March 5, 1966 The Beat Magazine (all misspellings are intentional :-))
Exclusive Beat Interview! David McCallum by Bob Feigel
When you first meet an actor, especially one who watch week after week in a television series, you naturally expect him to be just like the character he plays.
There are two reasons for this:
1. You've probably never seen the actor when he wasn't playing a "role."
2. The role he plays is, very often, more interesting than the actor himself. (It's terribly disappointing to find one of your super heroes to be a mere human.)
In David McCallum's case, I expected an intelligent, articulate individual, complete with accent, upside-down triangular "beep" button, and a cigarette case tuned into "Solo at Elsinore."
Except for the button and the cigarette case, and with the addition of "friendly" and "sincere," David McCallum was exactly as I had pictured him. And, much more interesting than Illya Kuriachin.
Beat - Where and when did you receive your training as an actor?
DM - As an actor, I went into amateur societies when I was about ten or eleven years old. I'm not sure when it was exactly, but I was very young. Then I worked in the theater in the Church, of all places, for a long time and then at school. Then with the British Broadcasting Corporation as a voice on the radio because I had a Scotch accent. The I went to drama school, and into stock plays, or what we call repitory.
Beat - How did you work your way into motion pictures?
DM - I started out as an electrician. I worked as an electrician in a repitory company because you couldn't get in as an actor. Then I became a stage manager, a carpenter, and worked with the Glinebourne Opera Company in property work. Then I went to the Oxford Playhouse theater and that was the first time I was in a play as an actor.
Beat - Wasn't it about now that you got into television?
DM - Actually, I was doing television between plays. One day a photograph of mine just happened to be on a producer's desk when a director wanted a particular type. And I went on contract for TV.
Beat - What was your first motion picture?
DM - A thing called "A Secret Place."
Beat - And what "particular type" did you play in this?
DM - Well, at the time they said they were looking for a young James Dean type. And, that was the "word" in those days, when they needed something to look a bit that way. They wanted a sort of young, impetuous nut.
Beat - David, it sounds as if you've had every job possible in the theater and a lot of hard work to get where you are today.
DM - Well, I've have every job in the theater except wardrobe mistress, and I don't think I'm ever going to get around to that. But, you know, this whole industry is very fascinating to me. They say, and I'll be a little trite, "variety is the spice of life." Well, I thrive on it. Of course, there's a colossal amount of boring talk, stupid people, and some trash. I don't mean that to be rude to people, but there is an awful lot of people in the entertainment field of a low order and you have to fight like hell to keep your head above water.
Beat - Did they have you in mind when they wrote the Man from UNCLE?
DM - They had no one in mind. They wrote a part that was almost entirely up to the person that did it. The only thing they did say about it was that he was to be a Russian. That was it.
Beat - Why did they make you a Russian?
DM - So there would be no element of the international, or East/West conflict in UNCLE. It's the black hats against the white hats or the old Western formula of the good guys and the bad guys. In this way you can get away from the James Bond image of the Reds vs. the United States. We have quite enough of that in the real world.
Beat - You play your part on UNCLE so convincingly and yet, it's still difficult to imagine anyone else playing the part Illia.
DM - That's because it's me doing it. I am Illia and therefore there's bound to be a colossal amount of me coming through it. This is something which I learned very many years ago in stock theater. I used to do many parts which were characters and where I'd be somebody else and do something else. One day an actor said to me, "No matter how much you struggle to make a characterization, never forget it's actually you giving the performance. Know yourself before you start to cover yourself with another personality." That's very good advice. It was to me.
Beat - Robert Vaughn has been spending a lot of his spare time lately in legitimate theater. Do you have any plans along this line?
DM - No! I did many, many years of that, and as far as I'm concerned, my life at the moment is the Man From UNCLE (as long as the contract and the show lasts.) And, in between, I want to do motion pictures.
Beat - Do you have any recording plans?
DM - I don't have any recording plans as a singer, or in the conventional sense. I had an idea that I would love to interpret the modern forty beat tunes by the way. I took the idea to David Axelrod, got together with H. B. Barnum, and got the instruments I wanted to play. I wrote a couple of the tunes and took eight of what I think, are the best songs that are going around at the moment, like "Satisfaction," "1-2-3," "Taste of Honey," and "Yesterday." We took these and played them my way, and it's a kind of groovy record. I like it.
Beat - Since you've done just about everything else, when do you plan to get into my field?
DM - Literary?
Beat - Yes, literary!
DM - I write quite a bit, but you've got to decide what you're going to concentrate on and I'm primarily an actor. Music, as a sideline, and acting are my only interests right now.
Beat - Getting back to music, do you think the great variety in popular music toady indicates a more sensitive, less arbitrary acceptance of music by the general public?
DM - I think the whole thing goes in a cycle. Every form of music goes in a cycle and the numbers of people who enjoy any particular group of selections change all the time. It's constantly changing, and I think the only thing that will remain the same are the certain songs or tunes that will be written--maybe today, maybe tomorrow--and will last indefinitely. In the last twenty or thirty year there are pieces that will almost go down through history as did the great compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Berlin, etc.
Beat - What do you think of the Beatles music?
DM - I love the Beatles and what they come out with. They write wonderful music and lyrics. "Yesterday" is one of my favorite songs. It's beautifully written. A few years ago, if you tried to record that, nobody would have accepted it.
Beat - Since Man From UNCLE made it's debut, quite a few copies have been introduced to television. What do you think of these copies?
DM - It's very flattering to us to be copied. I must admit, however, that I do not have time to watch a lot of television. I use it mainly, as many people do, for news and those special programs like the Streisand Show, and I haven't seen may of the other shows. So, my opinion on this subject wouldn't be valid. But, I know how much hard work television is and I know how much hard work a television series is, because I do it. So, all I can say, is that anybody who takes the trouble to sit down and try to write, cast or perform or have anything to do with a series deserves the best possible luck. And, I personally wish everybody the best possible luck, although it doesn't always work out that way.
Just then a pleasant female voice broke in, "Mr. McCallum, sorry to interrupt, but Bobby Webb is looking for you."
DM - Looks like they want me back on the set, Bob. Thank you very much.
Beat - Thank you! And the best of luck.