When you’re lucky enough to be the lead on a TV show, it comes with more responsibility than just giving a good performance. No one knows this better than Barry Watson. Throughout his years working in TV, he’s come to learn how to set the tone of a show, making sure it’s a happy, well-functioning environment. On his show Date My Dad, Watson plays Ricky Cooper, the widower father of three young daughters. He’s taken the three young actors under his wing, helping them develop their own process. In this interview, Watson discusses leading by example on the set of Date My Dad.
When did you catch the acting bug?
I was a teenager. I had an older brother who went to an arts magnet school. He sort of was the one who introduced me to acting. At the time he was doing that I was more involved with sports. It wasn’t really until after high school that I got the acting bug and involved with classes and small theater, eventually finding an agent. My mom would say I had it ever since I was a little kid [Barry laughs]
Did you like to put on shows for them?
I don’t really recall it so much, but according to everyone in my family, yeah. I was getting up and doing stand up, being the center of attention during my parent’s parties and stuff like that.
Did anyone or anything inspire you to pursue a career as an actor?
Some of that was survival and financial reasons, I guess. I think it was this small theater in Van Nuys, California that I did with a group of my friends. It was called the Black Hole Theater. I think it wasn’t a particular job. It was just the people I surrounded myself with that inspired me to keep going. I think at that time we all were doing that. Some of those folks aren’t pursuing it anymore. It was a group of young actors at the time trying to discover new things, do improve, and support each other.
What training did you do to help set you up for success?
I never did Meisner training or anything like that. I used to—she’s no longer with us—but this woman Penny Allen I used to work with for many, many years up until a couple years ago. She was an old school acting teacher. I’ve worked with a lot of other well know actors—I won’t name names. But she was somebody that always made me work a little harder and keep my acting instrument alive. I give her a lot of credit for that.
You have a new show, Date My Dad. What are some responsibilities that come with leading a show?
You have to come in and really set the tone for the show. What kind of environment do you want the other actors and directors to come into? There’s that big responsibility. But I’ve done it before with other shows. I was more focused on the young girls who play my daughters. They’re very green. I think Lilah [Fitzgerald] has more acting credits than the other girls. It’s really important for me to set the right tone and obviously be the right example for the others. I do all my work before I get to work, if that makes sense. So when I get to work, it’s easy and a nice light atmosphere. It’s a very welcoming set.
What kind of work do you do before you arrive to set?
I don’t just sit there and memorize lines. My lines aren’t even really memorized until I’m on set. My work is more geared towards what the other actor is doing in the scene and what they want to get out of the scene. That just requires me to really listen. I look at each scene like, “What does my character want?” Then I really go over the other character’s dialogue sometimes more than my own because I know their dialogue will feed me into what I need to do. That’s kind of my process. It’s always a very quiet drive to work. I don’t think about my work too much but I like it quiet.
Acting with kids, have you learned anything from them? They come to the work with such a vulnerability and freshness.
I look at the examples that I had—the quality people I worked with over the years. Helen Mirren is one of them and was a great example for me. She always did her work before she got to set so when she got to set it was always so light with her. She’d be joking around with the grip or the electrician and the director would say action and she’d pop right into character. Not that I’m Helen Mirren, but I recognize that I want to be a positive role model for these kids. They don’t even know what their process is, so if I can be helpful to them with whatever they’re process is going to be, I try to help them. I just try to be a true professional…
What’s your advice for aspiring actors?
People always say they’ll go out to Hollywood for a year and give it a shot. Well, it takes a lot longer than that. You’re going to have ups and downs. So much of it is about timing. But that’s true for so much in life. Patience and stick with it if you love it.♦