dreamwatch magazine, June, 1995
Dreamwatch: Of course, VR5 is not yet seen in Britain, but with The X-Files
being so popular in the UK it can only be a matter of time?
David McCallum: I understand it is scheduled for a Fall release.
Babylon 5 also does better in Britain than it does here in the ratings.
It was the same with Invisible Man. It was a wow over there and it was very short-lived here. I did a Babylon 5 (Infection) last year - the fist of second show of the series - and it was great fun.
The minute I told my publisher that I was going to be talking to you, I was
instructed to "Ask him about Sapphire and Steel!"
Well, I watched a couple of them not too long ago. It was very interesting because Sapphire and Steel was done in a studio with four cameras and basically no editing, so it really was live television - they had an hour in an editing suite or something ludicrous like at ATV! Sapphire and Steel was very, very good but suffered really from the medium it was done in. All those lumbering cameras! It really should have been shot on film, but in it's time it was wonderful and I go to chalk up another great friend in Joanna (Lumley), and the director/producer/creator of Sapphire and Steel - Shaun O'Riordan - is my best friend in England still. I always spend a lot of time with him when I'm over there.
You must get asked questions still about what it all meant?
I think the stories are pretty obvious. The abattoir one was very clear, and the railway station story was brilliant.
I mean in the sense that your lead characters were 'elements'?
Well that, yes. You know, if I was a writer I would put roses into scenes about blood -- just for the hell of those people who want to read meanings!
You get the same kind of thing in VR5 where there are all of those surreal
scenes going on.
They are there, but the thing about VR5 that is quite astonishing is the quality of the writing. John Sacret Young, who bought his first computer a year ago and knew nothing about them before that, learned everything to the point where he can create the most exciting new show about cyberspace that is possible. What he did, basically, is link the human brain in the very beautiful face and body of Lori Singer with the capability to use the telephone lines with some genetic quirk of her own. Really, it is mind surfing -- going into other people's minds and checking them out. You have no limitations, there are no edges to this canvas.
I assume you are not going to continually show up drowning all the time?
I show up continually drowning for at least eight episodes! The advent of myself and Louise Fletcher (Nora Bloom) is that I went in at first for two days and shot the drowning scene, but then it became such a wonderful story that everyone wanted to know, "What is this, Twin Peaks? What happened to Joseph Bloom, and why is Mommy catatonic, and where is sister Samantha? That whole sort of thing became so fascinating that they asked if I would mind coming back and shooting another scene, but by that time they had shot four or five episodes so I came back and did all sorts of little scenes that went into the stories and it began to grow. In all honesty, he does become more involved towards the end, but I think the real potential of the character has not been realized, and won't be until episode 14. They have asked me to come back if the series renews.
What made you consider doing another series?
The quality of the writing. It's that simple.
I was surprised to learn that you live in New York. I assumed that you
lived in Britain.
Everyone in Britain assumes I live in Hollywood! I have marvelous system now -- an 800 number accessible from all over the world where people can call and leave a message for me. I am then beeped on my pager and I can call them back in a matter of seconds. I've taken to carrying a cellular telephone because I'm working in places where there are no telephones (VR5 seems to film in deserts at 4am!) So I am totally portable as far as phones are concerned, and no one know where I am -- it's marvelous!
Are you into Internet surfing at all?
I don't surf the Internet a lot. I know how to get to what I want and I use a lot of the databases. I am also in contact with a lot of friends that way and with my son in California who is on-line, but I have been into computing for over ten years. I've built computers, put them together and programmed them, so I am very comfortable with all the effects in VR5
I think telephonic communication down fiber optic lines using digitized imaging, and possibly then using what is being developed for visual and tactile imaging in virtual reality, is quite close to reality. If you combine all of that there is absolutely no reason why you and I could not be talking to each other while looking at each other, either in my place or yours -- or, even better, in the Louvre! -- to the extent that, when we say goodbye, we reach out and shake hands and you can actually fell the pressure on your hand.
Is there any connection between your informed knowledge about what's
happening in technology and the fact that you seem to turn up with some
regularity in things that have a science fiction/fantasy orientation?
I am always playing weird sort of characters and the weirder the characters are in science fiction. I always feel the further away you get from reality the easier it is to be entertaining because you don't have to deal with the more heavy subjects which are dealt with eminently in other places, although in some ways the best parts are those like in Hear My Song, which deal with a more real subject.
Do the science fiction parts seek you out or do you seek them out?
Oh no. I never seek anything out. The rings and someone says 'There's a script here, do you want to read it?' It's how everything arrives -- through the mail.
Do you have other interests that you pursue besides acting? Is there a
memoirs in the works?
Not for the moment. There are so many books to read. I just hope my eyes hold out. I find computing and science and cosmology and all of those subjects vastly interesting. I find it fascinating that they think they have found the Top quark. I don't understand it on a level of anybody with a great sort of physical knowledge, but I've read a great deal about it. I like to read all about the early brain operations at the Montreal Institute and find out about what is happening in current brain surgery. I like to read all sorts of articles about the human brain and body.
Did you ever want to pursue some sort of medical degree?
No. Probably psychiatry, yes. A medical psychiatrist, I think. To be able to help people cope would be a wonderful job to have. Also, I would like to have been able to have studied massage. I can usually relieve a lot of the pressure when people have a sore back and shoulders, because I have always had to relive pressure on my own back.
Do you get much chance to interact with the rest of the VR5 cast, since it
seems as though you are always filmed more or less alone in the flashbacks.
Well, I'm dead!
But are you? I have already heard people speculating that you're not
really dead, though I am sure you are not going to tell me...
No I am not going to tell you what is happening, but I like all sorts of theories. And yes, the crew are such a wonderful company of people to work with!
Have you been approached with regard to the return of Doctor Who?
No, nor about the Man From UNCLE film project. Quentin Tarantino wants to do it. I was so glad he won the Oscar (for Pulp Fiction) because I thought his script was superb!
It's hard to imagine that they would not be interested in you doing at
least something in terms of an UNCLE movie.
Why? If you do an UNCLE movie you have got to do it like The Fugitive in which Harrison Ford was great playing David Jansen's part. You've got to get two absolutely, totally young people and have totally original aspect in 1995. I don't think you can do a period piece, although in a way it's the only way to do it because it was about an American and a Russian working together during the Cold War, satirizing the Cold War, and that no longer exists. People don't even know what it means half the time, so to suddenly bring a show out that is so totally dated in its concept means that you have to do it either in that concept or have a completely new one, and that's not easy.
As far as UNCLE is concerned, I wish anyone who does it the best of luck, but I don't think there will be anything in it for me.
David McCallum, thank you very much.