Talking with actor, Erich Bergen

Talking with actor, Erich Bergen

Episode #193

Today I talk to actor Erich Bergen.

You can see him on CBS’s Madam Secretary and the movie Jersey Boys.

Oh so fun!

Plus, all kinds of news. Guess who got married???
and make sure and register for the upcoming FREE webinar, I LOVE Tools, on October 28th, 7:30pm ET.

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Erich Bergen
Twitter/Instagram: @erichbergen

Erich Bergen / Never Give Up

Show Dates
November 8th – Arlington Heights, IL

April 29/30 – ?Las Vegas, NV

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Interview transcript

Transcription of Interview with Erich Bergen

Alison Lee: Well this is exciting. Kick off podcast for the new season at and who do I have here as my guest? Yes, it is my son! I’m just going to lie and not say that but the truth is, it is my son, Mr
Erich Bergen. Currently also known as Blake Moran from “Madam Secretary”. I hope you are watching it. It started. Great kick off season.

Erich Bergen: I’m watching.

Alison: Well, yes! As well as a Jersey boy from the movie of the same name which was great fun. That was [inaudible]. That was that name. But also aka also known as Erich Bergen. Thank you for coming on your mother’s show!

Erich: Yes. I’m so glad that you are no long working with 2 tin cans and a string,

Alison: What’s wrong with 2 tin cans? I love that when it was tin cans and a string.

Erich: No. I’m sure you can bedazzle them. I’m sure that would work quite well for you.

Alison: Exactly. It was fun, fun, fun.

Erich: Are you knitting or doing collaging right now as you do this interview?

Alison: A little coloring because you know that’s big. I know you are not a big fan of the crafting world.

Erich: Well you don’t even need me to do this interview. You could actually just “I have an interview with my son Eric Bergen. You can ask the questions and then answer for me.”

Alison: Ok. Good Bye.

Erich: Are we done?

Alison: That was good.

Erich: That was good!

Alison: No listen. I know I’m not going to pretend to anyone. I’m going to tell the truth right upfront that basically you couldn’t stand any of the art supplies or crafting anything. And I do believe they threw you out of art in school. So there’s where that stands. But the reason besides that I love you and you are fun that I wanted to interview you is you have your own art, that you have worked very hard, 20 years acting. All that stuff. So same kind of analogy parallel here with people wanting to make a living from their art, their passion.

Erich: It’s my 20th anniversary of needing attention. Well professionally. I certainly needed it before then too. But it’s 20 years for professionally needing attention.

Alison: [Laughter]. Alright well, with that let me ask some good questions here. 20 years, what was your first memory of wanting to get attention also known as wanting to perform?

Erich: Well, I don’t, this is going to sound so weird but.

Alison: Oh really? That should be……

Erich: Good night!

Alison: Yeah. Go ahead.

Erich: I don’t remember ever not; you know wanting to be a performer. I wasn’t, it’s not that it was clear as day that that’s all I wanted to, it was sort of the other way which was, “I thought everyone did this.” I didn’t realize that there were such things as bankers and lawyers and you know teachers. I didn’t realize.

Alison: [Inaudible] performing. I mean come on.

Erich: Well yes. But I thought everyone did their jobs and then you know did shows at night. I thought everyone was somehow in. I didn’t understand why you wouldn’t be in that. I sort of thought that show business was everything. I don’t necessarily know my first memory. I know an early one. You and dad brought me to my first concert ever which was Whitney Houston at Madison Square Garden which I believe was in July of 1989 and what I remember. It wasn’t like I was some crazy Whitney Houston fan or anything but it was, I think I was like 3 or 4 years old and I don’t know what you 2 were doing bringing a 3 year old or 4 year old to a Whitney Houston concert at the Garden but thankfully you did.

Alison: You asked for the tickets.

Erich: And it was, yes I guess that answers that. And I think it was noticing that someone could do something in a big way with a big light show and dancers and sparkly costumes and 30,000 people were standing there watching and screaming and it was the experience. It wasn’t like when I when young I listened to, you know you often hear like “Oh I was obsessed with this singer and they made me want to a singer.” It was an experience of anything live that I was obsessed with. And of course at the time, you know being the mid to late 80’s and Michael Jackson being everywhere, that was the sort of the you know the one person that obviously I obsessed upon but I think it was just the experience. I’m sure it’s like what you and listeners feel like when you go to, what do you go to? A beading convention? What do you people do?

Alison: Exactly. Be careful. Bead fest. No its definitely being heart of the creative process and energy that you get high.

Erich: It’s an energy. It’s absolutely an energy. It’s sort of, I mean to this day I love going to big shows and big concerts even if I don’t really care for the band because you know the experience of seeing a great concert in that. That’s my church. That’s my religion.

Alison: So tell me because most of the time being your mama, people would say to me “How did you make your child get into acting?” No. No.

Erich: You refused to feed me until I performed.

Alison: There you go. There you go. So what do you think. Because the truth of the matter is that you can’t force anything. I would tell them you can’t force anyone. I mean it’s, forget about it.

Erich: I mean you can. But I have seen and god knows I have a list of names. I have seen parents force their children into the performing arts business and every single time it’s the same story which is the parents are way more into it than the kids are. I mean its horrifying.

Alison: It’s an illusion that it isn’t a lot of work because truth of the matter is, it was auditioning numerous times a day. Almost every day from being young but I know that was your play time. It wasn’t exactly. I don’t know. What do you think you were doing?

Erich: Well again. I thought this is what all kids do. I didn’t realize that kid didn’t do that. I mean every day after school was a couple of auditions and of course. Which I should also explain how I got started, you know. How that started which is?

Alison: Right. that’s my point. Tell people how that happened.

Erich: Well there was a woman was a youth talent manager who saw me performing in an after school program and her job was to scout new young talent and that’s what she did. And I remember that, I think the story is she went to you and dad when I was about 9 years old and said she would be interested in meeting with me and possibly signing with me and you guys said no. Too early, too soon. And then next year she came back and it was the same thing. She asked the same question and you guys finally said “Ok. We’ll take a meeting.” I was like 10 years old when I first signed and got into the business. And this is what I say a lot because I do talk to a lot of young people who are interested in going into the business especially going into college or out of college. Which was, the big question for becoming a professionally actor is always, how do you get an agent? And I’m the worst person to answer to that because I wouldn’t know. I fell into it by accident. I fell into it by this woman who saw me perform for the first time and that’s what got me into the industry per se. And then I grew up in the industry. Now I wasn’t a child star or anything as far as I could remember. But it was working in the business or auditioning a lot in the business and that’s how I first got into it. But I didn’t realize that kids didn’t do that. Too me, what has made me not sort of lose my mind as an actor is that when I started, I started when I didn’t have to put food on the table myself. I wasn’t making a living but it was still just as professional. So I had many years of practice at this before I actually had to make a living at it. So I had a leg up. It’s not like I graduated from college and you now jumped into the industry and looked for agents and became a waiter all of a sudden. I never had to do any of that. A little bit of a different situation for me, but It was all around me. From the minute I truly had no other interest and as the pictures of me on the soccer little league team show.

Alison: I never saw those. Do you have any?

Erich: It’s because they don’t exist

Alison Ah ok. Well here’s the thing let me ask you then. So it’s all you knew. But I’m thinking, is that how because the truth is you have to be professional. Yeah? Be professional. I mean I remember the first time I said to you, you didn’t want to go to one audition. And I said “You can call your agent because I’m not going to.” And that stopped, turned you round. So you have to be professional. Did you know what professional was or was it just that you really liked what you were doing?

Erich: Well I definitely didn’t know what professional was. I really liked what I was doing.

Alison: Like how to act in a room. Because they don’t expect you to act like children, they expect you to act like professional children.

Erich: Right. Well that you sort of learned a little bit by being told obviously by my manager and things like that. But mostly it’s by watching it. Mostly it’s by seeing it in other people.

Alison: OK.

Erich: You know you see it around you. And just like any child growing up in a relationship with their parents, you sort of test the waters. How much can I get away with? How much can I do before you know you get disciplined by our parents? The same thing sort of goes when you are a working actor, it’s sort of the same thing and the committee of people that raised me aside from you and dad, they also did their fair amount of disciplining but that’s how you learn. That’s how you get through it.

Alison: Well do you think? I’m just wondering if there is one thing clearly that you have to know that kids have to bother going into the profession? You know is there one thing you can identify?

Erich: Well you have to love it. You have to love it, honestly.

Alison: But you know what, what part? Because this is what I think get confusing with parents. They said, “My child loves to be a ham?”

Erich: Oh like right. Just because you think there are cute and funny.

Alison: Right and so that’s not it.

Erich: Well that’s what it is. It’s the thing. It’s the thing that doesn’t have a word in it. It’s the thing that you don’t really know what it is. It’s like, what I always think about it I remember I used to watch American Idol before it became too upsetting for me to watch. I just don’t like; I can’t watch any of those competition shows because I can’t stand anyone being judged based on something that they really love to do. But what I remember thinking is when they were showing the really bad auditions, you know the people. And it was always people who were really bad. Really, really tone deaf singers that always were convinced that they were really good and that judges didn’t know what they were talking about. As if they had some vendetta against them. Now we could all hear that they were bad. And obviously maybe there is some psychological thing going on there. But you have to wonder what is it that the professional singers feel that they don’t? I always wonder about myself it was like “Is somebody eventually going to tell me that I’m one of those people? Is it all a joke? Are people afraid to tell me that I’m actually completely tone deaf?” Now I have a resume of work too that shows me otherwise but, do you know what I mean? It’s like that thing that for lack of a better term, that X factor, you know who’s to say what it is? It’s like when did you know that you were good? When did you know what you were good at? Always annoys me, you know people ask that of people who are working in the business and people who are working always say “Oh. I still don’t know.” Or they ask them like “When did you realize that you had made it?” And they always say things like “Oh gosh. I’m still wondering.” You know on their 4th million-dollar movie.

Alison: Well that’s the difference though.

Erich: It was always confusing when people say that because I know that I’m good. I know that I’m good at what I do. I’m not going to pretend that. But I do wonder it’s like how did I know that. How did I figure out that?

Alison: But that’s a whole separate thing and that’s a self-esteem, that’s the confidence, that’s an X factor that’s very different.

Erich: Yeah, but there is a thing that’s like how do you know that you’re not embarrassing? How do you know?

Alison: You don’t. That’s subjective. You know if you are a working person by if you can support yourself or how much money you are making. There’s a different line, you know. There are people, I mean look at your friend Miranda Sings. Is that embarrassing and terrible? But isn’t she successful?

Erich: Yes, but she’s actually pretending to be bad.

Alison: Yes, but that’s even funnier. It’s like yes. She is pretending to be terrible.

Erich: I always think about that my friends, I have friends who are, I think they are really talented but haven’t found their way into the business, yet. They are not working. And then you have to wonder like if you sit around long enough without working or someone tell you that you are good you start to wonder, “OMG. Am I one of those people on American Idol that are completely convinced that I sound fantastic and I’m awful. And I don’t know what that is. I don’t know what that line is that inside that you can hear yourself and you can hear that you are a good singer, how does it make you different from the people who are actually tone deaf but they hear themselves and think they aren’t. I mean what is it?

Alison: Yeah. That is a whole other thing. That involves therapy. That’s a whole different thing. But wait.

Erich: I thought that this is what that was.

Alison: No. But wait you were on a good point there and now I totally lost my train of thought talking about knowing its good. I think it also reflects that if you get work, I mean if you get work and you get hired again.

Erich: Yeah. But there are people who around this world who love doing their art and aren’t doing it in a professional way that they have no tool to measure their success or not, do you know what I mean? In acting and singing I think it’s very easy but I think visual art, how do you measure that?

Alison: There is not just one way. You’re either, like I said, you’re either making a living at doing what you love or you’re doing what you love to make a living. It’s sort of you know, and they are both are successful it’s just which one do you want? What was, maybe I don’t want to hear this. But what was the worse pitfall about, well that’s not even a good word. What was like the worse part about being, or was there a worse part about being professional?

Erich: Well no, thank goodness for me there wasn’t. Honest, there wasn’t because I wasn’t a child star. I know people who were child stars.

Alison: And I’m glad the internet wasn’t around for you then because that is rough.

Erich: And that element you do miss a bit of the normal childhood.

Alison: Because of the attention you’re saying from people who know who you are at that point?

Erich: The attention and the work scheduling.

Alison: Didn’t you think you were famous?

Erich: The question is, do I still think I’m famous? Do I think, what do I think now?

Alison: I mean no. As far as I’m concerned you didn’t know any different. So I’m just asking now as an adult looking back because you are older, if there was something that you think kids miss out on or is it just, this is what you love anyway so it doesn’t matter?

Erich: No I don’t there is any such thing. What is it that they are missing out on? If they love what they’re doing, then they are not missing out on anything. You know that whole thing of, it’s what I talk to you about all the time. The whole idea of vacation you know as adults. You know the whole idea is people, they whole thing of vacation, where are you going to vacation. It’s like I haven’t worked hard enough, it’s rare that I have felt that I am so overworked that I need to step away from doing what I love. And I know that you do the same thing as I do, you’re like the day vacations, the one day vacations are fine. But the whole taking a week to go sit on the beach, I’m sorry. The minute I sit on that beach, all I’m doing is there is 10 other things I’d rather be working on movies I’d rather be watching or plays. To me that’s just not the thing. So if you are a child actor and there are people by the way, there are child actors that I knew growing up. Not really famous ones but they worked. And then they realized it wasn’t their thing and they wanted to go to college for something else and they did. And then they stopped working in the business, they came out unscathed

Alison: But that’s great background in your life to just you know do all of that. It’s a great experience to have.

Erich: I think you really only know and I am doing air quotes here “Miss out” if there is something A that you’d rather be doing or B if you have some really horrible experience. You hear about these kids who grew up on these sitcoms and things like that.

Alison: Do what you love. Well now let’s shoot to the current. You’ve done, well we won’t talk about that first movie. We could but then we would have to show a clip and I can’t show a clip, so. That was good, but you learnt a lot.

Erich: You’re talking about “How sweet it is”.

Alison: Yes. So funny.

Erich: Well you know if any of your listeners do enough an adult beverage or 2 or 6, do that and then you can watch that movie.

Alison: And then you get to do Jersey Boys with Clint Eastwood which hello at first you didn’t think you got the movie and then all of a sudden you did get the movie.

Erich: Right.

Alison: Which is one of those, “You should always listen to your mother when your mother says to you I don’t think it’s over yet.” And then all of a sudden the whole thing gets recast, re-changed and boom, now it’s you. That was a high. That was a high right? Clint Eastwood directs you in the movie you wanted to be in. That’s pretty good.

Erich: Yeah. And that whole experience, the getting that job was very weird. You know I had been a part of Jersey Boys the show for the stage production for 3 years. The first national tour and the original company in Vegas. And then I was fired from the show and then didn’t do the show for a long time. You know I thought my days of being anything to do with Jersey Boys were gone. And then, but I worked. I mean I continue to work and have a career and did lots of great projects. And then it was announced that the movie was happening and it was going to be directed by Jon Favreau. And it started to go into production and I had heard this name that sort of leaked out who had gotten that parts but nothing was really confirmed. And then the movie got cancelled. They whole thing got scrapped for budget reasons. And then so I thought Ok so that’s over. You know it was hard to hear that it was going to be happening because when I was doing the show you think, “oh god they are going to make a movie of this one day”. In your wildest dream yes of course I thought about being in the movie. I loved that! Yes! And then you know you go that’s a wildest dream. And I’ll chase most wild dreams but this one was like you know that sort of out of my control. But that version of the movie fell apart and then it ended up all of a sudden you hear Clint Eastwood is doing it. And it’s like wow, ok. And it was, I got called in, one audition and that was it. One audition. Clint wasn’t even in the room for the audition. It was a video camera and the casting director and that was it. And it was crazy. It was just crazy to think that was even possible and you know 2 years later and you are seeing posters of yourself with Jersey Boys the movie all over LA and New York. It’s just bizarre. It’s just one of those things were it felt like it wasn’t even me. Like I was watching some documentary about it and I was like “Oh look I’m in that.” It was very bizarre. The whole thing.

Alison: I felt last night when I caught HBO, that it’s on HBO Now and I haven’t watched it on TV and Derek comes on and you are already old. I’m not doing any spoilers.

Erich: Oh you mean the end of the movie where I had the old age thing.

Alison: Towards the end. And I knew it was you but it didn’t matter and I was totally engaged in the movie. And at the end when they shoot back to you being young I’m like “Look, there’s Erich“. So it does get a little bizarre. And so now, Ok. So now you go on to TV. Tell people they haven’t seen it, Madam Secretary, Téa Leoni. How fantastic, fantastic is that woman and everyone on your staff? I mean.

Erich: We love her, yes.

Alison: I mean talk about, I’ve been on the set, she runs just a wonderful set. What a lovely woman.

Erich: Well it’s a really interesting thing because there is so much talk obviously right now about you know women in the work place and women especially in media. And this is a whole show that, a show that was really spearheaded by an incredible woman named Nina Tassler, the head of entertainment at CBS television. And then was created by two people, a woman named Barbara Hall who also created the show Judging Amy and Joan of Acadia and she was a writer on Homeland for season 3 I would say. And Barbara created the show and produced by another incredible woman named Lori McCreary who runs a production company with Morgan Freeman.

Alison: And they are fantastic women to be around. It’s really fantastic.

Erich: And they are and they are led by Téa Leoni who is fantastic. A genius both on and off screen and one of the nicest fun woman ever. And it’s really interesting to be a part of this sort of and of course it’s about a female Secretary of State. It’s really, really quite a thrill to be around and it’s doing so well. When you wake up on Monday morning and you hear that 14 million people watched you on television the night before it’s a fun thing. Its great. Now if I can just get all of TV to give me a dollar that would be great.

Alison: Alright, well let me ask you something because all of the people who are Blake Moran fans wish I had a Blake in their life. Sometimes well it’s fun when you act like Blake around me. How much do you identify with that character?

Erich: With Blake?

Alison: Yes.

Erich: When they first sent me the script, the part was sort of written, it was described in the sort of character description as her office manager, her assistant sort of runs the office and very put together and Kennedy-esque. And I was like Ok. But I brought, what was known about the character. Elizabeth McCord who is the character that Téa plays, you know she gets the job in the first episode of the series. And she is really an outsider. She’s never worked in politics. She was in the CIA. So she takes over this job as Secretary of State because the previous Secretary of State, a guy, has died. And she inherits all of the staff that he had. So they are not her people except for me. She brings me along from her previous job. So I’m really her only, I’m her guy. And sort of the only one that she can trust and all that. So I sort of thought of myself as an outsider too. That my character hasn’t necessarily worked in government, doesn’t know how to really play that game but he feels protected by her and he knows what she likes. So I just sort of started making him a little sassier. The part wasn’t necessarily written that way. I mean there are some very funny lines and there was some very great writing. But it wasn’t what you would call sassy or anything. It was just little quips here and there and I just started to play at a little more testing the waters, you know. He’ll say something and forget that he’s working in a government building. And then Barbara and the rest of the writing staff started to write my character that way. And now they write it so perfectly and it’s so much fun and it’s just fun to be on a set. I think the most interesting thing for me was the adapting to television. When you get to work on a play in the theatre, you know you have a rehearsal process. Whether that rehearsal process is a month or a week, you do get time on your own to develop what it is you want to do and then your show runs for 3 years or it runs for a week or a month or one night. But you get to work on it and perfect it as much as you can before an audience gets to see it. And then of course when the audience sees it. You’ve gotten it to a place where you’re are comfortable performing it but then you even work on it more. Every night it gets better. It TV, you don’t do that. Not only is there no rehearsal because it’s just, you are shooting one episode at a time, its fast. You have eight days to film an episode then you go straight to the next episode, you sort of didn’t realize that you are filming different episodes. You are filming one very long movie. But you have to, there is that phrase that you learn in acting school where you basically, you learn the different methods and you study everything and you do all of your actors homework and you go over what your character had for breakfast and all of that acting school crap. And then your job is to sort of forget it. It’s just to have it in the back of your head. And that’s where it comes into play. You know on television, you have to walk on to a set and this is true for the Jersey Boys movie as well. You walk on to a set that you’ve never seen before, you have your lines but there is no real blocking. You don’t really know where to go. And they just sort of on the spot you just sort of make it up. You’re reading with the fellow actors for the first time and you just have to have the freedom and ability to trust your talent and play. And then eventually you get it to a spot that you’re comfortable with it and somebody presses record on the video camera. And 10 minutes later you’ll probably think, “Oh there was something I’d rather have done. Now I figured it out. But you already shot it, you’ve already moved on. So you have to get better at getting more and more comfortable in your playing and just be kids in a sandbox. Because 14 million people are going to see you and there is no rehearsal process. So it’s a very interesting, the adaption from, you know you really get your training in theater as an actor but you learn to build your bag of tricks in television.

Alison: Well, tell everyone so they get an idea of let’s say there is a scene and it’s, I don’t know, 3 minutes in the Oval Office. Let’s say it’s a 3-minute scene in the Oval Office. How long did that take to film, approximately?

Erich: 5 hours.

Alison: And I know you are not kidding.

Erich: No, I’m being conservative.

Alison: Yeah. I wanted people to understand what the reality is behind that stuff.

Erich: I mean it’s, we were shooting the other day a 5-page scene.

Alison: How many minutes is that in TV time?

Erich: You don’t really think of it in minutes. You don’t think of it in minutes. In television you think of it as pages. You get done somewhere in between 7 to 10 pages a day. 10 is extreme if you can film 10 pages a day. You know you are filming 10 pages a day when you walk in the morning and there is already fear on everyone’s faces. Because a 4 or 5-page scene is 6 hours.

Alison: Ok. Got it. It’s just good for people to know that. Because how much goes into it. It looks so easy in the audience, which is a good sign. Any art when it looks so easy and whatever when you watch it, wear it, view it, enjoy it, eat it. Any of those things the amount of hours that goes into it.

Erich: Oh, the whole object of any part of the arts whatever your job is. Let’s just use a TV show for example is to make it look like not a TV show. The whole objective of a camera man’s job is to tell the story that’s being told in the best way without the camera being noticeable.

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