Neil Hopkins is an American actor… although one of his most famous roles is as a Brit. He played musician “Liam Pace”, older brother to Dominic Monaghan’s Charlie on ABC’s LOST, between 2004-2010. Although Neil only appeared in 5 episodes, they spanned throughout the series’ entire run.
More recently, Neil Hopkins is starring as DC Comics villain Sportsmaster on Stargirl. The series was created by Geoff Johns and is airing on both DC Universe and The CW. Additionally, he plays the character’s civilian identity: Larry ‘Crusher’ Crock, a gym owner in Blue Valley, Nebraska.
Many thanks to Neil for taking the time to chat with Conor O’Brien of Courageous Nerd. Among other topics, we discussed his roles on both LOST and Stargirl, what it’s like playing a supervillain, and the process of adopting Liam Pace’s Mancunian accent.
To start off, how has life been for you since the pandemic hit?
Neil Hopkins (NH): Life has been challenging. We have 2 kids, 6 and 9. They haven’t been in school since March. We’ve been doing school over the Internet on Zoom and you know, it’s been tough but we’re healthy. We’re in a much better place than a lot of people so I’m grateful for that. But I don’t love it.
What made you discover that you enjoyed acting and consider it as something you could pursue as a career?
NH: I got into it in high school when I was in my 2nd year [of high school]. I took a theatre class. I really liked the theatre teacher in my high school, in Colorado. He encouraged me to audition for this play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I auditioned for it, got a part and it was a blast. It was so much fun – I’d done smaller plays when I was in 5th grade but this was the first production I had ever done that had music, dancing, all that kind of stuff. I liked the people, I thought they were cool. I went to an all-boys school and girls would audition from other schools for our play. That was pretty awesome. It was the only after-school activity at my school that involved members of the opposite sex.
I kept doing theatre throughout high school, I also did it in college and then eventually I became a theatre major. After that, I went to graduate school for theatre for 3 years in San Francisco and I just loved it. I was on track to pursue it professionally by my last year of college and I’ve never looked back.
You had episodic roles on Birds of Prey, Charmed, My Name is Earl, among others. Do any of these early roles stand out in your mind, when you look back on that period?
NH: Well, the first one I ever got was Birds of Prey, which was a DC show and I’m on a DC show now so it’s come full circle. That one stands out in my mind because it was the first job I got after I moved to LA. I got it a couple of months after I moved down there.
I didn’t know what a ‘guest star’ was, I didn’t know how it worked, I knew nothing. I just got these auditions because I got an agent. I think I got like 3 auditions before I booked a part, maybe more than 3. But I was just over the moon, I was so excited. It was like ‘oh my God, I’m going to get paid to do this’. I thought I had arrived, that was it, no looking back.
I learned over a decade and a half that there’s a lot of ups and downs, it’s a roller coaster, you’ve never really arrived. You’re always just trying to get your next gig, hoping it’s a good one.
You had a recurring part as Liam Pace on LOST. I was wondering how deep of a dive did you go into trying to perfect the Manchester accent, being from America in real life?
NH: I don’t think I even tried much of a Manchester accent, Mancunian accent. For the audition, it said he was British and they said they only wanted to see Brits. So, I do a pretty good English accent, sort of London accent. I can do other accents as well. I was pretty comfortable doing that. They only wanted to look at real British actors so I made the decision go into the room pretending I was British. I never dropped the mask and you know, it worked. Then when I got on the show, the Manchester accent’s very difficult, even for a Brit. It’s very hard to do it authentically.
Basically, when I was on the show, I tried certain phrasings to mimic Dom Monaghan [Charlie Pace, onscreen brother] originally. But he’s lived outside Manchester most his life so his accent’s not even that strong. I did the best I could. Whenever you do an accent, you never get it 100%. There are certain sounds that you’ve got to hit. There’s a musicality and a lilt to the language that you got to get the gist of. In TV, you never have time. You never have time to work on anything, it’s so vast. Usually you get the job and two days later, you’re flying out to do it.
With a lot of movie roles, people have months to prepare and a dialect coach. I just listened to interviews of Dom and tried to get certain sounds he got. My accent in the show is more of a standard British accent rather than a Mancunian accent. I tried to get it a little better in later episodes but it’s tough because you want it to be consistent. Consistency’s the most important thing. It doesn’t have to sound exactly like the region that you’re coming from but you need things to be consistent. Occasionally, I’ll watch it once every few years and sometimes I cringe because I don’t think it’s a very good accent.
I’ve had a lot of British people come up to me over the years and say they thought I was British. Whatever, that’s all I need to hear. After that I played a Brit a few times, maybe 4 or 5 times. I realised I’m never going to go into the room as anything but a Brit. In auditioning, you can’t give them opportunities to say no. They’re always going to look for opportunities to say ‘yeah, he’s good but…’. One of the things is if they’re like ‘yeah, he’s good but he’s American’, I don’t know if the accent’s right. If you come in as the character, they don’t know any different and just believe that you’re British. Even if your accent isn’t perfect, you commit to it and it’s consistent then they’ll believe it.
From that moment on, I learned that lesson when I auditioned for LOST. It was funny because after I booked LOST, they called my agent to see if I had a Visa to work in the US. My agent laughed and said ‘no, he’s American’. They were like ‘what?’ Immediately, the director called my agent and said I’m worried about his accent. But he only said that after he learned I was American. It was really funny, it just proved to me that if I had gone in as myself and done the accent on-and-off, I wouldn’tve gotten that part.
You mentioned Dominic Monaghan and would have mostly worked with him in Charlie’s flashbacks on the show. I was wondering whether you got to interact with any of the other regulars seeing as you were so involved with 1 actor, mostly.
NH: I met the other regulars but I didn’t work with them as much. I had blip of a scene in the last season with Josh Holloway [Sawyer] but that was it. I had already met him. All the beach stuff was filmed on Police Beach in the North Shore. Honolulu’s on the South Shore of Oahu. My stuff, the flashback stuff, was shot in and around Honolulu so I really only worked with Dom.
We’d shoot our scenes while everyone else was shooting their stuff up North. I met Evie [Lilly], Josh. I met Jorge. I never worked with them. I never got to do any real scenes with them.
It’s kind of incredible how they made Hawaii look like so many places around the world. UK, South Korea, Iraq.
NH: They did an amazing job of creating many, many, many international locations on 1 island. You know, Hawaii looks like Hawaii. There are parts of Honolulu that could be any city. It’s not easy to make Hawaii look like a lot of other places. They did an incredible job, I was always amazed especially as the seasons went on and they had more & more characters, flashbacks and locations, that they were able to pull it off. You start to run out of places to shoot, Oahu’s a very small island.
Considering that Liam was the lead singer of Drive Shaft, was you personally having any musical talent a requirement for the role? Was that expected of whoever got the part?
NH: Well, they had the lyrics for the song in the script when I had the audition. They didn’t have a tune obviously. I’ve done that many times. I’m a musician, I make music, I’m a singer. So I made up a tune and I knew these characters were sort of based on Oasis. These 2 brothers, one of them’s named Liam. One of them is a real troublemaker, the other one is more serious about the music. It’s clearly Liam and Noel Gallagher.
But I had to make up a song, a melody for the lyrics that they had on the page when I auditioned for it. I sort of made it sound like Rock ‘n’ Roll Star by Oasis. It was funny because I hadn’t heard the song they had already written for You All Everybody. The chord progression [of You All Everybody] is the exact same progression of Rock ‘n’ Roll Star by Oasis. Obviously, intentionally. The song doesn’t sound anything like Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.
Funny enough, I was really excited to get to sing in a show. But I learned when we started shooting that it that they were going to just have me lip sync to the playback they had already recorded. That voice is not my voice. Other people assume that’s my voice but that’s not my voice.
You’re currently on Stargirl for DC Universe. Were you familiar with DC Comics beforehand? What was your initial reaction to Sportsmaster/Crusher Crock?
NH: When I was a kid, like 11, 12 years old, I was obsessed when Batman came out. I was always a superhero fan – Superman, Batman, Spider-Man. I didn’t know DC from Marvel but I got really into DC Comics through Batman. I got into Frank Miller’s Dark Knight, I loved it. And I’m an artist as well so I would sit there and would sketch, copy his drawings. I just loved his style. I bought a bunch of Batman comics when I was a kid, I also got into Wolverine which was obviously Marvel.
But I was not familiar at all with Stargirl, I never heard of Stargirl. I haven’t collected comics in many years so I didn’t know anything about it. Then I started reading up on it after I got the part. I didn’t know I was even auditioning for Sportsmaster, never heard of Sportsmaster.
When you’re auditioning for big shows like this, they don’t tell you who you’re actually auditioning for. They give you fake character names, you just think you’re reading for some character. It wasn’t until I got the offer a couple of weeks later that I realised I was playing a dual role of Crusher Crock and Sportsmaster. Then I immediately Googled it and I was like ‘oh my God, this is a character that goes back to 1941’. I was just blown away. That night, I did a deep dive into who Sportsmaster was and I got really excited. It was thrilling just to be a part of DC in any way. It’s like a childhood dream. I was a huge Batman fan so it was just so exciting.
I have two kids and we just watched the latest episode of Stargirl together last night. They love the show and it’s so fun for me to be on a show that they’re excited to watch and really into. They got to come into the set last summer when we were shooting and they got to see the giant robot, see me do some acting as Crock. It was really cool. So yeah, I wasn’t familiar with Stargirl so I quickly versed myself on it, read all about it, read some of the comics.
And when I met Geoff Johns, James Robinson and the writers, they gave us the graphic novel of the Golden Age and I read that. My version of Sportsmaster as Geoff created in the show is different from the other versions. I didn’t feel like I needed to do exhaustive research on Sportsmaster because Geoff had created a new incarnation. It was somewhat similar in terms of name, obviously the defining characteristics of the character. He [Johns] made him owning a gym and he’s just a really funny character.
It was more important for me to be faithful to what Geoff was trying to create in Stargirl than it was for me to do this exhaustive deep dive into the history of Sportsmaster. I do that stuff because it’s fun and cool to know the history but it doesn’t necessarily inform what I do onscreen.
You spoke about how Crock could be a funny character. That made me think of his early scenes with Pat Dugan – Luke Wilson – Is that a dynamic that will play into the rest of the season? It’s been a while since that pairing was seen together.
NH: I know! I don’t know if you saw episode 7 but we had a brief scene, some of it was cut. I understand why it was cut. The cool thing about working with Luke is especially in our scenes, he likes to take what’s written and then he and I bat around ideas before we start shooting. We come up with other lines and we improv stuff. It’s really fun to get to do that because you don’t do that very often in TV. You basically in TV say what’s on the page and that’s it. Maybe you throw in an ad-libbed line here or there at the end of a scene.
It’s frowned upon in most cases but Geoff was really cool with it especially because Luke was down with it. A lot of our scenes ran long, every take would be different, we’d come up with different versions of it. Of course, knowing that most of it is going to end up on the cutting room floor as is the case. But yeah, the dynamic, the friendship between Pat Dugan and Crusher Crock, we see it again. I don’t want to say any more than that.
They set it up in episode 2 and then there’s 3 episodes where it doesn’t get mentioned again. I wish there’d been a little bit more of that but as I see the show, I understand there wasn’t room. There’s so many characters, so much story to develop.
I doubt Crock would recognise Pat as being Stripesy. It’s a very weird coincidence they’ve thrown together which is kind of funny. He’s inadvertently training the enemy.
NH: I love that dynamic that Geoff created. We become pals. I become a mentor of sorts to him, of course I have no idea who he is. Which is a sort of suspension of disbelief, I don’t know why I wouldn’t recognise him. That’s the comic book world for you. It’s a fun dynamic and wish we could’ve explored it more throughout the season than we did.
Flipping over to a very different dynamic, your character is a member of the Injustice Society. Did you know any of those actors before you started doing the show? Is there a sense of camaraderie in real life?
NH: Yeah, I knew who Joy [Osmanski, Tigress] was. Actually, my wife’s an actor and had gone in for a bunch of roles over the years that Joy also went in for. When you’re in the business long enough, you know just about everybody. You see them at auditions and you lose roles to them, you get roles over them. That’s kind of the way it works.
I had met Neil Jackson [Icicle] several years earlier, again, at an audition. Actually he came up to me and he complimented me for my role on LOST. This was years ago. He was one of the people that told me he thought I was British. It’s funny because I’ve played Brits a bunch of times and he plays Americans a lot. So we have this sort of flip-flop dynamic
I didn’t know Nelson [Lee, Dragon King), Eric Goins [The Gambler], Chris James Baker [Brainwave}. Hina Khan [Fiddler]. But we got along super well. We have a WhatsApp thread that we text on just about every week. We actually got to do a promo thing for The CW yesterday on Zoom where 6 of us were there with Meg DeLacy [Cindy Burmam/Shiv]. Got to answer fan questions, reminisce about the show.
They’re a great group of people. The bad guys are some of the best people I’ve ever met. Really nice people and funny. When you’re on a superhero show in particular which can take itself too seriously, it’s just great to be on set with funny people.
Now that you’ve played a supervillain, do you have any desire to ever play a superhero?
NH: Sure! I mean, if the opportunity presents itself, absolutely. I really like playing this character. I’ve played a lot of villains but I like this character because they develop his family life a little bit. You see that he’s actually a very caring father even though he’s a total psychopath. And he’s a guy that cares a lot about fitness and self improvement, all these things.
One of the things I love about Stargirl is you get to see the home life of villains which you really never get to see. And I love that, we’re not just these people who show up out of the shadows and try to kill the heroes. We’ve been living here for 10 years in Blue Valley. It’s interesting to see how we’ve infiltrated the town in terms of its politics and business community.
It’s fun to see how these villains have created lives for themselves that we get to explore in this show. Not just these one-dimensional, mustache-twirling people. We’re people who care about our children and all that. I would love to play a superhero but I’m more interested in playing a villain right now.
Aside from your own storyline, were there any others you enjoyed following in the scripts for Stargirl?
NH: As I watched the series, I really liked the last episode with Shiv. I love her backstory and Meg DeLacy’s so great in that role, so talented. We were watching last night with my family and my wife’s saying ‘she’s genuinely a scary person’ in the show. So, I love following her story.
I like the dynamic that’s happening between Courtney and Pat, they’re constantly butting heads. He’s sort of this father figure to her that she doesn’t listen to and doesn’t take his advice. She thinks she knows everything. So that’s a fun thing to watch and I like the relationship between Icicle and his son. I just love how these characters, these villains, at home they’re normal people to a certain extent except Dragon King.
You know, they love their kids, they care about their kids and they want the best for them. And at the same time they’re just cold-blooded villains. I also like the Brainwave/Brainwave Jr thing. And I like Hourman, one of my favourite characters in the JSA because I love his backstory. I love the rage that he feels that’s fully justified.
I like that first fighting scene in Episode 6, how he’s just like a bull in a china shop. He has super strength and has no idea how to use it. And he just gets his butt kicked. I love that it shows even with a superpower, it doesn’t mean you know how to use it. It doesn’t mean you’re any good. He has his moments but he’s just this big shotgun blast of super strength with no real skills and strategy.
Crock seemed to realize that the New JSA he fought were just kids. He mentioned that in the most recent episode. With him being a father, is there going to be any kind of conflict or morality issue going forward?
NH: No [laughs]. No, he doesn’t think like that. If somebody comes at him, it doesn’t matter if it’s a kid or an adult. He’s gonna take them out. You know, he’s a psychopath, he doesn’t care.
He cares about his kid! But that’s where it begins and ends.
If you could say one thing to fans of LOST, Stargirl or anything you’ve been in during these unprecedented times, what would that sentiment be?
NH: Wear a mask. That’s all I got, wear a mask. Follow the guidelines, wear a mask. The sooner everybody complies with the scientific recommendations, the sooner we’ll be through this. And I’m a big proponent of wearing masks. It’s the most effective and empowering thing we can all do to stop the spread of COVID.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.
Follow Courageous Nerd Editor-in-Chief Conor O’Brien on Twitter and Instagram – @CourageousConor.
Follow Neil Hopkins on Twitter and Instagram – @neilehopkins.