BOISE, Idaho—Actor Blake Shields relaxed on Venice Beach, Calif., last week with his mom on his day off. The funky, artsy—sometimes sleazy—beach community known for rollerbladers and weightlifters is one of his favorites, he said.
“It’s where I hang out mostly,” he said. “I’ve always liked art, the vibe and the cafe. It gets a little seedy sometimes. That’s when you take a trip to Malibu and wash off your seediness. Then you can return fresh to Venice.”
Shields, 31, appreciates the nuances of L.A. beach culture, a well-honed taste he has perfected over his 14 years living, struggling and seeking Hollywood in Los Angeles. His life now is far from the Boise Foothills he grew up around as Blake Abramovitz.
Being an actor in L.A. is difficult at best. Shields has met with more success than most, with stints on the short-lived Fox series “K-Ville” and Showtime’s miniseries “Sleeper Cell.” The latter saw his likeness tower over Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue on the show’s billboard.
Now, he plays a psychopathic fire-throwing villain on the NBC mega hit “Heroes” in its third season. He’s been in three episodes so far. The show is so big, that even if you have never seen an episode you know its stars and its tagline: “Save the Cheerleader. Save the World.” Shields plays Flint, one of four true villains whom Noah Bennet (Jack Coleman) once captured and imprisoned on Level 5 in a secret compound run by the evil corporation that seeks to control and exploit heroes in the world.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, so it just feels like I’ve got a job, which is a great feeling,” Shields said. “But there is a difference between this and jobs I’ve had in the past. This show has such a huge profile. It’s already a hit with 75 million viewers. That’s pretty crazy.”
It is pretty crazy. The set is often besieged by paparazzi who chase stars such as Hayden Panettiere (Claire) and Milo Ventimiglia (Peter) literally down the street. Scripts come with a serious warning not to disseminate plot points: “You’re part of a family now. And a family is only as strong as its secrets.”
Shields goes on a good number of auditions. The “Heroes” call was just one more and originally it was for another character. But the show’s casting directors liked him and said they would wait to cast him in a larger role.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard it a million times. Whatever.’ But they actually called me a couple weeks later and just offered me the role (Flint). They didn’t even make me read for it. Apparently, they hadn’t done that before,” he said.
Shield’s pretty-boy blonde good looks that helped earn him the lead in a feature film, “New Port South,” right out of college have matured into a rough, everyman look that has opened opportunities to play more interesting characters.
“Right now in my life, I prefer it. I like playing dark. Even if I were to play a hero, I would want it to be a (messed) up hero. I don’t like playing straightforward good guy roles. They’re boring,” Shields said.
For “Heroes,” Shields shaves his head, giving Flint more of an every-psycho look.
“He’s a hardcore dude, even without his power. He’s a rough and tough guy, plus he’s a complete psychopath. I don’t want to say cold-blooded, he’s not that. He’s more like a partier,” Shields said. “He’s just having a good time doing crime. And he kills for fun. The challenge as an actor is to try to not judge that and actually bring some complexity to the character and make it real, human, rather than just play a bad guy, which is boring.”
Shields kindled his passion for acting at Boise Little Theater and the Washington Street Players, a performing troupe at Boise High School, experience he proudly keeps in his bio. That didn’t go unnoticed by the current WSP members and drama students at Boise High.
“We are so proud that he thought the experience was significant enough to mention in his biography,” said drama teacher Bret Eshelman.
Many of today’s students didn’t know Shields’ work or that he went to their school, says Chris Canfield, 17, this year’s WSP president.
Canfield said he doesn’t watch much TV but now that he knows about Shields, he’ll have to tune into the show.
Shields has “risen in fame and appreciation” at the school, Eshelman said.
For these aspiring actors, the idea that someone who walked the same high school halls can make it that far, is pure inspiration.
“He didn’t get killed (in the show). I’m sure he’ll be back in a few episodes,” said Daniel Olsen, 18.
“Yeah, because that’s how Boise (High) does!” said Jordan Gore, 17.
When Shields was at Boise High, he was known as Blake Abramovitz, son of Jules and Kathy Abramovitz. The family moved from Jerusalem to Boise in 1989. His parents are now divorced. Jules lives in the North End, where he teaches piano out of his home. Kathy lives in Laguna Beach.
Shields changed to his middle name because “I don’t look like an Abramovitz,” he said. “I thought it would be confusing for the casting directors.” Apparently, it worked. His looks have helped him get cast in guest roles on a litany of TV shows from NBC’s “West Wing” to HBO’s “Carnivale” to Fox’s “Bones.” It is also because he is a well-trained actor who has already has spent hours researching what someone like Flint might really be like.
His reading list has included “The Iceman: Confessions of a Contract Killer,” by Philip Carlo (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.95) about confessed mafia hitman Richard Kuklinski, and “Cell 2455, Death Row,” the out-of-print autobiography of Caryl Chessman, written while he was on death row.
That level of work for a part that has few lines and lots of shots of him grinning gleefully as fire erupts from his hands might seem to be overdoing it. But it is the basic ethic of a working actor in the process of building a character.
“It brings a richness to the experience that I wouldn’t have otherwise. There are always little moments that I know as an actor wouldn’t have been there if you hadn’t done that kind of research,” Shields said.
Flint is a supporting role, but he plays into the season’s arc that explores the duality of good and evil all the characters. Even Claire will have her goodness tested, just as super villain Skyler (Zachary Quinto) will be offered a chance to change.