Credits + Pics

Buyer's Guide

Lee Links

Ask Lee

Site Info



HBO Interview

Before Season 3

HBO: At the end of last season, you got your arms and legs broken. What's up with your character, Tobias Beecher, now?

LEE TERGESEN: I'm rehabilitating a little bit. Three months have gone by and I'm pretty healed, except I wear a brace for a little while and then I use a cane.

HBO: How important is the facial-hair design for your character?

TERGESEN: When the show started, the character was very nondescript. You almost couldn't see any shape to him--he was just like a lost guy and he was sort of a white blob. In the second season he was trying to hide. Gradually, I've been trying to make him come into focus. Also, it's scary. I saw this movie about the Trojan War, and all the Greeks guys like Menelaus and Agamemnon were wearing these things without mustaches. I thought it was just too weird.

HBO: What happens when you're walking around on the streets with it? Do you get strange looks?

TERGESEN: You get your odd look here and there. It's not as bad as when I add black hair with a blond streak down the back, which used to make old ladies yell.

HBO: That wasn't for OZ, was it?

TERGESEN: No, for POINT BREAK, years ago.

HBO: Last time I was here, last year, you guys were shooting with Kathy Bates as director. This year you've had Matt Dillon, Chazz Palminteri and Steve Buscemi. What do they bring to the table?

TERGESEN: What's great about working with actors is there's clear communication. Sometimes directors who haven't had any acting background will convey a result to you, or a visual idea, where another actor will speak to you about emotion. It's more like a musician talking to another musician about how to play a certain line. It's much more about where the movement for the actor is going rather than the overall picture.

HBO: Do you ever collaborate with Tom on story ideas for your character?

TERGESEN: Before this season we started talking about where the character was going to go--what is the significant change for the character. Between the first and the second year, Beecher sort of decided to take things into his own hands. He becomes a force that people wouldn't necessarily feel they could mess with. And he ends up vulnerable again at the end, and almost loses everything. So we talked about how he has to do something when he comes back. What does he do now?

HBO: In your scenes with Chris Meloni, you guys have a lot of very intimate, tender moments. Is that particularly challenging for you?

TERGESEN: This year, the tables have turned. I am the aggressor now. It's more about how it works for me rather than anything I feel. I think that my character's now really shut down. He had deluded himself into thinking that he could find love inside of prison--that didn't happen. So he's much more hardened now.

HBO: It feels like he's become one of them.

TERGESEN: That's what we were trying to go for this year. When he first came in, for killing somebody while drunk driving, you sort of looked at the character and said, "Yeah, he killed somebody, but is he a killer?" This year those questions aren't gonna be asked anymore [laughs].

HBO: How about the kiss [with Meloni]? What was it like doing that?

TERGESEN: We didn't really rehearse it before we got to the set. Chris and I had spoken about it a couple of times, and my first thought was just to avoid this as much as I could until it had to be done, and then just skim through it, somehow. But--this show is so much fun to work on because it challenges you in so many ways--by the time we got to [the kiss] I'd gone through so many things that I was like, you know what, what if we made it beautiful? What if you made it so that people, when they saw it, went, "That's sort of sexy." Or, "Oh man, that is such a kernel of beauty right there in the laundry room." And then it turns into a world of shit right after that, which is OZ.

HBO: Could you do a quick summary of all the horrible things that have happened to your character?

TERGESEN: Somebody asked if there had ever been anything you said you wouldn't do when it came out in the script, and I was thinking, "Yeah. No nudity, no swastika on the butt, no shitting in the face, no biting a dick off." I never said no, and I've gotten a lot of television "firsts." I'm the first guy who ever bit a dick off [on TV].

HBO: I was asking all the actors, and everyone seems really intrigued by your storyline. Why do you think the Beecher plot is so popular with your fellow Oz-mates?

TERGESEN: Because they're smart and they know good stuff when they see it. No, I think it's because people relate to Beecher--they saw him come into Oz and they say, "This could be me." And then they saw him turn, and they got excited by that, by his violence. Then, when they saw him falling in love with a man--with Chris Meloni, who's not really a man--they almost wished that could happen. People are looking for some hope. And they think they could find it in Beecher.

HBO: How much do you relate to Beecher?

TERGESEN: Completely. It's my life story [laughs]. No, what's good about the show, even though it's about a prison and all these horrible people, I think when people watch the show, whether they acknowledge it or not, they know that it's a microcosm of the world, and that no matter how good of a person you are, you're out there fighting for survival.

HBO: You have a lot of scenes with Rita Moreno. That must be a real thrill.

TERGESEN: She's a diva. There's nobody like her. In some ways she's like a mother to us. She's like your best friend's mother, and you're like, "God, she's hot!" She really is such a warm, loving person. She's a firecracker.

HBO: Does she give you guys acting advice?

TERGESEN: She told me to leave the business. Point blank. She was like, "Get out of the business. You have no place here." Other than that, not really. What else you got for me? Come on!

HBO: Do you guys ever do table readings on scripts?

TERGESEN: No. It's startling to me how little preparation there is for any of us. We come to the set, and the first time we work on it is like 15 minutes before we start shooting. It's very fast and loose, and it plays into the speed of the show.

HBO: Is it tough to unwind after a day on the set here?

TERGESEN: Definitely. You want to sleep more when you're working on OZ. You want to punch people more when you're working on OZ. On the subway you're like, "If this woman doesn't get outta my way, I swear I'm gonna shiv her" [laughs]. Then you realize she's got an infant in her arms, and all of a sudden you're like, "What kind of a freak am I?"

Oz main page