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James Denton is proud to be an American… but for his role in ABC’s MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION, he’s even prouder that John Hurt is an Englishman. “It was kind of a strange occurrence, because they shot in Canada, and the budget only allowed for a couple of outside actors. My manager has John Hurt, too, but because he isn’t American, he was able to get me involved.” Relishing in one of the rare times a technicality works out well for all involved, Denton let it slip that he’d have found a way anyway. “With Brian Dennehy and John Hurt involved, though, I offered to work for scale.”

Whether or not he actually made that sacrifice remains a mystery, but what doesn’t is that Denton had no problem jumping into the sci-fi arena for the first time in his career. “The Discarded”, which airs later this month, was written by legendary writer Harlan Ellison and directed by Jonathon Frakes. According to the actor, “It was pretty crazy working with Harlan. He’s a very famous and prolific writer, and he was also in the piece; I met him in the makeup trailer. It was a bonus to work with him and listen to him tell stories.” But that wasn’t the extent of his sci-fi education; not even close. “I also presented a Saturn Award. (It all) helped me realize that DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES is a very sci-fi style show in how it applies its own fantastic elements.”

“The Discarded” is described by Denton as “a really interesting, dark, sad piece. A group of people who have been shot into space and discarded, because of disease, deformity, and things like that. As you get to know them and their illnesses and deformities, you sympathize with them. My character is sent to space to offer them a deal, because Earth needs something from them.”

With a set containing powerhouse actors like Hurt and Dennehy, you’d guess that Denton was in actor heaven, and you’d be right. “They’re both theatre guys. (Brian’s) bigger than life, both as an actor and a person. I just listened and learned. John was doing his first American TV project, and as it turned out, he wasn’t necessarily crazy about it. He was a bit overwhelmed by how much we were shooting every day (twice as much as a feature film), and it was interesting to watch him adapt to the television pace.” Denton laughed. “Of course, he was brilliant. And my character was going up against the two, which blew me away. It was fascinating.”

MASTERS sat on the shelf for quite a long time, and the original six pieces of the anthology has been whittled down to four that will air. And frankly, if you’ve heard that it’s actually airing, that’s a bit of a minor miracle considering ABC’s lack of promotion for the series. “It’s a little frustrating. Jonathan Frakes is a really good director, and we’ve kept in touch since shooting. ‘The Discarded’ seemed to be the one segment that the network is happy with. (ABC President) Stephen McPherson is someone I’m close with, and he’s commented that the work was uneven across the six installments. But the four that are airing are a good cross-section of science fiction, and I’m proud of ours- it’s entertaining.”

Does Denton have a future in the genre? “I’d do it again in a heartbeat, especially with Frakes or Harlan. This had so much humanity- science fiction is more than just space travel and that stuff. It was a lot of fun and nice to do something surreal.” His excursion into the realm of sci-fi is just part of his larger plan as an actor. “The first summer after HOUSEWIVES, I was offered roles all patterned after Mike Defino.” But recently, that’s changed. “I did WANTED: UNDEAD OR ALIVE, which has zombies in the old West, but I don’t know if anybody will see it- it still needs a distributor. I’ve done a psychological thriller called TORTURED with Laurence Fishburne, which is very violent. I also did a Lifetime move with Rob Morrow, playing the bad guy. It’s fun to go do something different.” His next moves may not stop at acting, either. He may not write himself a script with a leading role, “I never really had aspirations to write, only writing music,” but getting behind the camera remains a definite possibility. ‘I’ve directed theatre, and I’ve been trying to put together a film to direct, called DAMAGED GOODS, but the looming strike/lockout is putting a damper on it.”

But in the meantime, the affable actor returns to his day job at DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES this fall, promising some early romantic comedy between he and his leading lady, “I’m back to working with Teri more, which is more fun,” and darkness looming later in the season. In the meantime, the legions of his female admirers (and you never know quite how legion they are until you mention to some that you’re writing about him) will have to tune in to see him in his dress whites on MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION on August 25th.

Marc Mason

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