In Conversation with North Fork TV Fest Honoree Jeremy Sisto

Jeremy Sisto, Photo: Josh Telles
Jeremy Sisto, Photo: Josh Telles

If you’ve watched any TV in the last two decades, you’ve probably seen prolific actor Jeremy Sisto in at least one role. From 2001 until now, he’s been a series regular on at least one show every single year. His long list of series includes Six Feet Under, Kidnapped, Law & Order, Suburgatory, The Returned, Wicked City, The Long Road Home, Ice and his current project FBI.

With such a consistent television track record, Sisto is an ideal candidate for the North Fork TV Festival’s 2020 Canopy Award, which honors an actor’s persistence, integrity, independence and collaboration in the making of television. He’ll be presented with the award at the drive-in TV pilot screening festival at Castello di Borghese Vineyard on Saturday, October 17. The ceremony will be followed by a conversation with Sisto and News 12’s Elisa DiStefano.

RELATED: North Fork TV Festival Premieres Gripping Pilots on Oct. 17

What does receiving the Canopy Award mean to you personally?

As I’ve just been doing my job for a long time, I’m grateful to have it, but I don’t think often about some overall trajectory. And I don’t act in a place of celebration of my own accomplishments. Oftentimes, I just feel lucky to be still in the game, so I think it’s nice to step out of that for a second and have an organization acknowledge the accomplishment of having a continuing career in this business.

But any kind of award in acting always feels a little funny, because there just seems to be so much luck—there’s so much that I’m not in control of that has allowed me to continue working—but, that said, I’m super appreciative. I think anyone can appreciate the feeling of being acknowledged. A lot of people never get the opportunity to be acknowledged in that way, so I’m super grateful.

And I love the idea of independent television. A lot of creative filmmakers are getting opportunities to take chances and tell stories that are outside the box. In that space, like independent film prior for decades, it’s now open for the television medium, and that’s something that’s exciting for me, as well. I love that the North Fork TV Festival is focusing on that.

How have you consistently found roles that speak to both you and audiences?

I guess some have spoken to audiences and some haven’t. There’ve been some show that I’ve liked a lot that weren’t picked up as much. Something like Wicked City, that’s a show that I thought was really cool, or a show called Ice, that I put a lot of heart into and felt really excited about, but they just never caught on, for whatever reason.

But the fact that every year I’ve been able to do something, is unreal. It’s something that I feel real fortunate about, because any time a job ends, as an actor, you always wonder if it was your last. So every time something comes around, yeah, I’m able to find something in it. I’ve always been able to find something to love in things that maybe across the board, other actors might’ve not seen. That’s not always a great thing, but I have a hard time saying no to an opportunity. Sometimes if the opportunity seems like even more of a challenge to make it something of substance, then that’s something I get excited about.

But, that said, I’ve lost a lot of jobs as well, but I’ve been able to find something every time a job is finished. And I think that, for whatever reason, I haven’t been too pigeonholed, although I’m kind of back in a similar Law & Order space to some degree. But I’ve jumped around into comedy with Suburgatory for a few years, that was a fun change. Six Feet Under was very different. I’ve done all these different shows that kind of span different tones, and I feel fortunate that, for whatever reason, people have been able to see me in various contrasting ways.

What role do you consider your most memorable or meaningful?

I usually say Six Feet Under, because that was just a really magical experience to be on something right at the beginning of when television was really feeling like there’s a future here.

It was just universally inspiring. To be on something so inspiring inside the industry was fun. Also, to have a writer of the caliber of Alan Ball writing a character for me that was so well-defined and well-understood, that was a moment that really felt like I was in the right place and challenged. That was a good one.

What do you find most rewarding about acting for television?

I really like television. I like the ongoing storytelling. I like getting the scripts shortly before we film and trying to figure out how it all fits in your own head before the cameras roll. It just works for me in a really nice way, where it forces me to stay spontaneous and present and to remember the things that make it possible for me to react and act in a way that feels fresh within the same world. It keeps me on my toes, and it doesn’t allow me to get overly analytical about the story, which I tend to do sometimes when I have too much time with the script.

What is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned during your acting career?

The lesson that I keep learning and keep reminding myself is that if it’s not something I find while the cameras are rolling—if a moment is discovered or realized outside the actual filming of the scene—then it’s not worth anything. I’m always trying to find new tricks and ways to almost fool myself into feeling. Surprising myself, trying to feel like something can happen in this moment that I’m not planning. So the lessons change week to week, because, for whatever reason, the way my brain works, doing the same thing doesn’t work every time, so I’ve just got to come at it in a constantly evolving way.

To learn more about the North Fork TV Festival and to purchase tickets, visit northfork.tv.

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