Earlier today, I taught a class at The Muse Writers Center in Norfolk, VA. It was called “The Art of the Interview,” and while I don’t want to oversell it by any means, I do think that I provided a nice blend of helpful tips, personal insights, and audio clips from past interviews to demonstrate the payoffs and benefits of these things.
In putting together the clips for the class – and also in observing the reaction to the clips by the fine folks who were in attendance – I remembered both how much fun I’d had doing the interviews and how much enjoyment I get out of sharing the experience of the interview beyond the printed page. I don’t do it very often, but having pulled them for the class, I thought I’d share them here as well. In fact, a couple of them didn’t even get played during the class.
Okay, so let’s start with the back story: while I was compiling an oral history of Battle of the Network Stars – which, hand to heart, you’ll see on the A.V. Club before the end of August, so keep your eyes open – I talked to Tim Reid about the time that he and David Letterman were on CBS’s team in the long-running celebrity athletic competition.
Although I’m enough of a comedy nerd to be well aware of how long he and Dave have known each other, I still felt obliged to ask the question outright. When I did, Reid delivered unto me an anecdote which not only made me laugh, it still made him laugh 40 years after the fact.
THE GOOD DOCTOR – ABC’s “The Good Doctor” stars Freddie Highmore as Dr. Shaun Murphy. (ABC/Stuart Pettican)
Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore, “Bates Motel”), a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, relocates from a quiet country life to join a prestigious hospital’s surgical unit. Alone in the world and unable to personally connect with those around him, Shaun uses his extraordinary medical gifts to save lives and challenge the skepticism of his colleagues. The series is from David Shore (“House”), and “Lost” and “Hawaii Five-O” star Daniel Dae Kim. The series also stars Antonia Thomas as Dr. Claire Brown, Nicholas Gonzalez as Dr. Neal Melendez, Chuku Modu as Dr. Jared Kalu, Beau Garrett as Jessica Preston, Hill Harper as Dr. Marcus Andrews, and Richard Schiff as Dr. Aaron Glassman.
THE MAYOR (Tue., 9:30 p.m.)
THE MAYOR – ABC’s “The Mayor” stars Brandon Micheal Hall as Courtney Rose, Yvette Nicole Brown as Dina Rose, Bernard David Jones as Jermaine Hardaway, Marcel Spears as T.K. Carter and Lea Michele as Valentina. (ABC/Craig Sjodin)
Young rapper Courtney Rose (Brandon Micheal Hall) needs his big break. For years he’s toiled away in a small inner-city apartment, making music in his junk-filled bedroom closet. Tired of waiting for opportunity, Courtney cooks up the publicity stunt of the century – running for mayor of his hometown in California to generate buzz for his music career. Unfortunately for Courtney, his master plan goes wildly awry, ending in the most terrifying of outcomes: an election victory. With the help of his mother (Yvette Nicole Brown, “Community”) and friends, including Valentina (“Glee’s” Lea Michele), Courtney will have to overcome his hubris if he wants to transform the struggling city he loves. The series also stars Bernard David Jones as Jermaine Hardaway, and Marcel Spears as TK.
THE GOSPEL OF KEVIN (Tue., 10 p.m.)
THE GOSPEL OF KEVIN – ABC’s “The Gospel of Kevin” stars Jason Ritter as Kevin. (ABC/Ryan Green)
Kevin Finn (Jason Ritter, “Parenthood”), a cluelessly self-serving person, is on a dangerous path to despair. In a downward spiral, Kevin returns home to stay with his widowed twin sister (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, “Once Upon a Time”) and niece. On his first night there, an unlikely celestial being named Yvette appears to him and presents him with a mission – to save the world. A light drama from executive producers Michele Fazekas & Tara Butters (“Marvel’s Agent Carter,” “Resurrection,” “Reaper”). The series also stars J. August Richards as Nate, Chloe East as Reese, Dustin Ybarra as Tyler and India de Beaufort as Kristin.
MARVEL’S THE INHUMANS (Fri., 9 p.m.)
“Marvel’s Inhumans” explores the never-before-told epic adventure of the royal family including Black Bolt, the enigmatic, commanding King of the Inhumans, with a voice so powerful that the slightest whisper can destroy a city. After the Royal Family of Inhumans is splintered by a military coup, they barely escape to Hawaii where their surprising interactions with the lush world and humanity around them may prove to not only save them, but Earth itself. The legendary comic book series will be brought to life in a way that has never been done before, as a version of the first two episodes will be shown globally in IMAX theaters for a two-week period beginning September 1, 2017. ABC will then air the entirety of the series on the network, with additional exclusive content that can only been seen on ABC. The series stars Anson Mount as Black Bolt, Iwan Rheon as Maximus, Serinda Swan as Medusa, Eme Ikwuakor as Gorgon, Isabelle Cornish as Crystal, Ken Leung as Karnak, Ellen Woglom as an undisclosed character, Sonya Balmores as Auran, and Mike Moh as Triton.
TEN DAYS IN THE VALLEY (Sun., 10 p.m.)
“Ten Days in the Valley” stars Kyra Sedgwick as Jane Sadler, an overworked television producer and single mother in the middle of a separation whose life is turned upside down when her young daughter goes missing in the middle of the night. Just like her controversial police TV show, everything is a mystery, everyone has a secret and no one can be trusted. The series also stars Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as John Bird, Kick Gurry as Pete Greene, Erika Christensen as Ali Petrovich, Felix Solis as David Gomez, Josh Randall as Tom Petrovich, Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Matt Abigail Pniowsky as Lake, and Francois Battiste as Gus.
When Sam Elliott made his first appearance on NBC’s Parks and Recreation as Ron Swanson’s doppelganger from Pawnee’s neighboring town of Eagleton, he was kind enough to hop on the phone with me to do a Random Roles interview for the AV Club. The end result remains one of my favorite conversations for the feature, but during the course of our chat, I also briefly asked Elliott about a past project that I’d wanted to spotlight for Pilot Error, a column I’d been doing for the website Antenna Free TV. As that site is no longer a going concern, however, I wanted to rescue the anecdote from oblivion and post it on my site.
It’s not a very long audio clip, but sometimes short and sweet is all you need to make an impact, and this is definitely one of those instances.
All you need for a set-up is this: once upon a time, there was a very famous daredevil named Evel Knievel. He had endorsement deals with motorcycle companies. He inspired toys based on him and his various stunts. In 1971, they made a movie about him, starring George Hamilton as Knievel, and in 1974, they even tried to make a TV series about him, this time with Knievel being played by – you guessed it – Sam Elliott.
The series never got beyond the pilot stage. It was not, however, forgotten…and Sam Elliott is not exactly thrilled about that, which you can confirm by pressing the “play” button directly below.
Yes, it’s been ages since we last posted an episode – we discuss our absence a bit in a very special intro that’s all apologies – but we’re back with an episode that was actually reocrded a year ago today. The sound quality varies wildly throughout, but the stories are great, so here’s hoping you can endure the sonic shortcomings to enjoy the tales that our guest spins.
You probably recognize his face, but if you don’t remember his name, it’s John Heard, and he’s been a working actor since the ’70s, and he’s never stopped working, spending time on the stage, on TV, and in films. He’s a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, and you’ll have proof of that almost as soon as you hit “play.” Here’s hoping you enjoy the proceedings, and we promise you this: we’re going to get better at this.
No, seriously, we really are.
And with that, here are the projects that we presented to Mr. Heard in his interview, giving him the option to bail on discussing three of them:
When I heard the news that Don Rickles had died, the first thought that entered my mind was this: “Well, I guess I can finally post my interview.”
If you follow me on social media, then it probably won’t be a surprise to you that I interviewed Rickles, but you might reasonably raise an eyebrow upon learning that it never made it online. There were a few reasons for that, but the two most prominent were as follows:
An editor wanted to do the job that editors are supposed to do and – gasp! – edit the piece.
A writer – one who suspiciously resembled yours truly – didn’t want to dramatically change the piece he’d written.
Having read these two reasons, you have undoubtedly realized that there’s really only one reason that the piece didn’t run, and that’s because I had a rare burst of…ego? You can call it that, I guess, since it really came down to my belief that I thought the piece that I’d put together was better in its existing form than it would have been if I’d gone with the editor’s request, which was to basically cut the word count in half, at which point she’d make any additional trims that she might feel to be necessary. But I don’t see that as ego. Even now, I cannot conceive of how I could’ve cut that much out of the piece that awaits you and still tell the story that I wanted to tell. So I walked away from the outlet, even leaving behind the kill fee that was offered, because…I’m an idiot? Maybe. But I just wanted the piece to remain more or less intact.
At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t just take the piece to another outlet, one which would have been more agreeable to a longer piece, and that’s a fair question. Unfortunately, it’s one that I don’t really want to get into, as the answer would likely detract from the entire point of posting the piece, which is to pay tribute to the man who – among his many other accomplishments – turned the words “hockey puck” into an insult that millions dreamed of having him hurl at them.
Naturally, I asked Rickles to hurl it at me when I talked to him in June 2015, politely waiting until the very end of our conversation to do so, and even though he’d almost certainly been asked it thousands of times by that point in his career, he was still kind enough to grant my request.
Yes, that’s right: Don Rickles was kind. But don’t spread it around. Even in death, I’m sure he wouldn’t want you to ruin his rep.
So here’s the piece, just as I put it together for the original outlet, right down to the original intro that references Rickles’ age as 89 years old. (He was 90 when he died.) I’d like to offer my thanks to the other actors who spoke to me for the piece back in 2015 as well as my apologies that it didn’t run where I’d intended for it to run, but given that everyone who loved, respected, and appreciated Don Rickles is thinking about what he meant to them right about now, I just thought it would be better to let it be seen here than not to let it be seen at all.
Rest in peace, Mr. Rickles. And thanks for calling me a hockey puck. I’ll never forget it.
When I talked to Billy Mumy in 2015 in conjunction with the Blu-ray release of Lost in Space: The Complete Series, the topic of conversation was squarely on the show, as well it should’ve been, given that that’s why we’d gotten on the phone in the first place. Before hopping off the line, however, I had to at least make brief mention of the fact that he actually featured as one of the characters in one of my favorite stories that I’ve ever gotten as a pop culture journalist.
The storyteller? Bill Paxton.
It was during a 2010 conversation with Paxton for Bullz-Eye tied to HBO’s Big Love, but having become aware that he’d been a part of the video for Barnes & Barnes’ classic track, “Fish Heads” (for those who know the video, he’s the one who’s throwing the party), I couldn’t resist noting that my daughter Ally – now 11 years old – had recently become aware of the song and had fallen in love with it. When I brought it up, it was literally intended as a closing line, since we’d been talking for about an hour. Instead, I got one last anecdote…and it was worth waiting for.
Bullz-Eye: Oh, and I do just have to tell you in closing that my daughter is four years old, and she won’t stop singing “Fish Heads.” So, uh, thank you, I guess…?
Bill Paxton: Oh, she’s going to be a handful.
BE: She already is.
BP: God, that’s so funny: we were just talking about “Fish Heads.” It came up in something we were…I think SNL is putting together a show of their greatest short films, and it was included in that. It’s funny, because…how old are you?
BE: I’m 39.
BP: Oh, okay, so it was a little before your time, but Billy Mumy was the guy who wrote that song with his partner, Robert Haimer, and Bill Mumy, when I was a kid growing up, was on a huge hit series called Lost in Space, with June Lockhart.
BP: And he also had appeared in a couple of Twilight Zone episodes, which made him uber cool. I got to meet him through Sissy (Spacek), and…okay, I’ll give you this last anecdote. Sissy’s best friend when she moved to Hollywood with Jack was a gal named Janit Baldwin. Janit was an actress, and she and Sissy had co-starred in a movie with Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman called Prime Cut. You’ve got to dig that one out. It was about the meat packing business in the Midwest and white slavery. I mean, who would have figured? And so I got out here, I got to know Jack and Sissy, and they introduced me to Janit…and that’s how I met Billy. And him and his partner were writing these novelty songs, Dr. Demento had given them huge airplay, and they talked about making a video for that. This was back around ’79 or ’80. And I said, “God, would you give me a chance to make it?” Because I had been making short films. And so he let me do that, and that summer, I kind of put that whole thing together. Ultimately, I took it to New York, and I literally had to wait in the waiting room at Rockefeller Center for two days before anybody would even see me. And then finally they came out to take the ¾ inch tape, one of those big honking fucking things, and I started to get up with them to walk in the back, and they said, “Uh, no, you stay here.” [Laughs.] I was like Rupert Pupkin!
And then, God, they must have put it in the machine right away, and obviously they played it, because they came out five minutes later and said, “Come on back, we want to put it on next week’s show.” And I’m suddenly in like Flynn. The next week, I was back in L.A., and I got together with a bunch of friends and all of this, and we were going to watch it live. We had a hotel room…well, somebody had a hotel room at the old Hyatt Riot House…up on Sunset, and we watched it, and that night when I went to bed, I thought, “Oh, my God, that thing…” I mean, I had plugged into the main cable for five minutes. That thing was shot out to Canada and Hawaii and across the United States and Alaska. And I thought, “My God, maybe next year I can make another one of those!” [Laughs.] It’s funny how you build your career. But it’s all been kind of a journey of innocence in some ways for me. And naïveté.
BE: From Barnes and Barnes to Big Love.
BP: There it is. We’ve covered the gamut, Will!
RIP, Mr. Paxton. Innocent and naive though it might’ve been, you had a hell of a journey.
Here we go: it’s time for part two of my look back at the Random Roles interviews I’ve done over the course of 2016!
I can’t say I’m not disappointed that this is part two of two, especially when there have been occasions in the past where splitting this retrospective into three parts was a necessity, but that’s the lot of a freelancer, especially when more and more publications are trying to make the most of their staffers. All things being equal, I suppose I should really just be glad that I continue to have a recurring opportunity to do these pieces, although having said that, I’ll also offer the reminder that, as a freelancer, I’m available for any assignments you may have to offer, and I’m only an email away.
Just a few quick observations about this bunch of interviews, the first of which is to say that I found myself giddier than usual as a result of some of the anecdotes I was gifted with during the course of these conversations. Everyone was great across the board, but when I look back, here are the recollections that particularly leap to mind:
After his Random Roles ran, Enrico Colantini followed me on Twitter and promptly sent me a direct message to tell me how great the piece had turned out and how much he enjoyed the interview.
Keith Carradine’s interview was done over the phone, but I was lucky enough to meet up with him in person during this summer’s TCA tour, and upon being introduced to me, I got a clap on the shoulder and a thank-you for the piece, which was pretty awesome.
I’ve now had two conversations with Billy Bob Thornton – one in person at a TCA tour, and this one on the phone – and he was consistently cool on both occasions. You can either chalk that up to my having exclusively asked him questions that I wouldn’t have asked Tom Petty or to knowing how to read the room and asking questions that work within the context of the situation. Either way, you won’t hear any horror stories from me, because I thought he was swell.
Nick Nolte was everything I wanted him to be and more, and I realized that was going to be the case when he offered up his stories about Andy Griffith and Don Johnson. It wasn’t until the ancedote that I included here, however, that I realized I had a Random Roles for the ages.
John Lithgow’s legitimate amusement with and appreciation for my choices of roles was career-high stuff.
My inteview with John Rothman was, in a very real way, the coolest one of the bunch, because after introducing myself to him onstage after the TCA panel for One Mississippi, I pitched him Random Roles, and within a few hours I was sitting on the roof of his hotel, doing the interview.
I interviewed the Six Million Dollar Man and the Fall Guy. If you grew up in the ’70s, it doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Hal Linden was stunned when he realized we’d been talking for an hour. Not that he doesn’t like to talk, but it’s always a nice compliment when the person you’re chatting with is enjoying it so much that they lose track of time.
D.B. Woodside was kind enough to hop back on the phone to finish our interview while he was in Vancouver, within a day or two of Thanksgiving, so that I could have both up-to-date Lucifer info as well as some discussion about his time on 24, which we didn’t get to talk about while we were at the TCA tour.
There is no #10, but there might’ve been if I’d been able to get on the phone to finish up with… Nah, I won’t call anybody out. But I will say that I tried repeatedly to finish up two different Random Roles, and I never got replies from either actor’s publicist. Not cool.
Okay, enough of my bitching. Here’s the remainder of my Random Roles interviews from 2016. Again, thanks for reading, thanks for supporting me throughout the year, and I look forward to bringing you more such pieces in 2017!
P.S. Stay tuned for a piece covering other AV Club pieces as well as my favorite interviews from other outlets, which should show up sometime in the next day or two.
For the past few years, I’ve entertained myself – and hopefully at least a few of you folks, too – by pulling together sort of a highlight reel of the Random Roles interviews I’ve done over the course of the year. I do it partly to remind myself of the fact that freelance writing may never make me rich, but it sure does provide me with an opportunity to talk to and occasionally even meet some really cool people. I also do it as a way of displaying my wares, as it were: my readers are able to easily check to see if they’ve accidentally missed anything that I’ve posted over the year, and I can send the link to potential new employers and say, “Here are several pieces that display my skill as an interviewer.”
This is, as the title indicates, only part one. Part two will show up as soon as I’ve had a chance to pull it together and post it. There is no part three, but with that said, you should go ahead and plan on seeing a piece that’ll spotlight my favorite work for other outlets as well as my favorite non-Random Roles pieces for the AV Club.
For now, though, enjoy what’s here, and please accept my thanks for your support over the course of 2016. It was much needed, and it remains much appreciated.
I was fortunate enough to chat with the late Alan Thicke on three occasions – twice on the phone, once in person – and on each occasion he was absolutely just as nice as you’d want the man who played Jason Seaver on Growing Pains to be.
You can read the first interview, which I did for Bullz-Eye when Thicke was promoting his appearance in The Goods, by clicking here, but this is my favorite section from it:
“[Writing] was my first career. I did that for about ten years, and I was very happy with that. I completely enjoyed it and had no aspirations beyond my writing career. I just kind of stumbled into the on-camera work, at first as a host, then as an actor. I consider writing to be my craft, though. I’ve had seven Emmy nominations, and five of them were for writing. Only two of them were for acting. It’s something I’ve always been proud of, and when I go and do a banquet – I do a lot of personal appearances – I still enjoy writing for those things and getting the odd laugh. It keeps me on my toes.
“That was a great period of my life, and I’m terribly proud of [Fernwood 2-Nite]. But I wrote for Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson, Bill Cosby…a lot of the big variety shows of the ‘70s. So I’ll always consider that a big part of my life. The key to writing for Richard was to just push his buttons and then know when to push the buttons on your cassette recorder. You’d get him started, then surreptitiously start recording when he got inspired and started walking around the room and improvising in character. Then you’d get it all transcribed and take credit for it!”
The second interview took place when I was compiling my oral history of The Facts of Life for EW.com, which you can read in its entirety by clicking here. It was a short and sweet conversation, since it was very specific in topic (he wrote the theme song for the show, you know), and I didn’t go back to check and see if every word of this was used, but this is everything I submitted with the piece. As for the third interview, I did that this summer during the TCA press tour, and I have to admit that I hadn’t gotten around to transcribing it, but…well, I guess I’ll be doing that this evening. But I wanted to close with this section because when I pulled it up, I realized that his last lines directly reference his teenage son, with whom he was playing basketball when he had his fatal heart attack. They were pretty tight, I guess. To the very end.
Norman Lear and I became rather close when I was working on Fernwood 2-Nite. Music had been part of my background before that. I started off in rock bands after college, but I wasn’t much good, and the reaction of the audiences quickly taught me that I’d do better with patter than the music, which is why I started talking more and singing less. But Norman’s familiarity with my music really came by way of the little comedy ditties and silly stuff that I wrote for Fernwood 2-Nite. We had a mythical band on the show called Happy Kyne and the Mirthmakers, and I would write intentionally bad or corny songs for them, which amused Norman. He liked the style and respected my lyrical rhyme-scheming ability. [Laughs.]But all of that is what kind of led into my doing the theme for Diff’rent Strokes, and after that went well, he said, “You’re the guy we need for The Facts of Life.”
I must say, I was very proud of the internal rhyme scheme for that entire song. The opening lines are obviously the ones that everyone remembers (“You take the good, you take the bad / You take them both, and there you have / The Facts of Life / The Facts of Life”), and, of course, you don’t get to hear all of the lyrics in the 30-second version – or however long it is – that’s at the beginning of the show, and I don’t know how many of them I’ll exactly right off the top of my head, but there’s also “If you hear them from your brother / Better clear them with your mother / Better get them right / Call them late at night.” I remember that one, and then there’s also, “There’s a time you’ve got to go and show / You’re growing now, you know / About The Facts of Life, The Facts of Life.” I mean, that was a pretty ambitious internal rhyme! [Laughs.]
I’m always proud when I see (the opening lines of the theme song) show up as a spoken line in a sketch on television. I mean, I’ve seen it on Saturday Night Live, I’ve seen it on 2 Broke Girls, and someone referred me to its use on The Goldbergs… There have been a number of shows that – flatteringly – will liberally quote lines from the song like they actually meant something. And I take that as a tribute to that demographic that grew up watching that show and to whom that lyric must’ve resonated. But when stuff like that comes up and I’m sitting with my teenage son, I usually elbow him and say, “See? Your dad wasn’t such a stiff back then. I had a couple of things that stuck!”