20 May 2006 The Daily Record


By Rick Fulton

DAVID McCallum reckons his Scots blood and a dram of whisky every night keeps him young.

Incredibly the Glasgow actor, best known as blond Russian agent Ilya Kuryakin in The Man from UNCLE, is 72-years-old.

But he looks at least 10 years younger and has the all the energy of a young man.

And he needs it.

The actor is regularly doing 14-18 hour days as he stars in his second huge show NCIS - Naval Criminal Investigative Service - which is in the American TV top 20, with an audience of 18million and is now being shown on Five on Saturdays.

Speaking from New York, he laughed: "My genes have allowed me not to deteriorate as much as some people.

"It's my Scottish blood and also that I have a Laphroaig with a splash of water every night.

"It helps when I'm learning my lines. They go in better with a whisky."

David has had a distinguished acting career which included television hits Sapphire & Steel with Joanna Lumley, The Invisible Man, Colditz and Kidnapped, along with movies The Great Escape, The Greatest Story Ever Told and The Heroin Gang.

But UNCLE made him a Sixties sex symbol and it's the part he's best remembered for - or it was until his new show started.

The drama is set in a government agency that investigates all crimes involving Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

He plays medical examiner Dr Donald "Ducky" Mallard.

But even in the show his past isn't quite forgotten. In one scene when Agent Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon, is asked the question: "What did Ducky look like when he was younger?", Gibbs simply responds, "Ilya Kuryakin."

David laughs: "To have two huge hit shows in one lifetime is wonderful.

"My son Peter said when I got this job I became 10 years younger.

"Suddenly you realise you've got to get up at 4o'clock in the morning and drive to the studio.

"You could also be working very long hours. In fact, once we did 23 hours.

"You have to remember lots of dialogue and the scenes can be quite complicated. I could be filming at 3.00am doing an autopsy. So you really have to be sharp."

As well as the big ratings, David also knows that the show is becoming huge - simply because people have stopped calling him Ilya or Kuryakin.

He laughed: "I used to joke that every single day someone would shout: 'Hey Ilya' but now they call me 'Ducky' instead. It's great and I'm really excited about how well the show is doing.

"American Idol came on half way through our current series and they said it would damage our ratings, but we've still got the 18.2million viewers watching."

David's former UNCLE colleague Robert Vaughn, who played Napoleon Solo, is also back on a hit television show - the UK's Hustle.

But having lived in New York for years, David admits he doesn't see Robert anymore.

He said: "People assume we are best friends, but I haven't seen Robert in quite awhile. We just don't keep in touch. You move on."

David's dad, David Sr., was a violinist and leader of the Scottish Orchestra while his mum, Dorothy was a cellist. At the age of three, David moved from his native Glasgow to London as his father had been given the job of first violinist for the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

He said: "When the Nazis started to bomb London, I was sent back up to Scotland to live with my Aunty Margaret in Stewarton, near Kilmarnock, and then on to Stirling.

"Then my mother came up and we took a cottage in Gartocharn, near Loch Lomond."

After the war David returned to London and originally began following his parents into music, studying the oboe at the Royal Academy of Music. But he quickly realised his passion was in acting and left music for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Once he was a professional actor, David left Britain in 1961 and has lived in New York ever since.

But Scotland is never far from David's thoughts.

He said: "I was in Scotland last year and we went to see my Aunty Margaret who is 96. I try and get over every year.

"I won't be this year though. My daughter Sophie, who is also in New York, is about to give birth to her second child, so we're not going to go to Europe this year."

Like many Scottish expats, David is fascinated by the weather and before we even start the interview, he asks what it's been like.

He said: "My Aunty Margaret still lives in Stirling so it's always nice to know she's got good weather.

"I always feel for my other Aunty, Kitty, who is 91 and lives in Macduff. The wind usually blows so hard that she can't even get out of the front door."

In the last three years he and second wife Katherine, who he's been married to since 1967, have cycled around Italy, he also likes Scotland for walking.

He said: "We like active holidays. I'm a golfer, but I don't like to play golf over my walking. I'm not obsessive about golf and I'm not that good.

"But I do like renting a car and taking off around Scotland, sometimes driving up to Sheriffmuir or Crieff. I love stopping off at a golf course when there's no one about. I like putting £10 in the small box that says: 'Enjoy your round'. I like that."

The actor, who wore an old-style kilt for the 1978 television series Kidnapped when he played Alan Breck Stewart, doesn't own a kilt and doesn't think he would be brave enough to wear one in New York, although the actor says he would wear one at a Scottish wedding if someone asked him.

He laughed: "It's a wonderful dress, but in New York it wouldn't be quite right.

"There are some characters in New York, but I don't want to be one of them."

David has been married twice. First to actress Jill Ireland, who later married Charles Bronson and died of breast cancer in 1990, and is the mum to his eldest two children Valentine and Paul. Their adopted son Jason, died in the Eighties of an accidental drug overdose.

The actor married Katherine Carpenter in 1967 and they have two children, son Peter and his only daughter Sophie.

David is a grandfather twice over and with a third grandchild on the way, David likes to maintain a healthy relationship with both his families.

He said: "I'm in Los Angeles for 10 months a year with NCIS so I spend a lot of time with them.

"But at the moment I'm not moving from New York until Sophie has her baby which she's expecting in June."

The veteran actor has made 70 NCIS shows since 2003 and puts its success down to an ego-less cast and crew he sees as a "family".

While NCIS is sometimes mistaken for the latest instalment of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami and CSI: New York - David fizzes, claiming his programme has nothing to do with that series.

He said: "They are not the same. The humour and attention to detail in our show is completely different."

That attention to detail, being a medical examiner, has meant David has been to the Coroner's Office in LA and watched several autopsies. He even had the "pleasure" of working with the Chief Pathologist to see what happens more closely.

He said: "You think you are going to be more squeamish than you actually are.

"When you see it, you realise you are more aware of death than you think.

"I find I have so many questions to ask. It's a real learning experience for me."

However, David does admit the programme has changed his eating habits.

Not because of the blood and gore, but because of his name.

He said: "I don't eat duck anymore.

"I'm far too close to the name Ducky now. I've even got a basket full of soft toy ducks that fans of the show have sent me."

Next year, David will celebrate 50 years as an actor and it seems this Ducky is still top of the bill.