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NCIS has made a star of David McCallum again, decades after The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Geoff Shearer From: Herald Sun December 23, 2009 4:54PM
DAVID McCallum is in a relatively unusual position to be able to forensically dissect the then-and-now of fame.
In the mid-1960s he was the centre of fan hysteria for his role as Russian Illya Kuriyakin on TV spy hit The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
Today he's facing a similar level of fame as part of NCIS, playing forensic medical examiner Dr Donald "Ducky" Mallard.
Now into its seventh season, the drama series is a monster ratings hit. McCallum describes his NCIS fame as "a whole different kind of crazy".
"In the United States there are close to 20 million people who think of me as 'Ducky'. They call out, 'Ducky', or 'Hey Duck' - it happens all day long," Glasgow-born McCallum says.
"Illya is almost 50 years ago; and there's an enormous number of people today who weren't born back then, who have never heard of it (U.N.C.L.E) and never will.
"The fans back in the early days of television were mainly younger people . . . and there were a lot of young women who were fanatical over Bob (co-star Robert Vaughn) and I.
"They went crazy and tore up Macy's when I went there. And one time when we went to a university in Louisiana I had lumps of hair torn from my head. It made more publicity, which generated more fan frenzy."
To play Mallard on NCIS, McCallum intensively studied forensics.
Series creator Don Bellisario is so in awe of McCallum's knowledge he's on the record as saying he was considering making him a technical adviser on the show.
"I had a very practical reason to learn," McCallum says. "I discovered the best way to learn the lines was to know what you're talking about.
"If I'm going to walk up to a body and do a Y-cut, I've got to know what I'm doing and where I'm standing and what it looks like.
"Quite fast too; it's amazing the speed at which a pathologist or technician does an autopsy.
"We could get away with fudging stuff, but I don't think that's right. It's my mandate to get everything right; the looks and sounds in the autopsy room . . . the very verisimilitude, I think is the word.
"Most of the scalpels I get to use are blunt," he says. "The prop guys are terrified that we are going to cut ourselves and possibly cut an actor on the table. You know, I think I've cut up more actors than any other actor in history."
McCallum is not a big fan of showing too much blood on screen. He subscribes to the less-is-more theory, preferring to add a touch of humour to a rather grim situation.
"It's very easy just to cut people and to have gore and blood," he says.
"God, some of the movies they are making nowadays are so repulsive - violence and blood splattering everywhere. Quentin Tarantino seems to have a lust for it. You can't do that on network television."