilers, he trusts his friendship with the Reverend Anderson, Johnny. They’re old, old friends. So before he believes anything he’s going to trust his friend. That I say because it’s all a part of keeping things going in and together, but we find out how much he believes as the series goes on.
Q: Yeah, cool. So what can you tease about the arch going forward?
A: Well, you know, Robert, Chris Black and Howie, the whole writing team, I’m sure they want to keep the character development that is so essential to the show as much as the demonic, the danger of what’s coming, so that’s what’s exciting about it. But I don’t know, I’m completely in the dark about what exactly is gonna happen. I’m sure to be terrified.
Q: Yeah. Do you like horror?
A: You know, I prefer more like, suspense, than horror. And part of it is, I know how movies are made now, and so it’s rare that I can be taken away in a horror film, I’ll like see ‘Oh this is how they did that’ and I instantly go out so that it’s not frightening anymore. Whereas suspenseful stuff, done really properly, then you’re lost and you’re not watching to see how it’s made…or disturbing. I think there’s a lot of things in our show that are disturbing, that you’ll just feel *makes sound* which I love, more than horror. You know, it’s funny, there’s a primal…an acting teacher once told us that we’re all abnormal and so all the actors were like what, yeah, to be an actor, the thing that makes you want to act makes you abnormal. And then, this is the reason, the biggest fear any human being has, of all the fears—of spiders, of heights, of close places—the biggest fear is the fear of speaking in public, because, back when we’re cavemen if you found yourself in front of a bunch of strangers and you had to talk that usually meant you were about to die. And so that fear of speaking in public is primal. And so if you want to speak in public that’s something inside you that’s driving you to speak in public, you’re abnormal, because what’s normal is not to. So, given that, in our show, we want to strike that primal, that primal fear of “something’s not right,” something where it strikes that fight or flight so that it’s not really horror, like the horrible things happening but something that’s so strange and so…otherworldly that it strikes that primal cord that says “run” because you’re about to die.
Q: So let’s talk about the comics. Have you read any of the original stuff?
A: Uh, no, when he called me, I got it, and I liked it, but I knew once we started working I wouldn’t read until after.
Q: So have you read enough to know whether it diverges from the TV show or not?
A: No, I think they’re really close, cause they were doing it at the same time, as we were shooting, so I think it’s…that’s what’s gonna be interesting to see how people react to that, but I didn’t really go to that while we were working cause I didn’t want it to interfere with the writing…I’m old-fashioned.
Q: Yeah, that makes sense. So, you said something about your character being different, you said he was played by a white man…
A: Yeah, in the comic books, which is fine, it was just, you know, when they told me, and they told me so I wouldn’t […] look at and I was like yeah. And the reason they wanted to make him black, it was wonderful, so I said ‘Yeah, let’s do this.’
Q: So with so much TV out there, why should we watch this show?
A: My general why is, if you wanna be frightened, watch the show. If you wanna, like, see a drama of a American town that has been affected by something outside itself—now what that something is if you’re this type person who’s not really interested in horror or suspense, then what does this outside force represent? And then you could enjoy on a whole ‘nother level, because it’s that smart, if that makes sense.
Q: It does make sense. So, you’ve worked on so many shows, prolific shows, what have you learned from working on celebrated series like House of Cards?
A: With each one, especially The Wire—The Wire is my favorite to example—we weren’t popular until we went off the air, so, as hard as you work, and with all your good intentions that you could have when you’re creating something like this, you never know how people are gonna take to, you never know. Because The Wire was…I remember auditioning while I was on The Wire and I would go to auditions and people would say ‘Oh, what are you doing?’ and I would say, well, I’m doing The Wire and then a blank look would come over that person’s face, and these were people in the industry, you know. And so then when it was off the air, it’s like, suddenly we’re the best show ever, which is like mindblowing. And then House of Cards, so I knew when I got cast after I auditioned and I talked with David Fincher and Kevin and Beau, we all sat down and talked about what we wanted the relationship with Frank and Freddy to be, I knew it was gonna be special, I had no idea people were gonna like it. I had no idea, I mean, we had a sense…we talked about a sense where the friendship would grow, but I had no idea people would take it to like they have. I did another show called The Divide, Tony Goldwyn and it was the We Channel, and it was great. It was Damon Gupton, Marin Ireland, Clarke Peters, myself, we had a ball, we worked real hard, liked what we were doing and it was really good, but people just didn’t watch it, and we were canceled. The same thing with Lights Out, did a show about boxing, and boxing with dementia, Holt McCallany, myself, Stacy Keach, Pablo Schreiber, I mean, amazing cast, it got great reviews, you know, people loved it, except they just didn’t watch, so it was canceled. So you never know, so I really want people to watch it and like it.
Q: So what was it like working with Kevin Spacey?
A: Still after four years I can’t think of the right words that describes those days that we were…it was like easy money, it was like slippin’ on an old pair of shoes, it was fabulous. You know, I don’t think I’ll ever have that again, that ease, and from the very first it was like an old pair of sneakers that was, you know, worn out just in the right place. Some days we would just sit, especially when newer people would come on, we would just sit and not say anything to each other for like hours, sitting right there, and the new people would be like, you could see people be like, ‘Is this normal?’ and then we would just laugh.
Q: So what’s your big hope for Outcast, other than people watching it?
A: I hope we run a long time, I hope that the collegiate atmosphere that we have, the really wonderful kind of relationships that we’ve developed personally keeps going. I’m sure with the writers and with Robert, Chris Black, I’m sure that the quality of the writing and the quality…that’s gonna take care of itself. But I hope that as we grow and get better that we are able to keep this beautiful little foundation we have, which I think we will because the foundation is so strong. I’ve been lucky … I’ve done some things but I’ve never done a series that was toxic like I’ve heard friends talk about … some of those really toxic shows where people just hate each other, I’ve never ever been involved with that and so I’m lucky, you know, but ah, The Wire, House of Cards, The Divide, Lights Out, all of the shows that I’ve had a longer run with have all been the type of things where years later, we run into each other and there’s a fraternity still there. When we Oz guys get together it’s just hilarious.
Q: You guys still hang out?
A: Yeah, like Lee Tergesen, unfortunately, I didn’t get to do any scenes with him here, but we go way back to the David Simon days, and so, Oz actually is part of the Tom Fontana-Baltimore-David Simon-Barry Levinson’s family and so that’s like, really special. Whenever I see Chris Meloni, under whatever circumstance we’ll just laugh. I haven’t seen some people since we did Oz but I’m sure, like J.K., I haven’t seen J.K., if he came through the door we walked out of all the activities [of the day] and J.K. was here for something we’d just laugh, just snicker for a good fifteen seconds before we actually talked.
Q: That’s really good to hear.
A: Yeah, it’s really special. So I hope we have that kind of feel. I think we will, but again, you never know, life is funny, you never know what happens in a business like this where it’s so much is invested in a real, personal level, psychological, people for reasons of their own deal with the heartbreak of this business in ways that sometimes are toxic and even though you wanna help them, you can’t, they have to go through that journey and come out. Then you can say ‘Yeah, well, you were douchebag for a few years,’ and I say this…it happened to me, so, I mean, I’ve been that guy who I’ve had to check myself and say ‘Life’s too short.’
Q: Any advice for aspiring actors?
A: I used to tell ‘em not to do it, cause the reason…I’m old-fashioned…if you have to ask, then you shouldn’t do it. Now, I tell them what was told to me. New York, it’s different in L.A., you know I lived in L.A. for ten years, back in the ‘90s, and I’m just going through this now so it’s interesting you ask, I just did a piece, a reading in New York with a bunch of Juilliard, Yale School of Drama, and NYU grads, they were just gonna graduate, we did a piece about Malcolm X for a beautiful playwright, who just needed to hear. So I was working with all these young actors, really excited about graduating their respective drama schools and they’re some of the best schools in the country and so they’re very excited and they wanna get out in the real world and show what they’re made of, what they’ve learned, and having done that in, like, I graduated from Yale in 1981, so having been through years, not just that first, but the years of being overlooked and underrated, years of building up and the years of…I really wanted to tell them like I used to hard […] but you know, I told them what was told to me by a group of actors who, the whole point of this long thing was the older guys teach the younger ones how to audition, how to be an actor. You learn how to act at your drama school, now you’re gonna learn how to be an actor, and then you’re gonna learn how to be a working actor, and then you’re gonna learn how to deal with fame, and you’re learn how to deal with not to deal with fame, if you get to that; if you don’t get to that then you have to deal with not following all your friends or reach the certain level of success, maybe you’re not, and you have to deal with that. And so I told them the four things that were told to me by Sam Jackson, Joe Morton, some of the guys who brought me up when I came out of school is you show up on time; you know your part backwards, forwards, and sideways; you say ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘you’re welcome’ to everyone you see; and you don’t get in the way of the brilliance—that’s the hardest, not to get in the way of the brilliance, and if you do those four things you’ll be all right.
Q: I love that. That’s good advice for everyone.
A: Yeah, isn’t it?
Outcast airs on FRIDAY at 10:00–11:00 p.m. ET/PT on Cinemax.
Kaitlin Reilly contributed reporting.