HitFix Interview: Michael Steger of '90210'
As many breakups and abrupt reversals as there have been within the show, there have been nearly as many creative changes-of-direction behind the camera. But maybe that's as much a part of the past as Steve Sanders or Andrea Zuckerman, with returning executive producer Rebecca Rand Kirshner Sinclair starting her first full season as showrunner, offering the hope of stability.
Not included in that stability? Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes) and Navid (Michael Steger). The drug-addicted, pregnant diva and the awkward, journalist son of a Persian porn magnate were an odd pick to deliver Season One's healthiest romance, but fans responded to the unlikely duo. Alas, that relationship is facing obstacles as the new season begins.
The 29-year-old Steger spoke with HitFix last week about the new challenges for his onscreen relationship, starting this season with a bit less hype and about the new creative feel of the show.
[Interview after the break...]
HitFix: Y'all premiered last fall on this massive wave of hype and publicity. Is this season feeling more like business-as-usual?
Michael Steger: I felt like they publicized for five seasons. We did so much publicity I don't think there's any more that needs to be done. But it does feel less professional actually, I mean very professional, but with such a creative environment that we're placed in right now. Across the board, the writers, the DP, the costumes, the music, it's all connecting in a beautiful way, because everybody's on the same page and they want to make it good and they want to produce a really good show. I think that everybody's on board and it's a second season, so I think we've had time to figure out these characters and this season, with that, there's a lot more depth and a lot more freedom for creativity and people are going to be excited to see the new look of the show and new feel of the characters.
HitFix: Last year there were the much discussed changes behind the scenes with the show's production team, especially at the end of the season. Now that that's all shaken out, how is this a new "90210" that's premiering this week?
MS: First of all, I recently saw the pilot and it looks like a completely different show. It looks like a movie. We got this amazing director of photography, Krishna Rao from "The Unit," and it has this gritty, edgy look to it which I think fans are gonna love. The music great. It's always been great. And the characters, they just have so much more going on. Like when you're watching a scene, there's like two things going on at once. There's subtext. There's a lot of depth. Yeah, I think fans are going to be be really enticed by the storylines. There's a lot of humor and a lot of drama and I think overall, it's a lot more entertaining for me.
HitFix: One of the criticisms last year was that the show was trying too hard to bridge the gap between the old "90210" and the new, often at the expense of the new characters. Was that the biggest thing the show had to overcome?
MS: Yeah, I feel like there were 100 people in the cast and there was no real focus and I'm really thankful for the writers because they're focusing in on the core group of kids and their relationships. That's why people love a show where they can see different personalities engaging with each other. I think fans want more of a focus. It's great to have the old cast on the show, but if there's no focus, people lose interest and I think this year, we're starting back to a place of, "OK, this is what these kids are going through. Let them deal with that and not have to worry about so many people."
HitFix: OK, so where do we find Navid as the season begins?
MS: So Navid is in a great relationship with Adrianna up until the point where this new guy comes to school. His name is Teddy Montgomery and he's like the ultimate threat and he really tests Navid. My character, he slowly gets very jealous of this guy. He's an All-American guy, a pro athlete, and he has a lot of qualities that Navid doesn't have and I see him as a potential threat and I do everything I can to hold on to Adrianna. He causes a lot of problems. He's inviting us on yachts, asking us on these random dates and he's slowing trying to ruin some peoples' lives on the show and it's interesting to see how Navid handles it. And it's also very funny, because he tries to be the intellectual about it. He's very much in his head and just trying to get out of this situation and solve it, but he keeps letting himself and the relationship down, because of his lack of trust with Adrianna.
HitFix: Were you surprised that that opposites-attract relationship between Adrianna and Navid was as popular as it was last season?
MS: Everybody was breaking up and we stayed together! It was interesting. I think there's so much room to explore the relationship and I think there's still a lot more room, because the writers keep on surprising us. Yeah, we're just living with the circumstances that the writers are putting us through and it's in their hands. Everything seems to be working out, so we're happy with it.
HitFix: One of the things I found most interesting about Navid was his family, a tight-knit Persian family, but the money all apparently came from porn. Are we going to get to see more of them?
MS: I believe so. We're in Episode Eight and we haven't had anything with the parents yet, but I've been hearing that we're going to deal with Navid's family, the fact that his dad's immensely visible movie producer of certain films and there's a lot of dysfunction that needs to be addressed. Yeah, I'm hoping that they address it soon, but we'll see.
HitFix: Is that information in the background of how you're playing the character, even if we don't see it on screen?
MS: Oh yeah. My character, I think he's a person of integrity and he's really trying to escape from that dysfunction and I think that's why he chooses to be a journalist, he chooses to take the intellectual route, because he knows that's the better route. He doesn't want to rely on his father's wealth. He sees that as a weakness and I think that's the difference between him and his father. He's a person of integrity. I know the writers are going to definitely address it.
HitFix: You're 29 in real life. How have you been continuing the "90210" tradition of being a high school student a decade past that age?
MS: I see it as this: I play a character, not an age. I think it's heightened reality and it's all character and it's all story-driven, so it feels great. It's an actor's dream to be able to work every day, so I have absolutely no complaints.
HitFix: On a similar note, you've played Hispanic characters, Indian characters an on "90210" you're Persian. Do you think it's an advantage or a disadvantage that casting directors haven't necessarily known how to classify your ethnicity?
MS: I think it's worked to my advantage. I've been lucky to play a Persian, just to be part of an amazing culture, but I'm Ecuadorian and Austrian. I'm pretty mixed up. So it's helped me. I played Latino characters for a year-and-a-half straight. I've enjoyed it. As an actor, I just love being able to go in so many different directions. Every one of us, we want to work and we don't want to be typecast. We don't want to be in any category, so it's always great to go in several different directions.
HitFix: Have there been periods where in a single week, you've been going in on casting calls for three or four very different ethnicities?
MS: There was one year where I had like 100 auditions and I'd go out for Caucasians, I'd go out for Latino, I'd go out for Ethnically Ambiguous and it felt like I was going through finals every single week. I had to read so many scripts and do so many auditions and I loved it, but it was like "OK. I need to figure out what I'm right for." I was going for everything. Just to finally get one role on a stable job was a relief and it was a great blessing to be playing a Persian character.
HitFix: Going back to where we started, was the hype last year overwhelming? Was it a surprise for you to mi nd yourself in the midst of that?
MS: It was very overwhelming, because we didn't expect that hype that was there. We did like 20 interviews in New York, going from building to building, meeting with these heads of magazines. They wanted to talk about the pilot and the characters before we'd even shot a pilot, so we were all thrown in it and the main cast, we clung onto each other because we're like, "Do you know what's going on?" I'd just gotten back from India. I almost missed the audition. I would have missed the audition if a friend hadn't cancelled an extra trip in India, but I was able to audition and it just became a roller-coaster from then on. It was pretty wild.
HitFix: And this year, the new "Melrose Place" cast is in the same position. Any advice to them for handling the hype?
MS: My advice would be to not take it too seriously and to have fun. It's really important that you take in this experience and just roll with it and have fun with it.
"90210" returns to The CW on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at 8 p.m.