Joseph Sikora may be one of the hottest new faces on television since Power debuted on Starz in 2014, but you might not have noticed that the Chicago native has been right in front of you for nearly three decades already. In his earlier work, Sikora landed a plethora of bit roles in shows like Monk, Frasier, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order SVU and many more, but it was scene-stealing performances on shows like Boardwalk Empire, True Detective and Banshee and films like Jack Reacher that set the pace for his breakout role as Tommy Egan on Power.
While he was on a recent trip home with family in Chicago, Sikora spoke with UrbLife.com about his vast career experience, the most important lessons he’s learned from co-stars, and how his love scenes really go down on Power. Read on…
You’ve played pretty bad guys in some of our favorite shows, like Ginger in True Detective, Sharp in Banshee, Hans Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire and now Tommy in Power. Does playing polarizing characters appeal to you more than nice guys?
Joseph Sikora: I don’t think they appeal to me more. I just think that rawness and emotion is something I’m able to access, and one of the big reasons is that I’ve been in anger management therapy for the last five plus years. I think that once you’re able to kind of understand your anger, you’re able to own it a little bit more. So you’re able to choose, so that you own the anger, and the anger doesn’t own you.
At the same time I’ve realized it’s a part of me, and something that’s easily accessible when called upon. With Tommy, obviously it’s a very complex and fun role to play, but I think those are some of the reasons Tommy is not also this intense killer and scary guy, but also the comic relief. Part of that is because I’ve always worked to be the comic relief as Tommy. I never just do the anger. I know it’s there, I know there is intensity that I bring to a character, so I often try to play against that just know that when I need it, it will be there.
I think sometimes when I audition for these roles, those are the kind of things that are there. Even someone like [my character]James Barr in Jack Reacher, it’s kind of void of anger. It’s definitely a different person, the vulnerability for someone like James Barr is something that I’m also drawn to. He’s obviously not a very smart guy who just wanted to feel what it was like to kill somebody.
That’s kind of a strange thing as well. With Tommy, killing people was something that happened because it was a part of the game. Whereas somebody like Barr there’s a totally different feeling. It’s a childlike curiosity, although there are childlike aspects to Tommy too, especially now that he’s fallen in love for the first time.
What were some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in working with major players like Tom Cruise [Jack Reacher], Leonardo DiCaprio [Shutter Island], Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson [True Detective], and also people like yourself who have been largely character actors and grinding it out in Hollywood?
JS: Well, I’ve been acting professionally for 20 years and it’s a hard struggle. It’s a really difficult life full of rejection and self doubt, not having friends. Just being back in Chicago makes me think, “This is where all my crew is. This is where my boys are from.” Not having that for so long, and having it very hard to make friends in these places until I embraced I was an actor… which probably didn’t happen until right around Boardwalk Empire.
I think one of the reasons [I persevered] was I had people that believed in me at a time when Hollywood made me doubt believing in myself. People like Martin Scorsese who was so generous with Hans Schroeder and so encouraging. I asked, “What do you want me to do Marty?” and he said “I want you to do you. You’re really an excellent actor. You’re really asking me that question?” and I was like “Wow really?”
Then Cary Fukunaga with True Detective… I didn’t even audition for Ginger. I had an audition for Charlie Lang, the guy they saw in prison that they talked to, but Cary and Nic [Pizzolatto] saw this in me. There was one time on set where I grab [Rust’s] balls and I’m like “I love this outlaw life” and I say “Cary is that ok?” and he goes “Dude, you’re blowing me away. Don’t doubt yourself.” Just embracing that acting is the make believe part of it. The more I enjoy it, the more I know the audience is enjoying it.
For the lessons I’ve learned… everyone has a different way of doing things. I really loved that Tom Cruise, who I really admired in Jack Reacher, is just real true consummate professional and he has this boyish quality of just loving film. He just wants to entertain people and have it be great. Whatever things people want to say about Tom Cruise, he’s a great actor.
Leonardo DiCaprio, even that little bit in Shutter Island, he was an excellent scene partner and Sir Ben Kingsley. [Kingsley] only looked at me in a scene, but he made sure that the gaffer got his ladder out of the way – he said, “Well I certainly can’t see Joseph from here.” That’s important. That’s gracious, and I think there’s a certain amount of being gracious on a set adding to the joy of entertainment.
Our first A.D. on the Jack Reacher set, Cliff, said “Listen, we really have to trust that we’re not doing brain surgery. So when people go crazy and there’s a lot of yelling and screaming, don’t get caught up.” I don’t get caught up. There’s a saying in Yoga, “Take yourself seriously but lightly”. Take the practice seriously but lightly. That’s how I try to do with acting, and just create and have fun.
What I’ve learned from the people that I’m with right now including Naturi Naughton, Lela Loren and Omari Hardwick is that everybody has a different process. I knew that before, but [more so]now that I’m at work all the time and I’m in every episode with a lot to do.
It’s interesting respecting everyone else’s journey, not pushing and pulling, and knowing that when I work with Omari it’s very different on set and with Naturi. Not one is better or worse in any capacity, but just respecting them and also making sure that you teach people how to treat you, so you can’t be bullied over somebody’s ego or by somebody else’s process. You give respect, but you need to demand respect as well, but that can be done in a cool way too. You don’t have to be crazy about it. I love working. Power is a dream job, so I’m having fun and I think everyone can see that I’m having fun.
Which character aside from Tommy has been your favorite to play and why?
JS: Before all of my scenes were cut from Jack Reacher – all of my dialogue. [laughs]I guess you know Ginger was an exceptional role. I really had a great time working with Cary Fukunaga. I think he’s a visionary director and probably will show himself to be one of the best directors of our generation. I had a great time and Matthew [McConaughey] is such a method actor that it was kinda fun to be around him. I think that people made the assumption that Ginger was such an intense character, and I did all the research of the East Texas accent, that people assumed that I was very methody. I’m more of a homework actor. I do a lot of research and live in the character.
I’ve done so much theater that sometimes I need my peace of mind and space beforehand. I don’t necessarily have to do all that. [Actor] Tom Wilkinson was big when I was doing [the film]Normal. He kept saying, “There’s no need to take all that out on the crew.” It’s a pretty interesting theory too.
I think Tommy will prove to be my breakout role. I think I will do films and other stuff but after this I think for a long time the fans will still call me Tommy. Everybody on the street calls me Tommy and I know other actors who won’t respond to that and say “I’m this and I’m that.” I’m very grateful to Power, Courtney Kemp Agboh, and the character Tommy. That whole thing about taking it seriously and taking it lightly, I’m not that precious.
How has it been for you to do love scenes with people all around you?
JS: I certainly think it’s awkward enough, but Lucy Walters [who plays Holly]is a great scene partner. We’re friendly so that’s nice. She a very talented actress, I think we play well off each other, and she gives me what I need in a scene. I try to facilitate what she needs in a scene and she’s very accessible with that part of that character as I try to be accessible to her.
It’s also very professional, where when they say “cut” we’re back to Joe and Lucy. It’s very distinct, which I’m sure my wife appreciates. My wife is a makeup artist in the business, so she sees that all the time, but still when its on-screen she goes, “Ok tell me when I can look again.” Tommy does some sexy scenes, you know? [laughs]It’s not easy, but certainly not as erotic.
If there was any film or TV show you can go back in time and remake and put yourself in it, what would it be and what role would you play?
JS: For me, I would to be in Deadwood. I really loved Deadwood and I would love to be Timothy Olyphant [character Seth Bullock], that would be great for me. My initial reaction would be the A-Team being Howling Mad Murdock, but sometimes you watch and episode and go “maybe not. Maybe more Temp.” [Laughs]
What do you want people to know most about you as an artist and as a man at this stage of your life?
JS: That I’m a citizen of the people, and that life is a long hard road. I respect and love everybody, and that’s all I want out of anybody else. I love playing diverse roles. I’m trying to learn and teach at the same time. I think we should all be teachers and learners at the same time. To me, that’s what I think the ancient craft of acting is trying to do, having us explore the human condition together. I’ll show you what people seem like, and that’s my job to be as truthful as I can to a character so it transcends, and people can relate and see themselves in that character and think about their lives. I’m a storyteller; I’m part of an ancient tribe.