The new television show, My Own Worst Enemy, may be the first time many audiences have seen Slater in a long time. TV has rescued many careers, turning actors into blockbuster stars the way films never could, such as Kiefer Sutherland with 24. Slater is hardly looking for that level of success. He only wants good material.
"Initially, my interest here was [NBC executives] Teri Weinberg and Ben Silverman gave me the script and presented it to me as though they were going to do everything they could to make this like a movie every week on TV," said Slater. "Jason Smilovic was the writer/creator and I was very excited with David Semel coming on board to not only exec[utive] produce, but also direct. I was a huge fan of his from Heroes and Life. Whether it was TV, stage or film didn't really matter. It was just something exciting to be a part of."
The figurative title is literal in the world of Henry Spivey. The suburban family man is actually secret agent Edward Albright. Edward has his memory erased whenever he is off duty, to protect his own cover. The idea is to keep Edward from compromising future missions, but when bad guys come after him in Henry mode, he is ill equipped to deal with them. Some may think Edward is Henry's worst enemy because he leads him into all this trouble, but Slater sees it differently.
"If I had to classify who is whose Own Worst Enemy, it would actually be Henry," Slater argued. "Henry's the one that gets involved in a situation in Moscow, waking up in a hostage-type situation, doesn't know what to do and ends up giving away more information than he should and getting himself in a lot more trouble than Edward necessarily would. It would be like playing tennis back and forth, between the two characters."
If the names Henry and Edward sound familiar, that is because they also belonged to another famous split personality. There was once a Dr. Henry Jekyll with an alter ego, Edward Hyde.
"That is where Jason got those names from," Slater revealed. "Certainly, in this first episode, I would call it Jekyll/ Hyde. It's taken the Jekyll and Hyde thing and turned it on its ear, making Edward the one who would normally by the Jekyll character."
Secret agent Edward is a man of action, as Slater has played before. The first episode only scratched the surface of what he will be capable of in the series. "I would say Edward has some skills that I'm looking forward to delving more into and getting deeper and deeper into the action."
In each episode, Slater also gets to play the softer side of Henry. "Henry is certainly a more passive guy, but he's got some skills. He's good with puzzles, word games and things like that. I'm sure those are all elements that will be brought into future episodes and used somewhere in the spy world."
So far, neither of these skill sets has required Slater to change his everyday lifestyle. "I eat spaghetti Bolognese every night and all sorts of stuff. Doritos are my favorite thing. I've done nothing, no physical training."
For the first episode at least, the producers actually scheduled entire Henry days and Edward days, so Slater could focus on each character in large chunks. "That certainly helps. In the first episode, it made it fun and it made the other actors feel they were working with two actors. That would be my intention, not to change myself too much behind the scenes, but there is such a distinct difference between the two characters."
Though Slater had his work divided, viewers will see Henry become Edward and vice versa fairly quickly. To them, it will be obvious who is whom. "I hope that the way they edit it and in the way I performed it, it will be clear enough to audiences. There are some pretty quick, rapid transitions that we ended up shooting. I'm counting on David Semel to have the care and concern that I do, so that it's clear enough."
After shooting only one episode, Slater has little clue where the story is going either. It's going to be one of those shows where the plots are kept secret, even from the stars. "He won't tell me anything! I can only assume it's a very human, emotional story and over the course of however many episodes we have the opportunity to do, it will all be revealed. At the end of the day, it's going to be a story about finding balance. That's only my projection, though. I have no idea."
Both Slater and viewers have only begun to find out who Henry and Edward are, and even what they think they know may prove to be false. "Jason is in charge, as far as what the character's back story is. Quite honestly, the back story that we did in this particular episode, there will be changes made in future episodes. It's just that kind of show. You don't really know what to believe, what's the truth, what's set up, what is real and what isn't."
That may sound hard for an actor to play, but Slater likes it that way. "It's fun, It's challenging. This show obviously lends itself to mystery and intrigue and it's set in the spy world, so not having all the information is actually fun. Seeing how Jason peels off the layers of the onion, episode to episode, will be fun. It's a dream come true kind of part, because I get to do two different roles."
My Own Worst Enemy begins Monday, October 13 at 10pm et/pt on NBC