Sixty Second Interview, from Metro.UK
January 16, 2004
by James Ellis
60 SECONDS EXTRA!: David McCallum made his name in 1961 in
The Greatest Story Ever Told. His most enduring role was as Russian agent Illya
Kuryakin in 1960s cult show The Man From U.N.C.L.E. He has also appeared in
Sex And The City, The Invisible Man and Colditz. His latest TV project, Navy
NCIS, is about special agents investigating murder, espionage and terrorism.
Have you ever thought of retiring?
I find retiring an obscene word. I spoke to my doctor some 10 years back when I was 60. He told me that with my level of nutrition and general lifestyle, combined with the advances in medicine, there was no reason for me not to go on working for a very long time. I didn't argue with him.
You sound as though you're still enjoying yourself.
Are you kidding? I live in California - there's great sunshine, I'm on a great show that has been tipped to top all the ratings this year, and I have my two sons here. In New York, I have my daughter, who has just had a baby. Life couldn't get better. The whole world is a big cake with icing on top.
60 SECONDS EXTRA!: What happens on the new show?
The abbreviation stands for Naval Criminal Investigation Service. There has been a plethora of shows such as CSI, which remind me of the old Sherlock Holmes stories. A body or a limb or a thumb is discovered and the detective goes to work with his cohorts to find out who did it, when and why. It's always been something that fascinates the public. How are these people caught? It's like solving a human jigsaw puzzle. We're a natural follow-on but with a difference and that's based in the mandate of what the real NCIS organisation has. It's a worldwide mandate for military crime. It's also a proactive organisation in that it tries to stop things from happening rather than just reacting to events.
60 SECONDS EXTRA!: What's your role?
The team is made up of five of us under a guy we call the leader, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon. I play medical examiner Dr Donald 'Ducky' Mallard and have an assistant played by Pauley Perrette. Pauley studied forensic science in real life, so does actually know what she's talking about when we get all scientific. That's something you don't often get on TV.
Do you go to the conventions?
Not at all. I'm really not interested in any of that.
Do people still think of you as being Russian?
Yes, some people still think I am, but you do wonder why - I would have thought a name like David McCallum implies my Scottish heritage.
There are stories of you and [U.N.C.L.E. co-star] Robert Vaughn being
hellraisers. Are they true?
No - that's Internet fabrication. The Web is full of misinformation. We didn't raise hell once. We didn't even go out drinking once. We went to a health food restaurant where he took me for dinner and I got so sick the next day that I never went back.
Do you surf the Web?
Yes I do, I have to for the show. You need to know what you're talking about. I had to learn the entire embalming process for one episode. I spent time with a real-life coroner learning about autopsies as we need to be accurate in the show.
Do you ever get back to the UK?
I've been here since 1961, so that's... Oh, can you do the math? I get back every so often. My brother still lives in Bath and he has a beautiful wife and children and grandchildren, so I like to visit them whenever I can. My mother's two sisters are still alive but they're in Scotland and I don't see them as much as I'd like. Luckily, there's an invention called the telephone which allows me to stay in touch.
One of the things people don't know is you released a couple of albums
in the 1960s.
Yes and, funnily enough, I was out last night watching one of my son's bands. The guy who owned the place came up and said: 'Remember me?' I said 'No.' And he said: 'I was the keyboard player on all your albums.' So we sat and reminisced about it all.
How did you get legendary producer David Axelrod on board?
It was his idea. He was at Capital at the time and he asked me to do it. He also linked me up with HP Barnum, who is another legend.
Didn't Eminem sample one of your recordings, The Edge?
Yes, but I've not heard it. I only keep in touch with music through my kids.
Do you regret not choosing music as a career?
One of my great ambitions was to conduct a symphony orchestra and, when I did Mother Love for the BBC with Diana Rigg, I managed to conduct the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I still have an oboe here at my apartment in Santa Monica and try to play every so often.
Have you given up the English horn?
Yes - I've not played that for a very long time.