Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest film and television actor, Cliff Simon. Cliff has been a television and film actor for over twenty years and is best known for his role as the 5 season recurring villain Ba'al in the TV Sci-Fi thriller, Stargate SGI and the DVD movie Stargate Continuum.
He has guest starred in many episodic television shows including all three of the NCIS Franchise, 24, The Americans, Castle and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
He just finished principal photography on a feature, Project Eden. In 2015 he was nominated as best guest star for his role on Castle by BOTVA in Canada. He has appeared in commercials, and has done voice over work. With his distinctive South African accent, he is much sought after for action-adventure video games.
Recently, he has published with Loren Stephens his memoir, PARIS NIGHTS: My Year at the Moulin Rouge.
Norm: Good day Cliff and thanks for participating in our interview.
Cliff: Thank you Norm, it’s my pleasure.
Norm: What motivates you to act and when was your first role as an actor?
Cliff: Mm, That’s a difficult question -- the first part anyway. I originally came from being an athlete to starting my dance career as an acrobat and then modelling. My transition to study acting was organic, and it felt like the natural thing to do.
I’m generally speaking not a very sociable person. I like to spend a lot of time alone. It doesn’t bother me, so I suppose acting is an outlet for me, as it is for many other actors.
I would say my motivation is the excitement and thrill I feel every time I walk on to a set, the process and the enormous sense of satisfaction I get when I feel I have done a great job.
It’s a very satisfying feeling to know you are entertaining people.
My first role as an actor on television besides commercial acting was in a very famous South African soap called Egoli, Place of Gold. After 3 months in a recurring role I was offered a contract role and stayed with the show for 7 years. It was the best training ground I could have asked for.
Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your career as an actor?
Cliff: I think I have to say the greatest success I feel is that I was able to make the move from a smaller industry in South Africa to become somewhat successful in a hugely competitive environment like Los Angeles. It’s an extremely tough move. Patience, Persistence and Perseverance.
I don’t feel I have one particular show or movie I have done that epitomizes my success.
All my work for me has given me a sense of success. Of course, I should say my recurring 5 season role as the baddie Ba’al in “Stargate SG1” probably is my most successful, definitely longest-running role in my career thus far.
Norm: Have you ever experienced a time where you had difficulty turning yourself into a character If so, what was the character and why was it challenging?
Cliff: No, not really.
Some characters of course are more difficult than others, but I generally play the antagonist and I find that side of me pretty easy to pull up. :)
Norm: What are the skills you most value in actors you admire, and are there any particular actors who have exerted an influence upon you?
Cliff: The skill of NOT acting. Acting is not acting, it’s reacting. That’s a hard thing to understand as an actor but one day when it happens it’s like an AHA moment.
Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons, I think, have had the greatest influence on me as an actor. I really watch and absorb how they work.
Norm: How much research do you undertake for a role?
Cliff: Depends on the character -- for instance with Ba’al in Stargate, he is a real demi-god and mythological being so I researched a lot about him from ancient times. When I played a Mossad agent on The Americans I spoke with my brother-in-law in Israel as he was involved and still is with security there. If I’m playing the Russian bad guy as I just did on a film I make sure all the tattoos are correct. It was also important to know what area of Russia he is from. So, yes, it’s a process that builds up until you finish filming.
Norm: Are there any parts or characters you would avoid?
Norm: What directors have you responded to most creatively?
Cliff: I have to say that working with Dan Attias on The Americans was amazing. He is a seasoned director and knows exactly how to convey what he wants in a very quiet way without trying to act for you.
Norm: What advice can you give aspiring actors that you wished you had gotten, or that you wished you would have listened to?
Cliff: Patience, persistence and perseverance, once again. I actually had no one to get any advice from so I learned as I went. It’s a tough thing as we all have our own path so for one actor to give another advice sometimes can be detrimental -- what’s good for one is not necessarily good for another. But the common truth is to always stay true to yourself, in other words don’t be what you think they want you to be.
One thing I have learned, for me, is that people want to hire you for who you are.
A great saying rings true: Hate me for who I am, rather than love me for who I’m not.
Norm: What motivated you to write your memoir, PARIS NIGHTS: My Year at the Moulin Rouge and could you tell us a little about the book:
Cliff: I used to tell friends some stories from my crazy past and over a period of years realized that my experiences weren’t exactly normal. People were always very surprised to hear I was a principal at this world-renowned cabaret theater, so I decided to write and give an insider’s POV. The idea of writing a book came to me about 5 years ago after I also realized that I had never seen a book written from an insider’s point of view about the most iconic cabaret theater in the world. Also after losing my sister a couple of years ago and both my mom and dad I decided I needed to write my memoir to honor my family.
It was kind of a therapy for me to do so. I know in my past I treated some people badly and by writing about it, it helped me move on. But the star of the book is the Moulin Rouge.
“Paris Nights,” is what I refer to as an adventure story/memoir. The book opens with a telephone call from a friend who is performing at the Moulin Rouge asking if I want to come to Paris to take over for a dancer who has broken a leg (typical show biz story).
I’m sitting in my little house on the beach near Johannesburg, bored with life, and this is a chance of a lifetime. I sell everything I own and fly to Paris. Unfortunately, I’m not automatically in. I have to audition. I make the grade and work by way up from swing dancer to the star of “Formidable.” On my off hours, I manage to get myself in a bit of trouble with the denizen of Pigalle, who include prostitutes, diamond smugglers, and expats like myself.
After a year, I’m feeling restless again. I’ve gotten everything I can out of the Moulin Rouge, head for Sweden and eventually end up back in South Africa, where my acting career takes off. The bookends of my memoir include an early scene from my boyhood sailing in a storm on the Vaal River; and in the final pages, I’m on my honeymoon back in Paris. I give a toast to the most unforgettable year of my life.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and as a follow up, what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Cliff: I think the most difficult part was trying to remember places and names and dates. Both my amazing writing partner Loren Stephens and I spent many, many hours researching online street names, places, landmarks, etc. Then the task of putting my experiences in order.
The mind is a funny thing when you try to remember old experiences.
When we started writing this, I was having dreams about things I had forgotten, and places and people’s names, and of course my military experiences haunted me a little. So it was in my mind, but it was just filed away. So that was the hardest part, and of course the many hours Loren and I sat together as she interviewed me and recorded our conversations.
What was difficult was choosing what to leave in and what to take out. We tried to select the scenes that were dramatic and kept the narrative moving forward so that the reader wants to know “what happens next.”
What was also challenging was to uncover the universal messages in my specific story. For example, without hitting the reader over the head, I was interested in sharing things about my relationship with my father – my desire for my father’s approval, and my hope that he would one day understand my ambition, which was so different from his. I think that my readers can relate to this. So the book isn’t just an adventure story. It also deals with personal feelings.
I enjoyed the process of writing a book. As an actor it was very interesting as it’s a completely different process to making a film. It was amazing to see what I saw in my mind and knew in my mind explained colorfully and precisely on paper. I truly never thought it would happen. But meeting an accomplished writer such as Loren, with her passion and knowledge for everything French made it a reality for me. I have learned so much and have a new-found respect for writers. Everyone has a story but very few can actually put pen to paper.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your memoir serves and what matters to you about the memoir?
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your memoir?
My book is available at online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble in physical, eBook and Audio book and in stores. If your local book store is out of stock, please ask them to stock it.
Cliff: MY WEBSITE
They can follow me on TWITTER:
Norm: What is next for Cliff Simon?
Cliff: Well for now its full steam ahead with the book.
I have to say I of course would like it to be a film or TV series, if that happened that would be a huge bonus and a tremendous extension of success I already feel with the book.
I have just returned from New Zealand after finishing filming Project Eden a Sci Fi thriller movie in which I play, of course, the bad Russian mobster. That will be released later in 2016.
Other than that it’s a daily hustle of castings, etc. Keep moving forward.
Who knows maybe part 2 of the book?
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Cliff: Who is Cliff Simon?
I’ve always made sure to not let my career rule my life.
I hold them completely separate. Acting is my job, it’s not who I am.
Who I am is adventurous, love trying new things, new challenges.
I paddle surf and kiteboard as many days a week as I can.I travel. I used to be a paraglide pilot, jumping from mountain tops. I love motorcycles and ride whenever I can for fun.
When I meet people for the first time I never ask them what they do, and it throws people as it’s a normal conversation opener. I like to get to know the person, who they are.
I believe most people define themselves to much by what job they do.
Also people immediately judge you and have a preconceived idea about who you are when you tell them what your job is, unless they have taken the time to get to know you.
People treat you differently if you tell them you are a bus driver or a CEO of a huge company, and I truly feel that’s wrong. I’m interested in what people do, not what they make.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors