For evidence that Michael O’Neill is continuing his notable streak of both TV and movies, witness the coming days.
O’Neill is best-known as Secret Service Agent Ron Butterfield on “The West Wing,” which launched his long run of playing authority figures on such other shows as “Criminal Minds,” “Sons of Anarchy” and “NCIS.” But in terms of the character he is playing in Season 2 of A&E’s “Bates Motel” starting Monday (March 3), the actor is closer to his role as a “Grey’s Anatomy” hospital shooter in playing the father of slain teacher Miss Watson.
Just before that season premiere, during Sunday’s (March 2) Oscars, O’Neill will be rooting for “Dallas Buyers Club,” in which he portrays a Food and Drug Administration official who opposes AIDS patient Ron Woodroof’s (Matthew McConaughey) use of a then-unapproved drug. The film’s six nominations include Best Picture, and many expect McConaughey and Jared Leto to repeat the many acting wins they’ve had already had this film-honors season.
“To some degree, I’m in the early stages of the fourth quarter of my career,” O’Neill tells Zap2it, “or maybe it’s late in the third … but at this tender age, it’s a thrill to work with those guys and hopefully make a contribution to their process.
“I was a late addition to the project. I was flying back to Birmingham (Ala.) to be with my family, and when I landed in Houston, my phone and computer lit up. My agents said, ‘We want to reroute you to New Orleans,’ and I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’ve been gone for three months, and I really need to see my kids.’ And they said, ‘Well, read this script and get back to us immediately. You have an offer to do this.’ ‘”
O’Neill read the screenplay during his flight from Houston to Birmingham, and as might be expected, he didn’t regret it once he arrived on the set.
“it was really clear to me that both Matthew and Jared were into something very, very special as actors,” he says. “And this director, Jean-Marc Vallee, is a French-Canadian genius as far as I’m concerned. A lot of attention is being given to those performances, but that film has legs because of him. With his vision for it, and to do it in 25 days, I tip my cap to him.”
Vallee kept the actors on their toes quite literally. O’Neill reveals, “It’s the only film I’ve ever worked on without a lighting package. We used existing light only for this, so we had to move at an extraordinary pace to outrun daylight — yet (Vallee) was able to give value and focus and weight to each and every scene we did. I can’t say how much I appreciate his talent for the success of this film.”
If McConaughey wins the Oscar for Best Actor on Sunday, O’Neill possibly will be the least surprised person. “I’ve worked with a lot of wonderful actors, but he was into something that is rare for anyone. I’m so glad it’s being acknowledged, for him and Jared both. And I’m grateful that I hopefully held up my end of the bargain.”