SONS OF LIBERTY’s David Lipper previews The History Channel miniseries, Sundance, and a FULL HOUSE reunion
Tonight on The History Channel, their three night even series, SONS OF LIBERTY premieres, telling the story of America’s first gang, with familiar names like Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and Benjamin Franklin. Familiar face David Lipper (who I’ve watched since he was Viper of FULL HOUSE) stars as Amos, the merchant who helped forefathers get what they needed for their secret trades. I spent some time chatting with David about being a part of the series and what he learned. We also spent some time chatting about his movie, PIONEER’S PALACE, premiering this weekend at Sundance. And you didn’t think I’d let him off the phone without talking FULL HOUSE, did you? Read on for more!
Everytime I say SONS OF LIBERTY I keep accidentally saying SONS OF ANARCHY, and that’s a completely different show. I feel like that would be a completely different take on the Boston Massacre.
[laughs] Completely different! Exactly! If they’re having a tea party, it’s a totally different kind of thing.
I’ve always been an American History buff, the kind of stuff that we learned growing up through school. I wondered what you can tell me about who Amos is, and what your journey through this miniseries is.
Obviously, there are the iconic characters that everybody knows, like Sam Adams, John Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock. These guys formed a gang, basically. This is like an old school, old, old school gang, that was formed. Some guys, like the Adams, came from a little bit of money. Certainly, Hancock was very wealthy, but most of these other guys were real street guys. My character, Amos, kind of represents all of the merchants. The merchants were really the wheelers and the dealers of the streets. These were the guys who could get you the booze, they can get you the leather. The go to guys to get you what you need. There were a bunch of these merchants that joined this gang that was call the SONS OF LIBERTY. And what the writers and producers decided to do was kind of morph all of these merchants into one character, and that character became mine, which is Amos. Rather than show a bunch of merchants – I mean, you had a bunch of extras or featured extras that were merchants, but they decided to create one character who really represented that whole gang. So I was that guy. The guy who got the gold coins, the guy who set up the system on how people would only buy and trade with those affiliated with the gang. It really was the first American gang, if you think about it. The premise that they kind of pulled everyone in with was “Screw the British!” They’re taxing us like crazy. We work our butts off, they take the money, what’s the point? If we can contain this within our own environment, we create our own gang, our own group, and a system, from which we buy and trade with each other, we can avoid paying those taxes and kind of trick the British out of what they’re doing. So it started with that, and then it just evolved into the British getting smarter and smarter. This is basically just history – the British got smarter and smarter, and started cracking down more and more until it started to get violent, and then, led by Sam Adams, this gang said let’s get guns, let’s get ammunition, let’s take these guys down. There’s one scene that’s really great where myself and Sam Adams and Revere go out and basically steal the ammunition from the British, blow up their silo, and steal their guns and their uniforms. That was really the turning point where we made the decision that this is going to turn into an armed struggle against the British. And then all of the stories that you know – the Boston Tea Party, the Boston Massacre, the Battle of Bunker Hill; all of these things are in the miniseries over the three nights.
It’s history that we’ve known about. We certainly learned about it all here in the US – what kind of research do you have to put into this, and were there new things that you learned from it?
for me, there was a lot I didn’t know. I learned American history in school, but I grew up in Canada! I moved to the US when I went to University in Boston, but up until I was 18, my high school education was in Canada. We learned about the American Revolution and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and all of that; certainly on a much smaller scale that I would imagine people here did [laughs]. For me, there was a lot of googling; a lot of reading up. I already knew things like the Boston Tea Party, especially having gone to college in Boston. And the Boston Massacre, so it wasn’t like those were new things to me. There was a lot I didn’t know. I didn’t know about this whole gold coin system they had, which is something you see my character do in Episode 1, in the first 2 hour movie on night 1 – they put this clever system together. If you had one of these “magic” coins, so to speak, these special gold coins with the special insignia, you were in. That got you the ability to buy and trade things that other people couldn’t get. I didn’t know the story about Gage, the evil general from the British army and that his wife had had an affair with Dr Reynolds. These were the things I didn’t know. Characters like Pitcairn, who is another general from the British side. There were a bunch of characters I didn’t know. Obviously, I’ve heard of Sam Adams, partly from the beer which I drank a lot of in college. That’s the beer in Boston [laughs]. Those were kind of the things, the soap opera type moments – the affairs, the underbelly stuff. Those were the things I saw for the first time in the script. I think they did a really good job of making sure that the big moments in history were preserved. I know that The History Channel was very strict about having experts on set. We had British military men at all times, making sure that a gun was loaded properly, it was shot properly. I think at one point, I said rifle [laughs], and they were like, you can’t say that! It’s a musket. I was like, it sure as hell looks like a rifle! They were pretty detailed about that.
At the same time, and audiences should know this, any time you’re making a narrative, a scripted series, story, movie, there has to be some license for the sake of making the story work. It’s an interesting thing – we’re seeing with all of these “based on a true story” nominated movies. Things like SELMA, things like FOXCATCHER. All of these big movies where we’re talking about historical figures, we’re talking about true-life people, yet there’s all this criticism that comes out every time one of these movies is high profile – “well, I don’t know that it was 100% accurate; this didn’t actually happen” and there has to be some license. I know there’s a lot of flack that President Johnson is coming off as a character that was much more evil than he was, and the producers are saying “we needed a bad guy.” There is license in any good storytelling to finagle the truth with dramatic flair. But I think The History Channel is extremely aware and concerned to be accurate, historically, as much as they can, so there was a lot of checks and balances throughout the shooting of this movie, to make sure that we were as close as possible. What parts were 100% accurate, and what weren’t, I’m certainly not knowledgable enough to tell you that [laughs]. They did make a strong effort to be accurate!
There are always going to be those people in the comment section!
Yeah, it’s like “was the hair this long?” I’m telling you – you can’t even imagine what we went through in the pre-production of this! I started this process with them in the beginning of June in Bucharest, Romania, and I didn’t get out of Romania until mid-September. That is a long shoot – most “movies of the week” type things are shot usually within three weeks. The LIfetime movies that I’ve starred in, I usually shoot out literally within three weeks. This thing – they spent so much time and money and effort to make something special, it’s really unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in television. And I’ve done a hell of a lot of TV over the years! I’ve never seen a production on this scale in all of my years in television. I think the audience is going to be pleasantly surprised.
Everything I’ve seen, previews, sneek peaks – it looks like a movie, not just a “made for TV movie,” if you know what I mean.
100%! I’ll tell you – I’ve been on sets like THE PACIFIER with Vin Diesel – that have something like between 60 and 80 million dollars for this moving. I can tell you there was no crane lighting rig, nothing, there was nothing they had on that set, that we didn’t have on this set. If not more. Dealing with 100s and 100s of extras for the battle scenes. All of the money went into the production on this – I guess the money goes a long way in Romania. If you translated shooting what we shot there, if we had shot that in Los Angeles, this would have been a 100 million dollar production. Money just goes a long way there. The extras don’t get paid much. The crews were fantastic, but they don’t get paid in Eastern Europe what we get paid here. The ability to make a production on that scale for what was still a lot of money, but a lot less than it would have been.
I do want to talk a bit about PIONEER’S PALACE that premieres this weekend at Sundance. Talk about how that all came together – the cast, the film, and where it started!
Let me give you the backstory on how all of this happen – I was asked by Ivana Chubbock, who is one of the, if not the, leading acting coaches in the world, who is somebody that I’ve worked with over the years since I moved to LA in 1991. When she can’t make it somewhere or she needs a go to person to help, she comes to me a lot, and she said I need you to go to Romania and teach a master class in a school that I’ve partnered up with. I said, sure, you want me to go for a week? Like a week seminar or something? And she said, no, I need you to go for a few months. [laughs] It was like, Ivana, I’m not going to Romania for a few months, and she was like, well, we’ll pay you your film quote, and I said, how soon can I be there? [laughs] They really took care of me. It was like AList treatment from getting me there and putting me up in a really nice place. It was a very nice experience.
I started teaching, and immediately, I was approached by a woman who was like, listen, I’m producing and starring in a movie, but I’ve never acted before and you need to make me a great actor [laughs], so I started working with this woman on a romantic comedy, and very early on, the director, first off, was very impressed by what was happening to this first time actress, and second said “can we put you in the movie?” and that turned out to be a delightful movie with Jane Seymour [called “Love By Design”]. As my time was finishing up in the fall there, and I was getting ready to come back to Los Angeles, some kind of flood gate opened, and next thing I know, I get a call saying “hey, we’re making this movie with Nicolas Cage. It’s written by Paul Schrader, and directed by Paul Schrader who wrote RAGING BULL and TAXI DRIVER and could you maybe stick around for a bit and do this movie for us?” I said sure, and then guy who directed me in the fall said, I’m doing this movie, you’re still in town, can we shoot you? I said great! Then, these Romanians basically said “we’re doing a movie and we have an American character, we don’t even know how to make this work, but here’s what we kind of think the scene is about and here is what we need. We need a bunch of kids and we’d like to take the kids from your master class that you taught, because they were mostly pretty young.” They took my entire master class and put them in this film, all through my coaching, and I broke the scene, and this movie somehow came out really great! They said, you know, we’re going to send it to Sundance, and I thought, oh good luck [laughs]. You know, I’ve heard this 100 times in my career – oh we know a guy at Sundance, we think we have something special, I’ve done a lot of great independent movies that I thought should have made it to Sundance and never did, so the funny thing with this one, it’s like how is this Romanian movie going to get into Sundance? I saw some of the footage in the editing and they asked me to take a look at it, help out, and I thought, God, not to toot my own horn, but these kids did a great job. This is really funny; it’s good acting. Just really came off well.
Next thing you know, I got a call from the director and he said Guess what, we got into Sundance! And I said I can’t believe it [laughs]. He said guess why they said they accepted the movie to Sundance? They said they were blown away by the acting! That was an amazing thing for me to hear, so that’s how I got involved in [PIONEER’S PALACE]. The only reason I was even still in Romania, I’d already finished the class, is that I kept booking these movies, and so I got to still be there to be in this movie with these kids that I’d worked with, who’d been studying with other teachers the same technique, the Chubbock technique, and got to a master class with me, which they were all excited about. I don’t do that for the money; I do that once in a blue moon for the love of it. I’m like, this is fantastic. We finished that movie; I packed my bags, I was ready to get on the plane and then I got a phone call. As I’m packing. It was like “David?” And I thought please Got not another movie, I need to get home [laughs]. She’s like, it’s Kari Skogland, I’m the director of a miniseries for The History Channel – we heard that you’re in town, and we’d like to meet with you. I said, absolutely, how am I going to pass that up? I know of Kari from all the great work she’s done on shows like VIKINGS and other great shows. I went and met with her, and she said, we have a part that we were praying we could find someone to cast here for, that we wouldn’t have to fly anyone in from the States or from England – it’s a great part, it’s a really featured part in one of the episodes, and it will shoot about two weeks. Can you hang out for another two weeks and do this part? I said, sure. She said would you mind reading for us? I said, sure, no problem. They gave me some pages, I came in and read, took a few minutes, and I read. She said we are 100% going to book you; hang tight and someone will call you. Later, when the phone rang, they said, okay, we’re going to book you, here are your dates, and next thing I know, the dates are over 4 months!
I said what is going on, she told me two weeks? And she’s like, oh they didn’t tell you? No no, they decided to give you one of the leads and you’re going to have to shoot here for the next several months. I literally looked at my suitcase [laughs] and said okay, let me make a few phone calls! The housesitter at my house is expecting me to be home like the next day, it was like I’m going to need your for another few months! I had to go through all of that; I have two dogs in my house. Next thing you know, instead of coming home in May, I’m coming home in September. So that’s how that kind of all went down.
I said what an amazing experience, and PIONEER’S PALACE, the Sundance movie, which is very close to home for me, because I coached every single actor in that cast. To hear that the acting is what pushed it through, because there really wasn’t much of a script. I think there was about a 7 page script that he started with! We basically just created it as we went along, which is not something I would ever recommend, but somehow this really worked. A lot of ad libs, a lot of spontaneous dialogue, and really good performances by these kids. I was so, so proud. I’m hoping it gets a huge reception at Sundance. I’m pretty sure it will – then of course, even my scene in the movie, it’s almost like a multi plot movie. We’re not really following any one person for much of the movie. Basically, it’s a bunch of scenes, moments, of what happened in Romania post the Revolution. In 1989, Ceaușescu, the Communist dictator fell to a revolt by the people, and then all of a sudden, there was freedom. Now it’s a Democratic free country, and nobody really knew what to do. It was like the Wild West – my character plays an investor who comes in touting his millions of dollars that he has to invest, and a lot of these people were just con artists, who came in. In the movie, they take me to a whore house in the hopes that I’m going to invest with them. This guy was really just full of it, and didn’t have any money! That’s what happened. Any time there’s a gold rush of sorts, you have the dreamers and the folks that like to screw the dreamers. It’s kind of how California was founded. You have a group of idealistic wonderful people and you have a group of people who know that those people are going to be there, and want to take advantage! You see all of that in PIONEER’S PALACE, and it’s a really, really fun movie. With kind of a coming of age, too. Because of the time period, there are certain subjects, like AIDS, that are funny in this movie because nobody knew what the hell it was. We didn’t know what it was over here, so imagine in Eastern Europe. Romania, where they had no information except what the Communists gave them up to this point, and now all of a sudden there are AIDS. These two kids made out and are scared they had AIDS from kissing, and you see all of these really funny moments at the doctor’s office and other places. It’s not just a coming of age tale of this country which became a new country basically in 1989 but also of the time itself where we as a global community of people were learning how to deal with new things like AIDS.
It sounds great – I wish you success at Sundance. I’m excited for it, knowing the background!
I’m so excited about it, really. It’s rare that I’m that involved in a movie, let alone two movies in Romania, the one I told you, the first time actress that I got to coach through her performance, and then these kids, so to actually be a part of behind the scenes in some respect as well as in front of the camera – that’s rare for me. Usually it’s just in front of the camera and every now and then, I’ll teach a workshop or something. This was a lot of fun to watch people grow and [laughs] Sundance. It doesn’t really get better than Sundance, in terms of a critical eye. And from them, that the acting blew them away? And that brought this movie to them? I mean, I couldn’t have heard anything better!
I wish you nothing but success – I’ve been a fan for so many years, going back to the FULL HOUSE days.
Oh thanks so much! Look for a FULL HOUSE reunion! Stay tuned!
Every time I see something about it, I’m like, there better be a reunion!
Candace and I are talking right now about doing a movie.
I love that the cast really still seem to enjoy each other 20 years later!
It’s not even BS. It’s so true. It’s a tight group of people. I got to play hockey with Dave Coulier, and I’ve gotten to hang out with Saget and Stamos, though John Stamos is the busiest of the group and the toughest to track down! Probably the only ones that none of us, or certainly, I haven’t hung out with is the Olsen twins. They were so young when we did it – to tell you the truth, I had a closer relationship with their nanny [laughs]. Candace and I talk all of the time; Jodie is amazing. She’s turned her life around so well. Such a great person right now. She really turned into a great mom and a great person. Candace, the most grounded of the whole group – she’s got her three kids and her husband. She continues to be a real voice for the Christian community. She’s never wavered from her roots. People who criticize that lifestyle, or don’t get that lifestyle, all I will say is that she’s been a really solid person from day one until now. Whatever that upbringing is, it seems to have done well by her! Saget’s probably the dirtiest of the group. He’s still I would say, don’t bring your kids to his show. Funny as hell, but don’t bring your kids [laughs]. Actually, Stamos, when I did a production of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS here, the Mamet play, he came and saw it. I think this is really a tight group, especially those guys. I only joined the cast in year 8, so I only had one year with them, but these guys are super tight and I’m happy that I’m still friends with a bunch of them!
SONS OF LIBERTY premieres Sunday, 1/25, at 9/8c on The History Channel.
Stay tuned to news out of Sundance for more info on PIONEER’S PALACE.
And be 100% confident that any FULL HOUSE reunion news will be posted here immediately!