Peter

"This guy looks like everybody else. Because that's how you survive."
— Peter Wingfield in Eon Magazine, September 1998

Wingfield @wingfieldfans.org Dr Helm

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"A look back at Highlander: The Series featuring conversations with Jim Byrnes, Gillian Horvath, Donna Lettow and Peter Wingfield, part II"
by Abbie Bernstein
Eon Magazine
Issue 8.0
1 September 1998

[excerpt]

... Then there is Methos, the oldest known living Immortal, who admits to being 5,000 years old and looks a shade under 30. Played by Peter Wingfield, he was supposed to be in a single third-season episode, "Methos." Instead, he evolved into a figure whose popularity is arguably second only to MacLeod's.

Wingfield, a Welshman presently living in Vancouver, says by phone, "My agent said there was this job, it was one episode in a TV series that I'd never heard of, and it was four days' filming in Paris. They sent me half a dozen pages of a script and I went in and did those onto videotape with the casting director. About a week later, they rang up and asked me if I would do the scenes again, but with slightly different thoughts behind them. I have this feeling that what they wanted in the second one was to see more vulnerability in the character, but I really can't remember. It's four years back now. The possibility was mooted that the character would be brought back at the end of the season, which was Season 3, and have his head chopped off, and that was that. What I've been told was the response of the production team, after they watched the first day of rushes... That was the stuff under the bridge with me and MacLeod fighting and me letting him win and saying, 'You must take my head and take all my energy and experience, and all that stuff should go to you and not to the bad guy.' Apparently they watched that and immediately decided that they shouldn't kill the character off."

"Basically," Horvath confirms, "David and Bill saw the dailies and went, 'We're not doing that story where he dies.' And I said, 'Hey, it's a good story!' And they said, 'We're not doing it.' "

When we first meet Methos, he is using the persona of a mortal, Adam Pierson, who is not only a Watcher but actually assigned to research the "mythical" Methos, insuring that no other Watcher will find out more about him. Not since Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner concocted their 2,000-Year-Old Man has a figure so old been quite so pragmatic and funny, though what Wingfield responded to initially was Methos' fear.

"There's a line in that very first episode where he has decided that MacLeod should kill him, but he says, 'Do you think I want to die?' I connected with that very much, that even though intellectually he'd decided that this is what he should do, he was still really scared, and that the fear of dying hadn't gotten less in 5,000 years. And why should it?

"I think they had a fundamentally good instinct when they wrote the character," Wingfield continues. "Just because you've been around for 5,000 years doesn't mean that you'd have any answers to anything. Not to the really big questions. You still wouldn't know what it was like to die and what came after death, whether there was God, whether there was a creator of the universe — you still wouldn't know. The other idea that I really liked was that a fighter, in the end, is going to come up against someone who either is a better fighter or simply gets lucky one day. So a big fighter is not going to last 5,000 years. The person that's going to last 5,000 years is someone who avoids fighting whenever he possibly can and someone who blends in with whatever is going on at the time. So just because you were born with the Egyptians or the Chinese or the Greeks or someone, doesn't mean that you'd still be carrying that with you. What he'd be is very contemporary. And he's sitting down with a Walkman on, eating takeaway pizza and drinking beer. This guy looks like everybody else. Because that's how you survive."

Wingfield, Horvath and Lettow agree that small details in his performance suggested new plot twists to the writing staff. "I mean, I never sat down with the writers and discussed where the character would go," Wingfield relates. "But in a more ethereal sense, [I had] a very great deal of input, because the way the character grew was through them coming up with an idea and writing it, and me taking things from that idea and making them live, making them whole, and also throwing in little bits and pieces of stuff that I thought were consequences of those ideas. I kind of thought that what would be useful for the character was if he seemed enigmatic. And if he seemed that there was a lot going on behind his eyes, but that he wasn't letting on everything. The image that I had was — do you remember Roddy McDowall in Planet of the Apes? Every time somebody asked him a question or said something to him, he would tip his head slightly sideways and look up to the sky and look as if he was thinking a lot of things, and then his answer would be maybe only a word or a sentence, but you had the impression that there was an awful lot going on. And I thought that that idea had some mileage in it for Methos, and I look back at the stuff I filmed in Season 3, and it doesn't seem to be there anywhere at all," he laughs, "but internally, that's kind of what was going on."

One of these consequences was a fifth-season double episode, "Comes a Horseman" and "Revelations 6:8," that dealt with Methos' past. It wasn't that he had always avoided fights; back in the Bronze Age, he was one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, slaughtering thousands upon thousands. It was a development that allowed Duncan MacLeod — who normally whacked such villains but now owes Methos his life — to agonize over issues of loyalty, justice and trust like never before. It was also a twist that Wingfield didn't expect.

"You're damn right I didn't," Wingfield laughs. "The writers would be the people to talk about this, because I only know from them saying as much to me, that the 'Comes a Horseman' flashback came from a perception they had that Methos was hiding something shameful, that there was territory that he didn't want to go back and look at. I don't know where specifically they got that, but they picked up an edge from him."

Horvath points to the episode "Chivalry," in which a centuries old flame of MacLeod turns murderous. "We had pictured Methos as being rather bemused by the whole Kristin situation, but when we saw the dailies, we saw that he'd chosen to play it more angry than we'd expected, creating the impression that Methos had some agenda he wasn't telling anyone about, and earning him the nickname of 'Agenda Boy.' This reinforced our feeling that you don't get to be 5,000 years old by being a nice guy all the time — this had been set up by the line, 'Why would I tell the truth?' in the 'Finale' episode and by lines in 'Chivalry'. It was out of this that the Horsemen stories grew."

"There were a couple of phases in the playing of it," Wingfield says. "Methos has been hiding for a long time, and he appears for a couple of episodes and then he's gone again, and then he appears for really quite a long time. And I felt that that had to reflect that he was being drawn back into something that he found appealing, that he knew it was risky living close to MacLeod and being caught up in fights again, but it was kind of exciting, and he liked it. And then after the 'Comes a Horseman' back story bit, I just thought, 'Okay, well, this is all out in the open, there has to be a kind of toughening-up of him, he is reacknowledging that he lived this way, that he has this brutality within him and that just going back and tasting it again, and finding that there is a part of him that liked it. I thought after that, it was time he toughened up again and became more involved, pushed MacLeod more, laughed at him more, and was more openly attacking of him. Because the relationship between him and MacLeod becomes very edgy after that."

Even though he was not in every episode, playing a character through four seasons was new for Wingfield. "I've never done more than two series of anything, and I've usually only done one series, because I get very bored, very quickly. My experience generally is that in the first season, all the ideas go into the first episode, and the rest of the season is replaying that same story in slightly different detail. By the time I got to the end of the season, I just felt, 'This is it, they have nothing more to say about this character and I don't want to go back and just replay the same tape again and again.' It's like doing an office job. But the thing about Methos is that he's never got into that thing of just replaying the same story, because they keep throwing in these bizarre [developments] — from being a sort of kind of cutesy, wisecracking sidekick, suddenly, you are one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — that's great! So it's never been like playing the same character every week and certainly not playing the same story."

Wingfield says he likes the response he's gotten from fans. "It's very flattering to be recognized for something that you think is good work. I have great affection for Methos. I like the character and I have fun playing him and some of the best work I've done in my life has been on this show, so it's great to have that recognized by people."

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