The Spirit of Serramonte Will Never Die!
VR5's DAVID McCALLUM
VR5's David McCallum is very much a man of reality who's much more interested in the joys of today and challenges ahead than the past.
by Susan M. Rasco
On the Fox sci-fi show VR5, the mind and the boundaries of reality and fantasy are explored through virtual reality by a withdrawn, techno-savvy young woman names Sydney Bloom. Struggling with the traumatic loss of her father and sister in a long-ago car accident, Sydney (played by Lori Singer) finds she is able to enter a computer generated landscape of the mind and bring others in with her. Her search for the truth about her abilities leads her to search for the truth behind the loss of her family and the work of her brilliant neurobiologist father, Dr. Joseph Bloom.
Dr. Bloom is protrayed by David McCallum, a versatile actor who has appeared in many filmes, plays and television shows including The Great Escape, A Night to Remember, The Outer Limits and The Lion in Winter. He is probably best known to TV fans as Illya Kuryakin, the Russian agent from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., in which he co-starred with Robert Vaughn from 1964-68. Born in Glasgow, the actor has made New York City his home base, and when he's not immersed in the set of VR5, his days are filled with his four children, his wife Kathrine, and his own computers.
STARBASE: You seem to be having a great time on VR5 except that you're dead the whole time that I've seen you so far.
David: Yes, and I stay dead, out in cyberspace, basically throughout the first 13 episodes, although I do emerge upon occasion, in a quite interesting manner. You'll have to wait and find out what all that's about.
STARBASE: I was trying to figure out exactly how long you could hold your breath under water...
David: It's about a minute, it was about a minute. And that was quite scary, it was two days that were scary filming. The first time I went under I couldn't find the air line, and I really panicked a little bit, and Thania St. John, who is a really wonderful producer and one of the principal writers on the show, she said 'watching dailies it was fabulous to watch you acting panicky and acting scared--then all of a sudden you began to be *really* in trouble,' she said. Then it really got scary, but they didn't use that bit.
STARBASE: The whole car accident drowning sequence was scary.
David: It has to be. Especially with that woman and the children in the lake, about a week later. [Susan Smith, the woman who admitted drowning her children-Ed.] So I'd actually gone through physically what those kids went through, but knowing there were people out there to haul me out if I was in trouble. Drowning is a strange thought. There are all forms of dying, you know, I'd rather freeze than fry, I must say, because freezing is quite pleasant. In quite cold water.
When we did A Night to Remember we were in the Ruislip Lido in the north of London, and the temperature of the water in the reservoir was only ten degrees warmer than it was in the North Atlantic when the Titanic sank. And we were only allowed to go in for about two minutes, possibly three at the outset, and I was warm as warm could be. I never felt so warm in all my life, because I was freezing. And evidently that warmness becomes numbness, and numbness--you just sleep. So freezing to death in cold water is not in fact all that miserable a way to go.
STARBASE: So it wasn't a fun shoot at all.
David: Oh it was an enormous fun shoot, are you kidding? Was great fun. The kids [who played Sydney and Samantha Bloom as children] had a ball doing VR5. And after you got over the initial impact of what it's going to be like, then we began, and then you began really to worry more about the fact that the car was leaking oil. The whole tank began to smell of engine oil, and the camera had a film of oil all over the lens so that was a problem. But it becomes such a compulsive scene in the story that they decided to bring Josehp back and keep him going as a character. I only went in, in the initial instance, for two days, just to do the first part and that scene so that [Sydney] would remember the scene, but what happened to him and who he was, and what happened to the daughter later on--we'll find out.
STARBASE: Yes, suddenly during the season finale we found that Sydney's sister Samantha and her fater are not quite as dead as we thought.
David: I come back and Samantha comes back, and Tracy Hayden, who playes Samantha--Lori Singer is still one of the nicest and most divine people I've ever worked with--all of a sudden Samantha walks on set and I couldn't believe that I could have two almost six-foot daughters (laughs) as beautiful as they are, and as lovely to talk to and to be with.
STARBASE: So when you took the role of Joseph Bloom, it was really just for the pilot?
David: It was a possible recurring character.
STARBASE: What appealed to you about the character?
David: The writing. Absolutely. John Sackret Young--I love China Beach, and I thought this would be a great man to work for, and when someone says it might recur, it's a bit of a challenge to go and make an interesting character out of it. But they had *written* a very interesting character. In the discussions we had about his neurobiology and about all the things that he knew and what he had created, this was an interesting guy.
STARBASE: How much experience did you have with computers or VR?
David: I started with the VIC 20 way back in the very early days of computing and I have programmed on the Commodore 64. And then I switched, the ITT Extra, and went over to the, what is called the IBM environment, and now I have two computers, basically--I have lots of them--the ones I use, I have a laptop, a 386SX, and then I've got a 486DX100 with full multimedia. I mean I have a really nice big computer that I put together this month, just finished building it. So I'm pretty much up to speed. Cyberspace I have troubles with, becuase an awful lot of the things where you use any kind of headgear demands that you have two eyes because it's stereoptic, and only have one eye, one blind--well, it doesn't work. So I have a lot of trouble with anything I have to put on.
STARBASE: Has it always been that way?
David: Yeah, Peter Falk and I, although I believe he has a glass eye. He always looks as if he has a glass eye.
STARBASE: I believe he does. I've heard terrible funny stories about him and that eye!
David: Yeah? No, I just have, I mean, I can make it work but it just goes all over the place. So I've done a few cyberspace tricks on computers but nothing like what Lori does.
STARBASE: It's really an interesting premise, because the show goes so far beyond anything that they've accomplished, hardware-wise, with VR.
David: Right, but to give the writers the idea that Lori is brain-surfing--she goes out and goes into other people's minds and imaginations--the fact that you could do that with no holds barred, and no parameters; a writer is therefore able to create almost anything they want, within the bounds of being able to be produced, which is just such a fabulous premise just for the writing, and for then the performance. And the execution is so great. The cameraman, Tony Paglieri is brilliant. He's wild, and screams and yells sometimes, he's outrageous, and then breaks into a huge grin like a small, I suppose, Italian schoolboy. But he's divine, and has done I think, brilliant work, and then all the post-production and CST.
STARBASE: The visuals are really terrific looking, especially the way they use the colorized black and white for the VR scenes.
David: That's the CST.
STARBASE: How do you feel about the possibilities of VR? Now you're sitting there at home with two computers, and do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing?
David: I don't make those judgements. I think the technology has gone up exponentially over the years through my lifetime. Tjeu were struggling, a few years back, to do one micron technology. One micron is very small, and now they're working on a technology, it's .35 microns, I mean they're reducing everything, and the density of these chips is just staggering. You start bringing in fiber optics and other forms of moving electrons around, and you start bringing in enormous means of storing digital images, and to be able to the swap--you know, the speed that you can move data from one point in your computing setup to another, the exchange rate--and the refresh rate on the screens, and then the complexity of screens, the new thin screens.
This is the technology that will come down a couple of years from now ...and you have that whole idea of having an image that instead of being in a square box in front of you, is either in a helmet or in some little phone booth at home so it goes all around you, I mean, why not 360 degrees? I was just thinking, sitting here, you know, 200 would be enough, because that's your whole vision, but supposing you went to 360, and you used that technology, plus the idea of some form of electronic glove where tactile communication is possible. I mean you start to think about what's out there, right now, and develop it very slightly, and especially if it becomes a military application, they'll get to it very quickly. There's no reason why cyberspace shouldn't become much more accessible than it is now.
STARBASE:During the pilot of VR5, Joseph Bloom brought a computer into the house and announced '16K' and was so thrilled--it just jolted me to realize how quickly things have changed, since that was supposed to be 1978.
David: And they're talking about the P7, and again the orders of magnitude of 32- and 64-bit. So it's going to be, VR is a possibility. To what extent, I have no idea.
STARBASE: Now, as far as VR5, are you going to be back next season?
David: If they ask me to come back, and we make a deal that is acceptable to all concerned, then I would like to come back. I've been asked to do a play, and I just read it this morning, and I like it much more than I thought I would.
STARBASE: Here in New York City?
David: I assume that it would eventually, that would be the eventual goal. But this would be a direct conflict with VR5. So what do you do? I mean, how long do you wait to find out?
STARBASE: I was wondering what other plans you have, since you hadn't originally intended VR5 to be a long term project.
David: No, but I would like to. I just love Lori, and I have tremendous respect for John, and Thania, and the whole crew and everybody, and it's not the kind of thing that I want to hold anybody to ransom, and say 'listen you've got to make a decision now,' because they can't make a decision. But it's a matter of how long you're willing to wait, and when something else comes along like a Broadway play--so, I've got a problem at the moment.
STARBASE: You're originally from Scotland, but you've lived in the
U.S. for quite some time now. What the heck are you doing in New
David: I've lived here for 20 years. I married a New Yorker, and I suppose to a certain extent I'm an international person. I don't like nationalist, I think all the troubles of the world are either religious primarily, and nationalist secondly, and tribal third--old tribal feuds coming to the fore.
I'm also somewhat to the right--I believe that if you work hard you should reap the rewards and I don't think if you don't work hard you should reap the rewards. But that's somewhat Newt Gingrich politics. So I'm right wing to a certain extent. I love the idea of throwing out the entire welfare system and starting again just to find out where all the bureaucracies can be eliminated and all the waste.
But at the time, 30 years ago, or whatever it was, '60-'61, Britain was going through a terrible entrance into socialism and I decided it was time to leave. My father used to work--he was a session musician, among other things--he was a symphonic musician too--but he would get paid by the session, and one day he figured out that at a certain point of earning, anything he earned beyond that point went entirely to the government, with the inequitous taxation. So he said 'right. I will work until I reach that point and then I'll stop.' And that kind of lack of incentive.
Plus [there were] people who, I think exist [even] today in the U.K. that, if you as a plumber have a great deal of work, and you employ an extra plumber in the summer because of the heavy volume of work--or the winter, whenever plumbers have heavy volume--then when it comes time to lay him off, you have to pay him severance pay, and you have to give him this and you have to give him that, you cannot employ casual labor in the U.K. without all of these inequitous social welfare special programs. I know a plumber where my mother used to live and he has a mass of work that goes undone, he doesn't do it cause he can't hire people when he needs them, because of these laws. So, with that emergence of socialism in the U.K., plus the idea that show business to a great extent is in this country, and I was ambitious, and I was ready to move. Off to California, go west, young man.
STARBASE: Lord knows you hit it when you got there.
David: Yeah, I had a great time. I hit a motherlode in The Man - From U.N.C.L.E. and had a great time. And have worked solidly, on and off for 30 years. That's somewhat paradoxical, if you can work on and off, but it is that...
STARBASE: Oh, I've seen you in many, many things through the years...
David: I never stopped, the longest I ever had out of work when I'd prefer to be working, was about five months. Now I take time off by preference, and I'm really looking forward to the idea of taking the month of May off, and enjoying the Spring in New York.
STARBASE: You have four children, don't you?
David: I have four children. I had five, Jason died when he was about 26 and now I have two from my first marriage who are not children any more, they're grown adults. [Paul] teaches scuba diving and all of those California outdoor athletic things, he's heavily into biking, he's going to run the New York marathon, and he's trying to persuade his brothers to do the same. He also has written a number of books on various subjects, he's probably more published than any other member of the family. And then Val has just signed a contract with Hollywood Records, and he's producing an album which will be coming out later this year. And then my son here in New York works at a management company overlooking Times Square, his window overlooks Times Square. Great for New Year's Eve. Peter is managing jazz musicians: the Brecker Brothers, Bill Evans and a number of prominent gentlemen in that field. And Sophie is between bouts of college, she's taken a year off, and we're having all the usual...ah...
STARBASE: 'Discussions' (laughing)?
David: ...Yeah, that's a nice way of putting it. Yes, discussions is probably the best way of putting it. They're all wonderful, they give far more than they ever received from us, they are exciting, and busy, complex, and rewarding. For a father, I couldn't have more wonderful kids.
STARBASE: Now do they remember you in Man From U.N.C.L.E.?
David: Yeah, the older ones know it and it's played enough, but we never discuss it, we never even think about it, I don't think about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. until people bring it up.
STARBASE: Well you don't look much different than you did then!
David: No, no--I'm doing my best.
STARBASE: So many people must recognize you! Back then, TV Guide ran an article on your massive popularity as Illya Kuryakin, and you railed against being referred to as cute. As I recall, you said, 'puppy dogs are cute.'
David: Everything that was written at that time about me railing, and about feuds with Robert Vaughn, all that stuff was generated by the publicity department. We did not have time to do an awful lot of the stuff, and a lot of journalists would come along and write stories and they'd get approved by MGM, and out they'd go. And a mass of that stuff I had nothing to do with. I never railed about being cute. I never 'threw my bulky frame into a chair, and ordered a scotch from my bikini-clad girlfriend,' who is now my wife, and 'she came in and gave me a whisky and soda and I gave her a slap on her naked thigh.' I mean, the stuff that was written was unbelievable!
STARBASE: I guess at 9-years-old I wasn't seeing the hot stuff, only the TV Guide articles!
David: I mean, occasionally you'd catch one that was going into one of the fan magazines--which don't exist anymore, there are no fan magazines--and you would occasionally be able to stop one before it was printed. Now the scurrilous journalism is the Star, the Enquirer, and to a more glossy extent, Hello magazine, which is...
STARBASE: I don't know that one.
David: You don't know Hello? (laughs) Oh I'm surprised, it's worldwide. I mean it's all over the place. And then you go upscale, and you become a little more, I suppose people with a little more...I don't know what the word is, attention to style maybe, a little more careful, and you get People magazine.
STARBASE: So now, you look back on it...
David: I never look back on it. I never think about it. Why should I? I'm having too good a time now.
The season finale of VR.5 reunited Sydney with her sister Samantha, and together with their friend Duncan (Michael Easton) they entered a higher level of VR developed by Dr. Bloom. They were able to sort through the truth and fiction of their differing memories of past events, even to the point of using the technology to finally reach through the catatonic state of Nora Bloom, their mother (Louise Fletcher.) But Dr. Joseph Bloom remains in the shadows, and the VR ordeal leaves Sydney in a possible coma. Will Sydney pull through to finally face her father and learn the truth about his work for the Committee? And will Dr. Joseph Bloom elude the Committee long enough to reconcile the family? For Now these questions must remain a mystery.