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article imageA conversation with Linden Ashby, Teen Wolf's Sheriff Stilinski Special

By Mindy Peterman     May 12, 2013 in Entertainment
You may know Linden Ashby for his roles as Johnny Cage in the Mortal Kombat film and Sheriff Stilinksi in MTV's hit show Teen Wolf. What you may not know is that the actor is also an avid sportsman, and will go wherever he must to catch a wave.
Linden Ashby is a versatile actor who, over the last quarter of a century, has appeared in feature films, TV series and soaps, portraying villains, martial art heroes, romantic leads and just plain good guys. The good guy he is best known for playing is Sheriff Stilinkski on the hit MTV series Teen Wolf. (it is an odd coincidence that his wife, Susan Walters, plays the mayor on the CW’s Vampire Diaries). Ashby is especially fond of the Stilinski role for his character’s “moral compass” and the show’s “coming of age story”. I spoke to Ashby recently about his long, varied acting career as well as his unending quest to catch the perfect wave.
You grew up in Florida and were quite the athlete. Why did you opt for acting over sports as a vocation?
Oh, my god, I was not that good of an athlete. I’m a passionate amateur. There was no chance of me doing anything professionally. I knew I was never going to make a living surfing, skateboarding or certainly not playing soccer. If I could have, I would have. But those guys are on a whole different level.
One of your first major roles was playing Farrah Fawcett’s son in the 1987 mini-series Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story. What it was like getting the role in this film that eventually won a Golden Globe?
We had come [to L.A.] from New York, Susan and I. I had been here about three weeks and got that part. Farrah Fawcett was great to work with; she was so sweet. It was a huge miniseries. I remember having fun doing it and being so new. [In my] first scene I was supposed to jump in the pool, swim across pool, pop out, eat breakfast, talk to my mom. So when they said, ‘rolling’, I dove in the pool and swam across. The director said, “That was great. Except next time wait for [me to say] ‘action’.” (laughs) I said, “Oh, I thought when you said, ‘rolling’, we were ready to go.”
You then worked on daytime soap operas.
I actually worked on a soap opera [in New York] before I got Poor Little Rich Girl. It was called Loving.
You worked on two soaps after that: Days of Our Lives and The Young and the Restless.
Yes. Susan was on The Young and the Restless as a regular. She played Diane. I had just come back from Africa doing a movie and they said, “Hey, would you come do this little arc. It will be fun. Thirteen shows. Come do it.” And I said, “Yeah.” I would get to work with Susan and get to hang out. I knew everybody. So I did it and that turned into this thing where they brought [my character] back to life. I was totally having fun. Then Ed Scott, who was producing [the show] headed over to Days of Our Lives. He called and asked if I’d come do this part and I did. That was not as much fun, though, because the show was in transition at the time.
What is the difference between acting on soaps vs. acting on series TV and film?
First of all, [in soaps] you’re doing a show a day. So the pace is really different. The amount of dialogue you have to learn is different. People think that’s one of the most difficult things about it. But the ability to memorize is a muscle. You exercise it and you become pretty facile at it. Doing a soap is almost like doing a stage play that’s being televised. You do the whole scene. Everyone’s doing their coverage at once. So there’s a spontaneity to it that you don’t necessarily get when you’re doing standard coverage like on a nighttime show or film. On a soap you’ll do it ‘til it’s right.
Are you still recognized for your roles in those shows?
A little bit. I get recognized for the nighttime soap Melrose Place. Not as much as you’d think [for the daytime soaps]. I wasn’t on any of them that long. Loving I was on for a couple of years but that was a long time ago.
Your role as Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat was a real departure for you.
It was. I had just finished up this big movie with Kevin Costner called Wyatt Earp and I got this part of Johnny Cage in this movie no one thought would be successful. No other video game to film project had ever worked before. Double Dragon was a bomb. Street Fighter was a bomb. Mario Brothers was a bomb. No one ever gave this a hope in hell. We somehow caught lightning in a bottle. It worked.
I had a fighting background. I boxed and studied martial arts. It was just the right place at the right time. The right project. All the pieces came together and we created this thing that’s somehow lasted.
You’re going into your third season on MTV’s Teen Wolf.
I am Sheriff Stilinski.
You still don’t have a first name, though.
I got one but you’re not gonna know it (laughs). [Showrunner] Jeff Davis knows what my first name is.
Can you discuss this character and how you feel about the show in general? Is it based on the movie?
It’s loosely based on the movie. The characters, in my opinion, and the title is all they have in common. It’s got humor but it’s not nearly as campy as the movie was. This is much more of a drama and coming of age sort of story. My character on it is a single dad. I’m a widower who is raising a kid who is really smart and really a handful. These things are happening and I’m trying to solve these crimes with only half the information. I’m in the dark as far as the supernatural aspect of what’s happening. At some point I’ve got to be let in on the secret.
Do you think that will happen this season?
It might.
You’re on Twitter and you do tweet a lot.
I do tweet. I didn’t used to tweet. I think I had a Twitter account for about two or three years and tweeted [maybe] three times. I had no idea how important it was and how fun it was. So I tweet stuff that I feel like tweeting. I talk about the show a little bit. If I see something that strikes me as funny, I take a picture of it. I’ll have a thought I think is interesting and I’ll just blab it out. It’s fun to interact with people. I tweet; they respond and we start a little dialogue. It’s funny. There are quite a few people who follow me that, in a weird way, I feel like I know. People respond with such funny stuff and such interesting stuff. You get a glimpse into their lives and I like that.
In your bio it says, “At the drop of a hat (or a millibar), he’s been known to faithfully/fanatically race across state lines, time zones, oceans and seas, to be on a given beach at a given time, when hopefully, the waves arrive.” Is that an exaggeration?
No, that is not an exaggeration.
How do you manage it?
When I was a kid, we didn’t know when the waves were coming. We had no idea. We woke up, looked out the window, we checked out the waves and said, “Okay, there’s waves. That’s great.” Now with satellite technology and the Internet, they’re predicting swells fourteen days in advance. And they’re predicting them fairly accurately. Certainly within a seven day lead time you really have a pretty good idea of what’s coming. It’s kind of a drag because everyone knows what’s coming so it gets pretty crowded. So I’m sitting in Atlanta and [if] I know there’s going to be waves in North Carolina or Florida, where I grew up, I’ll drop what I’m doing and jump all over it.
You’ve revealed you used to suffered panic attacks before auditions, which threatened to halt your career. Can you describe how you overcame this?
I suffered panic attacks in auditions to the point where I thought, I can’t do this, and walked out. I overcame it. I just did. I don’t know if I just stopped putting that much importance on it or I put it in a better place, if that makes any sense. I had the knowledge that if I got the job it would change my life. If I didn’t get the job I would still be here. I would still be alive and kicking and something else would come along. As soon as you make it so important and you put all your eggs in the basket, you can’t help but fail. Because you’re trying so hard not to do it well but to do it right to get the job. I just relaxed and [realized] I can’t control any of that. I can’t control whether they want me or not. All I could control is that I can do this scene at this audition the best way I can possibly do it. And I can play the scene. And beyond that it’s really out of my control. I can’t be what they want if I’m not what they want.
I think with panic attacks, when you feel it coming on, you can do something that a child could not do, in a sense. You can cook an egg on the stove. You’re taking control [and think] I’m not out of control. I can do this. And that always worked for me.
Could you discuss your film The Perfect Boss, which airs on the Lifetime Movie Network in May?
I’d love to. I’ve done quite a few films with the producer, Pierre David, for Lifetime. And it’s so funny [because] it’s a formulaic process. Good guy, bad guy, woman in peril. They’re all potboilers. They’re really clearly structured from act to act to act. I always have a great time. We shoot them in Ottawa, Canada with the same crew and I know all these guys. I’ve been going up there for years. We have a blast. We work hard and we make these films.
This time I got to work with Jamie Luner who was my wife on Melrose Place. So it was like old home week. We got together and made this little movie that I just saw and it’s got all the elements. I play a bad, bad character.
Oh, a bad guy!
Yeah, oh, yeah.
Is playing bad guys more fun than playing good guys?
I used to really like playing the good guy better. And on certain things I do. I mean, Stilinski is one of the best people around. He’s just a great dad, tremendous moral compass. But it’s fun playing a bad guy.
So what is The Perfect Boss about?
I work at a pharmaceutical company that is having a tough time. All our patents are close to expiration. We’ve got a new drug in the pipeline and we need this drug to work or the company is going to fail. We’ve got this hedge fund money coming in, based on this new drug. Then we find out there’s a problem with the drug and there’s a scientist who’s going to be a whistle blower. [That’s when] Jamie and I take matters into our own hands.
Do you have any set plans or goals for the future?
Just to keep working, having fun and enjoying life. Chasing better waves, riding faster motorcycles and coming home at the end of the day and saying, “Wow, that was a hell of a ride.”
Linden Ashby is @lindenashby on Twitter.
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