Can Sliders survive without Jerry O'Connell? With newcomer Robert Floyd playing Mallory, we say yes! By David Richardson.
ROBERT FLOYD can't wait to talk to Xpose! It's the middle of March and I'm sitting on the set of Sliders while scenes are being shot fot the penultimate episode of season five, Dust. Throughout the day I've had the opertunity to interview different members of the cast, and Floyd has patiently awaited his turn. This is his first TV series, and his eager enthusiasm is wonderfully refreshing.
It's this boundless energy and verve that brought the actor to the attention of the Sliders producers, when they were casting two new leads for season five. Jerry O'Connell who, as Quinn Mallory, had led the series since its debut in 1995, has chosen not to return, along with his brother Charlie, who played Colin. In their place, enter Floyd as the 'melded' Mallory and Tembi Locke as ohysicist Diana Davies.
Thanks to its imaginative premise - a group of people 'sliding' between parallel Earths, where they encounter different variations of the same world - Sliders has survived many changes in cast, producers and style. The season opener, The Unstucj Man, sets the scene for the introduction of Mallory and Diana - while Quinn and Colin meet a tragic end... "I was Quinn's alternate in another world," Floyd explains. "When he is in the wormhole we are merged through a crazy experiment by Dr Geiger."
Geiger, played by Babylon 5's Peter Jurasik, is the titular Unstuck Man. Trapped within the Sliding vortex and unable to interface with the real world, the unscrupulous scientist has been attempting to find a way to merge himself with a Sliders. Mallory is the lab rat, used to prove that the process works.
"In the vortex he slams two people together and merges them as one. Most of the original Quinn is killed off."
There's no doubt that long time fans will be mortified by the teaser sequence, which finds Quinn and Colin disintegrating in the vortex, and the young stranger Mallory emerging in their place. In replacing such a popular leading character, Floyd faces a huge challenge, and yet - having seen the actor at work, and after viewing advance copies of finished episodes - there's little doubt that he will soon win over fans and establish a large following of his own.
"He's a fantastic actor," says Floyd of his predecessor. "There's a realy nice inner strength about him.
"It was very nerve-wracking at first, because he had been so successful and everybody loved him. He is extremely good at what he does - not only his acting, but he was directing episodes and doing an amazing job. I definitely felt a little heat on but at the same time I was fortunate that the writers didn't want me to be who he was. So I was able to play and have a lot of fun."
In the first few episodes as Mallory adjusts to having some of Quinn's memories and persona within his head, so Floyd would have to impersonate O'Connell. And he acheives an astonishingly close match...
"I watched a lot of the old roles that he did," the actor says. "He often weighs his words when he speaks, and that made his character very powerful. There are times, especially in the beginning episodes, when I tried to slide into that until I really started to find my character, who is really just Mallory. He tends to be a bit more of a live wire and he gets into a lot of trouble but it definitely adds a lot of fun."
A young actor with a clutch of excellent credits to his name, Floyd originally studied his craft at Carnegie Hall in New York, and worked in theatre. He moved to Los Angeles to apear in an Ivan Reitman pilot, and never returned to NYC.
"I stayed and just kept working out here," says Floyd, who has apeared in Early Edition, Law and Order and Silk Stalkings. "I really loved New York, I did a lot of theatre, I worked with a lot of great people. But if you're interested in TV so much of it is shot here. I kept busy and I said I'll go bakc to theatre another time."
How did the actor come to audition for Sliders? "I had just finished working on a couple of different independant [movies]," he recalls. "I knew that Jerry had left the show and I called my agents about coming in and meeting with the producers. I loved the show, I loved the concept. I'd known it when it moved to Sci-Fi. It was really exciting to me, because it's one of those shows where every week it's something different. You have no idea what to expect and I haven't been let down at all. It's been a ride."
For the established Sliders, Rembrandt (Cleavant Derricks - now the longest serving member of the cast) and Maggie (Kari Wuhrer), thw apparent deaths of their friends and the arrival of Mallory and Diana is something of a shock. Maggie must adjust to the fact that she has lost her relationship with Quinn (in fact they shared an entire lifetime together in a bubble universe during the episode Roads Taken), while Rembrandt is deprived of his best friend. And Mallory is a very different person altogether...
"The original Quinn is a genius, and I'm very street smart," Floyd defines. "I'm very quick in that aspect, but I'm not [intellectually] smart at all.
"In the beginning it's great because Mallory has no idea what the word 'Team' means. He's only about himself, so a lot of times when he gets into trouble it's just through not trusting, not from being able to realize that there's somebody there, because he never had a real family. Rembrandt teaches him so much about life and how to stay out of trouble and how to trust again. It's neat.
"As the show has progressed I also develop an inner strength and an edge to him, which really helped me seperate myself from the other Quinn. That was important."
At the time of the interview, the Sliders cast were shooting their 17th episode together. It's pleasing to report that the chemistry between them was very much in evidence; everyone's happy, relaxed and working hard, and that shows in the finished product. The departure of Jerry O'Connell may have been a blow, but by no means is it the end of the show.
"We have a great time together," Floyd raves. "It's just a lot of fun. Kari will usually slap me in the middle of a scene and at the end of the scene I'll get her back. There's a constant play and I think that keeps it all alive, everybody's on their toes."
With executive producer Bill Dial at the helm, the Sliders writers have been careful to ensure that a well-balanced mix of scripts cater for all of the characters evenly. The fifth season finds Mallory involved with motorbike outlaws in Easy Slider, helping a jewel heist in To Catch a Slider and joining an archaelogical dig in Dust. As a personal favourite, Floyd lists New Gods For Old, which explores Mallory's past and inner demons.
We already know that, in the character's back story, he was a multiple sclerosis sufferer who was mysteriously cured by Dr Geiger. New Gods For Old finds Mallory paralyzed, and attempting to cope with a feeling of total helplessness.
"I get shot in the back just as we're diving through the Vortex," Floyd offers. "His legs are wiped out. He had to go back and face the worst thing possible in his mind - being back in the chair. when he is cured, I think that's a turning point and his beginning of really trusting others. Before that, it was all about me. From then on you start to see more of an inner strength in him. Before it was more on the outside."
Floyd also enjoyed making Heavy Metal, a rather fun installment in which the Sliders accidentally land in the Pacific Ocean and are saved from drowning by a pirate ship.
"About two weeks ago I was 35 feet high on a ship walking on a plank with a big machete in my back!" exclaims the actor: "I'm one of those actors who likes to say, 'Hey let the stunt guy do it!' They said, 'No you'd look great!' I've done more stunts than I ever thought possible: I know how to fire a machine gun, I know how to ride a motercyle now. I've done quite a few fights."
Does Floyd share his character's enthusiasm for adventure and activity?
"I played college basketball," he responds. "I swim junior Olympics and then I played club American football in Germany. I really enjoy sports but right now I can't remember doing anything since we started filming. I try to get up at four three or four days a week to get to the gym, but that's about it. Right now you work Monday through to Friday and you're in about every scene. Saturday you lay around in a coma, and Sunday you feel better again!"
Floyd is far from being a Hollywood wild child. Obviously at peace with himself and greatly enjoying success within his profession, the actor has been married for five years.
"I don't really go out or anything," he smiles, "so I never see that aspect. I live pretty central to everything so work's always close. I'm always driving into work at five in the mornings and I leave at eight or nine at night. I like working here."
It's been said that there are somewhere in the region of 300 web sites devoted to Sliders. It's worldwide following is huge, with an audience that has stuck by the show through many cancellations and revamps. Stories on Floyd began appearing on the internet months ago, but the actor has never been curious to check them out.
"I don't have a computer!" he grins. "I've just been going from project to project. I will get one and learn how to use it - I guess that's another difference between the other Quinn and I! I've never bene on the Net, but I'll probably buy one in the next month or two and start to work with it, because I've heard there's so many websites."
At the time of our conversation, Sliders had yet to air. Now the fifth series has debuted and Floyd is beginning to enter the public eye.
"I haven't given it any thought whatsoever," he says candidly of the concept of fame. "It's been working in anonymity this whole time and enjoying the work with no distractions. It'll be interesting because I am replacing such a well-loved character.
"I did the best I could and enjoyed myself. I'm working on a show with a great concept and great people."