It was quite an adventure to move from the dirt roads and farms to Toronto. It was incredible, the shock of it all.
It all began in Nova Scotia—or thereabouts, but more on that later—for Diego Klattenhoff. In 1999, the then 19-year-old (he’s now 33) moved to Toronto where he would try his hands at acting. After spending a couple years bartending and bussing tables while attending theater workshops, Klattenhoff’s life soon turned into a continuous, unwavering line toward Hollywood, which was preceded by an entirely different ambition of becoming a professional baseball player. Now he’s one of TV’s most recognizable chameleons. Klattenhoff continues to wage a different kind of war in everything he does— fugitives (NBC’s The Blacklist), sea monsters (Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim), terrorists (Showtime’s Homeland), and perhaps most perilous of them all, Regina George (Rachel McAdams) in Mean Girls. These far-flung escapades, albeit fictitious, must have surely generated formative experiences for Klattenhoff. We tracked him down to see what’s what.
I watched every available episode of The Blacklist the other day in one sitting.
I think that’s the new style of watching TV. You save it all up on a DVR and really get into it.
How much do the writers let on when you’re working on a show like this? Are you going script to script?
It’s pretty much script to script. If there are major stuff coming, you might have a little bit of a heads up. But for the most part, things are always fluid and changing. Unless it’s some major character that has an end goal like Damian Lewis does on Homeland. I think he knew that he might eventually bite the dust. These days on The Blacklist, we pretty much just go along for the ride.
How good are you when it comes to keeping secrets, especially around inquiring friends and family?
Pretty good, pretty good. You always get questioned like you know everything. Sometimes you just have no idea. I kind of knew what was going to happen to Brody [Damien Lewis on Homeland], but I got a heads up in the script along the way. That was a tough secret to hold onto.
When you’re playing a marine or an FBI agent, I’m sure there are things that you need to familiarize yourself with. Do stuff like that ever get in the way where things get a bit mechanical in your preparation?
Sometimes. For the most part, I think you get used to the adjustment period with the jargon like on a medical show or a procedural drama. There are definitely certain ways of doing things. It’s just your job as an actor to immerse yourself in that world and it becomes somewhat easier. It’s never easy, though. I spoke with Parminder [Nagra] who was on ER for six years, and I can’t imagine what they had to go through. I did an episode of ER five years ago and it takes a bit of an adjustment when you’re doing these scenes. Even when you watch someone like James Spader in the blood transfusion scene on The Blacklist, it’s tricky stuff. It definitely adds a lot onto your plate as an actor, but you just have to do your job.
What about in terms of training? Did you already know how to fire a gun, for instance?
There was gun training. You always pick up new things. You always want to talk to as many people as possible as far as weapons go or the world that you’re going to live in. You want to do as much research as possible whether you’re watching documentaries or just doing some reading. The writers obviously have done their own research and spoken to a lot of people. The writers are always a good resource and point you in the right direction. When you’re looking to find the mind space of the character, that also helps out. You’re never going to be able to prepare 100%. There’s always going to be some new challenge. You always have to stay on your toes. Very shortly when I get back to New York, I’m hopefully going to go on some ride-alongs with our great technical adviser, Jimmy Bodnar. We’ll go out with some detectives in Brooklyn and spend a Friday night with them, and do some gun range training. There’s always fun stuff to be had.
What kind of questions did you have when you first read the pilot script for The Blacklist in terms of the story, the show itself and your character?
That was about 11 months ago that I read it? It was interesting because with the best scripts, you remember where you were. It was a very compelling read. It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” game where you go in and they fill in the blanks. When we were doing it, there were millions of questions, and a lot of the time you’re not going to get the answers. You’re just one of the viewers at that point.
How do you cope with the unknown when it comes to something like that? So much of being an actor seems like playing roulette.
You just have to make choices and stick by them. Like I said, it really is like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, which was a big thing when I was a kid. You either make the right choices or the wrong ones and you just double back. You make your choices and just live with that. [Laughs] Sometimes it’s interesting to watch episodes again and see how they turned out.
Do you have a favorite villain or guest star from The Blacklist?
Ritchie Coster who played Anslo Garrick was fantastic. The Stewmaker was a great one. I was hoping that we would see more of Hector Lorca [played by Clifton Collins Jr.], a great actor. I’m sure they’re going to have quite a bit more of these real good, bad guys. And definitely Alan Alda. We’ll see how that plays out, but I’m sure they won’t let him go to waste.
You bring up the Stewmaker. I actually made the mistake of watching that episode alone in the dark, home alone.
I think that was a prime example of how well the show can work. It’s when everything’s firing on all cylinders. Tom Noonan is an incredible actor. These are characters that you want to spend more time with, and see why they’re doing what they’re doing. How did he become the Stewmaker, for instance? But we have to move on to the next one with every episode. Hopefully we’ll have characters like Hector Lorca stick around for awhile.
Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on anything in terms of feature film opportunities when you’re so heavily involved with TV?
Not really. Not to overuse “the golden age of TV”, but there’s so much great television being made right now. I’d be a fool to think that I was missing out on something, having been involved in two great TV shows in the last couple of years. We’ll see what the future holds. I’ll hopefully have a long run on The Blacklist and get a little bit of time off. I think doing great work leads to more work. You get access to more great scripts and great directors. With Homeland and The Blacklist, we’ll see what we can do on our time off that’s coming up. James [Spader] actually has an incredible feature lined up, so hopefully we can do something along those lines.
Speaking of great filmmakers, you worked with Guillermo del Toro on Pacific Rim. Since he’s such a fanboy at heart, does that generate a different kind of energy during production?
The word “genius” often comes up when you talk about Guillermo. He just has this vision and become wrapped up in this world. His world is so detailed and well-thought-out—thorough. You just kind of “go down the rabbit hole” when you work with him. His world is always pretty incredible. I was blown away by seeing what they had already prepared and what was in store for us. This was two years ago that we were doing Pacific Rim, but it was incredible.
What about when it comes to indie features like The Dry Land and Kilimanjaro?
It really depends. It’s all about the story, the characters presented and who you get to work with. On The Dry Land, to work with Melissa Leo, Wilmer Valderrama, Ryan O’Nan and Ryan Williams was a terrific experience. It was a great group of actors. This is something that I’m talking to my agent and manager about, which is looking around and trying to leave no stone unturned when it comes to interesting characters and stories.
Have you at any point felt like you were being typecast for whatever reason?
Right now, I think there’s a lot of stories with military-based characters. If you look back at the last few years, that’s what’s out there and what you play. It’s just a matter of what’s hanging around and squeeze into the schedule. I can’t really say that I’ve been typecast in one way or the other. Hopefully there will be a broad group of scripts and characters coming my way, so I can find something different to play. I have no problem playing something similar or in the same ballpark as long as it’s interesting material.
I think like a lot of people out there, I was first introduced to you with Mean Girls. What was it like being on set with Lizzie Caplan, Jonathan Bennett, Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried? You were all pretty much unknown at that point.
You could tell that there was so much talent involved. Everyone underneath Saturday Night Live was an unknown except for Lindsay [Lohan] at the time. She had Freaky Friday just come out and doing well on her own. The script and the director was great. Then you see this group of people that brought their characters to life. It was a really fun time.
The Internet tells me you’re from Nova Scotia, but it’s somewhere between Nova Scotia, New Glasgow and Halifax as I understand it?
It’s really just outside of New Glasgow. If you know Nova Scotia at all, it’s on the northeastern shore. I grew up in the country about half an hour outside of New Glasgow.
So what kind of stuff did you grow up watching?
I didn’t really watch much because we only had two channels. We grew up watching a lot of hockey. Everyone at school was talking about Friends, The X-Files and Seinfeld, and we just didn’t have those channels at the time. We kind of grew up missing out or, a lot of the time, it was about watching rented movies. If we ever went to the theater in town, we made the most of what we had. We spent most of our time outside.
How did acting enter the picture? Was this a dream that you had prior to wanting to play baseball professionally?
That quote was taken so many years ago. I think they asked me what dreams I had when I was a kid. [Laughs] Everybody wants to be an astronaut or play hockey. I grew up wanting to play baseball. I played hockey when I was a kid and some baseball. The acting thing is not a big thing where I’m from. There are more actors coming out of Nova Scotia now, but there wasn’t really a program for it at school and it was just something that came up. I ended up in Toronto when I was 19. I started taking this crazy workshop, and here I am.
How did your parents react?
They were of course very supportive. It was quite an adventure to move from the dirt roads and farms to Toronto. It was incredible, the shock of it all. It’s been a long road.
Do you have any ambitions to get behind the camera?
At this point, I’m just trying to focus on what’s in front of the camera. It’s always very busy. I do, though. I don’t know any actor who wouldn’t want to take charge and tell other people what to do. [Laughs] It’s definitely something that I’ve thought about, but we’ll see what happens.
Are you in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions?
Not really. I don’t think I’m going to cut out salt, fat or any of that stuff. I think we’re on a great ride right now. I just want to focus on what’s in front of me because we have a lot of work to do in the next four months of the show. I think we’re in a really good place and I’m excited about what 2014 has to offer.