How Jeremy Sisto keeps the CBS drama ‘FBI’ moving briskly
NEW YORK (AP) — Kojak has his lollipop. Sherlock Holmes has his deerstalker cap. Jeremy Sisto has his pencil.
The actor often wields a long sharpened yellow pencil as he addresses a room full of federal agents on the hit CBS show “FBI.” His character will point with it or chew on it or make an exclamation with it, saying something like “C’mon people, dazzle me!”
“I’ve always liked props, and especially when there’s a lot of exposition, I try to hide that by doing things,” says the actor. “It just felt like something that would be really easy to shoot attention this way and shoot attention that way.”
Sisto’s pencil has made its way into popular culture. There was a suggestion this fall that a last-minute Halloween costume could be made just by tucking a pencil behind your ear and going as Sisto’s character, Jubal Valentine, FBI assistant special agent-in-charge. The pencil also has its own Twitter account.
“I had no idea people would sort of find as much fun in it as they have. But I think it’s really cool,” says Sisto. “Maybe they’ll make an action figure. That’s what I want: me with my pencil.”
Sisto is enjoying his second season on “FBI,” which represents his second time aboard a Dick Wolf procedural crime drama. Sisto joined Wolf’s “Law & Order” for the last three seasons, initially pairing with veteran Jesse L. Martin.
This time, he was present at the pilot of “FBI,” playing the glue that holds together each episode’s moving parts. As Valentine, Sisto is like an orchestra conductor and the pencil is his baton.
“On ‘Law & Order,’ I always liked being in the office trying to put the pieces together. And that’s what this is. It’s just a much more advanced version of that,” he says.
Sisto brings his special brand of spontaneity and electricity to the role. When he started on “Law & Order,” he asked that the first victim on his first show be his character’s brother. On the new show, his Valentine is dealing with divorce and alcoholism yet still holding together high-stakes federal cases.
Rick Eid, the executive producer and show runner of “FBI,” calls Sisto the heartbeat of the show and says he brings layers and complexity to the character, as well as humor and honesty.
“I don’t know if it looks like it’s easy on TV, but it isn’t. He has chunks of dialogue he has to convey with urgency, with clarity and with purpose. And yet, at the same time, he does it with this unique personality and humor,” said Eid. “My simple rule to everybody is: We can’t write enough for the guy because he’s so good.”
One of Eid’s favorite recent episodes was when Sisto’s character was sponsoring an addict who was also an informant, a messy and ethically challenged situation. “You see the conflict in Jeremy’s eyes: What’s my role here? Am I an FBI agent? Or am I a sponsor?” says Eid. “He makes it look really honest. That’s the gift.”
Sisto’s career hasn’t been a flashy one but he’s had roles in some prominent films, including playing the high-school hunk who catches Alicia Silverstone’s eye in “Clueless” and Keri Russell’s loutish husband in “Waitress.”
It’s a career that has allowed Sisto to balance work and fatherhood. His kids — he has a son and daughter — aren’t always sure where he ranks. “They’re like, ‘Are you a star, dad? Are you famous?’ I’m like ‘ish,’” he says. “I’ve had a nice career. I’ve been able to work consistently.”
This winter, Sisto landed a role in one of the biggest films of the year. He voices Anna and Elsa’s grandfather in “Frozen 2,” the sequel to the animated Disney blockbuster. Sisto had done voice work before — he voiced the title bull’s father in “Ferdinand” — but this was different.
The original “Frozen” was a fixture in Sisto’s house, his daughter putting it “on a loop.” Dad surprised himself by liking it, too. Usually, he immediately dozed off whenever a kids’ movie was playing.
“I’d have two hours in the movie theater to get a little nap while they were watching the thing. But ‘Frozen’ never did that to me. ‘Frozen’ was always something I just really related to.”
Sisto has enjoyed enough success that choices he feared might be bad for his career are now cherished. Take “Clueless.” He thought he’d “be known for this one thing. And then that would sort of represent some kind of a failure because my career didn’t take off.”
Now the film is so beloved that Sisto’s daughter and her friends dressed up as characters from it at Halloween. “It wasn’t her idea to dress up like the ‘Clueless’ characters. … She’s like, `My friends have decided to go as ‘”Clueless.”‘ I was like `All right. Are you going to go as me?’ She’s like ‘No.’ Her friend did go as me.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits