Steve Valentine, who played Crossing Jordan's sarcastic and witty criminologist, Nigel Townsend, has crossed over into reality TV. The saucy Brit has had a varied career, including a gig as a magician, but had never tried reality TV — until now. Valentine hosts Sci Fi's Estate of Panic (Wednesdays at 10 pm/ET), a reality show that places seven contestants per episode in different rooms inside a mysterious mansion. Their challenges are designed around grabbing the most money possible from rooms that boast nasty surprises, such as electrical shocks, snakes, and collapsing walls, until only one remains. We caught up with Valentine on a break from filming an upcoming episode of Monk to talk about his guilt over sending contestants into snake-filled rooms, which challenge he thinks he could never do and what he's working on next.
TVguide.com: The first episode of Estate of Panic starts off with some pretty brutal challenges, don't you think?
Steve Valentine: What's even more brutal... seeing the rooms right before I pushed the contestants into them. I had a lot of guilt about it in the first episode. They were all very sweet, and they'd be talking to me off camera and in the back of my mind, I'm thinking "You're about to go in a room full of water and snakes!"
TVGuide.com: What drew you from doing scripted shows like Crossing Jordan, over to a reality show?
Valentine: Well, this is something I've never done. I've had the most bizarre career path you can imagine — I was a DJ in Yugoslavia, a stand-up comedian on a cruise ship, headlined as a magician in Vegas. In between all of that, I've always been acting. Those things were just other interests. But, I've never done anything like this. I've been approached about reality before and it's not been particularly either inventive or stimulating. I loved the theatricality of it, and for me, I feel like I'm playing a character anyway. I'm just getting more in touch with my sadistic side, I guess.
TVGuide.com: Well, we never hear your name on the show, so you're just "mysterious owner guy?"
Valentine: They all end up calling me "Creepy Guy," which I'm getting a little offended by (laughs). I guess I am creepy guy. I ended up channeling Vincent Price a little bit.
TVGuide.com: Have any of the stunts gone awry?
Valentine: No, I think we've actually been quite lucky. Everything was double tested. I would test some of the stuff because that was a concern of mine. I didn't want to be helming something where people would get really badly hurt ... obviously there is going to be an element of risk in any of these kinds of competitions ... but everything was well handled. I was really impressed.
TVGuide.com: Has there been one particular stunt that stands out as something you could never do?
Valentine: The first time that we took the contestants outside to the sewer drains, I saw the holes in the ground and they were really tight. These drains are very tight, tight tubes. I had major anxiety thinking about going there. A number of contestants were freaking out — they did it — and I was really amazed that no one refused to go. But I felt it, when I looked at those dark holes — I wouldn't have done it. And also, knowing that it stunk down there and again, there were spiders, snakes, crabs and who knows what else was down there.
TVGuide.com: What's next for you?
Valentine: Right now, I'm filming an episode of Monk — they're in their last season — I love that show, and I'm playing a magician. It's called "Mr. Monk Meets the Magician." [Magic's] always been a hobby of mine, and this is a great character. [He's] so Mandrake (a famous vaudeville magician) — he's mysterious and a throwback to the classic illusionists. I'm also pitching a show that I wrote right now.