From ANGLOFILE, summer 1990
"Illya" Returns to U.S. TV in "Mother Love"
While best known for his 1964-67 role as Illya Kuryakin on "The Man From UNCLE." Glasgow-born David McCallum has been a familiar face on both American and British TV screens for the past quarter-century. In the US, he has starrred in "The Invisible Man," a 1975-76 NBC series, and Turner Broadcasting's early 80's miniseries "Kidnapped." In Britain, he did four series of "Sapphire and Steel" between 1979 and 1982. He and Robert Vaughn teamed up for the "Return of the Man from UNCLE" TV film in 1983 and he costarred with Hal Holbrook in an unsuccessful 1985 pilot, "Behind Enemy Lines." In recent years, youthful looking McCallum, who turns 57 on Sept. 19, has made frequent guest appearances in series such as "Matlock" and "Murder, She Wrote" and TV films such as "The Return of Sam McCloud." Upcoming is a role in the Jackie Collins miniseries, "Chances/Lucky," and he costars with Diana Rigg in "Mother Love" which opens the "Mystery!" season on Oct. 25.
McCallum who has lived in the US since 1961--"I'm a New Yorker with a British passport, paying taxes in both countries," he jokes--talked recently by phone from his New York home with ANGLOFILE's Leslie King. What follows is their conversation, with a few answers supplemented by comments McCallum made in a 1985 interview with Bill King....
A lot of your work over the last few years has been in
America. So how did you come to be in "Mother Love"?
"Mother Love" came about by my London agent calling me and telling me about the script. And cluing me in to the fact that the part also included a chance to conduct a symphony orchestra. And I read the script--I think I read the first two [episodes]--and it's beautifully written. And that is always the reason you take a part, because of the quality of the script.
Wasn't your father a conductor in real life?
No, he was an orchestral violinist. He was the concert master of the London and the Royal Philharmonic, among other things.
Did that help you in this role?
Oh, yes. Definitely. Because my father, being a musician, was similar to Alexander Vesey.
Were you ever inclined to go into music like your
Were you pleased with how "Mother Love"
turned out as a series?
Oh, I think it was very warmly received.
How would you describe your character in this series?
Well, he's a musician whos work is the most important thing to him in his life. And early on in his life, because work is such a strong taskmaster, he neglects his first wife, who is a very dominating woman. And they divorce after a year, with one son. And I think because she is so dominating and because he is more concerned with work than he is with family in the beginning -- I think that changes with his second wife -- I think that's partially the reason why all of what takes place takes place. I mean, I think that there's a reason why Diana Rigg's character, Helen, becomes the way she does. And I'm sure that Alexander, to a certain extent, is responsible for it.
Had you ever worked with Diana Rigg before?
What was that like?
Well, she and I worked very little together because the two stories parallel all the time. But she's a wonderful actress to work with.
You do guest spots in series and TV films fairly
frequently, like the "McCloud" film this past year, and
"Murder, She Wrote" and "Matlock." Is most of
your work in America now?
Well, "Matlock" I did in London. And "McCloud" I did in Los Angeles. There's nothing concrete about it.
Do you find any differences in working in American and
Oh, none, really. It's purely geographic.
Your most recent film, "The Haunting of
Morella," how did you come to do that?
I have an agent in California, and he called up and said, "You know, everybody has to do a Roger Corman film, and here's one for you," and it was kind of crazy and silly and wonderful -- not silly, I take that back. it was just sort of...you know, a horror movie you go out and do for Roger Corman. it was a pleasant experience.
Have you done much film work in recent years?
Would you like to?
It's not really relevant. I just like working. If something comes along that's a good film, it would be wonderful.
Does it bother you that you haven't gotten more film
What would bother me is if I ran out of money or got sick. And so far, touch wood, that hasn't happened. I'll audition for anything anywhere anytime provided it has some sort of stature. I have no qualms about moving from one to the other.
Your last US series was "The Invisible Man."
Would you like to do another series?
Oh, yes. A good television series is always interesting to do.
Does it matter if it's a lead or supporting role?
No. I'm one of those people that likes working. I'm not a workaholic, but I just love acting and I love my profession. And there is a wonderful identity and awareness of an actor if he's in a series. And I like doing that. I got a lot of identity in America with Illya Kuryakin and then over in England with other series that didn't come here.
What's your favorite series that you've done to date?
I don't have favorites. I think that is one of the most nauseous things about talking to people. They say "What's your favorite this, this and this. I just don't have favorites. I like everything."
Were you sorry "The Return of the Man From
UNCLE" didn't lead to another series?
No. No, "UNCLE" is not something I wanted to do twice. They're still talking about trying to do more "UNCLE" movies I think I'm the one that's said no consistently about that.
How close did that come to going to series?
Not very. I don't think Bob or I were particularly enthusiastic about doing it again on a weekly basis. I don't think MGM had any intention of ever letting that happen, for the simple reason that on cable they've rereleased it and I don't think there's any necessity to make any more "Man From UNCLE"'s...I'm trying to videotape them because I think for posterity it would be nice to have them.
You sound as if you have fond memories of the show.
Oh yeah. It was wonderful. Great.
At the time, you went through a bit of the teen idol
Insanity. It was a really crazy time. I mean, large crowds turning violent and doing terrible things. But it was all very entertaining and a great education.
Has that audience stayed with you over the years?
Yes, I think so. I get a lot of fan letters. It's not the same kind of mass audience, by any means. And the people change with age. But I did a play in London and a lot of people who came remember the show and would come backstage and talk to me. I think there's a lot of very fond memories of that time.
There's still quite a fandom around UNCLE. Do you have
much contact with them? Do you enjoy that?
Yes, quite a few of them do write. But I think it's a strong but small band. Sometimes people think there's this huge mass of UNCLE fans out there still clamoring to do it again, but it's quite a modest group of people. I mean, after 30 years or 25 years, it couldn't be any other way! [Laughs]
Illya immediately pops into mind when your name is
mentioned. Has that been a problem for you at all?
Oh, no... All the work that you do in theater and stock is because people remember you from television. So really, Illya Kuryakin has been very much my bread and butter. And so I have no ill feelings towards him at all.
Would you do something like that again?
Well, the scripts that come along are usually this middle-aged spy who still has all his faculties and who reluctantly is pulled back to solve this and that. And I really don't want to do that. I like doing theater and I like doing a lot of other things. There are so many interesting projects.
"Sapphire and Steel" has a cult following in
the US even though I don't believe it's ever been aired over
here, has it?
Well, there's a lot of pirate tapes that go around. But no, it's never been aired here. It was very abstruse. I think probably too abstruse for an element of American televison. Pure metaphysics. Very popular [in Britain] until it got a bit confusing. They took it to rather crazy lengths in terms of time and place, and I think people got confused. But the producers and writers all admit that they did that. And we had a great time doing it.
Was it a good working experience?
Yes. And the man that was responsible for it, Shaun O'Riordan, has remained and always will be a very close and good friend. And Joanne, too, of course.
How much stage work have you done recently?
Well, "Run For Your Wife" I did over 500 performances of in Australia and America and other places.
And I saw you in "Ghosts" in 1988.
Yes, they lost their leading man at the Roundabout Theater, and I did go in with about 10 days or two weeks rehearsal, which is not enough. But it got them out of a jam. And it's very interesting to play those parts; you don't often get an opportunity to play the big, classical plays, of which that is definitely one. So it was a wonderful opportunity to learn how to do Ibsen.
Was that the last play you did?
Um, I have no chronology in my mind. I'm very bad at that. But if you say so, yes... You know, I'm sure I've done another production of "Run For Your Wife" since then... maybe not.
You've done comedy onstage in "Run For Your
Wife," but not much of it on TV or film...
No, because you get stuck with the enigmatic spy. But I've done an awful lot of comedy on stage.
When you pick your roles, what do you look for in a
A good script. A good script and a good part.
Does who you have a chance to work with affect the
No. The place does. If someone offered me a chance to go to Brazil and do a very bad movie at the top of the Amazon River, I'd go and do it. Because I've never been there and I think the opportunity to visit places is something I find very appealing.
Is there anything you'd like to do that you haven't?
Yeah... I'd like to break 80 at golf.
You play a lot of golf?
I'd like to play more than I do.
Do you have any upcoming roles that people should be
Well, I'm doing a part in the Jackie Collins miniseries for NBC next month in Los Angeles. I think it's called "Lucky", based on her book. And I just last week and the week before did two new books for Dove Books, you know, books on tape. I've been doing a lot of those, I enjoy doing those.
I saw you had done "Journey."
Yes, and I did "London Fields" and "The Fifth Profession" recently. I've been asked to do more of those. I enjoy doing them -- you get to play lots of parts.