From a young age, actor Peter Jacobson possessed a deep love for the acting profession. He discovered his love for it by doing plays, which eventually evolved into him pursuing it as his career later in life. In 1993, he scored his first minor role on television in the hit police drama NYPD: Blue. Afterwards, he bounced between the big and small screen, landing parts in the movies It Could Happen to You (1994), Private Parts (1997), As Good As It Gets (1997), Great Expectations (1998), Roommates (2001), Showtime (2002), Domino (2005), Failure to Launch (2006), Transformers (2007), White House Down (2013) and Better Living Through Chemistry (2014) as well as guest spots on the shows Oz, Spin City, Talk to Me, Bull, Will & Grace, Gideon’s Crossing, Third Watch and ER. In 2003, he was cast in his first recurring television role: that of Geoffrey Laurence in A.U.S.A. This was followed by recurring roles on the shows Method & Red, Law and Order, In Justice, The Lost Room, The Starter Wife and Royal Pains. Then, in 2007, he landed the part of Dr. Chris Taub on House M.D., the part for which he is most well-known. He remained on that show until 2012, after which he joined the cast of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit for a brief stint.
Most recently, he has guest-starred on the shows The Mysteries of Laura, Chicago P.D., Battle Creek and Madam Secretary and played Lee Drexler in the critically acclaimed show Ray Donovan. Now, he’s starring as Proxy Governor Snyder in Carlton Cuse’s new sci-fi drama Colony. I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jacobson about his new role on Colony, what the show has in store and his love of political history. Check it out below!
What inspired you to be an actor?
I think it was just a love of it that I discovered early on. I found myself doing plays and loving it, and I was never having more fun than when I was doing that. Every year, that feeling didn’t go away and only got bigger and bigger, and I think that by the time I was adult enough to make a conscious decision about my life, I thought, “Why not keep doing this?”
Do you remember who some of your early acting idols were?
Well, Robert Duvall has always been one of my most consistent ones—early and current. I can’t say that the guy who played Gilligan on “Gilligan’s Island” really inspired me to be an actor, although he was funny (laughs)—I guess that’s Bob Denver. I mean, I saw a lot of movies as a kid but I was never like “I want to be like that guy!” or anything. But, I would have to say Robert Duvall, Robert Di Nero…Robert Duvall, to me, is the absolute best; he’s one of the most talented actors that we’ve ever had. For him, it’s effortless, and that’s pretty remarkable.
What appealed to you about the show “Colony”?
Carlton Cuse, for sure. I thought the script was very tense, because while the aliens were there and everybody’s world was upside down and that was scary, that felt like it was on the outside of what I was reading, which was about family and relationships and deep stress and pain between them. So, I just thought that it was a really wonderful pilot, since it was about these characters, these families and these relationships rather than the aliens who have taken over the world. So, that was the first thing that I loved about it. I also thought that Proxy Snyder seemed like quite an interesting bad guy because he’s not a typical bad guy; he’s someone with many different layers.
So you wouldn’t classify Proxy Snyder exclusively as a villain in the show?
Not at all. He is villainous, but he’s also a father, a collaborator and somebody struggling to survive, just like everybody else. I think probably any good villain has different levels and has a human side, but Snyder more than most is probably not your classic villain. In regard to me, I don’t think I come across as a villainous person, unlike some actors who always play villains. I can be honestly smarmy, but that’s another matter (laughs). He’s complicated, and that’s what I love about him!
What kind of person do you think he was before The Arrival?
Well, that’s the sort of thing that led me to the character in the first place, and what I loved about him. He could be anybody. I don’t think this was a guy struggling to work his way up the pillars of power in government. My first instinct was that he was a mediocre Hollywood agent who had high aspirations but didn’t necessarily have the A-team on his side. And, even in discussion with the writers, I get the feeling that his situation was even more modest than that. There is some point later on where I will talk about what I was doing before The Arrival. Whether or not I’m telling the truth is up for question, but the bottom line is that this person is somebody who I don’t think we would’ve expected to be in the position of power that he’s in now. That’s what makes him fascinating.
What would you say that you like the most about Snyder and what do you dislike the most?
Well, I like that Snyder’s complicated and that he’s not just bad with an axe to grind. I like that he’s—Snyder believes 100% in the correctness of his way of doing things, and that isn’t from a demented, villainous perspective; he believes that this is the best way for people to survive in the situation that they’re in. I love that conviction. I also love that he is, I think, deep down, very insecure. I like that about any character and I think that’s interesting stuff to play when somebody has deep-seated issues. I like to be able to play that because I think those things are percolating now, and as the season goes on, we’re going to see more of it. He’s ultimately just human.
What I don’t like about him…as Peter, looking at him as a person whose quality I don’t like, I think Snyder is easily seduced by the power, and I think that’s it.
In the second episode, we learned a little bit more about The Arrival. Are we going to get any flashbacks this season showing us what exactly happened?
I can’t say beyond the first few episodes…I don’t think there will be any flashbacks right away. It certainly will be discussed more at length, but I don’t think we’re going to get actual flashbacks but I think we’ll still be getting a pretty good sense of what happened and how. I think Carlton is going to keep what actually happened during The Arrival close to his chest.
In the premiere episode, your character mentioned that once their Hosts fulfilled their needs, they would leave. Can you shed any light on what exactly it is that they want?
I can’t! (laughs) I cannot shed the light! I would love to be able to shed some light but I’m under strict orders to not shed some light. In truth, I know the stuff that I need to know but the rest…I’m on a need-to-know basis but there are some things that I’m not privy to. There are some times where I’ll get a script and be like “Ohhhhhhhh! I didn’t know that!” That’s Carlton Cuse for you! (laughs)
Were you a Carlton Cuse fan before this show?
Yeah! I thought that “Lost” was really great and he’s just such a smart writer. I think he really trusts audiences, and that he trusts his audience more than a lot of writers do. He does not feel a need to show everything or use bells and whistles to grab an audience by the neck and make sure that they watch. He knows that people are smart and that they’ll appreciate a well thought-out, paced drama.
What would you like to see happen with Snyder’s storyline this season?
Well, this season, I already know because I’ve shot it, and I like very much what has happened. It’s quite a dramatic twist for him. Going forward, I think that it would be great if we continue to see many different layers of Snyder and that he’s not who we think he is in the beginning and that he’s really capable of much, much more.
If you were living under the Occupation, would you choose to collaborate or resist?
I’d love to think that I’d choose to resist! (laughs) That’s the romantic choice! If I was in the position to do something, I’d do whatever I had to do to protect my family. If I was thrust into making some kind of choice in order to protect them, I’d do whatever I had to do. On the other hand, there’s this sort of false construct that erupts around the show that implies that you can only choose one or the other, but most people who are really living under an occupation don’t usually have to go so far one way or the other. They reside in this middle ground of just getting by and doing what they have to do. That’s what is interesting about this show: while everybody else is just getting by, all these millions of people, we’re focusing on those few people who are in much more intense situations and have to make more extreme choices.
Yeah, and what I really like about this show is that neither side is really good or bad. Both sides come with casualties and with a price. There are no good guys and bad guys.
Right, it’s not black and white, and I think that both Kathy Baker’s character and my character are making that point: that there is collateral damage in this resistance movement. What is the ultimate gain or goal? Who is really getting hurt and by whom? That’s what is really great about this show, that both sides have their good and bad parts.
What has been your favorite scene to film so far?
Oh man…there are so many because this is such a fun project. There are some episodes coming up in the middle where—and I can’t say much about it—but in one of them, I spend a lot of time in The Yonk with Will and Katie and there is a lot of good stuff going on with them. The three of us really spend a lot of time together and they are both such tremendous actors and their relationship is so great. That was really thrilling. Then, I have a scene with my daughter later on in the season. We introduce that character and show another layer that we didn’t know about and another door and history of emotions with Snyder.
What shows, movies, books, etc. bring out the nerd in you?
Well, I don’t think you really have to do much to bring out the nerd in me! I think that I just sort of exist as “nerd” (laughs). But what accentuates my nerdiness? As far as books go—and I don’t even know if this is nerdy, but I guess it is—I’m a political writer junky. I love to read about Presidents and Presidential campaigns. I just finished a 1,000-page book on the 1988 Presidential campaign; then, I just read about President Garfield’s assassination and now I’m reading a book about Richard Nixon’s coming to power. So, I don’t know if you see that as nerdy but I see it as nerdy, and it’s one of my great loves.
Movies…well, I have a thirteen year old son and feel that Hollywood over the last few years has been geared directly toward him. Sometimes, he’ll have a birthday party right when “Ironman” or “Avengers” is coming out and sometimes, I’ll be like “Are we going to go see ‘Avengers’”? and he’ll say “Oh, I’m going to see it at my friend’s birthday party” and I’ll get literally devastated because I love those movies. “James Bond”…all the great action adventure movies! There are so many fabulous movies these days in that genre that I love to see with him, and I’m always hugely disappointed when I don’t get to. TV…I don’t know. There is so much TV. One man’s nerd is another man’s romance, so there are so many different things to pick from. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I guess “The Americans” is a show that I really love because that also contains a lot of great American and political history.
Besides acting, what are you passionate about?
I’m very passionate about politics. I’m very passionate about parenting and I put parenting well before politics and everything else. I’m very passionate about sports. I’m very passionate about my family. Sports. Politics. Parenting. Family. Exercise. I’m passionate about the weather, and I love snow, so I’m looking forward to this weekend. And, I’m passionate about my dog. So, I’ll just leave it at that. I could go on forever (laughs).
A new episode of Colony airs on Thursday, January 28 at 10:00 pm EST on USA.