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SEVEN DAYS: Jonathan LaPaglia

The doctor-turned-actor talks about playing chrononaut Frank Parker and Wednesday's episode, "Fire Last Time."

By Anna L. Kaplan     November 20, 2000

Jonathan LaPaglia plays chrononaut Frank Parker, who travels back a week in time during every episode of Seven Days to save the world from some cataclysmic event. Seven Days is now in its third season on UPN, and LaPaglia has been very busy, appearing in almost every scene of every show. But he took some time out from a shooting day in Vancouver to talk about the episode 'Fire Last Time,' which is written by Tim Finch.

''Fire Last Time' is really a backstory on Frank Parker, and explains what happened in Somalia when he ended up in the hotbox,' explains LaPaglia. 'We have referred to it over the last couple of years, but never fully explained it. This one does. It is really told through a series of flashbacks that are triggered by a mission I go on that parallels the event that happened in Somalia. So it's an interesting story. Kenny Johnson directed it, and is doing a great job. It should be a good one.'

LaPaglia is glad to get a chance to do something a little bit different in the episode. 'I am enjoying it because it is quite a challenge,' says LaPaglia. 'A lot of the show has become very throw-away, tongue-in-cheek. A lot of it is superficial. This one lets my character go, let's me as an actor go to places I don't normally go to, so I am enjoying that. At the same time, it is tough, and it's difficult. But I'm getting some satisfaction from it, some gratification from it. What other episode have I really enjoyed? The first episode we shot this yearthey didn't air in orderwas one called 'Rhino.' I really enjoyed working with the guest star on that, by the name of Bob Koherr.'

LaPaglia also enjoyed a season two comedic episode in which Parker winds up inside the Pope's body. ''Pope Parker' was good character work, things I don't normally do,' says LaPaglia. 'It allowed me to do something a little different. Whenever there is some kind of challenge for me as an actor, then those are the ones I really enjoy. Like with any TV show, there is a certain cookie cutter formula that you use to knock them out. It's understandable, because you are churning them out every eight or nine days. It's a lot to churn out in eight or nine days. So they can't always be a challenging show. There are many that become the standard protocol.'

Besides the basic plot line of Seven Days, which forces Parker to backstep every week, LaPaglia explains that the episodes are meant to be self-contained. 'There is a whole business side to producing a show,' explains LaPaglia, 'and part of the business side for this show is marketing the series overseas. In order to that, they want the flexibility to be able to air the episodes out of order. That means that each episode must be self-contained, which means that you can't have a through-line for a season. You can't have a through-line for the character that runs through many episodes, because you would have to air them in order. That is, to me, a huge limitation. It means that the character stays the same every week. As actors, we all want to stretch and do something different.'

Because Parker is the only time traveler, this means a lot of work for LaPaglia. But he says things have become a bit easier this season. 'It's been better this year,' says LaPaglia. 'It's been a little more organized than it has in the past. We had quite a number of growing pains on this show. Like any other show, season one had growing pains. But when we moved the show to Vancouver in season two, it was just like doing season one all over again. It was like starting from scratch. Now that we are into season three, and the second year in Vancouver, things seem to be going a little bit smoother, which is great, because that translates into more manageable hours and better working conditions. It was getting out of control the first two years. Believe me, we aren't doing eight hour days. [But] rather than doing 16-19 hour days, we are doing like 13-14 hour days. It's still long, but a couple of hours make a difference.'

LaPaglia is probably the only TV actor who changed careers from medicine to acting. He was actually a practicing physician, doing emergency medicine. His brother, actor Anthony LaPaglia, provided some inspiration when he was thinking about a career change. He was raised and schooled in Australia, where students go straight from high school into medical school.

'It was a gradual thing, really,' recalls LaPaglia. 'Halfway through medicine, when I was studying, I got a little disillusioned. I felt it had pretty much been done before and I was just learning it and regurgitating it at the right time. From a creative point of view I felt a little stifled, and I wanted some kind of creative outlet. My brother was definitely an influence, because it was evident to me that he was very happy and creatively fulfilled as an actor. I guess that's what put it in my head. It took me four or five years before I actually did something about it.'

'In high school, my major was fine arts, and that was where my head was at,' adds LaPaglia. 'I also did the sciences. I actually had enrolled in college to do fine arts. At the last minute I changed my mind. I chose medicine because I had more buddies going into medicine at that time, and I just wanted to go to university. Before I knew it, I'm halfway through it and I am saying, 'What about the creative side of my soul.' That's what all started it.'

LaPaglia made the transition to acting when he moved to New York, training at the Circle in the Square Theatre School, and appearing on stage in a number of productions. He went on to play Tommy MacNamara in the television series New York Undercover (1996-1997), guest starred on Law and Order and appeared in the telefilm Inferno (1998). His feature film credits include Deconstructing Harry (1997), Origin of the Species (1998) and Under Hellgate Bridge (1999).

LaPaglia laughs about the changes in his life, saying, 'I work harder now than I did as a doctor. There's the irony. I thought it was overtaking my life, and I had no life. There were so many other things I wanted to do. Cut to my own TV series, and I absolutely have no life now. I've gone full circle.'

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