Mitchell’s been reflecting on his studies at Brown University because he reads during his downtime from filming NBC’s spooky drama, which returns for a second season Monday, Aug. 13.
“Kierkegaard and Sartre and Nietzsche were the guys I studied,” he tells Zap2it. “I took a bunch of philosophy classes. Kierkegaard was right on the cusp of the religious-minded thinkers, considering individual will, the birth of existentialism, the transition of classical mentality to a more modern mentality. He asks the religious questions, which turn into the existential questions of ‘Who am I? Where am I in the world?’ To me, anyway, he was in the late 19th century and modernism hit with the First World War.”
Mitchell talks as easily about philosophy and comparative religion as he does about acting. He knew pretty early on that he was at home onstage. Considering his current series, it’s funny if not prescient that his stage debut was in “Hansel and Gretel.”
“There was not a lightning bolt moment as a 7-year-old,” he says, explaining he didn’t feel destined for Hollywood.
He continued in school plays and realized he had an affinity for acting.
“There’s the recognition that I am good at this,” Mitchell says. “I enjoyed it as well. It just kind of built on itself and I went to school, and I went away to school in New Hampshire at 14. Can I do it here? Yes, I can still keep doing it here. And then I went to college, where I was a smaller fish in a bigger pond, and I still kept getting cast in the play. It wasn’t until maybe somewhere in the early college years where I thought I could really do this.”
His name: After a 19th-century ancestor, Silas Weir Mitchell. “As a child I just wanted to not be called Si,” he says.
Credits: “My Name Is Earl,” “Burn Notice,” “Prison Break,” “24”
Other jobs besides acting: He painted office buildings and was a maintenance worker at a country club. “I never did actually wait tables,” Mitchell says.
Favorite actors: John Malkovich, Mark Rylance, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, classifying them as geniuses. “People who you watch work, and you really don’t know what they are doing,” he says. “You don’t see the brush strokes.”
Favorite books: ” ‘Underworld’ by Don DeLillo. I went through a major DeLillo phase. Another one is the first two parts of James Ellroy’s Underworld USA Trilogy. It’s brilliant, dark, tough-edged writing.”
Favorite movies: ” ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.’ That is really very high on my list. ‘Casablanca.’ It is just a wonderful movie; it bears multiple watchings and is great every time. Now I am just thinking ‘The Elephant Man’ knocked me out when I was a kid. The story of the misunderstood beast is not unlike what I am doing right now.”
Favorite music: “Elvis Costello is very high on my list. I have been listening to a lot of Jack White these days. I am a big, big fan of Jerry Garcia. I think he was an absolute genius who was hampered by his tragic drug addictions.”