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Raphael Sbarge was born in New York City to a theatrical family, where his mother was a Broadway costume designer and his father was a writer, painter and filmmaker, he himself was named after the Italian Renaissance painter Raphael.
He began his career in the entertainment industry at a very young age, appearing on the beloved children’s program, Sesame Street. Moviegoers might recognize him from his small role in the iconic alien blockbuster Independence Day, but he also has had a slew of guest appearances on television shows on his resume like Charmed, The Good Wife, Criminal Minds, NCIS, The Mentalist and many more.
Yet, Sbarge’s heart lies with the theatre. He has starred with many heavy hitters in numerous stage productions, such as starring at just 16 years old alongside the beloved Faye Dunaway on Broadway, as well as performing in four other Broadway shows.
Sbarge also devotes his time to charity work, supporting Green Wish, a non-profit he founded that helps local green organizations fund projects for their communities through donations online and at local retailers.
TheCelebrityCafe.com’s Sari N. Kent was able to talk to Raphael about his early experiences in front of the camera, his movie, theatre and television roles as well as his extensive voiceover work and playing Dr. Archie Hopper/Jiminy Cricket on the ABC television smash Once Upon A Time as well as TNT’s newest drama Murder in the First.
Sari N. Kent: You began your career in the entertainment industry at 4 years old, appearing on Sesame Street. Do you have any recollection of that time?
Sbarge: Yeah, I remember it vividly. The first year of Sesame Street, my parents and I were living on the Lower East Side of New York City. My mom was a costume designer and my dad had been a playwright. I did a whole bunch of episodes. I remember sitting with Big Bird and Bob on the stoop, it was a wonderful experience. They apparently offered me a contract even though I was just 4 and my mother told me years later and said that she didn’t want to be a stage mother. She didn’t want to drag me into something I couldn’t fully understand yet so she passed on it, but, at the end of the day, I think she did the right thing for a little kid and I have great memories of my childhood.
SNK: Your starred with Kevin Spacey and Val Kilmer in a production of Henry IV in Central Park. What was that experience like?
SB: They were both just out of Juilliard and you are all young actors, strong and ambitious and it was joyous.
SNK: Your first love has always been the stage; what are some differences and/or similarities you have found between acting on stage and acting on TV?
SB: Well, for example, when you’re on a play, you’re there for a week and it’s a lot. *chuckles* It can take a lot out of you. You can crawl and you can grow with it for a year and once it’s a journey and it’s more focused, the work. But, on a show, you can just ‘let things happen’ it has a form to it that the camera then captures. I started when I was 16 and was just graduating high school when I did Risky Business, I remember the first time this enormous-like cannon was being pointed at me. The camera was like ‘WHOA!’ which is initially a challenge, but you learn and grow and work for a couple of years, but yes, theater is where my heart is, my passion is and I grew up there backstage with my parents and I’ve had so many wonderful experiences there and heart is there for sure and want to go back to theater if I can.
SNK: You have starred on the stage with some serious heavy hitters like Frank Langella, Al Pacino, Gwyneth Paltrow, the late Jason Robards and Blythe Danner, just to name a few. Does any co-star or show stand out in your mind as a favorite?
SB: Well, each one of those shows was a different experience. Working with Al Pacino was life-altering. Watching him work and explore material. Frank Langella was a great teacher to me, in many ways, he really challenged me, how he demanded so much of me. Jason Robards taught me so much. In a way, you get the joy of working with actors of that caliber and you’re clearly dealing with the best at that point and it’s so much to collect. You can’t just relate to what you’ve garnered, you get the benefit of standing next to them and watch them work. It’s hard to know specifically, I mean I could go through some specific stories, and technical terms, but in the end the extraordinary experiences and elegant actors I’ve worked with showed how they let the work affect them and how relaxed they were in their work despite being powerhouses and showing how they weren’t forcing anything. There was always a flow to their process.
SNK: In 1991, you starred with the future James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, in the TV movie Murder 101. What was that experience like?
SB: Oh, Pierce was such a great guy, such a kind man! I had such a good time with him. There was talk that it was going to be a series, but Bill Condon went on to do some other great things like Chicago and there was serious talk about it becoming a series, but for some reason, it didn’t work out. We had a really wonderful time even though Pierce was going through some personal things. At the time, his wife [Cassandra Harris] was being diagnosed around that time with cancer, so he had some difficulties, but even with that said, he couldn’t have been nicer and we had a great time. It was an honor to work with him.
SNK: You had a small role in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day, which started Will Smith, how did that role come about for you??
SB: I just went in and auditioned for it. Of course, I didn’t know it would become the iconic movie it did. *chuckles* Even though it was a small part, they ended up using a lot of my footage. It was a blast! Will Smith was at the beginning of his career, but you could tell like, ‘This guy’s got something going on.’ *chuckles* Plus, I worked with so many other great actors on it. It was fun to be a part of such a blockbuster.
SNK: You have had guest appearances on more than 100 shows like Dexter, CSI, Private Practice and Star Trek: Voyager, just to name a few. Do any stand out in your mind as a favorite?
SB: I really enjoyed working on [FOX’s hit political action thriller television series] 24, because of the process and how they told stories, by the hour. I really loved that process. I also loved working on [Showtime’s hit crime drama] Dexter, that was wonderful. Again, such good actors, such a fun show. I’ve been very lucky because I’ve been able to work on so many different shows. *chuckles* I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘You’re like the ‘Where’s Waldo’ of actors,’ which is funny, but I’ve been fortunate in a way to get all of these parts.
SNK: You have voiced characters for the video game series, Mass Effect 1, 2, & 3 as well as some Star Wars video games. What were those experiences like??
SB: Thing with the Mass Effect video games is that they’re so popular. Gee whiz, what an enormous worldwide market that is. People are crazy about these games. They have such a powerful connection to these characters. People spend hours and hours and hours with them. Mass Effect was the equivalent to Star Wars in a way. It has a very extricate storyline, what choices you make. When they had to make decisions about that character, their investment in these characters. It’s so interesting to be involved with them and it is acting in a way, transforming into these characters because you have to change your voice, because you have to create the experience, the movement, the physicality, so there’s that intimacy. I love the work. I enjoy it thoroughly.
SNK: I am a HUGE fan of Once Upon A Time, & love you as both Jiminy Cricket and Dr. Archie Hopper. How did the role come to you and can you give me any tidbits on what the future holds for the residents of Storybrooke?
SB: Well, it came to me the old-fashioned way, I auditioned for it. I read for the part then left then they called me back in and they had me come back in and do it again. Then, the part came to me very quickly, which is unusual. They told me that they had seen a lot of people for the part, but they thought there was a quality in me that matched the theory of being a good guy. I will be back on the show for season four. I know that there are going to be some exciting things ahead especially with Frozen since it was so successful. They’re going to continue to develop the characters and there’s always a new story. As for my character being involved in the Frozen/i> storyline, I don’t know.
SNK: You are also starting on the new TNT thriller, Murder in the First. How did that role come to you and can you give me any future tidbits in that show??
SB: Well, it was a relatively small part, but to work with Steven Bochco, who is one of the writer’s and the part became more substantial as it went on. What they have created is a new way of producing content and it’s blossoming.
image courtesy of Leslie Bryce