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A Conversation with William Sadler

Posted by on July 16, 2013

tumblr_ml7eroowNo1s89f90o1_1280Meeting William Sadler will be in the category of the best moment for TeamH50 – it’s a moment that took a couple of months in the making before finally sitting down with one of the best character actor that Hollywood and Broadway has ever produced.  There are actors…and then there are “actors”…and William Sadler is an actor (in the purest sense of the word).

William “Bill” Sadler loves performing. From an early age, he took to performing in front of an audience. He was known as Banjo Bill Sadler…singing and cracking jokes while playing on a stage. In his senior year in high school, under his English teacher Dan Larkin’s persuasion, he auditioned for a senior play and won the role which took him to a personal journey and discovery – to a thing called “acting.”  

He earned his Master’s degree in Acting along with a minor in Speech Communications at Cornell University, which is about three hours east from his birth city of Buffalo, New York.  He is also a certified speech teacher and is particularly skilled at accents.

Mr. Sadler is a multi-faceted actor who has put 48 films and 62 television shows (recurring and guests appearances combined) under his belt and who still can find time to pursue his love for music and his banjo playing.

Acting on Stage and Television: advice Bill Sadler gives to young actors

Start in the theatre business because IT WILL help you.  You’ll have a month of rehearsals to dig deep trying to find the performance within…and when the performance starts, it’s all about you…your character, and your fellow actors.  It’s a dance you’ll work out together…you’ll rise and fall together…even if you who carries the show, you’ll support each other.  Every night is a brand new challenge…a different audience, a different mood in which you will have only two hours to control this “machine” of yours.  Your concentration and focus cannot lapse.  Your energy, your instincts all get exercised night after night for eight weeks and that NEVER happens in the film business.”

He continues, “You will get the job and show up on the movie set.  You will meet the woman who will play your wife the morning you will shoot the scene and that you are supposed to be married for twenty years, and you have a family a history, and the huge blow up scene with your father, an actor you have not met, will happen on the first day of filming and the director looks down at his watch and says, ‘We are losing the light, and we got to go.’  And you can either bring it or not bring it…but there is no time, no rehearing…you run through it a couple of times…you run the words…you run the scenes a couple of times and they’ll set the blocking, so the cameras can come in and set their blocking…then the lights set up and the actors go away and then come back to shoot it and that’s all the preparation you’ll have in the film business, generally speaking.  I guess there are exceptions, like in Shawshank, I think we had a week of rehearsing on the set, but I have never seen it happen other than on that film.  So unless you can figure this stuff out for yourself or with your fellow actors or when you are in your hotel rooms with the script, then you are at the mercy of wind…especially when you don’t have those tools.  If he or she is a good director, then maybe you will be wonderful…if he or she is not so great of a director and you are lost, then you won’t be so wonderful.”

“People that I respect as actors keep going back to the theatre…they never get far away from it, because it keeps them sharp…it keeps their tools handy so when it’s three am in the morning on a frozen lake in the middle of Colorado and you have been waiting for over 13 hours to get this particular shot…and when they finally say “action” you can pull something together…you can find that zone even under terrible circumstances…even with a director that you don’t like or with scripts that aren’t all that wonderful.  It’s the best protection you can have – the training.”


In his Shawshank Redemption experience, Sadler talked about how its director, Frank Darrabont, casted a group of actors who had theatre experience, which made the dialog scenes in the lunch room more fun to do. “They are the best,” he said, “if you watch the dining room scene, you look around the table…everyone was clocking at each other…it was the most wonderful feeling too…it’s the little web of communication that makes the scene lift off the pages.  There was no one that did not bring their “A” game to that scene.”

“Doing a scene with Morgan Freeman definitely will bring out your “A” game, because when you give him something…he is going to feel it, get it, hear it and then he will give you something back…and that is all that this game is.”  Sadler added more thing about being in Shawshank Redemption, “I am proudest the most.”

About Alex and Five-0


When Alex O’Loughlin and William Sadler shot the now famous handshake scene on the episode Season 3.15 “Hookman” he describes the moment, “It was an interesting idea.”  But it received mixed reaction and at the time of this interview, which was the day after he had shot the scene, Bill asked us (TeamH50) not to talk about until it had aired.

He says that some people on the set were unsure of how that scene would look like but for him and Alex, “It was if something happened.   There was that certain kind of feeling on the set as if something important had just occurred.  And as we all know now, it was something very mystical about that father and son experience.”

three-rivers46Sadler who had worked with Alex O’Loughlin previously (in the movie August Rush and Three Rivers) described O’Loughlin as a great human being, an actor with skills, “I just like him enormously…he has the chops…and he has the passion for it.”

“We have always hit it off right from the get-go.  It’s funny because we don’t see each other often.  I come in once a year, and when I am there (on set), it’s like I had never left…like ‘Hey, how are you doing son.’ And he (Alex) would reply, ‘Hey Dad’(with his Aussie accent)” as he fondly shared with TeamH50 about his TV son.

On how he got the coveted John McGarrett role, “I met Peter Lenkov in his office in Los Angeles.” The writer/producer described the scene and character in detail saying, “John McGarret is someone who is going to be important even after he is gone.” Sadler recalls, “He (Peter) wanted the scene to be moving, humanized and grounding. The scene must capture the true essence of a McGarrett father-son relationship.  It has to be a moment that resonates for the rest of the season and beyond for Steve.”

In describing the Five-0 chemistry, “You know when you are on a TV show.  Sometimes you tend to stay in the trailer and have a “call me when you need me” kind of attitude.  But this cast looks after each other, they hang out together, they talk about what they do during weekends or if they tried this or that.  This is a group who seems to be enjoying the ride and they know that they all are in the same boat together.”

Over the years, Hollywood actors have come and gone.  And those who have stayed on are the likes of a William Sadler.  He is an actor who has longevity in the business, not just because he still looks good (where would you think McGarrett would get his charms that Doris McGarrett fell for) and plays the banjo, but because he is an actor who always brings his “A” game, who is the kind of guy that Peter Lenkov can go to and rely on to perform one of the most memorable five minute scenes to be seen on a pilot of a TV series, that has been “resonating” over the past three seasons of the show.

One Response to A Conversation with William Sadler

  1. Leslie Marsh

    Sounds like William Sadler is a very talented guy enjoys life tremendously. Love seeing him on H50!

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