Written by: Ibrahim Ng · June 12, 2015
15 years after speaking Sliders’ final line of dialogue, Robert Floyd shares memories of his acting career, Season 5, and life after Sliders.
Robert Floyd: one of the most elusive figures in Sliders. A classically-trained actor, Rob, as he likes to be called, joined Sliders in Season 5 as the new Quinn Mallory. He demonstrated astonishing talent in portraying two minds in one body. But after Sliders and several more TV appearances, Rob vanished from the industry.
Years later, he re-entered the public eye, lauded by The Savoury online magazine and The Huffington Post as the World’s Greatest Bartender, a brilliant creator of cocktails and a master mixologist. Rob was featured as a successful entrepreneur who started the RX Liquid Chef company.
Through his business, Rob runs cocktail design programs for 11 bars and restaurants. He designs cocktail events for prominent clients and events. And he performs in sold-out Cocktail Theater shows across the country, shows in which audiences see cocktails made in dazzling visual style. But who is Robert Floyd?
15 years Sliders ended, Rob connected with EP.COM and shared his memories of his youth, acting career, Season 5, and life after Sliders.
As a child with eight siblings, Rob grew up with an appreciative audience. “I would love to get up in front of everybody, telling stories, trying to entertain them all,” says Rob.
In college, he noticed auditions for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Despite no experience in singing or dancing, Rob tried out and ended up performing as one of Joseph’s brothers. “I never looked back,” says Rob. “I knew that I just loved entertaining.”
But he knew becoming a working actor would take more than one successful audition. For a time, Rob was a male model and a waiter, needing both to live and pay for acting classes. “Every day was trying to work as much as possible to earn money,” says Rob.
He credits his Miami Beach acting teacher, a lady named Robbie Burns, as a strong influence. “She was terrific and patient,” says Rob. And importantly, she taught him how to find work.
“Everyone wants to learn method acting,” says Rob, “but you need someone who’s going to help you book some jobs.” One of his earliest was a Mountain Dew commercial with Brad Pitt.
It was also in Miami Beach that Rob transitioned from waiter to bartender. “I was a terrible waiter,” he admits. One night, a bartender didn’t show up and the manager desperately asked if anyone could step in. Rob raised his hand. “I had no idea how to bartend!” Rob confesses. But he started with simple drinks and found it came naturally.
“I found that there was another way of making people happy, of making them feel some wonderful moments as opposed to just having a drink.”
He would later train at the Employees Only bar in New York City, where he was instructed in the art of mixology and cocktail creation. “It was the introduction to knowing the ingredients of drinks, how it’s made, how it’s produced,” says Rob, “and also taking care of the person across the bar — not only getting them great drinks, but having a great time for them.”
It was also in New York City that Rob found acting work in soap operas. He played villains in the daytime dramas All My Children, Another World and The City, working with Kelly Ripa and Morgan Fairchild. Rob’s roles were usually secret racists or rapists who’d wind up jailed or dead or dead and resurrected and then dead again. “Then I got to be a ghost,” Rob recalls.
It was at this point that Rob committed fully to acting. “I was making great money,” says Rob. “I remember saying good-bye to all my friends at the restaurant and all the bartenders. I was like, ‘I’m just going to act now.'”
Next was a film called The Last Match in which Rob worked with Ernest Borgnine and Oliver Tobias. “They turned me onto the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art,” says Rob, “where I studied Shakespeare.” Then he went to Carnegie Hall, where he studied with celebrated theater director Wynn Handman and refined his craft in stage productions.
In the mid-90s, Rob settled in Los Angeles with his two young sons, wanting to act and stay close to his children. He found plenty of work in TV guest-appearances, and Rob still remembers the thrill of that time. “It was the excitement of getting that job,” he says. “And realizing you had to memorize 30 to 40 pages a day. Wonderful, but hard.”
He worked with Amy Jo Johnson in a TV movie called Cold Hearts, played a leading role in the TV pilot The Darwin Conspiracy and had a guest-role on Early Edition as a desperate gambler. Both The Darwin Conspiracy and Early Edition held the promise of more.
“I remember I had three offers in one day!” says Rob. “The Darwin Conspiracy — they wanted to go to series. Early Edition — they wanted me to come back for six episodes! It was that same day that I got the offer for Sliders. ”
“Being able to take over for Jerry,” says Rob, “was the one that I considered a home run.” Rob had seen only a few episodes of Sliders and been unable to follow the series. “I was working a lot, thank God!” says Rob. But he’d met Jerry O’Connell before.
“I didn’t go out much,” says Rob, “but when I did, I would go with friends to a place at the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Boulevard called the Skybar.” A friend introduced him to Jerry and they met twice; once before Rob was hired for Sliders and once afterwards. “Jerry was super nice! You’d never know he was a TV star. He was really down-to-Earth.”
The casting for Rob’s role in Season 5 is one of the most confusing and contradictory periods for Sliders. Documents indicated that Rob would play a character named Derek Quade or a merged version of Quinn and Mallory named Michael or some other character entirely.
Asked about this, Rob replies, “I had no idea about any of that stuff! The producers were sending me script pages. I think they were in a real quandary for how to move on without the guy who really built this show.”
Rob wasn’t even sure how his role would connect to Jerry until the scripts indicated the dual-persona of his character. “From the pages, I started to build around the idea that my role would be two guys trapped in one person.”
To step into the role of a popular leading man was nerve-racking. Rob called in help from one of his former teachers. He hired acting coach John Kirby, one of Hollywood’s most prominent acting teachers and the head of The John Kirby Studio.
Together, Kirby and Rob reviewed each script. “We would pick it apart and find nuances to develop different ways of playing two guys in the same body.”
Part of this involved determining which moments belonged to which character. “I would try to find little things that either Quinn or Mallory could grasp onto through the other’s voice or the other person’s intelligence,” says Rob. And then there was imitating the first actor who to play Quinn.
“I put on old episodes. I was watching a lot of Jerry’s mannerisms, his talking,” Rob recounts. “I was studying.” However, Rob was careful to avoid a mere pastiche of his predecessor. “I didn’t want to only imitate him, but I wanted that as one of the layers to the character.”
In Rob’s first scene with Cleavant Derricks and Kari Wuhrer in “The Unstuck Man,” Rob provided a note-perfect recreation of Jerry O’Connell’s voice, instantly convincing fans that this newcomer carried Quinn inside him. Rob had fretted over this moment.
“I felt I had to try to be Jerry as much as possible when Kari and Cleavant first see me. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense for them to be confused by who I am.”
As “The Unstuck Man” progressed, Rob created a clear distinction between Jerry O’Connell’s Quinn and Robert Floyd’s Quinn. In a scene with Peter Jurasik, Jerry’s Quinn came to the forefront. Rob played Quinn’s scientific mind, confidence and intelligence but with Mallory’s voice. When playing Mallory, Rob highlighted the character’s uncertainty and fear.
“I felt Mallory was starting to get control of the body,” says Rob, “even though he had these incredible moments coming through, almost an enlightenment from Quinn. I saw them both very confused.”
The next episode, “Applied Physics,” had Rob performing scenes in which Mallory experienced Quinn’s emotions and memories. “I felt that Mallory was a little more secure that he wasn’t going to disappear. And then having Quinn’s emotions was a betrayal. It was frightening — all of a sudden, you’re living through someone else’s memories and you could lose yourself permanently.”
At this point, Rob had made his Jerry-impression one aspect of a complex identity crisis, focusing less on imitation and more on the emotional conflict. “I wanted there to be fear behind them. I wanted something to be at stake for both characters. Otherwise, you’re just playing schtick.”
Asked whether he favored Quinn or Mallory for dominating the body, Rob replies, “I would have liked them to share.” He was looking forward to further mimicry of Jerry O’Connell. “I’m pretty good at it,” he says. “I could have done it for an episode. For several episodes. I could have done it for a season.”
His one concern was that his performance would only be an imitation of the actor before him. “I didn’t know that the viewers would appreciate it. Or if it would grow old after awhile.” But he felt that the key to winning over the audience would be the dual-identities.
“I loved when I would be able to play the two characters off each other with science smart versus the street smart.” He never wanted his Jerry-impression to dominate, but he wanted it to be present.
“I just felt there was so much that Jerry brought in the years before. I felt he would come out whenever Quinn needed to. And then Mallory — he’d be the street smart guy that could take over in different situations.”
“New Gods for Old” was a rewarding episode for Rob in which Mallory reverted to a crippled state and was then taken over by nanites that dominated his mind.
“That was one I loved!” says Rob. “Great writing behind a great concept!”
David Gerrold’s script on free will, faith, autonomy and collective thought was everything Rob wanted in a Sliders story — until the ending. “New Gods for Old” concluded with the Quinn personality lost. The nanites had removed Quinn from Mallory.
“And then there was an emptiness,” says Rob. “It took the one thing I wish we would have been able to keep more than anything. It was a bummer.”
The loss of the merged-personality aspect to Rob’s character was a blow. To this day, Rob remains unsure of why his character’s defining arc was deleted from the series.
Many possibilities existed for the Quinn and Mallory divide. Arguments with themselves. Perhaps a date with Daelin where she’d like Mallory more than Quinn. Meals where Mallory would love spicy food that Quinn couldn’t stand and they would order two dishes and each eat half.
“I get goosebumps thinking about it!” says Rob. And it was all dismissed by “New Gods for Old.”
“Why would you take away the guy that built the show?” Rob still wonders. “It doesn’t make sense.”
A persistent message board rumor was that Rob had asked the producers to drop the Quinn-personality so he wouldn’t have to impersonate Jerry, and Rob firmly denies this. “I liked having them both. It was more fun to play as an actor.”
He remembers talking about this dropped characterization with Bill Dial, Executive Producer of Season 5. “He felt like ‘New Gods for Old’ was one of the best scripts they had and he wanted to leave it alone.” A curious refusal, as the script was a Season 4 purchase rewritten four times before filming.
Rob would have liked to press harder for retaining Quinn, but as a newcomer to the series, he felt it inappropriate to issue demands. “If I had been on longer, I think they would have given me a window to work in what I wanted.”
He also felt that the producers were struggling with a low budget, a small writing staff, a reliance on freelance writers, and rewriting all freelance scripts for the budget.
“Bill Dial was brilliant,” says Rob. “We’d work together. We’d go to lunch. He was so smart. But I felt like the producers and the writers were so under the gun to produce the show that they just didn’t have the answers.”
Despite the loss of Quinn, Rob continued to enjoy himself thoroughly on Season 5 of Sliders. “It was one of the best years of my life by far. You work with the most talented people. It was magical.”
He remembers his first jump through the vortex — really a greenscreen with the actors harnessed to cables. He remembers watching Cleavant Derricks and Kari Wuhrer performing flips for him to follow. “The cast was amazing,” says Rob. “Tembi Locke was the new girl with me and she was brilliant, such a nice person.”
He admired Kari’s on-set skills. “I always thought that she had an eye to direct. She was really smart in the way she would understand how to film something, sometimes even quicker than our guest-directors.” And then there was Cleavant.
“He is the coolest guy in the world. I’d say, ‘Hey, listen, I’m having a hard time with this scene, could you give me a minute?’ He’d tell me, ‘I got all day for you, Rob! Come on in!'”
Rob also has glowing memories of the writing staff, Bill Dial in particular. “At least once a week, I would go in to see him. He would always have time and he would always work with me. We would go to lunch and he was a really special guy, a really loving guy who absolutely adored the show.” Rob would approach the writers with concerns about repetitive dialogue, restated information, unnecessary exposition and other concerns in scenes. “I felt like they were very receptive.”
He also remembers writer Chris Black as a delight. “Energetic, smart, and had all the time in the world for you. You could tell that he was going to keep going on and on as a writer,” says Rob, and he was correct as Black went on to write for Desperate Housewives, Enterprise, Mad Men, Ugly Betty and more.
Rob also enjoyed working with Executive Consultant and frequent episode director David Peckinpah. “I didn’t have a personal relationship with Peckinpah like I did with Bill, but I loved watching him direct. He would know exactly what we’re doing, where we’re going, how we’re starting, do we have it, are we moving on — he was almost a ninja behind the camera.”
And despite fan complaints about constant reuse of sets in Season 5, Rob enjoyed working on the Universal backlot.
Rob has strong memories of “The Seer,” the final episode of the series. “I loved working with Linda Henning (Mrs. Mallory),” says Rob. “We had lunch together and I asked her a million questions. She had such a phenomenal career and I loved being able to hear her stories.”
The scene of Mallory meeting Quinn’s mother was also a high point for Rob. For most of the season, he had longed to return to playing the classic Quinn Mallory. Now he had scenes with Quinn’s mother where Quinn’s absence would be the central point of emotion.
“It was great because the two personalities aspect had been taken away and I wanted that dimension back.” says Rob. He had never seen the Pilot’s scenes of Jerry O’Connell and Linda Henning, and he chose not to watch them. “I wanted it to be very new, raw and uncomfortable to meet Linda.”
Asked whether something of Quinn genuinely remained in Mallory, Rob answers, “I felt that Mallory was just saying that to comfort her. But in my heart of hearts, I wished Quinn was still there. It would have been brilliant to have them both.”
And in Rob’s mind, “The Seer” was just a stepping stone to Season 6. He’d approached his agency asking what needed to be done to secure a renewal. “They kept saying that the numbers were great for the show; there was no reason the Sci-Fi Channel wouldn’t pick it up.”
Bill Dial was less certain, remarking to Rob that the Sci-Fi Channel administration was not behind the show and was no longer even watching the show. But Rob felt that with the high ratings and viewer interest in the series, there was no way Season 6 wouldn’t come.
Two months after Season 5 wrapped, Sliders was cancelled and Rob made the announcement in a Sci-Fi Channel chat with Tembi Locke.
“I was absolutely devastated,” says Rob. During a vacation in Las Vegas, he encountered a fan who blamed Rob for the cancellation. “I had people saying it was because I wasn’t good enough. That I was part of the demise of this show.”
There were also the postcards that some fans received from the Sci-Fi Channel, saying the actors had declined to sign for Season 6.
“I wouldn’t sign a contract for Season 6?!” Rob exclaims. “I mean, go fggmmm yourself! Of course I would have signed for Season 6, are you kidding?
“I felt like a scapegoat.”
In truth, the Sci-Fi Channel had renewed Sliders for Season 5 too late to pick up Jerry O’Connell’s option, resulting in a Season 5 without its lead, a season Sci-Fi was certain would fail. Planning for failure, Sci-Fi allocated their budget to The Invisible Man and First Wave. No funding remained for Season 6, something Sci-Fi would regret when Season 5 performed well.
“Nothing you can do about it now,” Rob laments. But he’d held hopes for Season 6: restoring the split-personality, getting to play doubles, and an infinity of parallel Earths. “I still dream about Season 6 and getting to do that.”
After Sliders, Rob’s acting career continued well. He had guest-roles in many TV shows: VIP, Walker Texas Ranger, Rude Awakening, Providence and others. But it was on Dark Angel that Rob realized his acting career was over.
His Dark Angel guest-role was in Vancouver, far from his 4-and-5-year-old sons in Los Angeles. Rob was living an actor’s dream of working with director James Cameron, but he felt terrible about the distance from his children.
“I felt like I was always taking off on them when I had work and had to travel across the country,” says Rob.
One night, he lay in bed unable to sleep and made a hard choice. “I knew I wasn’t being a dad,” Rob says. “I didn’t want my kids to grow up raised by somebody else. Or to be a stranger to them.” He finished his work on Dark Angel and returned home. He stopped auditioning for roles. “I became Dad again.”
His next job was in home repair and roofing. “I could be working during the day and be home with the kids at night,” he explains. But two months in, on a 100-degree day in Pasadena on a roof, Rob felt another career change coming.
“I was melting. And I was like, ‘I’m going to go get a bartending job!'”
He ended up taking over the bar of a rather famous establishment called the Chateau Marmont. It would be a fresh start and Rob found an opportunity to use the mixology and cocktail creation skills he’d learned in New York City with Employees Only. “I took that knowledge to the Chateau and I was able to build a cocktail program.”
Asked about the difference between bartending and mixology, Rob explains: “Mixology’s a constant, never-ending improvement. You’re a chef-tender. You’re making the greatest cocktails every night, and even better ones the next night. And the service. You’re not invited to the party, but you’re of the party. You’re making it all happen.”
But Rob found making and serving cocktails to lack the joy he’d found in acting. “It was fine. Everyone does a tasting. But it was really friggin’ boring.” Rob began to plan out cocktail events, writing out stories and devising performances to accompany the cocktails.
The result was Cocktail Theater, in which Rob spins yarns about the legends behind his cocktail creations. The stories are acted out by performers while Rob creates the cocktails for a live audience who will enjoy five cocktails and a fine meal.
Today, Cocktail Theater and its various themed evenings are a success with constantly sold out shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and more. Rob manages his live performances and cocktail programs through his company, RX Liquid Chef.
In addition, Rob creates cocktail experiences at events for clients such as Google, Adobe, Aston Martin and also awards shows like the Grammys, the Emmys and the Oscars. Asked how he has such an incredible range of clients, Rob highlights his ability to personalize his creations.
“The Emmys — for that, I met with the host, LL Cool J.” They worked together to create two cocktails to LL’s career and personality. The first was a frozen cocktail made at 350-below-zero using liquid nitrogen, made live for the guests who would eat the cocktail with a spoon. “I wanted to make a big statement about how cutting edge he’s been throughout his career.”
The second creation was a layered cocktail. “I worked off a 16th century verjus template and then floated a Pinot Noir over the top. This represented how he’s balanced his work, acting, music and family,” says Rob.
He designs cocktails to impart a story communicated during the production and consumption. “It’s never just about the drink; it has to be about the secret behind the drink,” he explains. “Whether it’s awards or a financial group, it’s about the experience.”
And next for Rob is becoming an author. Rob has penned a book entitled A Life Behind Bars, part-memoir and part-cocktail-recipe book. “For me,” Rob admits, “recipes are boring.” Fifty to sixty recipe books fill his shelves and he’s never read one all the way through.
“My book is geared towards the reader making their own experience as opposed to being told two ounces of this, two ounces of that.” Distribution is still in discussion, but Rob is eager to hear back from his editors and there is interest from agencies in representing his shows and book.
Rob’s acting days are over, but his experiences remain with him. In managing his cocktail programs, he works with nearly 60 bartenders. Many of them are actors and artists who need the same guidance Rob received as a young actor.
One piece of advice he has for his employees is how to set aside money. “I say, ‘Listen, you were a guest-star and you got paid well. Don’t live off that money or you will be broke, you will have nothing.'” There can be long gaps between acting jobs.
“I say, ‘Keep bartending even if it’s one day a week so you have money coming in and live off bartending money.'”
He points out how an impoverished actor makes a bad impression. “There’s nothing worse than an actor that’s desperate for money. It reads in a room. When you love doing that audition, but you’re not desperate, it reads like you’re a winner.”
And 15 years after Sliders, Rob still appreciates the show and its fans. “Some loved me and some hated me and that was all great,” says Rob.
He understands that Sliders had a troubled history and that he was there for its final days. “I had such empathy for the fans. Sliders fans were passionate. They were intelligent. They loved all these different ideas.”
Acting coach John Kirby continues to be present in Rob’s life, working with Rob on rewrites and rehearsals for Cocktail Theater. “He once told me, ‘When the play goes out of the theater, there’s no fun.’ And when the play goes out of the bar, there’s no fun.”
Looking at his mixology, Cocktail Theater and bartending, Rob declares, “I play for a living.”
Visit Rob Floyd online at www.rxliquidchef.com.
For the transcript of this interview, please click here.
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