(Originally published in Sci-Fi Universe, 1994)
The first thing you notice about Peter DeLuise is what’s missing: his hair. His head is shorn clean for the role of Dagwood, the mutant with superhuman strength and mild-mannered temper on seaQuest DSV. It’s not a subject he enjoys discussing.
“It’s terrible,” he says, shaking his smooth noggin. “Just awful. You couldn’t have picked a worse subject. I dunno something about a bald head. It doesn’t do anything for anybody. I shaved it in July. It’s been touch and go ever since. Every time I wake up, I go, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done?’ I just keep trying to remember that I don’t really like being out of work.”
Not talking about his bald head on the set, attention is further attracted by the reticulated splotches all over it would be like not asking Leonard Nimoy about the ears 25 years ago. And DeLuise’s willingness to cut his hair off won him the job.
“Patrick Hasburgh worked with Peter and his brother, Michael, on 21 Jump Street,” says executive producer David J. Burke. “He wanted Michael to play Tony Piccolo; I thought that was great. And one day he said to me, ‘I think Peter DeLuise should play Dagwood.’ Now, we had used Peter in another episode. I was concerned about it; Patrick said don’t worry about it. Then when Peter came in with his head shaved, I didn’t recognize him.”
The DeLuise brothers bear only a passing resemblance out of makeup and none in greasepaint. They played sibs on Jump Street, the last time they worked together. Separately, the sons of actor Dom DeLuise (who played Piccolo’s fathers in the Vapors episode) have appeared in a variety of films and TV shows.
Michael’s film credits include: The Man Without a Face, Encino Man, Wayne’s World, and Midnight Edition. On television, he plays Dennis Franz’s son on NYPD Blue. Peter, who for five seasons played a cop alongside Johnny Depp in Jump Street, has done guest spots in numerous TV shows and appeared in several movies, including Solar Babies, Rescue Me, Hot Stuff, and Free Ride.
On seaQuest, Michael plays an ex-con named Tony Piccolo. “He has gills on his back,” Michael explains. “He can stay in the water for any amount of time. He comes from New York and has a cocky attitude.” That may come from Piccolo’s time in prison. He was once human, but traded his humanity to be a GELF genetically engineered life form which earned him an early release from prison.
Peter’s character, Dagwood, is also a GELF. He’s also the janitor on seaQuest.
“I’m a genetically engineered combat soldier made up of all the different races of the world African-American, Native American, Asian, Mediterranean, WASP,” he says. “I’m the prototype but the experiment wasn’t quite what they hoped for. They wanted a real killer and they got kind of a gentle giant sort of guy. I’m a hairless, genetic mutant with superhuman strength, a constant reminder of why man should not mess with nature. Kind of a cross to bear by the technology. Because you can’t just create a life and, if it doesn’t work out, just erase it, take it away. That’s part of the problem of experimenting with genetics. So now I clean up and kick ass once in a while.”
The name “Dagwood” comes from the root, D.A.G. Dark Age of Genetics. It’s the period of time during which Dagwood and Piccolo are created, only to have genetically-engineered soldiers outlawed. “Daggers has a double meaning because daggers are killers, a killing utensil,” Peter says. “But it’s also a racial slur. I give myself the name ‘Dagwood the Dagger’ because I think it’s funny. I’m sooo messed up.” He laughs.
“One of the misconceptions about my character people think I’m dumb. I’m not dumb. I’m emotionally an adolescent,” Peter says. “I’ve got emotions, but I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t know about the human condition very much. I’m like Starman an intellect stuck in a human body, but he didn’t know how to use it properly. Or Lenny, from Of Mice and Men. Again, a huge guy but he’s this gentle giant who just wants to pet the bunny rabbits. Or the Wookie from Star Wars, Chewbacca. He’s totally misunderstood, a huge guy, but he’s not dumb.”
If you’re guessing Peter has more than a passing interest in sci-fi, you’re right.
“I’m a big time Trekker,” he says. “I’m into Fangoria, heavy makeup. I’ve done a couple of ‘B’ horror films. Totally loved Blade Runner. I’m heavy into science fiction.”
Notice he didn’t mention seaQuest? Neither DeLuise brother watched the show in its first season.
“We usually go out,” Peter says. “Me and Michael are very popular, so we usually go out over the weekend.”
“We go to Star Trek conventions,” Michael says, choking back a giggle.
“Or we’re watching old Spielberg classics,” Peter says. “Like Jaws.” (Steven Spielberg’s studio, Amblin, produces seaQuest DSV.)
Of the two, Michael’s time in makeup is the easiest. His gills are only visible when he takes his shirt off for underwater scenes. Peter, on the other hand, is in makeup daily, where continuity requires he have the same colorful splotches in the same place each time out.
“They have pictures of me that they use every time,” he says. “I’ve got about four different colors. They use acrylic paint, mixed with medical adhesive. It’s sprayed on with an airbrush. It takes approximately an hour and a half depending on whether I’m squirming or not squirming. This week I got to shave my legs. A real big thrill. Last week, I shaved my chest and my forearms.”
Did he have any concerns about wearing so much body paint for such long stretches of time?
“I heard Brent Spiner (Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation) got a facial like every week. Did he have a reaction?” Peter asks. “I hope I don’t have a reaction. Thank God medical adhesive is biodegradable. I’m sure one of these days I’m going to need a superpowerful laxative to plow through all of this gunk.”
Not surprisingly, Peter loves the idea of his work being enhanced by special effects and computer graphics. “That’s the bonus!” he says. “If you’re into science fiction, it’s cool. What if we were just on a regular show, with no special effects. That could be boring!”
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