In the upcoming fact-based psychological thriller “Final Vision” (Dec. 10 on Investigation Discovery), Scott Foley goes dark — very dark — as Jeffrey MacDonald, the Army doctor convicted in 1979 of murdering his pregnant wife and two children. The film centers on both the crime and the trial, as well as writer Joe McGinniss, who started work on his book “Final Vision” at the request of MacDonald himself.
Foley’s familiar with military types. Over on “Scandal,” he’s been playing one with plenty of issues of his own. Things are never what they seem on the ABC drama, and everyone has his or her own agenda, and this season his character Jake Ballard has been Olivia Pope’s sounding board, moral compass and part-time love interest.
“I know that people expect a certain thing of me as an actor,” Foley said. “I think they expect ‘Scott Foley’ and I’m not quite sure what that means, so it’s strange. People expect me to be the quarterback, you know? And I’ve played the quarterback before.
“But I’m much goofier, and I have a much drier sense of humor than people think, so if they don’t know me, it might take them a second to realize, ‘Oh — oh, that was a joke!’ People don’t necessarily expect that; they see a tall, handsome, semi-in shape guy who maybe has it all together. When truth be told? I was up at 5 a.m. with my kids, I’ve got eggs in my hair and let’s talk about that! I’m most comfortable when I can make fun of myself.”
The times when he starts feeling uncomfortable? When all eyes are on him.
“I’m a blusher. And it’s something that happens to me regularly.”
It’s not a problem when it happens on camera, he said, because “usually I have enough makeup on to cover it. But when I’m in an audition or I’m standing up to give a speech or something, that’s when I blush. I think it’s when I feel judged, if that makes sense! I get self-conscious, and I hear myself talking and it just happens.”
My worst moment
“I know it sounds ridiculous, but the more well-known I become, the more I blush for a number of reasons. It starts in my neck, and it goes to my cheeks and it won’t go down for 10 minutes. I have always blushed, I don’t know what it is.
“This incident in particular that has really stayed with me was when I reading for a fairly prominent feature film director named Mimi Leder. I don’t even remember what movie it was. It might have been for ‘Deep Impact,’ which she directed. It was around the time that ‘Armageddon’ was coming out, and there were a couple similar movies like that the same time. I’m not a very good auditioner, but I was excited to go read for her.
“When you go into an audition, there’s usually five minutes of banter and shooting the (breeze) with everyone in the room. And then I can always feel it when it’s like, ‘OK, the small talk is over, they’re ready to hear you read — you need to step up and do your thing now.’ I’ve prepared, and I know the lines and it’s all good.
“And so I start, and right away I can feel that I’m getting warm and blushing. About halfway through the audition, I’m red, and I’m sweating a little bit and I thought, ‘It’s OK, it’s happened before, just make your way through it.’
“I got a couple more sentences in when Mimi Leder said, ‘I have to stop you right now.’
“And sometimes directors will do that. They’ll stop you and say, ‘You’re going in the wrong direction’ or ‘Try it another way.’ But it’s rare for them to stop you right in the middle. So I said, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ And she said, ‘I need you to sit down. I’m afraid you’re going to pass out.’
“And I tried to joke about it: ‘No, no! I just, uh — I’m not nervous! I just start to sweat and blush, but let me keep going.’
“After that, I lost my (cool) completely in this meeting. I couldn’t find the words. I started stammering. I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, she did ‘ER,’ and I loved ‘ER’! And now she’s doing these big films!’ Every single thing you’re not supposed to think when you’re doing an audition, I thought it.
“But I kept going. And then she stopped me again: ‘Scott?’ And I just looked at her and said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ And she sort of nodded her head, and I nodded my head back and I left the room — and that was the last time I’ve ever seen Mimi Leder!”
“At this point now, 15 years later and having been a director and producer who has been on the other side of it in the casting room, you see some amazing things. People break down and crash. It’s crazy. So I can only imagine that as soon as my reading started, they were thinking, ‘What the hell is happening?’ They let it go on for a certain period of time, I think, out of kindness.
“But it is one of those moments that I will never forget. Even now it still happens. We had a table read at ‘Scandal’ the other day, and some of the stage directions in ‘Scandal’ include songs and usually the group will sing them, but nobody knew these songs except for me! So I found myself singing alone to this Michael McDonald song ‘What a Fool Believes’ in Michael McDonald’s voice, and Kerry Washington just turned and looked at me. I was like, ‘How red am I?’ and she was like, ‘You’re red.’
“It’s embarrassment-blush. It’s ‘Oh my God, I’m getting all this attention when I don’t know if I should be getting this attention’ blush. It’s the same thing when people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me: Oh, it’s attention I shouldn’t be getting right now!
“When I’m onstage — I’ve done Broadway and off-Broadway shows — it doesn’t happen. I don’t know what it is, there’s just specific moments where I feel like someone’s looking at me when I’m doing something that I shouldn’t be looked at for.
“The weird thing about the Mimi Leder audition is that they were supposed to be watching me, but I felt like instead of watching me do the audition they were seeing what their idea of what ‘Scott Foley’ would bring to the table, if that makes sense — and he brought his absolute worst and never went back!”
“Here’s what I do now: I will usually show up to an audition, if it’s a big audition, in-character. And I’ll ask the assistant if, when I go in the room, we can just do the scene first. So I’ve tried to reverse the order of how things go: I do my performance and do everything that I’ve prepared for them first, and then we can chitchat and you can decide if you like me or not after that.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and there’s a rhythm that happens with auditions and meetings. I’ve been in these waiting rooms with the same guys for 25 years, all of us auditioning for these roles, so I know them and we’ll catch up — but I’ll no longer ask how their wives are and all that when I first arrive.
“I’ll stand in the hallway apart from everyone and wait until they call my name. I’ll go in, do my thing, we chitchat and then I come out and say hi to all the guys. And everybody understands, we all have our own process. But it took me a while to figure that out.”