Talk Nerdy had the distinct pleasure of speaking with the charismatic, magnanimous and convivial Craig Bierko.
This New Yorker studied journalism at Boston University and attended the School of Speech at Northwestern University in 1986 before becoming a working actor in the late 80’s. He’s been given the title Sexiest Broadway Star by People Magazine and was originally cast as Chandler Bing in Friends before turning down the role. Look at his filmography and you’ll see it peppered with countless hit shows and even a classic ABC Afterschool Special, The Day My Kid Went Punk. Yet not until UnREAL has Craig found his longest running gig as manchild Chet Wilton.
In season 2, Craig and his character went through an impressive transformation. Near the end of season one, Craig sat next to Shiri Appleby to watch a scene on the monitor and noticed he’d put on more weight than he intended for his indulgent character. When he asked whether he should lose 15 pounds she said “fifty” without blinking an eye.
“You know who can talk to you like that?” Craig asks. “Someone who really loves you. I’ve never heard her be mean to one person, nobody in the crew. But she tells the truth. She doesn’t suffer fools. She’s a very bright person. She’s got a great soul. And if you’re lucky enough to be in her life, and you ask her a question, she’s going to be honest with you. It’s a very rare thing in Hollywood. Usually, people are just taking care of themselves. I always feel like Shiri takes care of you if you’re her friend. It was something I needed to hear because I didn’t have the perspective.”
Craig and Shiri first met in 1996 on a movie called The Thirteenth Floor. It was a small role, and she had yet to break out on Roswell, but the young actress made a big impact on him. “She’s the only thing I remember about the movie. She had one line, but she really popped. She’s very special, obviously.” He has fond memories of hanging out with her on set, both feeling like the other offered great advice and insight. Years later they almost worked together on a play, but Shiri had to bow out. Now, twenty years later, destiny finally reunited them for UnREAL.
To hear him speak of Shiri, is to know his absolute love and affection for her. He gushes about her directorial debut on the show, her devotion to her family and her performance as an actress. She is the antithesis of Rachel and one of his “favorite people in the world.” He even swears if she ever meets someone he’s dating and says, “Craig, this is the person you should marry” he wouldn’t hesitate to tie the knot that very moment. “That’s how much I trust her. I would find a rabbi or a priest.”
He considers her a sister and values her frankness. After their honest talk, he made immediate plans to go to a fitness ranch where he “literally” worked his butt off for a solid month. Upon his return, he wowed everyone with his svelte physique at a cast dinner where Shiri tearfully hugged him and said how proud she was.
The producers then wrote Chet’s transformation into season 2, sending him to a Paleolithic camp where he got in touch with his inner Neanderthal and came back ready to reclaim his kingdom.
To no one’s surprise, Chet’s clean lifestyle didn’t last long. Craig theorizes that Chet suffers arrested development due to his addictions. He likens it to a teen that starts using and later sobers, but stays perpetually immature. “I think the problem is, and it’s the thing people like about Chet, which is okay, when it’s harmless, is that he’s a child. He has so much money that he can afford to be a child.”
He believes that every character on the show has at least one problem that is life threatening, with power being the one drug none of them are willing to give up. “Anybody who comes to be part of the show is in danger of being sucked into the vortex.”
However, he doesn’t believe the characters are evil, merely human. Humans who need only leave the show to make things better, whether they be contestant or crew. Yet, thankfully for us, they don’t choose to do so.
When looking at Chet’s driving force for the season, Craig says it’s to get Quinn back, even before reclaiming the show. Yet he wonders if the character has gone too far to make that happen. “He forgets everything he’s already done to her.”
Like Madison, Quinn started as a P.A. Chet then groomed her to be the powerful woman she is now, but in doing so created a “bit of a monster.” Still, Chet loves Quinn, and even Rachel in a paternal way, and comes to realize he can’t “keep shitting where he lives.”
Craig says the real irony is that the show is all about creating the illusion of love and none of the people working on Everlasting actually have it. “They’re like cupids who have empty lives.” He believes it’s that element that pulls viewers into UnREAL. We’re rooting for these anti-heroes to find the love they so obviously need.
While the season has tackled the heavy topics of racism, police brutality, rape, domestic abuse and mental illness it recognizes the need to balance the gravity and even ludicrousness of “reality TV” with humor. Viewers would readily agree that one of the funniest scenes this season is when Chantal turns a romantic date on a gondola into an impromptu and disastrous requiem where she tosses her dead fiance’s ashes into the air and, thereby, her suitor’s mouth. Craig called it one of his favorite moments of the season. In fact, he was so impressed with BJ Britt’s pained and hilarious reaction that he made a point of pulling him aside to tell him it was moments like that which made him want to become an actor.
Perhaps the most delightful thing to come out of our interview was learning about Craig’s lifelong love of the Monkees. While he’s become friendly with Peter and Micky, he has yet to meet his hero Mike. (What are you waiting for Michael Nesmith?) It astounds Craig that they were always made fun of for being the band who wasn’t real, yet they’re still touring in their 50th year. Follow him on twitter and you’ll see how much he nerds out about them. Micky’s wife certainly took notice and invited him to a concert as their guest. “You talk about UnREALl, they went from unreal to real. They’re one of the last rock & roll, it’s them and the Rolling Stones and everyone else is gone.” Craig has made it his personal mission to get them inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If there’s one thing Craig Bierko has proven to be is dedicated so we’re sure it’s just a matter of time before this Daytime Believer gets his way.
The season 2 finale of UnREAL airs on the Lifetime channel tonight at 10/9 C.