The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with James Brolin (‘Christmas with Tucker’)

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.

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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.]

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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.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Chris Elliott (“Eagleheart”)

Chris Elliott has comedy in his genes, courtesy of his father, Bob Elliott (of the legendary comedy team Bob & Ray), and he’s passed his abilities on to the next generation, as his daughter Abby Elliott proves week after week on “Saturday Night Live,” but, geez, enough about his dad and kid already. Surely it’s time to shine the spotlight solely on Chris Elliott himself, who first won our hearts with his decidedly unique characters on “Late Night with David Letterman,” completely blew the minds of a generation of moviegoers with his film “Cabin Boy,” and has since gone on to appear in everything from “Manhunter” to “Everybody Loves Raymond.” On April 12, his current endeavor – Adult Swim’s “Eagleheart” – returns for its second season, just over a week after the DVD release of Season One, which hit stores on Tuesday. Bullz-Eye chatted with him…okay, fine, we geeked out…about the more eccentric side of his comedy, including his seminal TV series “Get A Life,” which, as you may have read elsewhere first (although it came from this interview), is coming to DVD in a complete-series set at long last.

Bullz-Eye: First off, let me just tell you what a pleasure it is to talk to you. I’ve been a fan for many years.

Chris Elliott: Oh, well, thank you. I just don’t hear that enough. [Laughs.]

BE: In my case, it’s no exaggeration: when I was in high school, I sent off for tickets for “Late Night with David Letterman.” Granted, I had graduated by the time I actually got them, but, hey, at least I got them.

CE: Oh, my gosh. That’s pretty funny. So did you actually wait four years for tickets?

BE: No, but it was more than a year: I sent them off during my senior year, and it was well after graduation when they finally arrived.

CE: Wow, that’s pretty amazing. But it proves that you were a hardcore fan. Do you remember who was on the show when you went?

BE: Absolutely: it was Jane Pauley and Bruno Kirby. I also remember that they did Shoe Removal Races that night, with a podiatrist squaring off against a shoe salesman.

CE: Ah, yes, that was an excellent episode. [Laughs.]

BE: You were actually just on Letterman’s show a few nights ago. It sounded like you may have taken a bit of flour into your lungs.

CE: [Laughs.] I started to smell like cookies after I was under the lights for a little while. But I thought it came off all right. It’s always fun to go back there, and I hate coming back on there as myself in any form. This interview is okay because I can’t see you. [Laughs.] But I don’t like coming on and just talking as myself, so I always come on with something.

BE: The “Downton Abbey” thing was great, too.

CE: Yeah, I thought that came out great.

BE: So let’s talk “Eagleheart.” One of the most surprising things about the series, at least to me, is that you don’t actually get a writing credit on the show. Not that you don’t have some input, given that you’re a consulting producer, but…

CE: I’d say these guys have my voice down. I knew that when I met with them. They were huge fans of mine, and, honestly, I didn’t want the extra work. [Laughs.] And at the same time, y’know, they changed the pilot quite a bit to suit me, and what I do – and Adam Resnick does this, also – is sort of take a pass at the scripts when they’re done with them and change a couple of jokes here and there, and if something’s not quite in my voice, I just kind of paraphrase what I would be saying, and that sort of thing. I’m sort of at the point in my career where writers that are working in the business sort of grew up knowing about me. At least the ones that are fans of mine, anyway. And they’re really capable of writing for me. It wasn’t always that case. Early on in my career, it was pretty much Adam and me just trying to establish this voice.

BE: Of course, it makes me wonder if people sometimes come to you with something utterly off the wall, saying, “Well, ‘Cabin Boy’ was so nuts that I figured you’d be into this.’

CE: Yeah, I think I get that a lot. It’s interesting: some people put anything weird in the “weird” category and think, “Oh, Chris’ll do that because it’s so weird.” But you’re right. Certain people, like yourself, get why certain things are funny-weird as opposed to just being strange. That’s a different breed. I think I do get lumped in a lot with “he’s just off the wall, he’s crazy.”

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What A Way To Go: 25 Final Films From No-Longer-Living Legends

Everybody dies, even famous actors. Some have the common sense to phase out their careers while they’re still at the top of their game and enjoy the fruits of their retirement, others milk their fame for all its worth and work ’til they drop, which is often well past their sell-by date, and, of course, there are those who die far earlier than anyone anticipated, least of all themselves, leaving their most recent project – whatever it may have been – as their last project. Bullz-Eye took a look at the filmographies of some of Hollywood’s greatest actors and examined their swan songs, and, indeed, all three of the aforementioned categories are represented.

There were only two caveats used when citing these final films: they had to have been live-action works (i.e. no voiceover performances), and the actors had to have been playing someone other than themselves. You will no doubt find yourself asking, “Hey, why didn’t [INSERT FAVORITE ACTOR'S NAME HERE] make this cut?” If you’ve got a favorite final film by an actor that was left out of the mix…hey, that’s what the Comments section is for. For now, though, sit back and enjoy…

1. Humphrey Bogart, “The Harder They Fall” (1956): Although many tend to think of his definitive work as having taken place in the 1940s simply by virtue of the fact that it’s when both “Casablanca” and “The Maltese Falcon” were released, Humphrey Bogart continued to offer exemplary performances throughout the ‘50s, receiving his Oscar for “The African Queen” (1951), a nomination for “The Caine Mutiny” (1954). By the mid-1950s, however, the actor’s health was failing, and he would soon be diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus…not that you’d know it from his work load: in 1955, he starred in “We’re No Angels,” “The Left Hand of God,” and “The Desperate Hours.”

Watching Bogie in his final film, “The Harder They Fall,” it’s easy to say that he looks tired and worn out, but it’s just as easy to attribute that to the character he’s playing. Eddie Willis (Bogart) is a former sports writer who’s struggling to make ends meet after his newspaper shuts down, and when he’s hired by Nick Benko (Rod Steiger), a boxing promoter known for his somewhat imprecise morality, to help promote his new fighter, a naïve Argentinean named Toro Moreno (Mike Lane), there’s little question that Eddie’s doing it for the money. Everybody knows that wrestling is fake, but you may be surprised to see the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that go on in boxing: Toro’s a pretty rotten boxer, but Eddie promotes the hell out of him while Nick and his cohorts fix the fights, enabling Toro to steadily work his way up the ranks. The ending is pretty heavy-handed, with the music soaring as Eddie sits down in front of his typewriter to hash out the boxing expose that will help to clear his conscience, but Bogart is fantastic throughout the film. Sadly, it’s out of print on DVD, but if you’ve never seen it before, you may find it worth the $14.99 it’ll cost you to download it from iTunes. Eight months after “The Harder They Fall” hit theaters, Bogart lost his own fight, falling victim to his cancer at the age of 57. – Will Harris

2. James Dean, “Giant” (1956): George Stevens’ massive adaptation of Edna Ferber’s sprawling novel about ranchers and oil millionaires in the first half of the 20th century remains an especially poignant farewell, indicating the versatile actor 24 year-old James Dean would have become had he not died in an auto wreck shortly before production was completed.

At first, Dean’s Jet Rink is in line with his other roles, a rebellious, troubled ranch hand who shyly flirts with beautiful Leslie Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor) and generally runs afoul of her cattleman husband, Bick Benedict, Jr. (Rock Hudson). As a couple of decades progress, however, Rink strikes it rich — richer than the Benedicts. Wearing a mustache and with his head partially shaved to suggest a receding hairline, Rink becomes a villain of sorts as he falls for the Benedicts’ beautiful college-age daughter (Carroll Baker) and his resentments against the clan congeal into alcoholic sentimentality, jealousy, and virulent racism. Not that he’s all bad or all sad. Speaking in a mumbly Texan patois reminiscent of Boomhauer from “King of the Hill,” Dean’s Rink is highly vulnerable but full of the impish humor Dean only hinted at in “Rebel Without a Cause.” Even if the part seems artificial compared to Dean’s other roles and even if director Stevens felt it was necessary to have a key speech posthumously looped by Dean’s friend, Nick Adams, “Giant” reminds us that Dean was a lot more than a pop-culture icon or a pretty-boy emoting-machine, he was an actor. – Bob Westal

3. Grace Kelly, “High Society” (1956): Like James Dean, Grace Kelly only had to make a few films to become an immortal. Fortunately, her career wasn’t ended by death but by her “fairy tale” marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco — although she would eventually die as the result of a car accident a quarter century later.

A musical remake of the romantic comedy classic “The Philadelphia Story” with new songs by Cole Porter and co-starring Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, “High Society” was a box office success and, in theory, a perfect filmic swansong. The part of romantically confused heiress Tracey Lord fit Grace Kelly very nicely, and she had actually performed the part as her graduation performance from the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Nevertheless, she was stepping into enormous shoes — the part was written for and remains forever associated with Katherine Hepburn — but Kelly, still only 26 years old, seems to effortlessly make the part her own, adding an element of wholesome sensuality that Hepburn couldn’t quite match. She even sang nicely in a duet with Crosby of Porter’s “True Love.” For all of that, the musical comedy got mixed reviews. Director Charles Walters was not one of the greats of cinema and Sinatra and Crosby arguably had better chemistry with each other than they did with their absurdly beautiful lead. Maybe the fact that “High Society” was just okay made it easier for Kelly to attend to her royal duties and charity work and leave acting behind forever. – BW

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