James Brolin has been a star of TV and film since the ’60s, rarely disappearing from either for very long before popping back up somewhere or other, and tonight at 9 PM he can be found starring in “Christmas with Tucker,” the debut original movie from the Hallmark Movie Channel (which, just in case you aren’t aware, is a separate entity from the Hallmark Channel), playing a gruff but loveable grandfatherly type fella who gets to have a lot of scenes with a very cute dog. I was fortunate enough to chat with Brolin for a bit when he attended this summer’s Television Critics Association press tour in Beverly Hills, and – as you’ll read below – I was even more fortunate to be able to continue the conversation a bit later.
Bullz-Eye: So you’re in a dog movie, but are you a dog guy by nature?
James Brolin: Yeah, but guess what? I don’t have a dog right now. But I’m kind of shopping! The thing is, I’m not sure where I’m going to be next, and I kind of hate to go off and leave a dog once I have it. I’ve found that didn’t work well in the past. But I got my wife a dog. And the dog is… I can’t believe she’s had it 10 years now. And it sleeps right here. [Points to his head.] It likes the top of the couch or the head pillow. So usually, if you roll over it or around it, it gets out of your way and just goes down to the other end. Anyway, I’ve been moved to the back seat of the car now. [Laughs.] Those two run things.
BE: Yeah, we just got a dog a few months ago, so I know what you mean.
JB: Oh, yeah. If it ain’t a baby, it’s a dog. [Laughs.]
BE: How was this dog, Tucker, to work with?
JB: Fine! Really good natured. He would do all the things, and then when you’d go to shoot, sometimes the dog would have a little brain fade or confusion, but it’s not unusual. You just keep going. You have the trainer keep going, you run the camera, and now with digital, you can just turn the camera on and let it run for two hours, and then you go in there, wade through it, and pick out just what you need. But that’s Filmmaking 101, in a way. If you have time for that, you do that. And if you’re doing a dog picture, you make time. And the kids… Anyone youthful who was involved was just right on. Gage (Munroe) is just like a honed pro, so that wasn’t an issue. Kids weren’t an issue. But animals are always an issue, and you just need to schedule the time to shoot and shoot and shoot a little bit.
We also had such a tight schedule that we had a second unit going all the time, picking up this and that, things that would be time lapses or meanwhile-back-on-the-farms. [Laughs.] You know, or now-it’s-getting-dusk shots. All of those. And the town we were in… I don’t know if you read anything about this, but sometimes the snow would be quite different than it was in the morning or yesterday, so they would go to the airport, clear the runways, and bring in the fresh snow and dump it there. And if was brown snow, then they’d have to freshen it on the top. But it was the last chance of the season – I think it was February – to make it look like Christmas and get it in the can, because now you’ve got to wait two seasons for the airing, so you’ve got to shoot it the year before, which means that you’ve got to pay interest on the loans over that period of time.
BE: How was the experience of working with Hallmark?
JB: Best experience I’ve had in many years. They’re getting pretty sloppy and starting to forget how to treat people who are either used to having been treated well or are testy, let’s say, and react, and…it doesn’t end up doing the company any good when these people kind of slow down to a shuffle in response, in payback. And I think this was the best run organization. From the time I had a meeting with Joel Rice, I had a schedule and a plane ticket in hand, it was just pure heaven. And they were on a tight budget. There’s a guy named Steve Solomos who was the line producer. He’s the guy that, when you get down there, he’s the producer that stands around close by. He’s not back in his office in a big chair. He knows how to make money work and make everybody happy. Consequently, I called him about another job. I hadn’t seen anybody this good in a long time. And Hallmark must know it, because he doesn’t work for them. He’s hired by them per picture.
And then when I got down there, I said, “I don’t like drivers. Give me a car.” They said, “Yeah, but we need to get you to work on time.” I said, “I’ll be at work on time!” [Laughs.] “You just give me my work tools, and you’ll never have to deal with me!” I don’t know if they believed me, but they did it, and it worked out perfectly. And then… [Hesitates.] I know I’m going on and on about Hallmark, but I haven’t seen it like this since ABC days in the mid-‘70s. Everyone shorts you somehow, everyone forgets something, everybody gives you a lot and then tries to save a nickel to piss you off. Not these guys.
BE: I wanted to ask you about some stuff from your back catalog, as it were, but I have to ask about working on “Von Ryan’s Express.”
BE: I know that’s going way back…
JB: Oh, but it was amazing. I actually brought it up earlier today when I was talking to some people.
BE: If IMDb is correct, it seems to have been the first credited role that you had in a film. Not your first film, but your first credit.
JB: Yeah. I’m trying to think… I did “Fantastic Voyage” and was cut out of it, but I was credited, anyway, and very nicely. [Laughs.] But “Von Ryan’s Express” we made in 1964, and I think it was probably the first and last of my really big location things, where they said, “Kid, we’re not gonna need you for a couple of weeks. Here’s a thousand bucks, have a good time, and I’ll call you when I need you.” So I walked around Rome and took trains out and back, and, I mean, it was just fantastic.
BE: How did you come to be in “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure?”
JB: I was working on the lot on “Hotel,” and I got a call from Bob Evans, saying, “We’d be very happy if you came over and did a few days on ‘Pee-wee.’” And I went… [Grimaces.] “Uh, I don’t know…” But it was Bob, y’know? [Laughs.] So do you say “no” to the head of Warners? We’re just renting a couple of stages on the lot, but still, here he is running a major studio…
So I got a call two days later, after reading it, still wondering, “Uh, is this gonna look good?” And I got the call, it was Bob again, saying, “What are you gonna do?” I said, “Well, you want me to do this, there’s no money in it…” He said, “Where would you like to go in the world? Some trip.” I said, “Uh…” I hadn’t a clue where I wanted to go! But the Sunday Times was there, and I’m talking, bullshitting with him, and I grab the travel section, and I’m quickly turning pages, looking for the name of a country, and…I forget what I said. I think it was Hong Kong. I said, “I wanna go to Hong Kong and stay there a couple of weeks.” “All right!” [Snaps his fingers.] “You got it!” So that was the deal…and I probably wouldn’t have done it had the travel section not been there! I might’ve said, “Listen, get somebody else to do your dirty work!” [Laughs.]
But it actually turned out to be really fun, and, of course, who knew that the director was gonna be such a big deal? It was quite a cute day. I made friends with Paul (Reubens), Pee-wee, that day, and he still sends me a Christmas card every year. And I must say, every year there’s a new five-year-old where the parent goes, “You know, my kid thinks you’re the greatest. You’re P.W.! Oh, my God!” [Laughs.] For three days of work! But every year you’ve got this whole new audience. You do it, and it kind of sticks with you from then on. “That’s the guy who was P.W.? Whoa!”
BE: Shout Factory finally released “Marcus Welby, M.D.” on DVD a few years ago…
JB: Who did?
BE: The company’s called Shout Factory.
JB: Oh! I didn’t know that. Is it all seven years and, what was it, 170 shows?
BE: I don’t think they’ve made it beyond the first couple seasons so far.
JB: Well, that’s interesting, because I saw one not too long ago, and…I don’t think it was one of the better ones. And I went, “Ugh, God, I hope they don’t put this on DVD…” [Laughs.] But that’s life. I’m of an age where I’ve got to face it: all this stuff’s gonna show up. That was actually a wonderful opportunity, though. It wasn’t glitzy, it wasn’t a thriller, it was kind of the same thing every week, but having left seven years at Fox with not a lot happening, actually asking out of my last year and going over to Universal, and three weeks later I’m making some kind of a contractual deal with them, not knowing if I was just getting into the same boat.
But within two to three weeks, I did a test with Robert Young with Robert Surtees, one of the great directors of photography, shooting it, and the next thing I knew, they said, “Okay, this is the guy!” And we started shooting. I won the Emmy for the pilot, and then went on to do 170 shows. And we were number one for a good amount of time. And then, at the end of the show, when it was starting to weaken, they said, “Oh, we’ve gotta get Brolin a dame.” [Laughs.] “We’ve gotta marry him off!”
So I said, “There’s this girl, Farrah Fawcett, who I want to play the wife.” And they said, “Who? Oh, I know her. The blonde, right? She can’t act!” So I kind of fought with them about it, and they ended up bringing in Pamela Hensley. The night of the wedding, we were number one again. And the following week or the second week, we were #73. They saw it, they gave it no respect, and it was over. And then Farrah, of course, went right on to become a star. It was funny: a couple of years later we were talking, and I said, “You know, you’re tossing your hair, you’re beautiful, we’ve seen it, but as soon as you play something dowdy, you’re gonna get such respect, and maybe an award.” And then she did “The Burning Bed” right afterwards. I guess she believed me! [Laughs.]
Sadly, at this point in our conversation, I got the high sign from the Hallmark Move Channel publicist, who apologetically told me that it was time to wrap up. Knowing that the air date of the film was still months away at that point, I asked Brolin if he’d be up for continuing our conversation by phone at some future juncture. He said, “Sure!” And, lo and behold, a week or two ago, he did indeed call my house to finish our chat. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the day and time had been confirmed and reconfirmed by the publicist, I somehow managed to enter the time incorrectly in my calendar, so I, uh, wasn’t actually home the first time he called.
Mind you, I would’ve been home, but I’d had to run an unexpected errand, and I got caught in traffic on the drive back. Thankfully, I’d already prepared my questions, so when he decided to try me back, I’d managed to make it home and, once I muddled through my surprise that I’d gotten the time wrong (I had three other interviews that day, and I apparently just tripped up while typing in the information for what time he and I were supposed to chat), we quickly settled into a pleasant, low-key chat, one which ultimately veered into an incredibly fun discussion of his TV viewing habits – and those of his wife – and got his picks for his favorite movies of 2013 as well as some comments on a few of his more obscure projects to have turned up on Netflix.
Just as a caveat, I did actually post one anecdote from the interview in a piece on AntennaFree.TV right after he gave it to me, but it had to be done: it was a scoop, and I never get those things. The other caveat is that you’ll see a tiny bit of crossover between the previous conversation and this one, but that’s what happens when neither of you remember precisely what you talked about three months ago. (All things considered, I think we both did pretty well at not duplicating already-covered material.)
BE: You and I chatted a bit during the TCA tour. I don’t know if you recall.
JB: I do remember! Because you have that great name. It’s a movie star name. It’s a top-notch novel character name. [Laughs.]
BE: Well, thank you. Most people tend to remember me because I ask them about really obscure things from their back catalog.
JB: Oh, good! I like that! I got two pages of questions last week because… I did a little video piece for my wife, who won the Legend Award at Glamour Magazine, and I got two pages of questions that were from, like, an old interview from Screen Magazine in the ‘50s. Just… [Snorts.] Just the worst questions. You know what I mean. Grammar-school questions. Anyway, I showed them. I said, “You’ve got three minutes to shoot, and I’m leaving.” So we finished, and they said, “We’d like to do it again.” I said, “No, your three minutes are up. Goodbye!” And then it played at the Awards…and everybody said, “That was the best thing!” [Laughs.] So it all turned out well. I love doing things in a pinch. I do my best work when I’m not ready for it.
BE: Same here. I do a feature called Random Roles for the Onion A.V. Club, and the best of that for me is that, although I do the research in advance as far as picking out the roles, I really don’t have questions, per se. I just roll with whatever the person’s memory of the project is and build on that. As a result, it’s amazing how many times someone will offer up an anecdote and then say something like, “You know, I don’t think I’ve told that story in 20 years.”
JB: [Laughs.] That’s good! I like that.
BE: We talked a fair amount about “Christmas with Tucker” during the TCA tour, but I do still find it impressive that, despite the fact that the rule of thumb is that you never want to work with children or dogs, you seem to have had a good experience with both on this film.
JB: Yeah! Now, one reason for that is…well, you’re probably not old enough to remember my first wife (Jane Cameron Agee), who had a wildlife way station, and consequently I was stuck with getting truckloads of chicken necks in Bakersfield and dragging them back to the ranch. We had three mountain lions, one female African lion, three or four wolves, a harpy eagle…all kinds of things would come in over the years. And then having raised children and being a pretty good father… I just like the whole mix, y’know? [Laughs.] The children I would’ve done, the animals I probably wouldn’t have done, but as long as I got into the middle of it, I was pretty good at it.
BE: Well, once you’ve worked with mountain lions, I guess working with a dog…
JB: A dog’s an easy deal, yeah! [Laughs.]
BE: As of the summer, I hadn’t had a chance to watch the film, but now I have, and it’s very sweet. In fact, I have an eight-year-old daughter, and to my surprise, she had the attention span to sit and watch the entire thing and enjoy it with us.
JB: Oh, great! I’ve heard… I’ve been looking for somebody that didn’t like it, because I wanted to know why. Because, you know, when you’re right, you haven’t learned a thing. When somebody tells you where you’re wrong or why something was wrong for them, you go, “Oh, okay,” and you’ve finally learned something. Your thoughts go in new directions. So I’m waiting for somebody to say, “I hated it because…” [Laughs.] But everybody seems to like this little film!
BE: I thought it was very enjoyable. Between their two channels (The Hallmark Channel and The Hallmark Movie Channel), Hallmark has carved out a nice little niche for themselves that isn’t really being offered anywhere else.
JB: Yeah, I had heard… Well, actually, I’m doing Larry King tomorrow in L.A., along with a few other things, and then Monday I go to New York and do a whole week of stuff, but…I’m not sure what they’re doing with this, because I haven’t grilled anybody on it. But they say that every year they show all the great Christmas films, and I don’t know what they did last year, but this year they said they’re leading them off with this film that they made.
BE: Yeah, this is the first original film they’ve done for the Hallmark Movie Channel.
JB: Oh, it is? See, you know more about this than I do. [Laughs.] But I’ll get brushed up on it before I jump into these interviews tomorrow.
BE: Oh, I see how it is. I’m your testing ground.
JB: Yeah! [Laughs.] But, you know, I must say – and I may have said this to you when we talked last time, but I think it bears repeating – I was ready to… [Sighs.] To not be treated well, with fast shooting, low budget, all of these things… But it was just the opposite. I was treated so well by these people, and I have been ever since. And even my trip to New York next week is so well done.
And, you know, I’m spoiled! [Laughs.] 15 years in prime-time with the networks spoils you. You’re treated pretty darned well, because they want you to bust your ass, y’know? But in many aspects of the picture business, those days are gone…except this experience with Hallmark. They were just great! And Steve Solomos is just one of the best producers I’ve ever been around in my life. He was always in earshot of the camera, always helped prep for the next setup and shot, always approving of everybody, and yet he was getting all of this done in a very, very tight budget. All of these problems that Murphy’s Law allows were there, and he was so good with them that I said, “If I get a production financed, I’m calling Solomos out from Toronto to work out here in California for a while!”
BE: All right, time to dive back into your back catalog. I always look for interesting character names, and I couldn’t help but laugh at one where you’re credited – sort of – as Man Doing Twist on Yacht in “Goodbye Charlie.” I say “sort of” because you’re apparently uncredited, really, but that’s how you’re described on IMDb, anyway.
JB: Geez, I wish I remembered that for sure. [Laughs.] We never actually went out on a boat, I know that. But maybe there was a yacht set. That’s very, very possible, because…let’s see, “Goodbye Charlie,” what year was that?
BE: That was 1964.
JB: ’64! I was well into… That was the same year I was with Sinatra and went on the best of all locations for three months in Europe, in “Von Ryan’s Express.”
BE: Absolutely. We talked about that a bit last time.
JB: Oh, okay. Yeah, you know, I went in to Fox as a young actor in 1960, and for 40 weeks out of 52 or however many weeks it was per year, I was paid to do whatever they told me to do. And, actually, I started out the first day in ADR, dubbing another guy’s voice that was too high to be a Marine. [Laughs.] I was 20 years old, fresh back from a year in Tahiti and parking cars in La Cienega when I got the job, and I was there at Fox for six and a half years. I guess the biggest thing I ever did there was starring in a movie, a remake of “Pickup on South Street” called “The Cape Town Affair,” with Jacqueline Bisset as the leading lady.
BE: Not bad as leading ladies go.
JB: No, it was a good time! [Laughs.] But it wasn’t until I finally told them, “Look here, I want to do more movies more often.” And they let me out, and three weeks later I was at Universal, and three weeks after that I was shooting the pilot for “Marcus Welby.”
BE: That worked out well.
JB: Yeah, it did. I had some good luck early on. So all I’m saying is that, in 1964, I had done some things that I was kind of proud of, and the fact that I was doing the Twist on a boat somewhere in the background was just another assignment. Again, I was just glad to be there and be in any movie. Who was in that one? (Walter) Matthau?
BE: Walter Matthau, Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds…
JB: Yeah, a whole group of people who were just a lot of fun to be around for a few days. I also did “Morituri” with Marlon Brando. I did “John Goldfarb, Please Come Home” with Shirley MacLaine, who I actually just did “Elsa & Fred” with. I was a real lucky boy early on.
BE: Was there anyone in particular that you felt like you learned the most from, or did you try to pick up whatever you could from whoever you were around?
JB: I don’t know. I was too scared to death! [Laughs.] All I knew was that I wasn’t very good at it – I couldn’t even give a book report in high school! – but once I got my pay from Fox every week, which was $93 net the first year, I spent every nickel of it I could to be in a different workshop every night of the week. So I had lots of rehearsal time to get ready for the following week. I mean, I was a guy who said, “I’m either gonna get washed out of this and never be able to get inside these gates again, or I’m gonna learn to be good at it.” Because I’m not a natural, but I love the movies, and…I love being part of the crew, y’know? Actually, at 15 I set out to be a cinematographer and a director. I bought my first movie camera at 15, but I had a darkroom at 10 and was doing still shots and even making my own pinhole cameras. At 10 years old! I was doing some interesting stuff.
So, anyway, I got screwed out of being a cinematographer and a director… [Laughs.] Well, no, that’s not true. I’ve been a director for 30 years. I’ve directed a movie, and I’ve directed 25 hours of television.
BE: You directed your son (Josh) in something, didn’t you?
JB: Yeah, in an episode of “The Young Riders,” in Arizona.
BE: You know, I mentioned that we talked a bit about “Von Ryan’s Express” last time, but I don’t think you ever actually talked about the experience of working with Frank Sinatra.
JB: Um…I found him very likeable. He liked to be very friendly, but aloof at the same time. In other words, he’d be very close and call you by first name, and then the next time you came in, you’d say, ‘Hi, Frank,’ and he’d look over and give you a look like, “How dare you call me Frank! It’s Mister Sinatra!” [Laughs.] He was an interesting star. Some of these stars are so nice and so available. But, you know, in those days, they made up names, they played lots of games, they did a lot of promotional stunts… Now you don’t have to do a promotional stunt. You get your name on the front of the rags anyway!
BE: What were the challenges of playing Clark Gable in “Gable and Lombard”?
JB: Well, I’ll tell you, that was my favorite time in front of the camera.
BE: Oh, really?
JB: Yeah. I was at Universal, in my last…well, let me see. I was in my fifth year of “Marcus Welby,” and I had done two movies for MGM that did quite well – “Westworld” and “Skyjacked” – and I was saying, “Hey, guys, listen, I’m in the movies somewhere else, and that’s what I want to do here,” which…I had never changed my tune about that. With television, if you have a big hit, you get to do the same thing 200 more times. I found that a form of punishment, in a way. I’d rather do…I mean, ideally, I’d rather do three movies a year. Josh is in such a delicious position right now, and I hope it lasts a long time for him.
So for some reason, at the same time, the studio was going, “We want to do ‘Gable and Lombard,’ and we think Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw are perfect for it.” And Sidney Furie, who developed it and who had done “The Ipcress File” and won the British Academy Award and everything, said, “No, no, you have a guy under contract who’s the only guy I know who can play Gable.” And they said, “Well, no, he’s just a kid in one of our shows.” And he said, “Well, I’m pulling the movie, then, and going somewhere else with it where they’ll talk to me.” Next thing I know, I’m going to Sidney, saying, “Sidney, I can’t do this. My mother identified with this guy, but I don’t even identify with this guy with the bad breath and the wooden teeth and the big ears…” And he said, “No, I want you to do this. I want you to start looking at his movies.”
So he would set up four movies a day in a screening room, and I would sit there – it was during hiatus – and look at four movies a day. They kept bringing ‘em in. It was Thursday, I think, when he came in and asked, “What do you think?” And I said, “You know, I just got the most incredible feeling, this twinge, on these last two movies I saw, because Gable was so bad…and I’m bad, too!” [Laughs.] I identified with his discomfort in both of these movies, and I knew why he was uncomfortable: because they were making him do roles that he was not comfortable in. They had him dancing in one (“Idiot’s Delight”). Do you remember? It’s in “That’s Entertainment!” Oh, God, I think he just hated it. He used to say, “They made me wear this monkey suit.” People would actually see him out in the parking lot with his trunk open, taking off his suit and putting on jeans to go out to Encino…where nobody lived in those years! Why would you go over a two-lane road, into the valley, where there’s just horses, chickens, and orange trees? A 45-minute or hour drive! But that was his life with Carole Lombard.
So, anyway, I finally said, “Okay, Sid, I think I can play this.” And I started rehearsing in the closet, of course, where nobody could see or hear me. [Laughs.] And I found it the most enjoyable, fun time I’ve ever had around this business…and I do love every day working in this business. Everybody’s hand-picked, very rarely are you ever forced to work with anybody who’s really negative. Most people just love to please, so talented, never talk about overtime or this or that. They don’t ask what else they can do for you, they just do it. The thing is, the motion picture business is tougher today because of the lack of continuity of work, and how it’s spread out all across the United States and the world. But from the perspective that I mentioned, it’s a joy. Everybody is just so fun, and I very rarely have somebody I just don’t get along with. Usually it’s people I can’t wait to see the next morning.
BE: That’s pretty great.
JB: It is great. And it’s rare. What a bit of luck on my part! [Laughs.] I really am so lucky. And now Josh, who said [Growling.] “I would never be in your business for anything!” One day he took a class and got his first “A” in the entire history of his high school education, then he was starring as Stanley Kowalski in the school play and went on to say, “This is what I’m doing!” I said, “I don’t know, the business is changing…” He said, “Sorry, Pop, this is what I’m doing!” So he teaches me now!
BE: How’d you enjoy the experience of doing “Community”
JB: I did “Community” because my daughter heard about it, and she said, “Dad, you have to do ‘Community.’” I’ve only done, like, five episodics in the last seven or eight years, and usually either the character intrigued me or they offered me more money than I’d heard of for an episodic and it intrigued me. [Laughs.] Of course, I’m not going to do anything that I just think is awful. But “Community,” you know, I looked at it, and I thought, “You know, it’s kind of funny.” And all the kids are going, “That is the greatest show on television!” And then my daughter heard. Someone said, “They’re talking about your dad being on ‘Community’!” And she called me – she was 23 at the time – and she said, “You’ve got to do this show!” So I did the show.
But more fun, and more in my taste, was when I did the episode of Castle for a friend of mine who produces the show, Armyan Bernstein. He said, “Please come and do this one shot,” this other father, who they’ve been talking about for five years and who was an assassin who never knew his son. So I read it, and we discussed how we might make the role more interesting, and we were very successful at that. And now I’ve just gotten a call saying, “Could we do it again?” And I said, “Well, there’s no reason for me to do another episodic show unless I can show you the complete other side of this character, the one you might be afraid of. Rather than you finding out he’s a good guy, you find out he’s good in front, but…
There’s this book I just started reading called…The Use of Psychosis? That’s not the exact name, but that’s basically what it’s about. It’s about psychotics, and what makes them tick, and how they’re usually wonderful, wonderful people, except that, on the weekends, they cut up a body and put it in trash bags. [Laughs.] And how, no matter how much they charm you, underneath they have absolutely no feelings whatsoever. They’re just born that way. And, actually, “Dexter” is like that. Did you ever see the first episode, where his dad is saying, “Listen, you killed the dog, and…you’ve got to channel that!” So, anyway, I said, “If I’m gonna do another one, I’d like to have it as talked-about as the first one.” So I start the “Castle” again on… I go to New York next week, and then I start “Castle” the following Monday.
BE: My wife will be ecstatic. I watch “Castle,” but she’s obsessed with it, so I’m sure she’ll be beside herself.
JB: Oh, really? That’s great! It’s just nice to be able to get to do something that’s fun, y’know? And then in January, I’m going to do… If you know about the driller that came from Afghanistan and drilled the big hole to get the 33 miners out in Chile, I’m doing a movie about that. There are a couple of Hispanic stars who are coming in to lead that off, but I’m the driller guy who comes in and saves the day. [Laughs.] So that’ll be fun, too, going to Santiago finally, where I’ve always wanted to go but I’ve never done it.
BE: So would you go back to doing a full-time episodic gig if it was offered to you, or are you just not interested?
JB: If I was going to take on a full-time gig… [Starts to laugh.] You know, it’s so funny, because just this morning I was talking about how much I loved the idea of the series “The Equalizer” and how I wish it had gone on and on. You know, somebody who comes in and helps people out of impossible situations? Well, I think that if I was really an established billionaire who wasn’t interested, like a lot of these guys I know, in spending all his time gathering more and being the richest billionaire… [Sighs.] I talked to a guy with $26 billion the other day, and he was talking to me about this apartment he was in once upon a time that was $500 a month, he had $25 in his pocket, and he didn’t know how he was going to pay the next month’s rent. “And now I have $26 billion,” he said.
But, anyway, I think that if I had that kind of money, I would be an Equalizer. That’s what I’d do for a living, for an avocation. I like the idea of going downtown, finding someone who’s just absolutely getting screw in court, bringing in my set of attorneys, and just wiping out the offensive assholes. That’s what I’d do with my time, I believe. And I’d really enjoy it. But your question was whether I’d do another episodic series. [Laughs.] You know, the last time I said “no,” all of a sudden somebody brought me this Marine fighter-pilot show, and the next thing I know, I’m living between Malibu and San Diego for three years doing 66 episodes of “Pensacola: Wings of Gold,” starring and producing and directing, too. And it was pretty great.
BE: So what you’re saying is “never say never.”
JB: Yeah, you never say never. Just throw me an idea, y’know? Just like going back to “Castle.” If it was just a case of them saying, “Oh, we’ve got another episode for you,” I wouldn’t be interested, but if we can do something with it, then what the heck. By the way, did you see “Homeland” this week?
BE: No spoilers, please!
JB: [Laughs.] Well, it got kinda nasty last week, didn’t it? Where the Iran guy took and broke the bottle against the wall… That was pretty rough stuff, wasn’t it?
BE: So are you happy with this season?
JB: This season? Not as, no. But then I thought, “Well, if you’re gonna wake people up…” That was pretty vicious. And when you see this week and you see them sort of accept him because they need him for something, it’s… I hope that turns into something, because it wasn’t satisfying to me. Not as much. But it’s like when…well, you remember how so many of the Breaking Bads kind of marched in place, getting you ready for the one to follow. [Laughs.]
BE: Absolutely. You remember the episode where Walt chased the fly around the lab?
JB: Oh, yeah!
BE: One of my friends said, “That was the most boring episode!” And I said, “Look, just because they didn’t leave the lab doesn’t mean that it was boring.”
JB: Well, many times I’ll be doing two things at once while I’m watching these things, and I always find that listening to dialogue… Because, you know, I’ve heard every kind of scene probably every which way, and it takes something original to make me look up. Or, you know, I’ll just look up every once in a while and go, “Oh, okay, they’re in the kitchen,” and then I go back to what I’m doing and just keep listening. So I kind of judge things now when we’re watching television. My wife gets glued to “Revenge” and all these things. Like your wife, it sounds like. [Laughs.] They get glued to their shows.
But I’ll kind of wait until it’s really something worth watching. Like, last night, I forget what we were watching, but I found myself saying, “Wow, that was a great scene!” Because this particular scene was so well-written and so well-played and so well-directed that it pulled my eyes up off of what I was doing. The paperwork or whatever. I was on my computer, and I just closed it and said, “Wow, let me actually watch this for awhile…” Because, you know, everything seems to be recycled at this point, so to have something actually touch you in some way is tough. But it’s really neat when it happens.
BE: Okay, I wasn’t going to go down this road, but since you kind of opened the door… You mentioned that you watch “Breaking Bad” and “Homeland,” and you said that your wife watches “Revenge.” Do you guys meet in the middle on anything, TV-wise?
JB: How do you mean?
BE: In other words, do you guys watch stuff together?
JB: Oh, yeah! Oh, no, we can’t wait to get to “Homeland,” and we watched “Breaking Bad,” and…you know, the first time this really ever happened to us was when some friends of ours said, “Listen, we’ve got this new series, and here, we’ve got the first 10 shows on this disc, and we think it’s really neat. You ought to watch it.” So it was late one night, and evidently the waiter had poured me coffee rather than decaf… [Laughs.] Both of us! And we’re just wide awake at 1 AM, and she said, “Why don’t you put that disc on, and we’ll see if that puts us to sleep.” Well, we saw all 10 episodes. It was, like, 10 AM when we finally stopped watching. And that was the first 10 episodes of “24.” So, yeah, we have many things that pull us together. Even “Hostages” is getting kind of…interesting.
BE: I’m behind on “Hostages,” but my wife and I have been sticking with “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
JB: Yeah, I’ve got to get back to that myself!
BE: If I wasn’t a big comic book geek, I might’ve given up on it by now, but I feel like it’s building, albeit slowly, and getting better.
JB: I’m up to Season 3 of “Dexter” on Netflix, trying to get caught up on that. Netflix is great. I only have one problem with it. I had said, “Look, we’re in the business, we’ve got to spend some money on displaying these films.” So we have one…oh, it’s actually moderate in cost. We have one 10-foot screen. And then we have an 18-foot screen which we set up for film. But now everything is delivered digitally, you know, so the two film projectors are somewhat useless at this point. [Laughs.] But with this great projector, we’re still doing video on an 18-foot screen, and I can pull up Netflix and watch “Dexter” on that, and it’s crystal clear. It’s an amazing time in history, technologically, and I can’t imagine, for what I’ve got installed right now, that in 10 years it’s going to get any better.
BE: You know, the funny thing about Netflix, I’ve found, is that it’s great for viewers, but it can be horrifying for actors, particularly if they think they’ve buried some particularly awful project and suddenly find out that it’s streaming online to millions of people.
JB: Yeah, that’s true. Me included. [Laughs.] As you probably know, I have a couple on there. Let’s see, one is called…oh, it’s called “Bad Girl Island” now.
JB: I said, “How about ‘Bad Girl’? That one hasn’t been used since 1934.” And they said, “Oh, that’s a great idea!” So I look later…? “Bad Girl Island.” It’s just so corny and bad. And the film…well, it actually has a great look and some very interesting things. We shot it in Eleuthera. You know, in the Caribbean. But, you know, I don’t know about my performance down there. I, uh, might’ve had too much wine each night before work. [Laughs.] Let’s see, there’s another one on there that I also produced, and for absolutely no money, but I’m trying to think of the name of it.
BE: Aside from “Von Ryan’s Express,” the oldest thing I see on there for you is “The Ambush Murders.”
JB: Yeah! Now that… Do you remember Roy Thinnes?
BE: I do. From “The Invaders.”
JB: Roy Thinnes was hired for the lead in that, and…one day on the job, he got sick and was taken to UCLA with a very rare disease. They never found out what it was. But I think it was I-Can’t-Remember-My-Lines Disease. [Laughs.] But they called me at nine at night and said, “We want you for this, we’ll pay you for this, but we start shooting and need you at 6 AM.” I said, “Well, let me… I’ll call you back by 1 AM.” And so I called ‘em back – we were starting with a courtroom scene – and I said, “I want an agreement which says that, when we get to the courtroom, there’ll be three teleprompters set up. I’ll tell you how to run ‘em, I’ll get ‘em set up.” They said, “Fine! Fine! Whatever!” ‘Cause they were seriously up a creek. So that’s on there, huh?
BE: It sure is.
JB: Wow. Well, it’s not a bad performance when you think about the fact that I was reading so much of it. [Laughs.] I felt like a newscaster!
BE: When I did a Random Roles interview with Sam Elliott, I said, “I don’t know if you knew that ‘Frogs’ was on Netflix.” He said, “I did not. That’s a scary thought.”
JB: [Laughs.] I wonder if “Lies & Alibis” is on there. He and I did “Lies & Alibis” together…with Steve Coogan, by the way. Steve Coogan’s new movie, “Philomena,” is fantastic. It could win Best Screenplay. He wrote it, and he produced it, too. It’s so wonderful. And the other great film of the year is “Dallas Buyers Club.”
BE: I definitely plan to see that. Also, in addition to “Castle,” my wife also loves her some Matthew McConaughey.
JB: Oh, wow, is it… I mean, it’s so depressing, the subject and everything, and yet you don’t want it to end. It is so good. So I hope you agree with me. Or you can say, “He doesn’t know shit.”
BE: Oh, if I don’t like it, I’m telling everyone that James Brolin steered me wrong.
JB: [Laughs.] Yeah, if you don’t love it, just call me, tell me how much it cost you, and I’ll send you the money back.
Tags: 24, Ali McGraw, Armyan Bernstein, Bad Girl Island, Barbra Streisand, Bob Evans, Breaking Bad, Castle, Community, Dallas Buyers Club, Debbie Reynolds, Dexter, Elsa and Fred, Fantastic Voyage, Farrah Fawcett, Frank Sinatra, Frogs, Gable and Lombard, Goodbye Charlie, Hallmark Movie Channel, Homeland, Hostages, Hotel, Idiot's Delight, Jacqueline Bissett, James Brolin, Josh Brolin, Lies & Alibis, Marcus Welby M.D., Marlon Brando, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Matthew McConaughey, Morituri, Netflix, Pamela Hensley, Paul Reubens, Pee Wee Herman, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Pensacola: Wings of Gold, Philomena, Revenge, Robert Surtees, Robert Young, Roy Thinnes, Sam Elliott, Shirley MacLaine, Sidney Furie, Skyjacked, Steve Coogan, Steve McQueen, Steve Solomos, The Ambush Murders, The Burning Bed, The Cape Town Affair, The Equalizer, The Ipcress File, The Light from the TV Shows, The Young Riders, Tony Curtis, Von Ryan's Express, Walter Matthau, Westworld, Will Harris