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Interview From TV
Subject: Tom Amandes
I've been a Whit Bissell fan all my life. Who's he? Bissell
was an actor who starred in almost 200 films during his
career. He turned up in The Manchurian Candidate,
Soylent Green, The Time Machine, and even I
Was a Teenage Werewolf. Mr. Bissell co-starred with
Helen Hayes, Edward G. Robinson, and Rod Taylor. Whit's face
is as familiar as Dan Rather or Dick Van Dyke, but it's
unlikely anyone watching his movies connected his name to
a sign of great acting. I mean, do you ever forget that it's
Burt Reynolds you're watching when you're watching a Burt
Reynolds movie? Is Jerry Lewis's name ever far from his
character when you're parked in front of a Jerry Lewis
movie? Maybe that distance between name and face allows the
viewers a better opportunity to forget the actor and focus
on the screen persona.
Just as I'm sure you'd know
Whit Bissell's face, I'm sure you'd know Tom Amandes if you
saw him on-screen. After more than three dozen screen
appearances, he's played opposite everyone from Samuel L.
Jackson to the Olsen Twins. He's been the Good Guy, the Bad
Guy, and The Bad Guy Who You Thought Was The Good Guy. Right
now, Tom is playing the semi-evil foil for Treat Williams's
TV Single Dad on The WB's Everwood, Mondays at 9pm
Eastern/Pacific. I spoke with Tom as he was in production in
Jim -Question about the shooting schedule in Utah - is
the weather holding out for you there?
Tom - Yeah, it's actually calmed down a little bit. When
we first got here, it was that stretch of, you know,
hundred-and-five degree heat, which ... <laughs> it was a
bit absurd, because we shot the pilot in Calgary, right
around the first day of spring, and it was the coldest first
day of spring they'd ever had up there. It was something
like twenty or thirty below zero. So, you know, then we're
shooting the next episode, which, when we play them, is
supposed to be one week apart! And it goes from thirty-three
below zero to one hundred and five degrees.
Jim - So, not a lot of pictures of snowy Colorado in
the background for that...
Tom - Uhhh - No! No, and in fact, they sort of explain
it, in the pilot, that it was an unseasonable first snow,
and then the second episode revolves around this quaint
custom of the "Thawing Fest" which comes after the first
thaw. So, they actually did work it in, but we still had to
wear pretty heavy clothes for hundred-degree heat.
Jim - It must be brutal.
Are you doing the interiors there as well?
Tom - Yeah, we're doing
Jim - So you're camped
out for - - what episode are you up to now?
Tom - I think we're working
on number five now.
Jim - I guess you've
been going through dailies and stuff, then? Is it looking
Tom - You know, I haven't
seen much at all. Actors are sort of regarded as - - slow
children, just in terms of being shown anything, or getting
the scripts ahead of time. <laughs> The writers are very - -
proprietary! Like, "this is what *we* control!"
Jim - "If you want to
see it, you can tune in on Mondays..."
Tom - Exactly - yes. I
haven't seen anything, but frankly, I've been on series
where I've seen the dailies, I go along and *demanded* to
see the dailies, and all of that stuff, and - - in the end,
I don't know if that helps you all that much. We've been
having a great time shooting this and - - that's the number
Jim - I imagine being
away from L.A. and being in a sort-of enclave there that
you're kind of - - "wagons in a circle" - - you get to
interact a lot more with your co-stars.
Tom - Yeah, I think so. And
you're further away from the buzz, which gets to be -- like
static after a while.
Jim - I'm not sure if
[your publicist] went over what this site is about - it
covers the history of single dads on television. Typically I
ask what TV Single Dad shows you watched when you were a kid
growing up in Illinois.
Tom - Um, Courtship of
Eddie's Father of course. That dates me, doesn't it?
Jim - Well...
Tom - My World and
Welcome To It Do you remember that?
Jim - Yeah, William
Tom - I liked that one. It
was sort-of loosely based on James Thurber, who I liked
reading as a kid. Hmm, what other single dads did I watch?
Jim - Andy Griffith
Show? Things like that..
Tom - Well, yeah - - of
course, those were on in reruns. When I was a little kid, we
never had a TV. We didn't get a TV until I was like in first
grade. So, most of those shows, Andy Griffith and
stuff like that, I caught in reruns. But in growing up in
Chicago, Channel Nine was like - - a mainstay. The Dick
Van Dyke Show, Andy Griffith, - - and then after
school, it was Gilligan's Island and I Dream of
Jim - Of course, I'm
picturing you're one of eleven kids, so eleven kids fighting
over what to watch - - it must have been intense...
Tom - It's funny: we didn't
have that many choices to begin with, so it was - - well,
and the other factor was that we grew up right on the
Illinois / Wisconsin border so we didn't get many of the
Chicago stations very clearly. We ended up watching most of
the network stuff out of Milwaukee. So we only had a couple
of stations. Channel Nine, by far, came in better than
anyone else. So we ended up watching a lot of that. Plus,
they broadcast the Cubs. We were big Cubs fans growing up.
You're one of eleven - - I've noticed a trait
that anyone from a large family can do: they can name all
their siblings in one breath.
Tom - Oh - - easily...
Jim - And I was
wondering if you could do that...
Tom - It was an everyday
- and in chronological order. Don't ask me to do it
Jim - Oh no, that's
great! I appreciate that. Now, talking about the show:
you're usually playing the Good Guy in most productions,
unless you're a guest star on a crime drama, like NYPD
Blue - - then, you're the Bad Guy who's been killing all
the high school girls...
Tom - Right.
Jim - The character that
you're playing right now isn't exactly the "Bad Guy," but
he's like the -- foil. He's like the Mr. Wilson of the
series. He's like the curmudgeon.
Tom - <laughs> Mr.
Jim - Well...
Tom - Okay...
Jim - I was wondering -
- was this a decision on your part? Did you you try out for
the Doc Brown role?
Tom - Yeah, I did,
actually. That's what they brought me in for first, and I -
you know, I loved the script, so I went in very happily to
read for the star of the show. And it's a role that I was
pretty familiar with -- in fact, I've done a few pilots that
never went anywhere that had very similar setups. I did one
a few years back where it was a lawyer who left the big city
because his wife died, so he went back to the small town
that he grew up in. So, I was like, "okay, this is a very
good version of that same idea." I went and read for the
lead role on it - did *very* well on it - that was where I
first met [executive producers] Mickey [Liddell] and Greg [Berlanti],
and we hit it off famously. Then, I didn't hear anything for
weeks. It turned out that they were able to get Treat
Williams, which was a great thing. And then they called back
and said "we would like you to read for the other doctor."
And first, I was like, "the other doctor?" So, I pulled out
the script and started to go through it, and I was like,
"Oh! Well, this guy's the *fun* role!" - - and I remember
showing it to my wife and she was saying, "Oh yeah, that's a
great role! They would *never* see you as that..."
Jim - Casting against
Tom - So, I showed *her*...
I threw myself into it. I think that they weren't *looking*
for my "type" to do that role, but that was one of those
things where it just - - I had so much fun doing it, I think
they just sort of "re-thunk" it.
Jim - When Larry
Linville was in M*A*S*H, he left the series because
the foil character that he played, Major Burns, was always
one-dimensional. I was wondering: how is your character - I
mean, I've only seen the pilot, but is your character going
to get past the "you're messing with my mom, you're messing
with my career" stance? Have you been seeing the writing
develop so that you get to play other sides to the
character, and do you get to what drives that?
Tom - Yeah, well, in the
pilot I got to do that as well, but we ran about twelve
minutes over, so they ended up taking out a bunch of scenes
-- including the two main scenes where you got to see a
little different side of Doctor Abbott. So I was a little,
you know, miffed about that because I thought "oh no.." --
but the great thing about a series is that it's ongoing. So,
one of the great revelations that my character had in the
pilot, which was scrapped, is now coming to play in this
episode we're starting to shoot - - and actually I think
it's a much better reveal this time around than it would
have been in the pilot. So, I *love* throwing myself into
being the - - I have to come up with a better word than
"asshole," because you just can't use that in a lot of
contexts! <laughs> But, being the opposition character, I
guess. It's been great because I get to pull out different
sides of this guy. I mean, for one thing, he's a *great*
father. It may not always show itself, but he definitely has
that side of him that loves his kids and works very well
with them and stuff. So, there are some other sides of him
that you get to see as we go along.
Jim - Well, good!
Tom - Now, he's not going
to exactly be - - "Mr. Cuddles" -- but yeah, I remember
thinking that yeah, it is sort of Frank Burns-y. But I think
the other advantage that we have is that it's an hour show;
M*A*S*H being a half-hour. They didn't have the time,
really, to develop a lot of those characters. And, frankly,
it was a half-hour, so it was a different animal.
Right, you get a lot more leg-room in an hour
Tom - Yep.
Jim - I have some
questions about your career...
Tom - Okay...
You have a very peculiar fame...
Tom - <laughs> I do?
You've co-starred with Mary-Kate and Ashley,
and Samuel L. Jackson, and I think you're the only one that
if you did a movie database lookup that you'd be the only
one who gets hits on both those names. You've done
television and stage and film, but if I tell people I'm
interviewing Tom Amandes, they say, "who?" but if I show
them your picture they say, "oh THAT guy!"
Tom - Yes, I'm one of
THOSE... I remember as a kid, growing up, I always had an
appreciation for those actors. My mother always did, too.
She was always, "You know who that is?"
Jim - It's kind of like
you're the 21st-Century Whit Bissell. I don't know if you
know the actor Whit Bissell but he's guy that, if you watch
the movie Airport, he's the guy sitting *next* to
Helen Hayes. He's been in a hundred movies, and if you saw
his face you'd say, "Oh, Whit Bissell!"...
Tom - Uh-huh...
Jim - Is it frustrating,
not having that name recognition, or...
Tom - In terms of the
name-recognition stuff, I don't know. I've only been doing
the TV stuff for ten years, really. So, I consider myself
something of a newcomer. I spent the first fifteen years of
my acting career doing stage stuff in Chicago, and doing a
couple of different ensembles, and that sort of thing. And
I've been fortunate enough to have a really decent life
doing what I've done, so I kind of feel that, if it's meant
to fall into place then it'll fall into place. If not,
somehow or other I've seemed to be able to continue doing
some really interesting stuff. I've been blessed, in terms
I've seen you in the HBO series From the
Earth to the Moon playing Jack Schmitt...
Tom - Uh-huh...
Jim - ...and the line
you had in there was, "it's not like I get stopped in
restaurants because of it," I was just wondering -- do you
*get* recognized frequently, and -- most actors have a
first-recognition story. Do you remember your first somebody
coming up and saying "*I KNOW YOU!*" - what was that like?
Tom - Well, it would have
been The Untouchables. I'm pretty sure that was it. I
don't think I was recognized for anything before that
because I just did little things here and there. But that
hit like gangbusters - no pun intended! I remember one time
going out with my family and just having to sign like *six*
autographs at dinner, and I was kinda like, "oh boy, this is
*scary*!" And it had a real following in Chicago for a lot
of reasons, but especially in the black community. So, for
years afterwards, if I was recognized by someone who was
African-American, I knew it was "okay- Elliott Ness!" If I
was recognized by someone twelve years old and a girl, I
knew it was the Olsen twins, and that's still the case.
Right, my daughter recognized you through
that: "oh yeah, Billboard Dad!"
Tom - Yeah, exactly! So, it
depends. There's a demographic there. And then, in terms of
the stuff I've been doing lately, like The Guardian
and stuff like that - - I don't get recognized directly, but
I've noticed that here, in Utah, people believe that --
people will come up to me and say, "well, we've seen *you*
in this store before!" and I've never been in there before
in my life. A woman came up to me at the gym and said, "So,
how was it at Kevin's?" and I'm like, "I'm sorry?" "How was
it at Kevin's? I saw you at that party at Kevin's,
remember?" "No, you didn't!" I even had one woman who I
said, "No, actually, I'm an actor - that's where you
probably recognize me." And she said, "No. No. - - Do you
know *me*?" I said, "No, I'm sorry." So, it's sort of a fun
level of recognition where people think that they *know* you
from something. But it's not, "Oh my God, that's the guy
The Curse Of
You're on Monday nights at 9 on The WB.
Tom - Yep.
Jim - That slot has been
a cursed zone - every show that pops in there: Hyperion
Bay, Rescue 7-7, and Safe Harbor - they
all disappeared -- And every time I see somebody in the
Monday night slot at nine, I kind of wonder what's going to
happen. Does that ever bother you?
Tom - You know, I'm just
here trying to make the best shows possible, and I really
have no other understanding of that stuff, and frankly, it
doesn't affect what I'm doing. What happens, in terms of
that stuff, is out of my control and, well, que sera,
Jim - Not something to
Tom - Not something I worry
Jim - Okay, I have some
reader mailbag stuff. I have a question about your acting
Tom - Okay --
It says, "I've noticed you have a trademark
in your acting, like Harrison Ford's finger-pointing in
every film. When responding to a question that you're
appearing to formulate an answer, you move your head around
in such a manner that your chin draws a circle in the air.
Do you have a name for that maneuver?"
Tom - <laughs> I've never
even thought of that! Hmm - I'd have to think about that. I
didn't know about that. I've had other people point out my
tic - -
Jim - You have a tic?
Tom - Yeah, and I remember
it was pretty evident on The Untouchables, and it's
not something that I'm even remotely aware of, but I
remember the cinematographer pulling me aside and he said,
"you know - you have a tic." And I was like, "what?" And he
showed it to me on the dailies. It's like a thing where, if
I'm sort of caught on something, or trying not to be as
angry as I am or something - - my mouth does just a very
pronounced sort of little - - chuck over to one side and
back. It's not even something that I'm aware of. And I was
horrified, and he was like, "No no no! That's *great!* All
the Great Ones have some sort of little mannerism." So, I
was, "oh, okay!" And so that's the one I'm aware of, but the
circle thing - - that's one I'm not aware of.
Jim - Yeah, I wasn't
sure if I should ask that question because you'll be - when
they say, "Action!" you'll be thinking "Am I doing that
Tom - I'll have to watch
for that! That's not one I'm aware of. I'm glad there's
someone that's watched enough of my stuff to *know*
something about that!
Jim - It's amazing when
I put names up on the site, that I get flashes of mail like
that, saying "oh, ask him *this!*" or "ask him *that!*" When
I was doing research for this interview, I was surprised to
learn you gave a eulogy for Bob Gibson, the folk singer, at
his funeral. Are you a folk afficianado? Do you play any
Tom - Well, I don't know
that I gave a 'eulogy' - - I know that it happened when we
were at The Untouchables, but I don't think I was
actually able to attend. I think I did send a note, which
maybe somebody read, but yeah, I grew up very - I mean, that
was my music - it was folk music and that sort of thing. My
older brothers and sisters were - I mean, I was sort of
young for the Vietnam War protesting thing, but my oldest
sisters were very involved in that, and so that was really -
- the *staple,* musically, around our house. When I went to
school in the late 70's, when I moved to Chicago from where
I grew up, out in the boonies of Illinois, there was still
just the last vestiges of the folk scene on Lincoln Avenue,
which I caught, you know, Somebody Else's Troubles and those
places on Lincoln Avenue. And Bob was making a little bit of
a comeback after being away for a while. One of the things
he did was a show based on the life of Carl Sandburg. He and
Ann Hills did the music, and I played Carl Sandburg. My
ex-wife (we were married at the time) - she's always been a
folk singer. So we did - she was a singer, originally of
*Irish* songs, so - - me and her and my brother, we did a
folk/Irish band for years around the west side of Chicago,
and then started doing more of our own stuff, and that sort
of thing. So, yeah, I was definitely in on that scene: The
Old Town School of Folk Music, and that sort of thing. We
didn't do a whole lot of touring, especially since we had a
whole lot of little kids, but we did, yeah, a bit of that.
Jim - Now, in the Real
World, you have three kids - -
Tom - Uh-huh --
Jim - Of the dads you've
played in the past, have any of them come near to your
parenting style? Of course, most of the dads that you've
played have had some sort of major problem going on.
Tom - <laughs> I know! Hmm
- - I think I use a lot of it, and in some ways, frankly,
Doctor Abbott's parenting style has some of my - - you know,
he's such a different - - a different person. I would say
that I'm a pretty "hands-on" dad, and for the most part,
most of the characters I've played have been along those
lines. But I can't say, "Oh, that's definitely my parenting
style." Parenting is a pretty complex thing, and in most of
the roles I've played, it's greatly simplified. Of all the
skills I've tried to learn over my life, parenting has
probably been the most - - difficult, and it really is an
ongoing thing. So, it's hard to pull out one role and say,
"that's the style of parenting I do." I think I try and base
all the roles that I've had where I'm playing a decent
parent - - not <laughs> I've done my share of deviant
parents over the last few years, ---
Yeah, you get your kid out of a Chinese
prison in Brokedown Palace, so I guess there's some
elements you can use as takeaways on parenting in there.
Tom - Oh yeah - I remember
seeing some web site - there was somebody that was
criticizing that scene and saying, "why was he *smiling* and
stuff when his daughter's in prison?" and I thought, well,
in those situations, what the heck *else* can you do? Not
that I've actually gone through that, thank God!
Jim - I have one more
mailbag question, and then I can let you go - it's about
From the Earth to the Moon --
Tom - Oh really? That was a
great project. That was absolutely one of the high points
for me - -
It plays in my house about once a week - - my
son watches it a lot, and I watch it, too. It's amazing, the
detailed levels that you had on it.
Tom - Yeah!
Jim - Did you get to
learn to operate the Lunar Module during that?
Tom - <laughs> I got to
*pretend!* It really was like going to Space Camp, and
getting paid for it. I was directly in contact with Jack
Schmitt as I was shooting that, sometimes on an *hourly*
basis! We really wanted to be very specific about that. In
the episode that I did, there was this one montage where it
just showed me and Danny [Daniel Hugh Kelly], playing Eugene
Cernan, getting ready for a moonwalk - - so we literally had
to go through all of the steps involved with that. It was
Jim - Oh right! The
"getting dressed" scene...
Tom - Yeah, it took all of
fifteen seconds on screen, but it was one of those things
that, when we shot it - the research involved with that was
extraordinary. I spent a lot of time with Jack on the phone
saying, "okay, now what did *you* do?" Because each team
dealt with that a little bit differently. But, of course,
because it was a matter of life and death, you had to go
through this checklist, and just make sure that *everything*
was absolutely connected -- and the trust that you put in
your partner was *huge* because, one hose, misconnected,
could have meant disaster.
Jim - Oh yeah! On the
surface shots, someone had written in and asked, "I read
that stunt doubles got to do the EVA stuff, and main actors
were used mostly for the visor-up facial close-ups. Is that
how it went? Did you get to do a lot of stuff on the
surface? Or was that mostly handled by doubles?
Tom - Yeah, I think that
the -- some of the episodes, the stunt guys did all of the
surface stuff, but Danny and I actually got to be there for
a couple of nights. The one thing that they didn't want the
actors to do - because, what they did in terms of the
simulating weightlessness stuff, they hooked these
pretty-substantial helium balloons up to the actors, or to
the *stunt* actors, actually. That's what gave them the
appearance of being able to bounce on the Moon's surface.
So they were bobbing about like that.
Tom - Yeah, and it was
really amazing because you got to have that feeling. I think
Dave Foley got to actually - they hooked him up on that
harness thing and all that. It was *really* uncomfortable,
from what I heard. So, after Dave, they sort of decided,
"you know what? These stunt guys: they're familiar with it,
we're not showing their faces for the most part on the
Moon,..." But they did do quite a bit, you know, when I was
discovering the orange soil, and stuff like that, where we
were on the Moon mockup that we made in Tustin. And I'll
never forget one moment: I was working on some lunar rocks,
where I kind of turned my eye. I saw my partner kind of
bouncing across the lunar terrain and really, truly, for an
instant I was on the Moon.
Wow - -
Tom - And it was one of
those things where I looked and went, "okay!" That's as
close as I'll get, but it was fun.
Jim - Good career
choice, that day.
Tom - Yeah!
With all the different episodes you were in,
it must have been interesting with the overlap of the
Tom - I was just in two
episodes, but yeah, Jonathan Mostow, and David Carson.
Jim - It just seemed
interesting having to shoot scenes with the overlap of two
Tom - Well they really did
get - - they got some great directors, of course, but each
one of them was like a little film. [Jon] Turteltaub's
episode was very much along the lines of -- I mean, has the
emotional core that's so strong and is part of his films,
and likewise, his episode had that real, personal
relationships between the men, and that sort of thing. I
think each one of the directors -- it was *so* different -
but I have to say that everybody that I worked with was into
it -- and, other than the fact that the whole thing was
completely oversized. One of the great things for me was
that really was like the lunar missions, in terms of scale.
So, by the time I got to that last episode: I remember
bringing up a note, and they were like, " you know, we're
just *shooting* this thing! We're trying to get done!" And
that's pretty much what they told Jack Schmitt, when he had
ideas about how they should alter the actual Moon mission.
They were like, "You know what? Just go *up,* and come back
*down,* and don't *die* -- and pretty much, that's all we're
going for on this."
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