In Hallmark Channel's Pandemic (premiering Saturday at 8 pm/ET, repeating Sunday at 6), when flu-like symptoms kill a young man aboard a plane en route to Los Angeles from Australia, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (one Tiffani Thiessen) orders the quarantine of all the passengers. Alas, containing an outbreak never proves to be simple, and soon a hunt is on for Patient Zero. Playing the mayor of Los Angeles during this crisis is Eric Roberts, most recently of Heroes but more notably from any number of films. Oh, and he's Julia's brother and up-and-comer Emma's pop. Prior to meeting a fatal fate in Heroes' season finale, Roberts spoke with TVGuide.com about his colorful roles, and how proud he is of his little "Nancy Drew."
TVGuide.com: You and I actually "go back a ways," sort of. Star 80 was one of the first R-rated movies I was able to get into, and I ushered at a theater showing Runaway Train.
Eric Roberts: Star 80 must have blown your mind as a kid. Bob Fosse made such good movies.
TVGuide.com: Your character, Paul Snider....
Roberts: He was such a bastard.
TVGuide.com: But an almost comic bastard. How was it to tackle such a role at so young an age?
Roberts: It was hard, I'll be honest with you. I disliked the part so much, I didn't want to make the movie, but I was such a fan of Bob Fosse. He made me audition four times before he gave it to me. I just put myself in his lap and said, "OK, what do you want to see? Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.... OK, thanks, I'll do that." I was a kid, so I just did it for him.
TVGuide.com: I'll always remember the Playboy mansion party scene where Paul thinks he's impressing all these people, but is actually coming across as such a heel.
Roberts: Yeah, that's a very good scene.
TVGuide.com: Which would you not have predicted those 20-some years ago: That you would one day be playing the mayor of Los Angeles, or that you'd be a cast member on one of the hottest shows on TV?
Roberts: I would have thought I'd never play the mayor of Los Angeles. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Is Mayor Dellasandro someone you'd want in charge of Tinseltown?
Roberts: Oh, yeah. He's a totally great guy. Really normal, really cool, well dressed... and he's good to his governor, Faye Dunaway.
TVGuide.com: As he should be.
Roberts: As he should be, right.
TVGuide.com: Hallmark is of course known for the "messages" in their movies. What would you say Pandemic's message is?
Roberts: Don't go surfing in Australia and then get on a plane sick.
TVGuide.com: And if you do, and get put in quarantine, for the love of god, just stay there.
Roberts: Yeah, just grin and bear it, dude!
TVGuide.com: You're an actor who gets to look back on his career and say, "You know, I've played a bunch of very interesting people."
Roberts: Well, I only started doing that about five years ago. I started doing those sorts of roles because — and I hear this about twice a day — people say, "You make so many movies, I can turn on the TV and see you all day long!" I'm like, "Well, cool." And then I realize it's true. And when I realized that, I thought, OK, I'm overexposed, so I'm going to go and have a good time.
TVGuide.com: Heroes' Thompson was brought in to kind of show us, "You know what? HRG isn't that bad of a guy." Are we going to be learning anything else about him before the season is up?
Roberts: Here's what I can tell you, because every script we get....
TVGuide.com: Yeah, Adrian [Pasdar] showed me the detailed confidentiality clause.
Roberts: "You're only as strong as the secrets you keep." That always cracks me up. HRG was coming across like he was nobody's friend, so they brought me in to jump all over him and make him likable. But I recruit the heroes, I know who they are and what they are and I say, "Hey, come with me." It's a cool job.
TVGuide.com: Is it safe to say he had a finger in the pot in the season finale?
Roberts: Oh, yeah. You know, I've never been on a hit TV show, and at every traffic light [I get], "We love you!" I hear it every day. It's really funny, because I wasn't part of it being a hit, I just walked into it. And now I get to evoke fun from it.
TVGuide.com: Is your daughter Emma a fan of the show?
Roberts: Let me tell you a story. I had just gotten back from a movie shoot, and I was really tired. I walk in the house, and I'm told I have an audition within like six hours for a show called Heroes. I said, "An audition? For Heroes? What is Heroes? F--k it, I'm too tired." My daughter says to me, "What is wrong with you?! It's Heroes! You've got to go, Dad!" My lawyer says the same thing: "Eric, I don't tell you how to run your career, but you've got to go up for this thing." So I went in, I auditioned, and I got the part. And then I realized, I've been in this racket for a while, and I was reminded that auditioning is a frightening process. Then I got turned onto these people who said to me, "Have you ever heard of DremMak?" What it is is this new business in many malls in America, where you walk in, rent a studio for 25 bucks an hour, you get a video camera and lights and makeup, and you take as much time as you want and you get [an audition tape] done. It's the answer to all actors' fears, even mine. I've been nominated for Academy Awards, Golden Globes, I've been around the world, I'm related to two of the hottest babes in show business, but I get scared. This is the answer to everybody's fear as an actor.
TVGuide.com: Who's more excited for the big Nancy Drew film [opening June 15], Emma or Dad?
Roberts: [Laughs] I am so excited I can't see straight. It's really neat to see a little girl grow up, turn 16 and get Nancy Drew. You realize that's she about to become an international superstar, and you're about to lose her. But she's awfully normal about it and cool about it. The only things that have changed are her shopping lists — and they have changed!
TVGuide.com: She stopped by the TV Guide offices a few months ago, and she was a complete delight.
Roberts: Oh, thank you. Thank you.
TVGuide.com: Anything else coming up for you?
Roberts: I have an independent film in the can called The Butcher, which is about a mafia hit man, and it's a really good movie. And then I play a notorious mafioso in Christian Bale's Batman [Begins sequel, Dark Knight]. It's a fun part.
TVGuide.com: Why do you tend to be the go-to guy for the nefarious types?
Roberts: Because I've done it really well in the past, and Hollywood has no imagination. But that's OK!
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