9 February 2002
By Judith L. Trest
Mike and I set out for Los Angeles early on a Saturday morning in February to spend a weekend with Frank and his family and to do the interview for the DQ Times. We had a wonderful day at Claire’s soccer game (Mike even got in a T-Ball game in with Gabe & Frank upon our arrival) and then attended Claire’s basketball game. After the last game of the day, we headed back to Frank’s place and with a little help from the kids, we celebrated Frank’s birthday, which was the following week. In many ways this was an easy assignment for me because I have been working with Frank on the PRT (Pacific Resident Theatre) website since May of 1999.
I came late to the set of “Dr. Quinn” on April 12th, 1997. It was during that first visit that Mike and I also met Frank. During our first conversation we talked computers and the Internet. During subsequent visits up to Paramount Ranch with Mike or Trudy, I had several occasions to talk with Frank about computers, acting, and my upcoming trip to Japan for our lengthy stay. We arrived back from Japan in time for the filming of “Revolutions” and also for Jane’s Star Ceremony. At the dinner in Jane’s honor, Frank asked me to put together a website for the Pacific Resident Theatre and thus began a very enjoyable and fruitful relationship.
I first saw Frank in the theatre for a production called “The Quick Change Room” which Orson directed and Alley Mills also had a part in. It was a revelation to see these actors who I had become familiar with on Dr. Quinn in a different environment honing their craft. I have subsequently seen Frank in two plays with a great deal of depth. One was “Lulu” and the other when he did the understudy part of the doctor for “Question of Mercy”. All of these roles were so dramatically different from Frank’s portrayal of Horace Bing that we couldn’t help but be impressed by the depth of his talent. Over the last few years working with Frank, I have come to find that he has a lot of intensity as an actor and a person.
I hope that you all enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting the interview and putting it together for your reading pleasure.
How did you become a founding member of the PRT (in 1985 – Inaugural production “Happy End” and “Thanksgiving” which Frank was in)?
Literally, the week I arrived in Los Angeles, I got together with a group of people I had known at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. (We have theatres in Santa Maria and Solvang and had been doing theatre up there for years) and a number of former ACT people (American Conservatory Theatre). We all ended up in Los Angeles seeking our fame and fortune in the film business, but we also decided we needed to do some theatre. (I found out after the fact that this is quite typical of a lot of university and conservatory trained actors. They end up in this town and there is nowhere for them to practice their profession.) If you are doing small roles in television and film when you first start out in L.A., you have to go somewhere to practice your craft. So we created our own company, as a survival tool, because we were dying to do theatre and no one was paying us to hone our skills in Los Angeles.
We started out meeting in living rooms during 1983-1984. Our first production was in 1985 – “Happy End” by Bertolt Brecht and performed in Santa Monica. It was a great experience and a good beginning – not a “Happy End”. There is no end. The theatre keeps on going. We are now in our 16th season. I used to average about 1 play a year with the company, but now that we have kids, I’ve tapered off and don’t do as many. We also have our Workshop Company called the Co-op. I think we’ve done in the neighborhood of at least 100 productions. It’s a unique company. We have a Managing Director and Artistic Director, who run our Main Stage Company. Our Co-op is totally open to our entire company. They can do what ever they want. I don’t know that there is any other company in Los Angeles that does this kind of thing. We actually give our company members seed money to do productions and let them use the space to produce whatever they chose. The intent of the Co-op, from the beginning, was that it be free of commercial restraint. One of the few rules we have, about the Co-op productions, is that they can’t be reviewed. That frees you up to do roles you wouldn’t ordinarily do. You don’t have to worry about someone saying you were too old or too young for a role or wasn’t a woman supposed to do that role? The heart of the company is in the Co-op because the energy starts there and spreads up to the Main Stage.
Who were the original core group?
There are very few of us around. I would have to go through the Roster to be sure I had included everyone correctly. I think though that there are only 3 or 4 of us left. We have had, in our history, three artistic directors. Marilyn Fox is our current artistic director. Interestingly enough, they have all been women. The core group was comprised mainly people from ACT. We knew each other from there and working the summers at Santa Maria. They were all trained actors.
It still is very much an actors’ company and not a playwrights’ or directors’ company. One year, we had more “Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards” than the Taper and the Ahmanson combined. We beat out “Lion King”. Unfortunately, people still go “Pacific Resident Theatre? I think I’ve heard of that company”. They just don’t know about us. We put more energy into excellent productions than we do in promoting ourselves.
This industry still has a hang up about theatre. Sir Peter Hall was doing some productions at the Taper and had an article in the paper about theatre in Los Angeles. He said, “actors in Los Angeles appear in theatre briefly on their way up and ever more briefly on their way back down again”, as though theatre was just a place you pass through and you have to get into film and television to do some serious work. I was so upset by that article that I wrote a letter back to the Times to Sir Peter Hall and suggested that he go see some theatre here in Los Angeles. It’s not all showcase. It’s not all vanity productions. There are people doing quality theatre here who are conservatory or university trained actors. There are actors that do work in film, television and theatre simultaneously. I know, because I work with them and I am one of them.
I would get in my car on the set of “Dr. Quinn”, drive to Venice and rehearse or perform a play. Some nights I almost didn’t make it to the theatre. They had to hold the curtain because I had a late Friday evening scene to shoot on “Dr. Quinn”. Then I would rush to the theatre and get into costume and makeup for whatever play I was doing. In film and television, as Orson is fond of saying, “The acting we do for free. They pay us for waiting around”. It took 7 days to shoot a “Dr. Quinn” episode and out of those 7 days you might actually be there 40 hours and on camera with cameras rolling maybe 15 min. in some episodes.
Where you really work is in theatre. That is a medium where the actor has control of his performance. If you have ever visited the set of “Dr. Quinn”, as I am sure a lot of the people that read this magazine have, you see that the actor is a small although important part of this production. There are115 other people there doing all sorts of other jobs to make the production work. So I always come back to theatre. That’s where I started. There is a quote from the movie “Fanny and Alexander” that I like. It’s interesting it should come from a movie. It’s the quote which explains what I love about theatre, specifically, our theatre!
Early in the movie “Fanny and Alexander” there is a theatre company in a small town somewhere, maybe in Sweden. Its Christmas time and the director of the theatre calls the company together and gives a speech about why the theatre is important:
“My only talent is that I love this little world inside the thick walls of this playhouse…. Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds for a moment in reflecting the big world, so that we understand it better. Or is it perhaps that we give the people who come here the chance of forgetting for a while…the harsh world outside. Our theatre is a small room of orderliness, routine, conscientiousness and love.” … -Fanny and Alexander
It’s a lovely quote and to me it says a lot of what the theatre is all about. It’s a place where there is an intimacy that you can never achieve in film and television because it’s live human beings in a room with other human beings. Every night is different and there is an interaction there that you can’t duplicate. I went to see a show at one of the bigger theatres and turned to the person sitting next to me and said, “I’m spoiled by small theatre because I am so used to the intimacy of it”. When you are in a large theatre, the actors are little stick figures and you practically need binoculars in order to see them. You can’t achieve the same intimacy in a large theatre that you can in our 99-seat theatres. Economically it doesn’t make sense, but artistically I think it’s the best to have everyone in a 99-seat theatre. In the large theatre you are far removed from the performances on the stage. In a way it becomes almost cinematic, because you don’t feel that close connection. It takes a huge performance in a theatre that size to really connect in the same way. The interesting thing about small theatres is that it duplicates what you can do in television and film. You can be extremely subtle in your makeup, your costume and your performance because the audience is right there. You don’t have to worry about people catching your nuances, because they are as close to you as someone sitting in your living room.
We had a production of the “Beggar’s Opera” early on. During our early productions, we would put the audience in groupings so they wouldn’t all be seated in one area. We had some of the audience actually sitting in a jail in Beggar’s Opera”. We also had one of the actors chained to wall hanging literally above the audience’s heads. In another production, we had audience members on scaffolding and they were moved from place to place. It was fun and the kind of thing I would like to get back to.
How did the founders come up with the name for the theatre?
It was inspired by our relationship with the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts up in Santa Maria. We have gone through three name changes. We originally called ourselves the Pacific Theatre Ensemble. Unbelievably a lawyer or some official from the Pacific Movie chain said we couldn’t use that name because it’s too much like their name. It’s not as if we would draw the audience from the Pacific Movie Theaters. On only one occasion did I actually have someone call and ask what was showing tonight and I said, “Oh No, we’re not the movie house”. We then changed to the Pacific Resident Theatre Ensemble. We thought that was awkward so we cut back to Pacific Resident Theatre. I think it was mainly an acknowledgement that we were right on the rim of this continent. That we were indebted to the work and it was a tribute to where we came from – The Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. We wanted a name that was not too specific. A name that was wide open because we didn’t want to call it something like the classical theatre company – something that would narrow down the types of plays we would do. We wanted to keep our options open. It’s sort of a generic name. It sounds pretty impressive.
How many founding members are there?
I think there were about 35-40 members with spouses coming and going. It was pretty informal at first. We just met in living rooms and various locations around the area and didn’t have a theatre at first. Joe Olivieri and Catherine Telford were founding members and are still members. It doesn’t matter how many members there were in the beginning and how long they’ve been around. We don’t make a big deal out of who has been with the company the longest. It doesn’t make any difference whether they have been here all 16 years or came last year. We’re all just here to do good theatre.
How many plays have been shown at PRT and how many plays have you been involved in? There have been approximately 57 Main Stage and 94 Co-Op productions. I averaged about one a year at PRT so I guess about 14 main stage productions. I know in my whole life I’ve done about 120 plays.
Have you ever directed a play there or anywhere else?
Yes. “Come Down To Carrolton County” at PRT. My father, John Collison, wrote it. I haven’t directed any others and feel that I am not temperamentally suited to directing. The joke about actors is “how many actors does it take to screw in a light bulb? 6 – one to do it and 5 more to say I could have done that better”. A good director is one who respects the actor and gives him the freedom to develop the role himself. I get it into my head the way I want the role played and I am afraid I would try to impose my interpretation on the other actors. I’m just not temperamentally suited for directing.
Do you have a favorite character or play that you liked while working at the PRT over the years? I do like Mr. Peacham from “Beggar’s Opera”. First of all I got to sing which was a challenge for me. He’s the kind of character that people love to hate. For those people who don’t know “Beggar’s Opera”, he is kind of like Captain Hook. He is very flamboyant and a mean, nasty man, but you love him anyway because he is so flamboyant. It was fun to do it. Marilyn Fox was in the production and she was wonderful. They had a lot of good people involved and it was fun to do. Oh yes, Carla Obert played my daughter in that production and is still a member.
What goals would you like the PRT to fulfill in the future?
We need to get better at promoting ourselves. We tend to do undiscovered or little known classic plays. When I say classic plays I don’t necessarily mean Shakespeare or Tennessee Williams, but plays that are in the literature of the world. I think Marilyn Fox is fond of saying “a good, very well written play is a miracle.” There are so many plays that are written and so few plays that are truly good. We try to find those hidden little gems. This tends to make us a group that, I don’t think, is grant worthy. We don’t do cutting edge plays – the latest, trendiest, hippest things. The money for those sorts of grants goes to other companies. We would like to develop more of an outreach in the community. That not only would make us more grant worthy, but I think it’s something that would be good to do. We have begun to do that with things like the Abbott Kinney Festival. We also have a children’s theatre program in the summers that I think is great. We are in the neighborhood of Venice but haven’t really become of that neighborhood. I am a perfect example because I live 31 miles away from the theatre. When I come to the theatre, I don’t feel I’m part of that community. I just go there because that is where my theatre happens to be and it’s not my area. It would be nice to develop more of a liaison with the neighborhood.
We have an apprentice program, but I would like to have a more formal one. I think it really should be something similar to ACT in San Francisco where we could have a formal conservatory. People could actually enroll and take classes. Students were taking acting classes through the UCLA extension at our theatre. I would like to see us develop more connections with the local college campuses like Loyola Marymount and UCLA. I would also like, as a Board Member, to be able to pay our staff better and to pay our actors. The original intent of the company was to become what is known as a LORT theatre – League of Regional Theatres. They are companies that actually pay Equity and salaries to their actors. There are very few companies any more that do that. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is one of the few that have a company of actors that are employed steadily and do a rotating repertory of theatre, however they are an exception as there are very few such companies in the U.S. Most theatres in the U.S. hire a group of actors to do a show and when the show is over that’s it. Great Britain has companies that continue to work together for years on end.
What kind of a process do you go through to try out and then get a part for a movie/television show/commercial?
This is just a basic primer on how it happens. Anyone producing a film or television show that is looking to hire an actor puts out a description of the role on what is called a “Breakdown Service”. This service is distributed to all the agents in town. The agents get that and they look and say, “Someone needs a tall thin guy to play a drug addict”. “Let’s get Collison. He can play a drug addict or he can play a homeless guy”. My agent is respected and known to the casting directors in town. He’ll call the casting director and say, “I have a client named Collison and want him to come in and read for the role”. If the casting director has been around for a while he’ll say, “oh yea. I know him. I saw him on such and such. Send him in.” Or, in some cases it works the other way and the casting director will call the agent and say that he has a role he would like Collison to come in and read for. “Can he come in on Wed at 3pm?” The agent calls me and I’ll go in.
At a certain point, you don’t have to go in any more. They simply call you up and offer you the role. I am at the point now that at least casting directors know of me. They call my agent and say they would like me come in and read for such and such a role. If I come into the room they will say, “I saw your work on such and such”. It is nice when you get to that point but it takes a while to get there. I don’t know if this is still true, but I have been told that the average salary of a Screen Actors Guild member (and there are about 80,000 members) is $2500 a year. Less than 2% of members of the Screen Actors Guild make more than $100,000 a year. The other 98% are either doing some other work to support themselves or like me are middle class people.
I think that is one of the misconceptions people have of actors like myself, some of the other actors on “Dr. Quinn” or other television shows. You see the various actors but you don’t know their name. The guy looks familiar, you saw him on a commercial or a television show. That is the category I feel I am in. I walk down the street and people may or may not recognize me from “Dr. Quinn” and they’ll say, “Aren’t you an actor in something?” That category of actors makes a decent living, but we are working stiffs like everyone else. We don’t have butlers, nannies, and yachts on the Riviera. We live middle class lives. I go to soccer and basketball games and do my own grocery shopping.
Your Dad played Abraham Lincoln in a re-enactment of his inauguration in 1961. Tell me about that.
My Dad played Abraham Lincoln in a lot of shows over a period of years. He had done a reading at our church in Richmond, VA in the civil rights era. After the reading, someone came up to him and told him he ought to do a Lincoln show because he looked a lot like Lincoln. My Dad did indeed look like Lincoln. He was also inspired to do a one-man show, because his classmate at Denison University was Hal Holbrook who had gone on to make his Mark Twain portrayal so famous. My Dad got a costume together, worked on the makeup and developed a one-man show of Lincoln that portrayed the final evening of Lincoln’s life. He comes down and he is waiting for his wife. They are going to see a play called “Our American Cousin”. Of course the audience knows what is going to happen, but Lincoln doesn’t know in the play that it’s his last night on earth. My Dad toured various women’s clubs, schools, and community places. I would go with him and be his stage manager and make up guy and just generally hang out with him.
The money to fund the 1961 reenactment of Lincoln’s inauguration was the first bill John F. Kennedy signed into law. A congressman from Iowa, which is my Dad’s home state, was involved with the reenactment. He heard of my Dad and his Lincoln show and asked my Dad to play Lincoln. We came up to Washington from Richmond, VA. We stayed at The Willard, in the very same suite Lincoln stayed in, the night of his inaugural. My Dad was inaugurated on the steps of the Capital in the exact same location where Lincoln had been inaugurated. I played Tad Lincoln. There was something like 20,000 people there, among them Carl Sandberg.
After the inaugural reenactment, my Dad got into a horse drawn carriage and we rode down Pennsylvania Avenue to The Willard. There we had the inaugural dinner, which was the same menu that was served 100 years ago. We got to meet Carl Sandberg there. It was a highlight for my Dad and it certainly was for me too. I had heard Carl Sandburg’s poetry and my Dad had played me his records and read me his poetry. This was just before Carl Sandburg died. I remember he was sitting in a very low chair. My Dad walked into the room in his Lincoln costume. Carl Sandburg started to get out of the chair and couldn’t make it because the chair was too low. He just sort of sunk back in the chair and in this wonderful Swedish voice with this wonderful Swedish lilt said, “excuse me but I am a bit jaded”. My Dad came over and talked to him. I shook his hand. It was really great. My fondest memory of the trip when I was about 12 years old was that there was a color television in the suite of our hotel and I had never seen a color television before.
Did your Dad playing Lincoln have in influence on your portrayal of Lincoln in “Dr. Quinn”?
Once a year, the writers would call us in to discuss the arc of our character for the next season. I mentioned that my Dad had played Lincoln and wouldn’t it be fun if Horace were somewhat of a Lincoln buff. I don’t remember how far I took it, but I think they developed the idea that Horace would play Lincoln and read the Declaration of Independence every year. The fun part was that we couldn’t have the Lincoln makeup look professional although our makeup artists were capable of making me look much more like Lincoln. We had to do the makeup as though an amateur had done it. So that’s how that came about.
What was growing up in your family like?
When I was 8 we lived in 8 different places. My Dad was in graduate school and then teaching at various locations and finally settled in Richmond, VA. My Dad was a speech therapist and my Mom was an English Teacher until she retired. It was a family that loved words and literature. Someone from the outside might think we were kind of quiet. We loved traditions and we had a lot of daily traditions. At the dinner table we always talked about the day, my Dad always held the chair for my mom before she was seated, and when you changed the subject of a topic of conversation, you had to preface your remarks before you changed the subject. It sounds like we were sort of stuffy but we weren’t.
We did a lot of camping trips. My Dad liked to do things with his hands so we did a lot of carpentry together. I learned that from my Dad – how to work with my hands. Until I was in Jr. High my Mom was a stay at home Mom. She was also directing a lot and did publicity for the Virginia Museum Theatre. My Dad was always writing. There was always some theatre project going on. I was born on Valentine’s Day and was in a tent theatre in Ohio that summer. My Mom directed Hal Holbrook and my Dad in a number of productions at Denison University right after the war before I came along.
I hear about Dan from you periodically. He has his own production company, DC Productions in Chicago, but you have said very little about Mollie and what she is doing.
My sister is two years younger than I am and was an actress in New York. She was working at Circle Repertory Theatre there. I think the last role she did was the understudy of Ophelia with William Hurt in the production as “Hamlet”. She took over the role when Lindsey Crouse left the show. Then she did the sensible thing and had a family. She still does read books for the blind and works with acting with her kids in school. However, she has gone on to be a number one Mom and that is the focus of her life. She lives in the Washington DC area and her husband is involved as a political consultant. When I was about 12, we did “My Heart’s In the Highlands” a play by William Saroyan. She had to play my girlfriend and that was the yuckiest thing in the world. We did a couple of plays together but have never done plays together as adults.
Would you like to do a play with your sister now?
A play with my sister now – that would be interesting. It would have to be a bi-coastal production to get her out here. I don’t know. As I say I haven’t acted with my sister in 40 years. It would be fun sure … A family production.
Was your relationship with Orson and Alley via “Dr. Quinn” or originally via PRT? Was it just a coincidence that you all ended up on the series? If I have my chronology right, Orson had joined our company just prior to “Dr. Quinn” so I hadn’t really worked with him at PRT. We then we ended up working on the show together. If I am not mistaken, I don’t think I had worked with him until after we started the series. Orson wasn’t in the pilot. We then got to know each other and Alley at PRT. So it was coincidence that Orson and I worked together on “Dr. Quinn”.
I have been in movies with actors I know and we didn’t know we were in the movie together until we show up at the wrap party. That is the way they make movies. It was fun though and great to have him in both worlds because he was an actor on the set of “Dr. Quinn” and knew what we were doing at the theatre. It also helped that Geoffrey Lower did one production with us and Shawn Toovey was in a production of “A Christmas Carol” with Orson. I would have loved to have gotten some of the people in the “Dr. Quinn” cast to participate in a PRT production – especially Barbara Babcock with her theatre background for something like Blanche in “Street Car”. It would have been great to do a show at PRT with some of the “Dr. Quinn” Cast.
Do you still work on Crossword puzzles like you did on the set?
Not as much. Orson and I used to bomb through them. We’d sometimes fool around and try to trip the each other up. I would do stuff like finish the puzzle before I got to the set and then pretend I hadn’t done it. Then, Orson would ask me for a clue and I would struggle for half a second and then “oh carnivorous is the word” and he would say, “How did you know that?” My fondest memory of doing crosswords on the set was one day the clue was five letters, a human legume … I’m thinking a human legume – Lima – legume – those are beans. Then I look over at Orson standing next to me and think wait a minute its o.r.s.o.n. And I said, “ORSON, you’re a clue.” He said, “Oh I know. Usually they have me as Calvin Coolidge’s great great grandson”.
It was a great way to pass all that time they made us wait around. A one-hour show is 49 minutes. We work for 7 days and roughly 10 hours a day. 70 hours of work is distilled down into 49 minutes of finished project. That’s fast compared to film. I have worked one week on a film that I ended up with less than 5 minutes of finished product. I was supposed to be on the set of “The Majestic” for two days and ended up staying for a little over two weeks because of the weather. It wasn’t like they stopped filming; they just were not filming my scene.
Do you play any musical instruments or sing?
I don’t play any musical instruments at all. I am not musically gifted. I did have to play the banjo for a production of “The Front Page” which Jerry Zaks directed at The Denver Center Theatre. Thankfully, they gave me a banjo a month before the production started and went into rehearsal. I had to learn “By The Light Of The Silvery Moon”. I conquered that one. I am not a trained singer and I don’t know how to read music. I have done a number of musicals such as “Beggar’s Opera” and did some singing and dancing in the “Quick Change Room” and “Carousel”. I did a lot of musicals at the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts. I like musicals. It takes me a couple of days longer to master the singing than someone who has that gift, but I do get it and I can carry a tune … in a bucket.
Do you play any sports?
I did theatre growing up. I swam a lot and did a fair amount of running. I used to run when I was touring. That was my main source of exercise. Now I just have kids … bending and picking up toys – my only form of exercise now a days. We do have a treadmill that makes an excellent clothes rack.
Are you still involved with the Habitat for Humanity and the Braille Institute?
Not as much as I would like to. I have only done it a couple of times and it was really satisfying. I would like to do more of that. I really like the way Habitat for Humanity requires the people who are being helped to participate in the construction of their own home. I’d much rather swing a hammer for a day than write a check for some charity. You get to see the results of your labors. I think, to get on my political bandwagon, Jimmy Carter was much maligned as a President and I am not sure exactly why. As a former president he’s been exemplary in the way he works for Habitat for Humanity and all the other things he and his wife do. He also writes books of poetry. He’s an inspiration.
We were asked to do The Braille Institute because of “Dr. Quinn” and those tapered off when we were no longer on the television show. Anytime someone wants to have a former member of a former television show to help out I would be glad to help…Basically they tend to ask the people who are on the current television shows.
How did you enjoy working with Hal Holbrook in “The Majestic” in view of his history with your parents?
I loved it even though we didn’t have any lines together. We were in the big showdown scene where Jim Carey is hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee. I am one of the bad guys, a congressional investigator who is working with the senators to get the dirt on these so-called communists. We had a moment where Hal’s character leans over the dais and sends me after Jim Carey’s lawyers. Hal, after that take, said, “54 years ago I was acting with your Dad and your Mom was directing and here we are 54 years later working together”. We had about a week on that scene so we would sit around every day at lunch. He has an incredible memory for details of the past and working with this actor and that actor and working with my Dad. It was kind of neat to reminisce about those things even though I wasn’t there. It is incredible that he is working so much. He’s an inspiration too, because a lot of actors give up at his age, and he is still working steadily. He plays authority figures, judges, commanders, etc. because he has a very authoritative and imposing presence. He can do it all. My sister and Mom saw him do Shylock in “Merchant of Venice” and said he was just terrific. That is the other inspiration about Hal. A lot of actors say they would like to do theatre and then they don’t do it because they can’t fit it in with their schedule. Hal somehow finds the time and just does it. He just did “Life In The Theatre” at the Pasadena Playhouse. It was a tremendously demanding role with something like 25 costume changes. He continues to do theatre and films.
What about getting Hal Holbrook for a PRT for a production?
His stepdaughter, Ginna Carter, is in the Company and was in a production of ours called “Everyday Life”. She played the one who was in love with the artist but he treated her like dirt. She is Dixie Carter’s daughter. Hal is very proud of her. As far as doing a show with him, that would be a tough one. . I don’t think we could pay him enough. It would be a great if he could do an evening. Now you have me thinking Fund Raiser. Hal please come down… We’d have to hire a bigger place.
Do you have a mentor or role model who helped you out along the way?
My father was my biggest role model. I saw him play Otto Frank in “The Diary of Ann Frank”. There is a scene at the end of the play where Otto Frank revisits the old attic where they had hidden out. It’s after the war and he survived the concentration camps. He is reminiscing about what happened and he is speaking directly to the audience, I believe, and talking about what had happened to each of the people who had hidden in the attic. He reads an excerpt from Anne’s diary, and then he says the line where Anne has written, “that in spite of everything I still believe that people are good”. He then closes the book and he says ‘she puts us to shame”. At that point my father, in the role of Otto Frank, broke down in tears. I had never seen my father cry in real life and here he was doing it on stage I thought then that I want to be able to move people the way my Dad moved people. I want to create a reality so palpable the way he did. Actually, I was acting with him on a production of “The Skin of Our Teeth” by Thorton Wilder. He played Antrobus, the male lead and I was about 10 years old and played a woolly mammoth. I got to see what fun he was having with it and enjoying it so much. That inspired me.
There are other actors that I respect, but not anyone in particular that I can point to that inspired me. I have a great deal of respect for theatre actors who continue to make a living exclusively in theatre. It’s hard to do that. You have to be able to sacrifice quite a bit. You have to be able to travel and up root yourself every six months to go to a different company. There are actors that move from a show at the Old Globe, then they do a show up in Seattle, and then maybe they do a show at the Guthrie, then they might do a show on Broadway and come back to do a show in San Francisco. They continue to hone their craft and no one knows who they are. There are no articles about them in the Entertainment Weekly or Premier Magazine. They are working actors and they continue to work. They are not personalities. They submerge themselves in each role. That is one of the things that my father would always say because my father was also a playwright “you must serve the word”. An actor who does that is not out there for himself. He is not out there to wave his hand at everyone and say, “Here I am look at me”. He is there to serve the word of the writer. That is what we are. We do not create the roles. We interpret the roles. We are given, much like a musician is given sheet music, a script and we interpret that script. All we have to do is say the words and not bump into the furniture. To answer your question, yes my father was really my first inspiration and taught me respect for the craft.
I think it would come as a surprise to a lot of people that a lot of actors are really introverts and off stage tend to be fairly shy. So part of it is that you are able to be outrageous and create different characters and you have this permission to do so because you are in a play. It’s really a sophisticated version of what kids do when you see them in a sand box “Hey – you be the bad guy I’ll be the good guy”. We just do it on a more sophisticated level and get paid for it.
What do you enjoy doing most- Live Theatre, television, or films?
I love theatre because it is really the medium where the actor has the ability to create a whole character and move the audience every night in a very intimate, personal way that you don’t get to do in television or film.
What character or role would you liked to do that you haven’t done yet?
It’s funny because I was just thinking about that. I would like to do Antrobus in “The Skin Of Our Teeth”. I would also like to play “J.B” in Archibald McLeash’s play “J.B.” which is the modern retelling of the book of Job. I did that play as a kid. It was another play I did with my sister. We were brother and sister in that one. I think I would like to do, at some point in the future again, Prospero in “The Tempest” or perhaps Shylock. I really don’t have one burning role. People say, “Hey, I’m doing this play” and I say, “hey, there is a role I could play”. I should be more pro-active and create the opportunities. That is really what you have to do in this town – create your own opportunities.
Is there a role in your career you that you wished you hadn’t taken on, and if so why?
There are roles I’ve done in a couple of violent movies that I am not proud of. I did them because they were early on and I had just gotten here or they were for the money. I have nothing against violence in movies. “Black Hawk Down” is an extremely violent, but gripping movie. I am talking about movies that have violence that is just there for the kicks. Movies that make violence seem like a lot of fun. “I wish I was at that point where I could say no. I’m above that. I am a stage trained actor”. There is no stage role that I regretted doing. Maybe I regretted doing it because the play wasn’t very good. There are only the few violent movies that I have done that I was not proud to be in.
What occupation would you has chosen had you not became an actor?
I think I would have been a carpenter or reporter. My brother is a journalist and I really admire and love what he does. It is related in some ways to acting because acting gives you permission to snoop into other people’s lives. When I see a couple arguing at a restaurant or a park or maybe there would be a fight going on somewhere, I would move towards the fight, unlike most people who would run away from it. I wanted to see how people would react. I had an acting teacher who once told me she was in the middle of an argument with her soon to be ex-husband and she talked about how she had to switch on this little tape recorder that all actors seem to have. It’s like a little black box that we seem to have in our brains. When we have a significant event happening, we turn on this little black box and say we’ve got to remember this. It could be useful. You never know when you might have to play this emotion or this kind of scene. So as an actor you have the privilege of moving into someone else’s life. As a journalist you also have the privilege of going in and investigating the lives of other people and discovering their motivations. Discovering why this guy does what he does whether he’s a murderer or a Nobel Prize Laureate. As a journalist you investigate these people and, much as you are doing right now, learn about someone.
I don’t know what it is about carpentry, but for some reason I know that Harrison Ford was a carpenter and Daniel Day Lewis I believe is a fairly good carpenter. A number of actors seem to be carpenters. I think it has something to do with the fact that when you create a role it is in some way like building something but it is in a much more visceral, direct hands on way. I still like to bang in a nail now and then or even better demolish an old kitchen.
What projects are you working on now, done recently or may do in the near future? You’ve just done “The Majestic” and “K-Pax” was a really little role.
“K-Pax” was so little it ended up on the cutting room floor. I went to the cast and crew screening and I was so embarrassed. The scene I was in went by and I had already got caught up in the movie. After the scene was over, I thought wait a minute that was the scene I was in and I’m not there. They called me up. I took the role. There was no audition. It was with Kevin Spacy and Jeff Bridges so I said sure for one or two days.
I have been very lucky in the past. That is the first and only time that has ever happened to me. I knew I couldn’t be cut out of “Majestic” because my role is essential to the forwarding of the plot. If I don’t do what I do in the movie the rest of the plot wouldn’t have gone forward. Some of the people who read the “Dr. Quinn” Times may have seen me in a Verizon Commercial and also an eBay Commercial. I have started doing some commercials and voiceovers.
There are two things I am very excited about. I did a movie outside of Vancouver in a small town called Hope, British Columbia. The movie was originally called “New Cardiff” and stars Collin Firth, Minnie Driver, Mary Steenburgen, and Heather Graham. It’s really a terrific fish out of water story. I play Mary Steenburgen’s husband. The movie is now re-titled “Hope Springs” and is due out in the fall of 2002. I think it’s going to be a wonderful romantic comedy and will do very well. It was a thrill to get to work with Mary and do our New England accents together. “Thank you Judy” For those of you who don’t know it, Judy has a great New England accent, which she is able to somewhat hide. We were in a very small town and we got to hang out together as there was nothing else to do. Heather Graham and Mary Steenburgen were our social directors. One night they arranged a karaoke night, another night we went bowling, and then another night we went out to a restaurant. There’s an interesting story about this and it’s not to toot my own horn. It’s really to show the power of television and “Dr. Quinn”. We were all in the restaurant together: Colin Firth who had very recently done the role in Bridget Jones, Minnie Driver, Heather Graham, Mary Steenburgen and me. A young woman comes up, in her mid 20s, and asks for Minnie’s autograph because she had just been in something recent. Then she turns to me and asks for my autograph from “Dr. Quinn”, doesn’t even recognize the other actors. I was sort of embarrassed. Afterwards, I said, “hey what can I say, I was on television for 6 years”. If you have been on television for 6 years, a lot of people have seen your face week in and week out and it kind of sticks in their heads. They may not remember your name or even exactly the character you played, but you come into their home on a weekly basis. It was kind of instructive how powerful the medium of television is.
The other thing I am doing that is very exciting is an HBO pilot called “Carnivale”, which is unlike anything else on television. I asked the writer, Daniel Knauf, how would I describe this piece to people. He said, “I describe it as “Grapes of Wrath” meets “Paradise Lost”. It’s a very unusual pilot story. It’s set in the Midwest during the depression. It’s about a young man who has just had his farm foreclosed on so he joins this traveling carnival. I play Jasper who is one of the circus barkers and I have been told my role would be a recurring one. HBO is putting a lot of money and time into this pilot. I am confident it is going to go to a series. I don’t have a firm airdate yet but I think it will be some time in May. Interestingly enough, this is an example not knowing who else may be on a show or movie. I show up on the set and Nancy Linehan Charles, a member of PRT, is there playing a guest star role. “Carnivale” will be very interesting. As I say, it’s almost Felliniesq because you are following this weird, weird carnival. Then the lead character, this young man who has lost his farm in the depression, turns out to have some miraculous powers of healing. I think it’s going to create quite a stir. Maybe it will have a cult following like the “X-Files” or maybe it will go the way of “Cop Rock”, which I was in for about 10 seconds.
Does you have any pet peeves? Personal pet peeves?
Lateness! Bigotry. Those are usually little picky things not things like war and pestilence. I really dislike people who treat waiters and waitresses poorly, because most of them are actors! I have a pet peeve that I am terribly guilty of and that is not listening. I keep trying to learn to do better. As an actor you should be a good listener … but not a whole lot … Cigarettes, loud cell phone usage…
What kind of books, music and movies does you enjoy?
I tend to like non-fiction. I like to read things like “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer, which is the story about the ill-fated expedition on Mount Everest. As a kid I used to read things like “Kon Tiki” and “Aku-Aku” by Thor Heyerdahl – adventures like that. I don’t do a lot of reading now. I read more newspapers and magazines than I do books.
In music my tastes are very eclectic. For instance, I love the music in “Oh Brother”, which won a Grammy for Best Album of the Year. I like basic good old rock and roll; blue grass, some country and even some rap that has something to say other than to shoot people.
I also have a very wide range of movies I like as well. I seem to go to more kids films than anything else right now though. There are some movies I like that are like stage plays and are very wordy and intimate and shot in interiors. I tend to like movies that do things that stage can’t do. That can shift time and location and play around with your head in ways that you can’t do on stage. I don’t have a particular type of genre that I like above others. I go to an actual adventure movie and take it for what it is. It’s just 90 minutes of diversion. Then you get a movie like “A Beautiful Mind” or “Schindlers’ List”. Something like that that really moves you and takes you into a world or a person that you couldn’t imagine before. When I came out of “Schindlers’ List” I walked toward a big open vacant lot with flowers growing. Schindlers List is all in black and white with occasional little flashes of color and it was almost as if I had been through sensory depravation – all of a sudden I was in the real world again and it’s in color. It was as if I had imagined I had been released from the grayness of a concentration camp and was free and could see the colors and flowers.
I am really open to almost any kind of film. I don’t like films that are deliberate, manipulative tearjerkers or get their laughs through crude toilet humor and putting down ethnic groups or gay people. I like a movie that takes you to someplace you never thought you would go in your head. Harry Potter is good. Would have loved to have been in that movie. That’s a franchise. I find myself being very careful about what my kids can see. It’s not that I thought my parents were strict with me. I remember my Mom taking me to see “David and Lisa”. Keir Dullea played a psychiatric patient, a boy who couldn’t allow himself to be touched. It was sort of an early version of Equus. It had the damaged character that didn’t know why he was the way he was, and slowly, throughout the film he discovered it. Today’s films are so saturated with violence and sex in this society that you really have to look for the quality films. You don’t necessarily avoid those issues but you pick what is appropriate for their age.
How would you describe yourself?
As an actor, I would describe myself as a journeyman actor or to use a baseball analogy a utility player. I can play a fairly wide range of roles. I am a good craftsman. I am not a leading man. An actor teacher of mine said, “I have a mug” that allows me to play some interesting roles which is both a blessing and a curse. As a person I am a bit of an introvert. I make friends slowly but when I make a friend I keep those friends close to me. I am a person who loves language and the outdoors and especially my children. They are really the center of my life now.
How would your kids describe you?
Daddy’s funny. Daddy like’s to do crazy stuff. My 6 year old Gabriel says “I’m the bestest Dad”. Gabriel and I were walking along the horse path that is next to the church after we had take the girls to CCD one day. We came back to the church and Gabriel said “Dad I want to make a prayer”. I am not Catholic but my children are being raised Catholic. We walked into the church, sat in the back pew and we looked up and Gabriel leaned over and said “Dad, Dad, I love you”. I didn’t ask him if that was his prayer.
How have the events of 9-11 changed your life, or your family?
My first impulse as an actor was to find something that spoke to what had happened and work to heal or answer some of the doubts and fears this created. I know some people have discussed doing this project but I don’t think we can throw a production together right away just to create something quickly. It requires reflection. I don’t know if we will do a project like that, but it would be interesting.
I think, just generally though as a human being, it makes you want to hold your children a little closer to you. That was my first impulse. I wanted to get home and hold my children. It teaches you to think every day when you leave for work that there are no guarantees. It also teaches you the depth and hatred of the enemy. I don’t think it has been stressed to the American public the danger in making your enemy into the devil. I am not saying we should show sympathy to the people who did this act. I think we should hunt them down and bring them to justice, but we have to understand the depth of the hatred that would cause them to do an act like that.
When you start with the basic assumption that most people believe in what Anne Frank said “that people at their hearts are good”, what would drive such a large group of people to hate us so much they would want to do such terrible things to people they don’t even know – to innocent people? How do they come to this point? We can put up a million metal detectors and barbed wire fences, but until we can get some understanding of why they hate us so badly, we are not really going to be able to have security. Even from a militaristic point, you need to understand your enemy and if you don’t understand why they hate you then you are not going to be prepared for what they might do. You look at Hitler and make a parallel to Osama Bin Laden. If someone had taken out Hitler early on, would World War II have happened? I don’t know. At this point, if someone took out Osama Bin Laden, I sincerely doubt that the terrorist acts against us would stop. People would pick up the banner and continue on.
It certainly is instructive that one man or group of people could inspire so much hatred. They have a theocracy. Someone pointed out an interesting difference between the Islamic World and the Western World. We see various countries divided by religions and the Islamic world sees it as all one religion that is just divided into countries. I was raised in the Unitarian Church and the symbol of the Church is the Flaming Chalice, which stands for the search for truth. In the Unitarian Religion, you were essentially on your own with no set dogma. You believed in the brotherhood of man and the dignity of human beings, but you have to make your own decisions about what you believe. There is a wonderful cartoon that sort of pokes fun of and that kinds of explains Unitarianism. There are two sets of stairways going up into the clouds and one sign says “For Christians: To Heaven” and the other says “For Unitarians: To a discussion about Heaven.” We never can make up our minds.
What famous person in history interests you?
That is weird you should just ask that question because I was just thinking about Abraham Lincoln. I sort of grew up with him in my house because my Dad played him. Another man that I find very inspiring was Albert Schweitzer. I read a biography of him as a kid and I remember that it talked about him having such respect for ants or insects. When he was digging a fence post he took care to move the insects out of the way before he dug the hole. I thought wow here was a guy that really respects life. Of course there was also all he went through to open his hospitals in Africa.
Abraham Lincoln is really the man I find very interesting. He was a very dark man who had to make some awful decisions about what to do to save the Union. There was a quote written about Lincoln by Carl Sandburg ” the final decisions are made in silent rooms where every man must skin his own skunk”. I have always felt that Lincoln was a fascinating character who overcame a lot of personal tragedy and his own demons to become a great leader. I think he had a lot of demons that he never allowed to surface. I also sense that, even with his dark personality, he had great optimism about human beings and their capability for goodness. That is the kind of person that inspires me. The kind of person that says I know that if a human being is given a choice they will do good. That if people behave in a mean way, it’s because they haven’t had the opportunity to see what is good and something has caused them to go in a direction that is unnatural.
How did you end up getting the part of Horace for “Dr. Quinn”?
It actually was very simple. I went in for a five-minute audition while Sheila and Claire waited in the car. We were going to dinner and I said ” oh yea I have this audition and then we’ll go to dinner.” The audition was very brief. I walked in. We chatted and then it was sort of “I guess we should read this.” I read it. Unless I am totally mistaken I don’t believe I even had a call back. It was just “we’re offering you the role”. It was the first pilot I had ever done. There were a number of actors on the show that had done many pilots that had never gone to a series. I did one pilot and it goes into a series for 6 years. So it was just a simple matter of my agent getting the call, I showed up and did the audition and got the part. There were many actors in the pilot that were not in the series. Different actors in the pilot played Jake Slicker and Mr. Bray. I rode the thing from beginning to end.
You talked about “Before The Dawn” in your first interview as being a really strong part.
It offered me the most challenges because there was so much going on there.
It is surprising that I have seen a number of interviews in the DQ Times where people talk about the “Traveling All Stars” as being their favorite. It certainly was an awful lot of fun. It was a game plus the stunt guy did the falls for you. I didn’t actually have to fall backward over the fence or do a forward flip at home plate. The stunt people did it all.
I also like the episode about the Ku Klux Klan coming to town. It was the episode called “The First Circle” and was broadcast on March 26, 1994. As I mentioned before, I have great respect for all writers, and specifically, in this case, the writers on “Dr. Quinn”. They did a terrific job in coming up with scripts for the show. Interestingly enough, the only time I ever questioned the writers was in that episode. I could understand perfectly why they had Horace and the group joining this organization. This hotshot came into town to tell us we had to protect the community and used all sorts of code phrases. He didn’t use any specific racial languages or racial slurs. He used a kind of vague veiled language that modern day racists use to try to get people to believe in their cause. I could believe that Horace and the other townspeople would join this group thinking it was a good thing to do; much like you would join the Better Business Bureau or the local Chamber of Commerce. Then they had us go out on a night ride and we end up beating up Robert E. In the original script they had my character continue to belong to this group. I didn’t say anything in public to the writers but did send them a note. I said look this was a character who stood on the steps of the church and stopped the mob from trying to lynch Ingrid’s brother. This is a guy who is such a stickler for the rules that he would never break a trust by revealing something he shouldn’t. He was a strictly by the book guy. Horace is a boy scout and yet here he was belonging to a group that would go out and beat up Robert E, his friend. I couldn’t buy it. I couldn’t see how he would do it.
I had personal experience with the Ku Klux Klan when my father counter picketed the Ku Klux Klan in Richmond, VA when I was growing up. There was a lunch counter that had been integrated and the Ku Klux Klan was protesting its integration. My Dad had counter picketed by himself so I had seen the Klan in person. I knew what they were like and what they were capable of. I just pointed out to the writers the history of my character and that it didn’t make sense. They agreed and I believe that when I discovered we had beaten up Robert E, they had me pull off my mask and ask what were we doing. It probably means I was written out of some scenes, but I was happy not to be in those scenes.
I have no problems playing a racist, but not playing a character that does a complete illogical flip flop psychologically. In fact, my parents were so involved in the Civil Rights movement that I remember a birthday party of mine where agents came to the house to talk with my mother because her life had been threatened. My 6th grade class was the first in Richmond to be integrated with one colored girl. When “Come Down to Carrolton County”, written by my father, opened in 1961 at the Virginia Museum Theatre, my father insisted that the theatre desegregate. By opening night the seating policy had been changed but the “Colored” bathroom signs were still in place. As the audience filled the theatre Dad strode to the bathroom doors and ripped the “Colored” signs off and tucked them into his tux.
When Horace decides to court Myra what kind of input did you have about the courtship and the troubles you encounter with Hank?
I didn’t specifically have any input on this in particular.
With regard to my courting Myra, I think the writers saw the comic potential when you just look at Helene and I – our physical characteristics – me being really tall and her being really petite. We were comic relief in that sense. You know the very straight arrow, very square and shy Horace getting involved with a prostitute. It had a myriad of comic potential. I love the scene where I somehow fail to consummate the marriage and then she starts to say that’s all right it … and stopped herself and realized she didn’t want to reveal her trade secrets. It was always fun to play that dynamic. I had fun relating to Horace as being a guy who had been alone (I married late myself. Didn’t get married until I was 40) so I related to Horace’s being an older bachelor who finally had the courage to say to someone, “hey I want to marry you” because I think he has a real sort of internal restraint that didn’t allow him to extend himself to fall in love until he met Myra and then something just clicked.
There was the episode called “The Incident” broadcast on November 11, 1993 where we went out deer hunting and accidentally shot an Indian and lied to cover it up. I think that came out of one of my discussions with the writers when I said that I thought it would be great that Horace really was longing to be one of the guys. Basically he is stuck in his office. He doesn’t drink so he doesn’t hang out in the saloon. He would probably do anything to be one of the guys. So when he is included on this deer hunt and it takes a tragic turn, the other guys say don’t say a word, back us up, lie, and cover up. He is willing to go along with that. That partly came out of my suggestion for Horace to be one of the guys.
What about your reaction to Myra wanting to work?
I found that very interesting. I read some of the fan reaction about how Horace had been such a great guy and now all of a sudden he’s being mean by not allowing Myra to work. That made perfect sense because he was a man of that era. I think some of the fans that protested that were trying to put their modern day sensibilities into Horace. They were thinking that a guy that was a good guy would have the kind of 1990s sensibility where he’d be liberated and have no problem with his wife working. Horace is as chauvinistic as the next guy. Unlike Hank, he doesn’t go around beating up women or hiring them into prostitution, but he certainly believed that a woman’s place was in the home raising the children. He had very conventional views of what a woman’s role was that was totally consistent with the era. I had no problem playing that at all and it made sense. It also added conflict because without conflict “you ain’t got no story”. No one wants to watch an hour where everyone gets along.
What were Horace’s best and worse traits?
I think his best trait was his honesty and his worst trait probably his shyness. Shyness, in a way, is a sort of selfishness – an inability or unwillingness to share yourself with other people. People tend to think of shyness as sort of charming. If you look at it from the other side, shyness is someone who is not willing to put him or herself out there and offer themselves up to other people. It held Horace back emotionally. It didn’t allow him to love as fully as he might have.
What would you have liked to see Horace achieve in his life?
Realistically, he was in a very dark place when the show ended. I am an optimist about peoples’ ability to change. You read the literature about depression and people with depressed personalities and it takes them years and years to escape that. But we are doing a television show. I would have liked to have seen something come along in the following season, either another woman or something that would happen to take Horace out of that dark place in his life. I think there was some talk about me getting interested in Rebecca Quinn. That would have been a lot of fun. I really respect Eleanor Donahue as an actress. It would have been enjoyable to work with her. Also, it would have been interesting to have two characters who really have had nothing to say to each other begin to notice each other. It’s what happens in real life. Sometimes you are around someone for months or years and then for some reason you take a look at them and see something you haven’t seen before.
Would you like to have seen Horace raise his daughter in Colorado Springs?
Well quite honestly there were already enough kids on the show. Dr. Mike’s kids were enough of a kid story. The logistics of having more children would have made that almost impossible. It would have been interesting in a reunion show to have her come back as a teenager. That would be a hoot. But I don’t think it would have happened on the series itself. It would have been tremendously interesting to do though.
Who would you have liked to have seen guest star on “Dr. Quinn”? Who would you like to have worked with?
Tons of people. Hal Holbrook would have been fun. That would have been great to have him on. I have always liked Judy Dench as an actress. I think she would have been an interesting character. Rene Auberjonois is an actor I worked with on stage. It would have been interesting to work with him on “Dr. Quinn”. He’s a wonderful stage actor and capable of all sorts of stuff. A lot of people know him best as an actor who played Odo on “Star Trek”. There are a lot of actors I know, who the general public wouldn’t know, that I would love to work with. I would like to have worked with members of our company such as Nancy Linehan Charles for example. Her husband Michael Rotthaar did play a role on the show. We had a member of our company from the Quick Change Room who also had a small role. Jason Leland Adams wife was on the show. Others I would be interested in working with are Andre Braugher from “Homicide Life On The Streets”, Dustin Hoffman and Jodie Foster. Of the guest stars who did appear on the show, the one who was the most interesting and fun to work with was Johnny Cash. I heard a very good description of him recently that said, “If an oak tree had a voice it would be Johnny Cash”. He is a man of almost Lincolnesq proportions. Very dark in some ways and physically, when we were filming the show, he was in a lot of pain. He overcame it and produced great work.
What do you miss about working on the series any more?
The security and the camaraderie are what I miss most. Knowing that every day you are going to go to work. In some ways, I envy the person who has a set job where they wake up in the morning and go in and do this. My kids used to ask “Are you going to the horsys today Daddy?” It was a great opportunity and it came at a perfect time in the history of my family. I had young children and was able to have the security and the knowledge that I would have the time to be with them because I didn’t have a 9-5 job. I could have entire days to take time with my kids. I do miss the camaraderie though, not just with just the actors, but also the whole crew – everyone who worked on the crew and also the fans that showed up. I miss the fans that would come out there. They really understood what the show was about and I respected them. There are some people in Hollywood that see the people, out in the middle of the country especially, as hicks and sell them whatever they want. I always had a lot of respect for the fans that showed up there. They knew a lot more, if you read the fan material, about the history of the era than some of the people involved with the production – certainly more than I knew. Some of the emails I read on the “Dr. Quinn” list about the era are amazing. One of my regrets is that I never learned the Morse code. The first day I was there, when I started to try it, they said don’t make any noise with the keys. We’ll put that sound in later. So I had no control over what the key sounded like because technically they couldn’t have that sound going during dialogue.
Frank’s Comments: I was just thinking specifically about the people who are reading this article. There was that period when my character was going to be written out and the fans found out about it. They wrote in and it certainly had an influence on the fact that minds were changed. For whatever reason, and to this day, I don’t know exactly how it was played out, but the decision was made not to write out my character. Even though the show only lasted one more season, I had that extra season to see the character develop in ways I had not dreamed possible. That extra time was a gift. It taught me things about the platitudes of coming into the peoples’ living rooms each week. They sound like platitudes, but when you actually meet the fans that are caught up in the show there is something very real and unusual. Again, I didn’t create it, the writers did. I interpreted this role and brought it to life. It was satisfying to see people get pleasure out of it.
The other thing I would say to people who are hoping for more “Dr. Quinn” episodes is this. As an actor and survival tool, I have to put that way on the back burner. It would be nice if it happened, but I can’t put much energy into it. I have to look forward to supporting myself and my family and look to the future. If there were to be a reunion show and have the town’s people come back, I think it would be a lot of fun to do it but I am not holding my breath. It was fun while it lasted and I am proud of the work I did on it.
I am glad it made a difference in peoples lives and took them to a little community where they got to know some people and got to love them even though the community never really existed. The fans actually felt they were part of the community. I don’t think that is necessarily the case in some shows, which basically require them to stand on the outside and look in. In this way it’s kind like one of my favorite types of paintings – a landscape or any kind of a cityscape where it felt like you could walk right into that picture. I think the appeal of “Dr. Quinn” was like one of those paintings. You felt like you could step into that town and sit down at the bar or walk into the post office and say, ” Horace I have a letter to mail here”, and Horace would say sure.
I think that although the show was called “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman”, there were two basic characters in the show. There was “Dr. Quinn” and then there was the community in which she lived. It was her relationship with that community and then to Sully that really made the story and without the town there would be no story. The conflicts, the joys and pleasures of the stories came from her interaction with the people of the town as she learned and grew herself and as the townspeople learned more and did some growing of their own. The challenge for the writers in any further seasons would have been that Dr. Mike was no longer the fish out of water story. She is no longer the high falutin snooty woman from Boston in the fancy dresses. She’s one of us now. So what can we do now if the community had accepted her at that point? Sure there were outsiders who would come in and say a woman doctor – my goodness. But the town’s people had accepted her. If someone broke their leg they ran straight to Dr. Mike. Some one in the cast, I think it was Jane, had a t-shirt made up that read “Truth is, Dr. Mike saved my life”
I just wanted to say thank you to the fans for all the letters they wrote in when I was going to be written out and thank you for becoming part of the town. It created a sense of theatre. Not that we could really perform for you guys while you were there. If we’d been loud enough for you to hear, we’d be blasting the microphones out. We had an audience there and I liked that. It gave a sense of immediacy, because the people who loved the show were actually there watching us creating it. It reminded you why you were there, unlike being cooped up in a studio where you have no connection with any of the fans unless you are at charity events. “Dr. Quinn” was unique. I don’t know of any other show that had that much contact with their public on an ongoing basis because of where we filmed.
PRT Productions: “Lulu”,” Quick Change Room”, “A Christmas Carol”, “The Visit”,”Barbarians”,”Beggar’s Opera”, “The Merry Wives of Windsor”, “A Long Christmas Dinner”, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, “Happy End”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Caretaker”, “Come Down to Carrolton County”, “Crimes and Crimes”, “I’ll Die Happy”, “No Problem”, “Three Sisters”, “Voices in the Woods”.
Other theatres: Los Angeles Theatre Center, Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, Denver Center, Chamber Repertory Theatre of Boston and off-off Broadway.
Favorite roles: “Sitting Bull” in “Indians”, “Marquis de Sade” in “Marat/Sade”, “Puck” in “Midsummer’s Nights Dream”, “Peachum” in “Beggar’s Opera”, “First Witch” in “Macbeth”, “Merlin” in “Camelot”.
Film (partial): “Hope Springs” (Fall, 2002), “Oh Brother Where Art Thou? ” (Coen Brothers), “The Majestic”,”Camouflage”,”Wild At Heart” (David Lynch), “Buddy”, “The Last Boy Scout”,”Mobsters”,”The Blob”.
Television (partial): “Carnivale” HBO series (May, 2002),”Horace Bing”, six seasons on “”Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” guest star on “NYPD Blue”, “Star Trek, the Next Generation”, “Hill Street Blues”, “Cop Rock”, “Moonlighting”, “Night Court”