by David Richardson
It’s an uncharacteristically overcast day in Los Angeles, and we’ve arrived to watch the shooting of episode 18 of the new season on the Universal Lot. While Jerry O’Connell (Quinn), Kari Wuhrer (Maggie) and Cleavant Derricks (Rembrandt) are filming a scene outside the Chandler Hotel set, new recruit Charlie O’Connell takes some time to chat about his role in the series. He leads us to the cast seating area, relaxes in his own chair with ‘Charlie O’Connell’ emblazoned on the back, while the rest of us decide who wants to be Cleavant, who wants to be Jerry and who wants to be Kari.
The fourth season marks a complete change of direction for Sliders. After three years with the Fox Network (where the future of the show was always sketchy at best), the series is now being made for the Sci-Fi Channel. Free of the limitations of working for a network, the producers are now able to explore darker and more challenging territory.
Even the basic format of the show has been re-vamped. The Sliders are still traveling between parallel versions of Earth, but their original mission to get home is over. Earth Prime has been invaded by the cruel Kromaggs, and the only way to defeat them is a weapon that exists in one of the parallel worlds. Quinn also discovers that he was left behind on Earth Prime by his real parents, who were Sliders themselves, and that he has a brother…
Quinn’s sibling, Colin, is actually introduced in the sixth episode of the season, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
“It was a great episode,” enthuses Charlie O’Connell, real-life brother of Jerry. “He comes from a world that is like Amish-land. There’s no technology or anything, then he goes into the vortex and hits a new world all of a sudden with a TV, a toilet… I was an inventor on my land, I was a scientist like my brother, but it’s a world that didn’t have the means to become [as advanced].”
Colin makes his entrance in the episode in a distinctive way, floating out of the sky on a hang glider and crashing into a tree.
“That was my first day [of filming] on the show this year,” laughs O’Connell, who did most of the stunt work himself.
“It was a great introduction on the first day to get, ‘Here’s your hang-glider, now get in!’ That was me for everything until it went into the tree. It was on a crane, and as they flung it around I just hung there.”
When he first appears, Colin is endearingly child-like, totally out of his depth in the parallel worlds the Sliders visit. As time goes by, however, the character quickly matures.
“In the first one he is very innocent,” explains O’Connell, “and that’s how it’s played for the first maybe two or three. He is a very well-mannered, nice boy. In the beginning I was the guy who would sit in the background and was scared to fight. Now I’ve been getting into fights here and there, which is fun. In one of the episodes a while back I got to beat up four people in a bar, which is fun to be able to do in TV land because I don’t think I could take on four guys normally.
“The character is growing constantly. I’d love to do more of the action stuff — I eat up all the stunts. I was captain of the fencing team when I was at NYU. We had a sword episode recently, and there was a great sword fight that I got to do all myself.”
“My first one was two years ago — it was just a quick, short part, and I was a cop with a partner that was in a Merlin magical world,” he says.
“It was a good time to meet everyone. I’d known the cast for a while, because I’d come and visit my brother. It was good to get a little introduction to working with them. I’ve had an absolute blast. I was a little intimidated in the beginning — ‘Will I fit in? Will it be all right?’ Kari, Cleavant and Jerry were all great to me. They were very helpful, very friendly and it made me feel right at home. It’s just a privilege to work with them. Cleavant has done so much stage — he’s a phenomenal actor. Kari has done a bunch too, and Jerry has done a tremendous amount.”
The actor admits that starring in episodic television series has changed his life. While Sliders is in production, the series has become the primary focus of his day to day existence.
“The myth about movie stars getting all the girls is definitely not true in my case!” he grins. “I work 14-hour days, I go home, I work on my lines, and I go to bed. I get out on the weekends and that’s about it.
“It’s five days a week non-stop. If you’re sick, do whatever you can to come to work. You have to be on time, six o’clock in the morning, you have to be here. You always have to be prepared, you always have to be ready to go.”
One of the most attractive aspects of Sliders is its unlimited format. The four travelers can visit an infinite number of parallel Earths, and each is unique.
“What’s great about the show is that you get to do so many different things,” concurs O’Connell. “Every world is completely different. We’ve had a Western world, a sword-fighting world, a data world where it’s all computers… it’s just non-stop different stuff every week. My brother just wrote one — he wrote the treatment to the Western one.
“They’re in their fourth season now, so it’s getting tougher to come up with new ones, but I guess every single day you get more creative.”
The series also allows the actors to stretch themselves, as the Sliders frequently come across their own doubles in these alternate versions of Earth.
“In the episode [permalink href=66]My Brother’s Keeper[/permalink] my brother has two other doubles, so he gets to play three characters,” offers O’Connell. “I had an episode which was like an Italian thing, and I was wearing the gold chains — the whole thing. It’s fun that every once in a while they throw in another character that you can do completely differently.
“This year we’re getting a lot more crazy with the scripts, and they’re really starting to come together. They have a great team of writers that are really into it, and we’re becoming much more funny with it too. I think the scripts have a lot better focus this year. It’s much more creative, and it’s like we have a goal now to set for the Sci-Fi Channel. The Kromaggs this year are great. They’ve been introduced before, but I think
this year they’re becoming a good enemy.”
The two O’Connell brothers were born and raised in the Chelsea district of New York, the sons of a British father and American mother — indeed, the brothers enjoy a dual citizenship. They started acting at an early age, and Charlie appeared in plays in summer camp at the age of five, before being hired for commercials.
“We did a commercial together,” he recalls. “It was funny auditioning for commercials when we were younger. We’d go in as brothers and they’d say, ‘Ah they don’t look enough alike’. We’d go in as friends and they’d say, ‘They look too much like brothers’. It always seemed to happen like that. Then one day after five years we finally got one, and it was a Burger King commercial.
“When I was 10 and he was 11, Jerry got [a leading role in] Stand By Me, and we all went up to Oregon. I got to go horseback riding all summer. It didn’t really dawn on me that my brother was doing well.
“I was in a play with David Patrick Kelly when I was about 10, then I went to NYU and graduated in drama. Jerry came out [to LA], and I was in New York modeling when I was in college. I came to visit him for 10 days, and I was going to go to Milan, to do the whole circuit in modeling… I wouldn’t have been bad, but as I got out here I had a couple of auditions to go to, and then it kept on going. I ended up staying out here for
five months that year. I went back for the summer, and then came back.”
“I think I’ve always wanted to be an actor,” he continues.” “I had it in the back of my head, but I never thought of it in a career sense. I guess I just graduated college and thought, ‘Wow, I’m done with college… now I’m supposed to have a job’. It’s like my hobby that has now turned into a job.”
Watching the two brothers together working on set, it’s pleasing to see how close they have remained through the years. Fame and success have thrown no petty jealousy or rivalries in the way of this family; Jerry and Charlie live together, work together, and often socialize together.
“He really helps me out,” claims Charlie. “It’s such a plus to have someone that good helping you out all the time. As far as his acting goes I couldn’t be prouder of him.
“Every single day we get up together, we go to work together, we go home together. And we’re best friends.”
As well as starring in Sliders and writing an episode, Jerry is now credited as producer, and has helmed some episodes. What was it like for Charlie to be directed by his brother?
“Every once in a while he’d say, ‘Now go over there… and can you pick up your clothes at home’,” the actor laughs. “He’s done very well this year. He finished early on two of them. He really has a great talent for it.”
The fourth season of Sliders makes its debut on the Sci-Fi Channel on June 8th. The series has already started in the UK, where Sky One premiered the opening episode Genesis in April. Without the backing of the Fox Network, the producers have been forced to trim down their budgets somewhat, but so far viewers have not noticed the difference.
“It did go down, but I don’t think it changes anything,” insists O’Connell. “The show this year looks terrific. Our director of photography is phenomenal. He’s done the show for the last two years, it’s pretty much his formula and he’s just got it down. He’s not here this week, because he’s directing next week. Like everyone who’s been here for a good amount of years he’s now starting to direct, and that’s great.”
O’Connell has yet to receive any viewer reaction to Colin. As we speak he’s shot 12 episodes, but it will be some time until Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? hits the screen.
“I’m a little anxious to get out there and see how it turns out and see if everyone likes my character,” he says. “I’m just focusing on doing it, and hoping to do it for a lot longer.”
Has he surfed any of the fan websites on the internet, and checked what is being said about the show?
“I’ve looked on it once. I don’t have a computer — my brother does — and I hardly get on it. As soon as mine comes on I’ve got to get on there and start writing good things about me! I’ll definitely be on there that night.”
“There’s been good talk about how well [the re-runs] have done so far on the Sci-Fi Channel. Hopefully [we’ll be back] next year, and the year after and the year after.”
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