Actor seeks symbolism as 'Raven'
By Jerry Buck
LOS ANGELES - When Jeffrey Meek was cast as a martial arts master in the new CBS adventure series "Raven," he did some research on birds and mythology.
In the summer series, which kicked off a seven-episode run Wednesday, Meek plays Jonathan Raven, who tries to escape assassins while searching for a son he has never seen.
"The writer said all he had in mind was the Edgar Allan Poe poem," Meek said. "So I set out to create my own symbolism. I learned in North American Indian folklore the raven is considered the creator of the universe. In Europe, the raven is seen as a very mythic bird without any evil connotations.
"We think of the Poe poem being dark and about death, yet it's really about the transition of life into the spiritual world."
Meek's character in the show was raised in Japan and, after his parents were murdered by a legendary terrorist group called the Black Dragons, he joins the group to exact revenge.
Although Japanese culture plays a role in the series, Meek said, "It's not about Japan, it's about a man."
Lee Majors of "The Fall Guy" and "The Six Million Dollar Man" co-stars as an aging, alcoholic private detective named Herman "Ski" Jablonski, who once served in the Special Forces with Raven.
"Ski is a man that Raven trusts as much as he can trust anybody," Meek said. "He hires him to help search for his son. Lee calls himself the Gabby Hayes of the show."
Hayes, a former burlesque comic, was the whiskered, garrulous sidekick to such 1930's and 40's Western actors as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Randolph Scott.
Meek, dressed completely in black, said he has had several symbolic experiences since signing for "Raven."
"I was working in my back yard when I saw a huge raven," he said. "The bird was hurt and staying just a few feet ahead of my dog Bookie, which is short for Kabuki. I thought if my dog ate this bird, it would be the worst possible omen for the show.
"There was a flight of ravens overhead, and I shoved the bird through a hole in the fence. For the rest of the afternoon, I was chased around the yard by those birds."
"Raven" is the first primetime series for Meek, who has appeared in such movies as "Winter People," "Johnny Handsome," and "Heart Condition." He also starred in the late-night series "The Exile," which was filmed in Paris.
Meek readily admitted he is not a martial arts expert, but said, "My character is. I'm learning at tremendous speed. It's definitely a way of life. It's amazing how fast you can learn when you have a seven-time world champion like Billy Blanks teaching you. I'm learning different programs, as well as street brawling and handling a sword."
He said he also found working in Hawaii, where "Raven" is shot, much more comfortable than doing "The Exile" in France.
"Chris Morgan, the producer, and I were the only Americans on the show," Meek said. "We did it in the winter. I had to appear in street clothes. Our sound stage was an old tobacco warehouse with no heat. Even the toilets froze. I'd have to put my feet next to a lamp to try to thaw them. My clothes would nearly catch on fire. One actor's face froze and he couldn't say his lines."
Meek said it took 10 months to film 13 episodes because the French crews were constantly changing.
Nevertheless, he called it a "delightful experience" that he wouldn't have wanted to miss.
"The weather in Hawaii was lovely," he said. "It was like I had earned it. The Hawaiian people were warm and generous and kind. But the thing is I've been living out of a suitcase for two years. I'd like to have a show renewed so I could settle down in one place for a while."
Meek, who was 12 when he began acting in school plays, has spent much of his life traveling. His father was in the Air Force.
"We were in Germany when I was 12, and my mother introduced us to the opera and museums and theater," he said. "She was a great influence in my life."