'I will bleed black and orange until the day I die'

Actor Josh Charles' first big role was as Knox Overstreet in 1989's Dead Poets Society, in which he co-starred with Robin Williams and Ethan Hawke.

From 1998 through 2000, Charles co-starred as anchor Dan Rydell on ABC's Sports Night, which depicted a nightly sports show closely resembling ESPN's SportsCenter. Though brilliantly written and acted, Sports Night was canceled after 45 episodes because of poor ratings. Fortunately, the show currently airs nightly on Comedy Central, and the entire series was recently released on DVD.

In 2002, Charles starred in the independent film Our America, which drew positive notices. And this year he'll be seen with Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell in S.W.A.T.

The interview below was conducted via e-mail in late December and early January.

Rob Neyer: Josh, I'd like to start with a technical question ... I've seen every episode of Sports Night, and I haven't been able to discern any real difference between your (fake) on-air performance and those of the guys who actually talk about sports for a living (well, except that you're more likeable than some of them). Did that take any training at all, or had you seen so many SportsCenters that it just came naturally to you?

Josh Charles: That's very kind of you, Rob. We did some research before the show started, but most of it came naturally. I have watched many SportsCenters over the years, so maybe it did seep into my subconscious.

Rob: Was broadcasting ever something that you considered doing professionally? As I'm sure you know, there's at least one precedent for making the switch; Andrea Thompson left NYPD Blue to become a broadcaster, and wound up on CNN (granted, that didn't work out so well).

Josh: I never considered a career in broadcasting, not even as a kid.

Rob: Well, speaking of being a kid ... Unless you were faking it in Episode 45 (among others) of Sports Night, you're a lefty, which rules out all of the infield positions except first base. I bring this up only because I read somewhere that you used to play baseball, and I had you pegged for a shortstop. So where did you play, and for how long?

Josh: I am a lefty, though I bat right-handed (I think Rickey Henderson is the only major leaguer who does that now). When I was a kid I pitched, played first, outfield and shortstop as well. Now it's mainly softball with some friends. They do usually play me at short, so it's funny you thought I was a shortstop. They don't get how hard that position is for a lefty, but I love the challenge.

Rob: I saw one note suggesting that you actually "considered" a career in professional baseball, but I also read that you started doing stand-up comedy when you were eight years old, which makes me think that maybe performing was something that you wanted to do from an early age. Do you remember thinking about your future when you were young?

Josh: Rob, as far as "considering" a career in professional baseball ... not quite, and I don't know how that one got out there. Probably some leftover PR bio or something. I did dream about it when I was a kid (who didn't), but I also dreamed about being a fireman, an astronaut, etc. I actually did start performing at a young age and yes, I did do stand-up when I was nine. I did seem to know that I wanted to act very early in my life.

Rob: Now, the reason that I thought you'd be fun to interview in the first place... I've got it on pretty good authority from one of your fellow Baltimoreans that you're a big sports fan, and particularly when it comes to your local teams. Is that right, that you grew up in Baltimore? And do you still follow the Orioles at all?

Josh: Yes, I grew up in Baltimore. And yes, I am a big sports fan, especially when it comes to my local teams. It's been great the last few years there too. The Ravens winning the Super Bowl, the (Maryland) Terps winning the NCAA (basketball championship), and how Ralph Friedgen has so quickly turned the (Maryland) football program around. Do I still follow the Orioles? I'll admit it's been tough lately, but I will bleed black and orange until the day I die.

Rob: You were born in 1971 -- just a few days before the Orioles wrapped up their third straight division title, I believe -- and I'm sure you have fond memories of the pennant winners in 1979 and the Word Series winners in 1983. Growing up, which was your favorite team, and who was your favorite player?

Josh: I do have very fond memories of the Orioles and Colts games at Memorial Stadium growing up. Even though Johnny Unitas played mostly before my time, he is my all-time favorite player from Baltimore. His legend is stamped into my consciousness, and the No. 19 has been, and always will be, my favorite. 'Nuff said.

I went to the final World Series game in 1979 with my grandmother and froze my butt off while Willie Stargell and the boys broke my heart (maybe it's sour grapes, but those Pirates uniforms sure were ugly).

When I was a kid, my favorite Oriole was Rick Dempsey. I just loved the enthusiasm he played with, and his sense of humor. The Babe Ruth antics during the Fenway rain delay were the coolest thing in the world and, as a kid, it really connected with me. He always seemed like he was having so much fun. He was also the MVP in the '83 World Series (which didn't suck).

One of the perks of being an actor is to get to meet athletes that you respect. Especially who played before my time. Brooks Robinson is one of those athletes; they just don't make them any nicer. Also, I'm honored to call John "Boog" Powell my friend, and I enjoy seeing him whenever I'm at a game in Baltimore. And the fact that Terry Crowley remembers me from when I went to his baseball camp still amazes me ...

Neyer: Thanks very much for doing this, Josh. One of the perks of being a writer is that you get to meet lots of people that you respect. Just one more question, and I'll let you go ...

Movie buffs know that you played one of the principals in Dead Poets Society, but what some might not remember is that a few years later you appeared in a baseball movie, TNT's Cooperstown. That one notwithstanding, what's your favorite baseball movie?

Josh: My favorite baseball movie? That's a tough one. Off the top of my head I would say Bull Durham, followed by Field of Dreams, and The Natural.

Senior writer Rob Neyer, whose Big Book of Baseball Lineups will be published in April by Fireside, will be appearing here regularly and irregularly during the offseason. His e-mail address is rob.neyer@dig.com.