Billy Campbell got his initial break in Hollywood when he pulled a recurring role on “Dynasty” in 1984, started to escape from the small screen somewhat in 1991 by playing the title in Disney’s highly underrated “The Rocketeer,” and has since bounced back and forth between TV and film, most recently spending two seasons on AMC’s “The Killing.” This Sunday, however, Campbell can be seen in another “Killing,” when he steps back through the mists of time to play American’s 16th President in the National Geographic original movie, “Killing Lincoln,” based on the book by Bill O’Reilly.
During the Winter 2013 TCA Press Tour, Campbell took some time – more than his publicist was expectingly, frankly, not that we were complaining – to chat with Bullz-Eye about his surprise over being pitched the role of Lincoln, his strong views over Disney’s mishandling of “The Rocketeer,” his even stronger statements to the bloggers who bitched about the Season 1 finale of “The Killing,” and how he was only one audition away from getting the role of Commander William T. Riker on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
Bullz-Eye: To begin at the beginning, how did you find your way into “Killing Lincoln” in the first place? Did you audition for the gig, or did they actually come looking for you?
Billy Campbell: I didn’t audition. They… [Hesitates.] What did they do? [Laughs.] They approached me months before this happened, and I…well, they didn’t approach me. My manager called me and said, “I got this weird sort of feeler: would you be interested in playing Lincoln?” And I burst into laughter, and I thought, “Ridiculous! I’m not Lincoln!” Nevertheless, we sent them a photo which I thought was Lincoln-esque—or a photo that I thought was the least non-Lincoln-esque—that I could find, and I forgot all about it. And then months later I got a call from my agent saying, “You’ve been offered Lincoln.” And I was…amused. But I accepted. And that was it.
Features a “Troy & Abed in the Morning” coffee cup (“With a generous capacity of 15 ounces, refills are not needed!”), a Warhol-inspired Troy & Abed poster, a t-shirt featuring the Greendale Seven in video game form. and a plush Human Being…which, if you’re not already a fan of the show, probably warrants a bit of explanation. Per the NBC online store, “The Greendale Community Human Being plush mascot reflects the diversity of Greendale and our species by being nothing at all. Now you can have your own creepy version!” If that doesn’t sound like the icing on a delicious “Community” cake, then…well, uh, you’re probably not the target demo. But maybe you know someone who is, so keep it in mind just in case. ($50.00)
Described as “perhaps the greatest Dexter usable collectable out there,” what you get is a set of sunglasses with white frames spattered in blood, stored in a wooden case which, not coincidentally, looks quite a bit like Dexter’s “trophy case.” The case also includes blood slides and a syringe. Move fast, though: it’s a limited edition set – there are only 500 units being produced, and each wooden case is individually numbered. ($149.95)
Your frame of reference to the name “Gary Lockwood” depends heavily on what genres of TV and movies you tend to favor. For instance, if you’re a sci-fi guy like myself, then your instant reaction to hearing his name is either to think of “2001: A Space Odyssey” or, if you’re really geeky (and – shocker! – I am), to his lone episode of the original “Star Trek” series, where he played Gary Mitchell, Jim Kirk’s Starfleet Academy pal who failed to remember that with great power comes great responsibility and suffered the consequences. That one-off “Trek” appearance was actually Lockwood’s second time working with Gene Roddenberry, however, the first time having taken place a few years earlier when Lockwood starred in the short-lived series “The Lieutenant,” which has just been released on DVD by Warner Archive. Lockwood took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about his work with Roddenberry on both series, and he also touched on occasions in his career when he crossed paths with the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart, and Elvis Presley.
Bullz-Eye: “The Lieutenant” wasn’t the last time you worked with Gene Roddenberry, but was it the first time you crossed paths with him?
Gary Lockwood: Yes, it was. They talked to me about doing this show, and Roddenberry was sitting there with the head of television at MGM, and that’s how I met him.
BE: That was your first time headlining a series, although, you’d at least had a little experience as a recurring character on “Follow the Sun.”
GL: Yeah, well, I was the third banana on “Follow the Sun,” but I ended up doing the most shows. It’s hard to talk about yourself, but…it’s not that difficult. [Laughs.] What I mean to say is that the audience ended up liking my character, so I did most of the episodes of the show.
BE: There’s a quote attributed to you about how being the star of a series is like being a jet pilot: you’ve got a lot of experts working behind the scenes to get the jet running, and then the pilot sits in the cockpit and makes it work.
GL: Yeah, at which point you either live or die. [Laughs.] You get the spoils, but you also get the losses. The reason I kind of make a joke about jet pilots is that you go to work and you don’t do anything, you just sit there in a chair and drink coffee and look at girls. And then they call you, and go over and fly in front of a camera for awhile, and then you sit down for awhile while everyone else does all the work. So I kind of thought it was a little bit like being a jet pilot.
BE: When you think back to the character of Lt. Bill Rice, what’s the first thing that leaps to mind?
GL: Well, I just played him. I mean, I was just an actor. Bill Rice is not somebody I would ever be or… [Trails off.] They did ask me once if I wanted to go to Annapolis, but I was a bit too much of a rogue for that kind of life. One of my best friends did go to Annapolis, but he resigned after about a year. He didn’t like the regiment. So it takes a certain kind of guy. It was very difficult for me to consider. I wouldn’t say I wanted to be like Bill Rice, but acting is all making believe, so you create a character and you just go there and play him. I think I’ve done that with every job I’ve ever had.
In my experience, you can generally gauge how legitimately excited a person is about the impending premiere of their TV series when they take the time to thank you for your interest. By this I mean that, while it’s certainly nice of them to respond to an opening salvo of “it’s nice to talk to you” with an equally polite “my pleasure,” it’s taking it to the next level and beyond to both open and close the conversation by telling you how thrilled they are that you A) actually want to talk to them, and B) have shown legitimate interest in their project.
These comments, as you may have guessed, are the way Jordan Hembrough, host and star of the new Travel Channel series “Toy Hunter,” bookended our phone conversation a few days ago. Like myself, he’s both a father and an unabashed sci-fi geek, so it should be no surprise that I enjoyed watching the initial installment of his show, which finds him traveling the country in search of various toys and action figures, including just about everything that was part of my pop culture diet growing up, including “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” and even relative obscurities like “Space 1999” and Disney’s “The Black Hole.”
“Toy Hunter” premieres tonight at 10 PM (9 PM CST) on Travel Channel. If it isn’t already programmed into your TiVo – and if you’ve ever been called a geek or a nerd in your time, it really should be – then perhaps this chat will inspire you to fix that situation post-haste.
Bullz-Eye: First of all, I’ve got to tell you that not only did I enjoy watching the screener, but I’ve got a seven-year-old daughter, and she was digging it right along with me.
Jordan Hembrough: You know, Will, I’ve got to tell you: you just hit something that’s…it’s a real special chord with me. I’m really hoping that families will watch this show together, because when I watched it with my kids, they were enjoying it and asking me about old toys as well.
BE: One of the funniest things – and you may have experienced this, too – was that one of the most frequent comments I heard from my daughter was, “You really played with that?”
JH: [Laughs.] You know, that’s exactly what my son said to me. He goes, “So did you get this with an iPhone application?” “No.” “So does it hook up to a computer?” “No, it doesn’t hook up to a computer!”
I’m sure some would still try to argue this point, but in a world where it seems like just about every comic-inspired movie finds itself atop the box office on its week of release, it’s hard to pretend that comics are strictly the domain of the geeks and the nerds. (Would that this transition could’ve occurred when I was still in high school.)
As such, Bullz-Eye is going to try to tackle more stories from the medium…and when I was sent a copy of “Ides of Blood,” a new series from DC / WildStorm which is – at least according to the press release – not entirely unlike a blend of “True Blood” and “Rome,” it certainly seemed like something that our readership might be interested in learning more about.
God bless DC’s publicity department: they quickly put me in touch with series creator Stuart Paul, who gladly answered a few questions for us about his own introduction to comic books, the origins of “Ides of Blood,” his semi-controversial decision to have characters in ancient Rome use modern colloquialisms, which of DC’s stable of superheroes he’d like to take a shot at writing, and much much more.
Since I’ve seen the phrase “new to comic books” used in conjunction with your history of writing for the medium, what’s your personal background with comics? And don’t be shy: if your memory stretches back that far, feel free to offer up the very first comic you remember buying.
My childhood experience with comics was pretty limited. Other than reading the occasional issue of Moon Knight or X-Men at my friend’s house, the only comics I personally bought were “Star Trek” comics—mostly “Next Generation” and some of the original crew that took place in the post-“Wrath of Khan” time period. It wasn’t until college that my girlfriend reintroduced me to comics through Sandman. Once I realized there were comics for adults out there, I started reading them more and more. Initially, I stuck with the superstars—Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Brian K. Vaughan, Garth Ennis. I was kind of a Vertigo whore at first. I guess I still kind of am, but not as much. I have to hear a lot of good buzz about something before I’ll invest in a whole series like Walking Dead, but I’ve definitely branched out. Once I discovered Urasawa’s Pluto, I started getting into manga more. Right now, I’ve got 20th Century Boys, Basilisk and Lone Wolf and Cub to read. I also went through a period of reading a lot of DC superheroes. Jeph Loeb’s Batman stuff is my favorite. Sometimes I’ll still read X-Men, but it’s pretty rare for me to read superheroes these days. My favorite series right now is probably Okko. I think Archaia is doing some of the most creative and well-made comics today. Also, Chew is the only series I read on a monthly basis. Everything else is TPB’s, although the iPad is kind of changing that.
There’s been much talk about how fans of both “True Blood” and “Rome” will find much to enjoy in Ides of Blood. Is that combination what led to the concept for this series? If not, what were its origins, and how do you feel about those points of comparison?
No, neither show existed when I originally came up with the idea and wrote the first draft. I mean, I don’t have a problem with people using those as points of reference. It’s an effective shorthand, but it’s the type of thing you’d bring up in a Hollywood pitch meeting. The problem is that you don’t necessarily know what connotations those shows have for the reader and also, they’re such current references that it makes the comic sound like it’s just trying to exploit the zeitgeist. I mean, if you said it’s “Gladiator” meets… well, actually, “Dracula” might have too much baggage attached to the name, so I guess “True Blood” probably is a good descriptor. The point is, I don’t mind the comparison, but I do think it has as much potential to put-off readers as it does to draw them in. Anyway, the concept for the series came out of boredom. I don’t really like vampires, so it started as a challenge to myself to figure out what I’d have to do to make vampires interesting to me. Julius Caesar just popped into my head.