Oded Fehr is afraid everyone will find out he can\’t act. An interesting paranoia to say the least, considering he was recast in a lead role in the new NBC television series UC:Undercover; that his role in The Mummy was rewritten so his character lives to return for more screen time in the sequel, The Mummy Returns; and that he was also called back to perform as a different character in next year\’s star-studded Texas Rangers (which he couldn\’t do due to other commitments.)
It\’s mid-morning in Vancouver, Canada and Oded is getting ready for another day of work on UC:Undercover. Through the phone line it sounds like he is moving around his place, perhaps choosing what to wear to the set. The sound of a door squeaks in the background as the tell-tale clacking sound of hangers slide across a closet bar. He has taken a bit of time on this chilly fall morning to talk to Ones2Watch4 about UC:Undercover, which role he is best known for (you\’ll be surprised), and Bert and Ernie.
By now anyone who has been following Oded\’s career knows that the character that launched his career, Ardeth Bay in 1999\’s The Mummy, was supposed to die. But director and writer Stephen Sommers liked Oded\’s portrayal of the stoic Med Jai warrior so much, he rewrote the part so Ardeth would live to return in the sequel. Oded isn\’t sure of this fact. He says, quite humbly, that it was more likely the character that was the reason for the rewrite and not his performance. Oded cites Sommers\’ vision for the way his character turned out.
“I owe Stephen my career. I was my first year out of drama school. And he gave me the role in The Mummy and brought me back for The Mummy Returns. I owe him a lot.”
After completing The Mummy Returns, Oded spent ten months looking for the right role to portray next. He had offers of villains, ethnic characters and so on, but he stuck it out until he was presented with a dynamic character. That perfect part just happened to be in television. Originally cast as one of the bad guys in UC, Oded once again wowed the producers who switched gears and offered him the role of Frank Donovan, the head of an elite team of undercover agents who infiltrate gangs, broker deals with crime families, and bust rotten cops.
“What was really important for me was to do something really different than anything I had ever done before,” says Oded. “I felt that this point of time in my career, I need to do a character that most people wouldn\’t see me as.”
And most people still won\’t see him as Frank Donovan, at least not at first. His trademark long locks have been transformed into a number 3 Caesar. He has said before that he cut it so he wouldn\’t be stereotyped into the same roles. But we didn\’t talk hair. We were here to talk about the show and his part. And talk Oded did.
“I was interested in doing both either film or television. What drew me to television was it\’s very quick but for a very long period of time. And you get to play the same character and get a chance to really explore it. As far as Frank Donovan is concerned, he\’s a very interesting character. We\’re going to find out a lot about him. And he does get the opportunity every so often to go undercover. Which for an actor is fantastic because you get to play different roles. ”
When he first attended drama school, Oded says, actors rarely crossed-over between film and television but it now happens regularly. Choosing a television role doesn\’t bother him over a feature film career. He just wanted to make sure he chose the right project for his career.
“I was very adamant about the fact that I wanted to make sure that whatever it is that I am filming it is really good.”
And UC:Undercover is good television, Oded pledges.
“It is very different from anything that is out there today. We really try to give a cinematic experience to people. We really do little features every week.”
He adds that the scripts are challenging and the work is grueling but admits that the crew has it a lot tougher than he and the rest of the cast.
“They spend most of the day with the camera on their shoulders or on a steadicam,” he says admiringly.
The show has already established the fine line undercover agents walk between a character\’s reality as an agent and the fictional person they portray to trap a bad guy and how those lines sometimes get blurred.
“You will find that in talking to actual undercover agents that these bad guys are really likeable, friendly, smart, intellectual people who just happen to sell drugs, who happen to steal cars, who happen to, god forbid, kill people. So we try to show that on (UC).”
So a show that deals with bad guys, good guys, car chases, gun battles, is that what television viewing audience wants in a time when war is one the minds of many? Oded says the show is about heroes saving lives. There are no senseless deaths. Every time a person loses their life on the show it is dealt with and talked about. In the wake of Sept. 11 while studios scrambled to change their lineups and scrap storylines, UC:Undercover, like other shows, also had at least one casualty. A previously shot show was shelved due to a terrorist story line. Scripts were juggled around but that was the only change made, confirms Oded.
“Our job is to entertain, to give people an enjoyable out for an hour, to just sit and watch something different. And to do a show about terrorists is just too hard at the moment. Each person uses entertainment for his own pleasure in a
After an exhausting day of shooting, he usually gets home around midnight and can only spare about 30 minutes for TV before heading off to bed. Oded says he tries to catch a comedy but on his days off he also likes to watch The West Wing or Law and Order. He adds that because he hasn\’t been in North America for very long he hasn\’t had the opportunity to watch a great deal of television. Subsequently, he has never tuned into his Sunday night rival (not mentioning the name of said show here is our Practice).
What we will mention here though is his next movie on the big screen Texas Rangers. He shares the screen with a veritable who\’s who of up and coming actors such as James Van der Beek, Ashton Kutcher, Dylan McDermott, and Rachel Leigh Cook. The release date of this movie has been pushed back, yet again, to spring of 2002. Although his part as a French-Canadian bad guy is small in this film, Oded is enthusiastic about the project.
“I was very excited when I got the part in Texas Rangers, you know being on a horse, wearing a cowboy hat with your guns in a holster and all that.” His voice rises and falls and you can picture him standing as though astride a horse with his fingers as six-shooters.
“That was very exciting. But I never…I just love what I do and am very happy with whatever comes my way,” Oded says, stumbling over his words.
Although if a studio ever gets it into their heads to do a live-action version of Sesame Street, Oded might not be too keen to take on the role of Bert or Ernie.
“I don\’t know when I was stupid enough to mention that…or maybe my mother did,” it dawns on him. When Oded was very young he used to impersonate his favourite Children\’s Television Network characters in Hebrew. Although his mother may be able to coax him into an impersonation still, Ones2Watch4 couldn\’t.
“You\’re never going to hear that,” he laughs.
But we will hear about his other children\’s love. And that is the Kids Cancer Connection, a charity for children with the disease and their families.
“My wife and I wanted to do some kind of charity with children,” he explains.
His wife, Finding Forrestor producer Rhonda Tollefson, found out about Kids Cancer Connection. Oded went to one of their meetings and says it became very clear, very quickly he could do a lot for the charity with The Mummy and a charity screening. His film schedule and working up in Canada, makes it harder for him to be involved in the charity but he tries to keep a hand in it.
Texas Rangers is one of those projects that kept him away from Kids Cancer Connection. After his part was filmed and he was already onto his next project, Oded was asked to come back and shoot a larger role for Texas Rangers. He couldn\’t due to his commitment to the Rob Schneider vehicle Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo. Surprisingly, this is the role that Oded is most recognized for and not as Ardeth Bay in The Mummy movies.
“I was surprised because my role in Deuce is not that big either. I come in and the beginning and at the end but I don\’t participate throughout the movie. I got a lot of recognition for that film, which is fantastic.”
Oded says doing comedy is difficult for him, but had fun working on Deuce Bigelow and wants to work with Schneider again. He would like to work with Sommers again too, now that he has a bit more of an idea what to expect.
“I just kind of survived through it (The Mummy). People say \’Wow! You did such an amazing job\’…I didn\’t do an amazing job.”
And that is pretty much how Oded feels about his abilities.
Trained at Bristol\’s Old Vic Theatre School, Oded wants to return to the theatre some day. Perhaps, even to do a Shakespearean play on a London stage, he says willfully.
“I\’d like to get to a point in my career where I\’ve established myself enough that I can afford to take three or four months off so I can do some theatre. But I think that will take a little more time but I\’d love that. I\’d definitely love that. My biggest wish is to one-day do Shakespeare on a London stage. That was my biggest challenge when I first joined drama school. I couldn\’t understand anything from that language. It was like Chinese for me. If it\’s done well than you understand it and can see the beauty of it. And that\’s the difference between a good Shakespearean actor and a bad one.”
“I am completely convinced that I know nothing. And that some day somebody is going to find out that I know nothing. And when that happens I am going to be in big trouble.”
But those moments of self-doubt aren\’t stopping him from forging ahead in his career and thinking about the future, his and some very special kids.