Charles Baker, is an actor, writer, and director. He is probably most well known for playing Skinny Pete on the Breaking Bad TV series and had a recurring role in The Blacklist NBC TV series. He tells me about his upcoming films and projects, and some of the music he enjoys listening to.
PC: As an army kid you have moved around a lot, what was that like?
CB: I’ll be honest, it was pretty hard; tumultuous and often lonely. It’s difficult to develop lasting friendships when you live such a transient lifestyle. But, at the same time, it forced me to learn to adapt to new surroundings pretty easily, so, I think it gave me somewhat of an “edge” in my future career. I talk a lot about that in my upcoming book CHAMELEON- an autobiography I spent the last year working on with a best-selling UK writer, W. S. Barton- who typically writes about Manchester United players, but, decided to take on my story for a change of pace.
PC: Who or what inspired you to become an actor?
CB: That’s a tough one. I’ve had several different answers to that question, but, if I were to be totally honest with myself and your audience, I think the best way to put it is this: I’m not sure if I ever really had a choice. I don’t mean that it was some kind of divine plan, but, to me it seems that we are all products of our environment. As I said earlier, my entire childhood was spent adapting to new environments- reinventing myself once a year, at least, just to blend into my new surroundings as fast as possible to enjoy a small modicum of the illusion of having a “normal” life -with friends and hobbies and all the things that come with that stable home life that I saw other kids take for granted yet envied so much.
PC: You’re probably most well known for playing ‘Skinny Pete’ in the TV series Breaking Bad’, what has been your most enjoyable acting role to date?
CB: Playing Skinny Pete has been the pinnacle of my career so far! It means so much to me to have been fortunate enough to have been a part of television history! My favorite role to date though is CHRIS WALTON in Murder in the First-has been my favorite, so far, not because of the role (although it was a good one), nor was it about the show (also very good), but because of the fact that it was the first recurring role I’ve ever had in 10 years of being on camera that shot in the same town that I live in. For some people that may seem odd, but, I have young kids who started crying every time I got a job, because that meant I was leaving for weeks at a time- so, to have a semi-regular job, if only for a few weeks, that allowed me to come home after work every night to have dinner with my kids before I read them a story and tucked them in was like hitting the jackpot for me… Another snap-shot of a “normal”, stable, home-life.
PC: You were recently involved with three friends in a crowd funding campaign, would you like to give more information on that project?
CB: YES! My friend John Venable, known for his performance in the one-man show DEFENDING THE CAVEMAN in Las Vegas, along with Charlie Halford (Reggie Ladoux from the first season of True Detective, and Chas on Constantine), Patrick Sane (Also from Breaking Bad and Sin City 2) and I are putting together a short screenplay competition that has a “twist”. We’re still getting our ducks in a row, so, I won’t give away details about said “twist” just yet, but, we think it’s pretty cool. Our website, shortscreenplay.com, will have all the pertinent info up as soon as possible. We are kicking off the competition with a short film that John wrote for the 4 of us. The idea for the project came from the premise that we, as character actors, rarely get to play “normal guys”, so, we decided to make some films that take us away from those stereotypes and into the realm of the mundane…but funny.
PC: Are there future projects in the pipeline you would like to talk about?
CB: Gosh I have so many future projects coming out I don’t know which one to talk about, none of them have any solid dates yet. I have one of them I’m kind of excited about, it’s a very small part I’m only in it for a short time, it’s in a movie with Keanu Reeves called The Neon Demon directed by Nicholas Winding Refn and I think it’s coming out sometime in the spring, it has an incredible cast. I was only allowed to see my scenes, the scenes I were in were pretty fun so I’m really looking forward to seeing it when it does come out, he is a really interesting film maker.
PC: What type of film is it?
CB: Actually it’s a horror film, I think it will be more of a physiological thriller more than just straight out horror but I think it will probably be somewhere in between, it has some pretty scary elements just based on what I know about the film. I think there is going to be a trailer coming out soon so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m in six films, several different films, a Sci-fi comedy, Sci-fi drama a Mission to Mars drama, a mystery and a historical kind of piece set in 1920 it’s a biographical picture. I’m really looking forward to seeing all of them. A couple of these films I’m one of the leads or the lead actor and I had discussions with the directors about music, specifically how important it is to me that the music fits and most of them reassured me that that’s an important aspect of the film.
PC: That’s a really good position to be in isn’t it?
CB: Yeah it is its really nice, I’m really looking forward to seeing how they utilize music in these projects because of how to me it just makes the difference between a good film and a bad film. How the music is used, not always “the” difference but one of the differences.
PC: That’s one of things I liked about The Revenant, I just saw that recently and had to order the soundtrack (Ryuichi Sakamoto) the music was really good, very effective.
CB: There’s just some incredible movies there are two movies that I’m in, I don’t even know if the soundtracks are available but one was called Flutter which is an independent film, it has some original music performed by Jesse Plemons, he played a character called Todd a really scary psychopath character on Breaking Bad but he plays a Country and Western musician in Flutter. The songs are written by a guy called Brandon Brown, I did theatre with him in Texas before we all moved out to Los Angeles, he wrote the music and Jesse Plemons performed them, there’s just some incredible music in that film. Ain’t Them Bodie’s Saints which I think is available on Netflix right now and was directed by David Lowery, has an incredible soundtrack, it’s kind of a Folk, Americana, Western Gothic kind of sound. Curtis Heath he’s also a Texas guy did most of the music for that, I believe he recorded most of the instruments himself, it’s one of those really haunting kind of soundtracks, I could talk forever!
PC: You have just been cast in the pilot for the ‘Lethal Weapon’ TV series, how did you come to secure the part?
CB: The same way I secure most parts worth having; I auditioned! I actually put so much energy into my audition for that role that I pulled a muscle in my shoulder while pretending to hit an imaginary character in the scene…I’m 45, I should know better than to not stretch out before walking into the casting room…I pull muscles so easily nowadays.
PC: Can you tell me more about the first record you bought?
CB: I honestly couldn’t tell you the first one I bought. The first album I really remember getting into, strangely enough, was because of my older brother he gave me a copy of Pink Floyd – The Final Cut, I was probably like 15. Most of the music I listened to as a kid was stuff from my older brothers, so I grew up listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The Beatles, I listened to all the time. I kind of wanted to be John Lennon.
PC: So that classic question, “were you Beatles or Stones”? You were definitely Beatles?
CB: Yeah I was definitely Beatles. I loved the harmonies.
PC: Yes and how easy they are to play?
CB: Yeah I loved the simplicity, I learned from them the complexity that can come from simplicity, how keeping it simple a lot of times you can make things a lot better than trying to be way more complicated.
PC: Are those the groups you still like today, are they still on your playlist?
CB: Yes, Pink Floyd they have remained one of my absolute favourites. The Beatles, I will always listen to them. I’m teaching my kids how to sing Beatles tunes.
PC: How cute is that kid of yours? I saw the video of you playing the piano with him.
CB: Yes, he loves music, he really seems to get it, he turns 4 this month. He loves strumming on the guitar and he loves singing along to the piano, guitar or ukulele. My oldest and youngest are 25 years apart, my older son is a big music fan, he is a big influence on his little brother.
PC: My son is 22 and we share a love of music, we go to concerts together.
CB: It’s really neat, my oldest and I share music, we have a lot of the same tastes, some the music he’s introducing me to is similar to some of my old favourites.
PC: Right, you and I share a like for certain singers like Passenger and Jason Mraz.
CB: Passenger is someone we discovered together and another one is Maverick Sabre.
PC: I love Maverick Sabre, that’s one guy my son and I very much like.
CB: I go into binge listening sometimes, just continually for a long time. Once I discovered his first album I was pretty much hooked, I’m kind of starting to annoy my family. I’m loving his newest album.
PC: Which song do you just have to play at full volume?
CB: Actually Maverick Sabre “I Need” is just one I really identify with his, lyrics they hit me in the right spot, that’s one song that makes me really want to belt it out when I sing along, I crank it up. His song “Shooting the Stars”, I’m normally not into that kind of music but the rhythm and depth of his lyrics just kind of took me by surprise. Rarely do I find an entire album where I can just immerse myself. I love the diversity of Lonely Are The Brave, Big Band meets Hip Hop meets R&B, I’m kind of in awe of what he does.
PC: Which song soothes your troubled mind or heart or just makes you feel better?
CB: That’s a tough one because that’s what music is to me, all of my favorite songs, that’s why they are my favourite songs. I have a deep connection to music. I once told somebody music was my favourite way to cry, I think more, it’s just my favourite way to feel.
PC: Yes, I know what you mean.
CB: I’ve always looked at music as a soundtrack to life. I know people who just listen to music as a background noise but for me if I say “Hey, listen to this song” I expect you to…
PC: Sit up and pay attention?
CB: Yeah and savour every word or note because that’s how important it is to me. I think it’s a by-product of how I grew up, we weren’t allowed to be very emotionally expressive and music was kind of a secret way to express emotion. I could sing along with a sad song and not get in trouble for it. If I could sing along to a really happy tune and make a joyful noise without…
PC: Yeah without fear of being ridiculed or chastised.
CB: Yes, it’s always been my secret other emotion, every song has that kind of place for me depending on where I am at the time that I’m listening to music.
PC: Do you have a favourite concert? Or tell me about the last concert you attended?
CB: The last concert I went to was Andrew Belle, he does a lot of songs that are on American TV shows actually his father (Rick Fortson) is an artist who worked on the Breaking Bad series, I became friends with him and he introduced me to his music, he said “check out this video my son made” I was kind of like oh goody I get to listen to some kid, then when I heard it I was kind of blown away by it, it was a song called “Oh My Stars” by Andrew Belle.
PC: I will listen to that and what about your favourite concert?
CB: I actually got to see David Bowie.
PC: No way!
CB: Yeah, Spiders from Mars, the Ziggy Stardust tour it was the very last time he did those songs before he decided to reinvent himself again. I wasn’t necessarily in a straight state of mind throughout the whole concert but it was defiantly an awesome concert. Seeing him do “Space Oddity” live was just pretty amazing.
PC: I’m so jealous as David Bowie is my all time favourite singer and I never got to see him perform.
CB: Aww, I had a wonderful job at a place in Fort Worth, Texas called Caravan of Dreams which was kind of a Jazz club, it’s closed down since but it used to have really intimate concerts by really big stars. My job was waiting tables serving the stars backstage so I got to see so many wonderful musicians, I got to see Jamiroquai and I saw Ramsey Lewis play piano there, he’s an amazing musician, that was a great experience just watching so many different live acts.
PC: Yeah, I should say.
CB: Then afterwards I ended up working as a stagehand where I set up lights and stages for concerts. Sometimes I got to work those concerts so I got to work behind the scenes of some major bands, you know it was pretty cool.
PC: Wow, you’re not going to tell me you got to see Bob Dylan now are you..?
CB: No I wish I had but I will tell you something, I got to see Elvis on his Aloha tour which was actually my very first concert ever, I was probably 6 or 7 I can’t remember exactly. My older brothers had tickets but they weren’t allowed to go unless they took me with them. I have very vague memories of a very large Elvis Presley in a very flashy white outfit hovering over me singing, that’s my favourite claim to fame.
PC: I just started taking piano lessons, obviously you can play the piano very well are you self taught or did you have training?
CB: I started off self taught, I tried to take lessons but I had one lesson from a guy who was horrified by my technique, he spent that one lesson trying to fix it but then I couldn’t afford anymore. Later in College I was on a Vocal scholarship I was a classical Baritone and I had to pick a secondary instrument so I chose piano. I wanted to be like Billy Joel for a while, but I worked out that meant having to show up to gigs with a piano so I taught myself to play guitar instead.
I sang and played guitar in bars around Fort Worth, some of my own tunes and a lot of covers and then I sang for an alternative rock band that did okay. We got on the radio and released one album, then kind of just drifted apart.
PC: Can you tell me what the band was called or are we keeping that under wraps?
CB: (Laughs) the band was called Stargazer.
PC: Is there a movie soundtrack you never tire of listening to?
CB: You know there are a lot of them, obviously because it’s all Beatles music, I Am Sam, I love Beatles covers I love hearing variations of Beatles tunes. The movie is alright but the music I really liked especially was “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by Across the Universe, which was one of my favourites. One of the most surprising soundtracks was from Great Expectations, De Niro was in it with Ethan Hawke, that soundtrack is incredible and still pretty relevant. It has such a wide range of styles, it’s a really good soundtrack if you haven’t heard it.
PC: Next question, guilty music pleasures, the song you hate to admit you like?
CB: Oh gosh there’s a lot of those, I used to like to listen to Roger Whittaker when I was a kid, he did an album of greatest hits which my Mom had on 8 track, he did a cover of “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof. That whole 8 track is one of my guilty pleasures, I put on YouTube a few of his songs to show my wife, she was kind of mortified!
PC: Which is your most worn band t-shirt?
CB: I’m getting repetitive because it’s The Beatles and Pink Floyd, I have a huge collection of concert t-shirts from when I was a stagehand, I don’t really wear a lot of them out in public so I just kept them in a pile, now my daughter wears them as nightshirts, she’s often seen wearing Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd t-shirts. I have two Beatles t-shirts I wear a lot, one of them is actually a John Lennon “Imagine” t-shirt with just a quote from “Imagine” on it with John and Yoko. The other is a picture, a group shot of I guess around the White Album time. I haven’t had them for a long time but they are the ones I wear incessantly, I’ve actually been poor most of my life so couldn’t afford the concert t-shirts.
PC: Which song or piece of music would you like to be played at your funeral?
CB: I’ve had that one planned for so long now, it’s from Shakespeare, where the words come from is a composer named John Rutter, he took Shakespeare’s plays and put a few of them to music and there’s a song called “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind”. When I came up with the idea of having a song at my funeral I was in a lot bleaker times, it’s a very melancholy kind of song but the harmony is just gorgeous. Definitely not a rock tune!
PC: You played Grey as “Red” Reddington’s (James Spader) right hand man, what would be your favorite track on The Blacklist soundtrack?
CB: You know, I don’t necessarily have a favorite on that one. I don’t watch a lot of TV. I’m going to be honest and ever since they killed me off on The Blacklist, I watched a few more episodes but because I travel so much it’s kind of hard to keep track and we don’t have cable at home. I do know Dave Porter who did the music on Breaking Bad does the music.
PC: Yes, that’s right, you need to listen to the Spotify playlist if nothing else, they have all the music from the episodes on the playlist, there are some really good songs on there.
CB: Yeah, I need to check it out, I love what television has been doing with music recently, I don’t know if you have watched Sons of Anarchy?
PC: I haven’t actually but I do watch The Blacklist and The Walking Dead religiously, they both have great music.
CB: I love the way they use music, using different eras of music as opposed to those cheesy tunes.
PC: That’s what’s good about The Blacklist, there are some artists I’d never heard of but I now really like.
CB: Yeah, it’s completely different now, I do remember in the episodes I watched, they used the music very well ,they had some great moments where the music was so fitting to the imagery, I’ve always been impressed. I do know that Dave Porter is mostly a composer but I think he has a lot to do with picking the music.
PC: Yes, with Jon Bokenkamp and John Bissell. I shall be contacting you to give me further recommendations because I really like a lot of the music you have mentioned.
CB: Oh great, if there’s anything please let me know, glad to talk.
PC: Thank you Charlie.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.