Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince of an actor named Richard Hatch. The year was 1970 and he was cast in a new ABC soap opera called All My Children. He went on to co-star in two other distinctive ABC series (The Streets of San Francisco and Battlestar Galactica) which would define his career and shape his views on art and life.
During a recent interview in which we discussed his performances in plays, television programs and motion pictures, he talked at great length about his journey from an abusive childhood to publishing Battlestar Galactica stories and delivering self-improvement seminars. I had watched Richard Hatch on television – apprehending criminals as a policeman and saving the human race as Captain Apollo – in my youth, and I recall thinking that his characters were both heroic and handsome. With passion for science fiction, as well as for teaching self-help for the damaged, I found that he really is.
Though best known for work that appeared in short bursts, like Farrah Fawcett in her single season on Charlie’s Angels (as Farrah Fawcett-Majors), Richard Hatch made a strong and lasting impression. After talking with him about New York, Hollywood and what it means to be true to oneself, it isn’t difficult to see why.
Scott Holleran: Where have you done your best acting?
Richard Hatch: It’s not in a single role. There are individual scenes in various projects. I did some great work in a movie called InAlienable, a science fiction movie written by Walter Koenig [Chekov in the original NBC series Star Trek] with some dramatic scenes that I’m proud of but there’s never been one whole project. My best work is in scenes. I did a  television movie called Deadman’s Curve about the singers Jan and Dean and there are scenes with Bruce Davison that I’m proud of. I haven’t done a movie that, from beginning to end, is definitive as my best.
Scott Holleran: You have co-starred in soap opera, crime and science fiction. Which is your favorite genre?
Richard Hatch: I don’t look at it like that. I like great drama and profound stories with complex, multilayered characters where I connect with the core of the character. I played a young retarded man on Medical Center. Most sci-fi isn’t even sci-fi to me—people think it’s all weird noses and eyes—it’s about exploring themes and what’s possible. In Battlestar Galactica, we never [consciously] thought of it as science fiction. We thought of it as dealing with life.
All My Children and The Streets of San Francisco
Scott Holleran: Your early career is defined by two fictional characters leaving popular television series on ABC. Your All My Children character Philip Brent was drafted into the Vietnam War and your Streets of San Francisco character Dan Robbins replaced Inspector Steve Keller when Michael Douglas left the series in the fifth and final season. Did the transition strengthen your resolve in the revolving door business of television—did it toughen you up for TV?
Richard Hatch: All My Children was an amazing experience. We created this world of Pine Valley and I got to relive my youth. That was one of my favorite experiences. New York was an incredible shift and change from the California surfer lifestyle. I went from wanting to be an architect and studying classical piano and wanting to play the guitar to being in New York on the original cast of All My Children. The whole experience of auditioning and getting parts on TV shows like The Waltons and Barnaby Jones was such an exciting, fun adventure—like going to [Las] Vegas and putting your coins in the slot machines and not knowing what would happen. So, in New York, the whole artistic journey became more interesting to me than being a star. When I got the part of Dan Robbins, I was terrified going into a primetime show [ABC’s Streets of San Francisco] with Karl Malden and I felt this intense pressure—it was terrifying—and I was struggling to remember my lines. [Executive Producer] Quinn Martin eventually came and complimented me and said ‘I think you’re going to do really well’. And I did. But in the beginning I was shaky. By the seventh episode, he encouraged me and even Karl Malden was positive, so I felt more relaxed. It was hard because Michael Douglas was like a second son to Karl Malden, who was respectful to me, but never warm and welcoming like Lorne Greene on Battlestar Galactica. Even my girlfriend at the time liked Michael Douglas and missed the Steve Keller character. I loved living in San Francisco and the experience taught me a lot about myself. I went to new roles after that and learned that I was always a character actor at heart. So, it did toughen me up.
Scott Holleran: You’ve described your character’s storyline on All My Children as an old-fashioned romance with poetry and holding hands. Was romanticism central to All My Children’s early success?
Richard Hatch: Yes. Pine Valley was a kind of bastion of an earlier time when love was more innocent. I loved that old-fashioned romanticism of the original show. Obviously, they had to go with the times. But there was something very sweet to All My Children in the beginning. It was shot in black and white when we started. It was an early time in television.
Scott Holleran: Did you watch All My Children?
Richard Hatch: Not after I left [the show]. It was hard to watch. The only reason I left was that I had lots of family in L.A. and I wanted to see what I could do in Hollywood. I felt that I had challenged myself in All My Children. I had also been in an off-Broadway rock musical. I almost wish I had stayed in New York. I was one of the original cast members and I felt an embrace on All My Children, like it was home. I have very fond memories. Part of me knew it was a great place to start – a warm, loving environment.
Scott Holleran: Your character, Philip Brent, was drafted into the Vietnam War. Did you hear from parents of war veterans or vets themselves?
Richard Hatch: At the time, I was getting thousands of fan letters and I don’t remember much of that happening. Me and [the character] Tara were married in a church alone before I left for Vietnam. I don’t remember soldiers’ parents or vets coming up to me. It was a very confusing time in the country.
Scott Holleran: What was the final outcome of your Philip Brent character on All My Children?
Richard Hatch: I don’t know what happened to him.
Scott Holleran: When asked during an appearance with you on a reunion show why she hired you as one of the original children, All My Children creator Agnes Nixon turned to you and answered: “I saw your face.” Is physical beauty—in particular male physical beauty—less a factor in casting than it was in 1970?
Richard Hatch: Yes. The so-called good-looking leading man was more in demand back then. Now, they look for more quirky characteristics in leading men.
Scott Holleran: Did good looks hurt you in Hollywood?
Richard Hatch: [Pauses] I think so. I had to prove myself over and over. There was always a doubt because I was being labeled and put in a compartment. These days, it’s easier because actors go from TV to the Internet, so there’s not much of a stigma. Most of my guest roles were [more] interesting. I remember when they were casting for the lead in The Graduate and I was one of many actors to read for the role. When Dustin Hoffman was cast we were all like, ‘that’s what they were looking for’? When you’re good-looking, you struggle to prove that you can act. It’s as though they dirty you up to take you seriously.
Scott Holleran: You appeared with Star Wars’ Mark Hamill on Streets of San Francisco in an episode that aired on February 24, 1977. Did he encourage you to go into science fiction—and give you tips on waging dogfights in outer space?
Richard Hatch: [Laughs] No, because he wasn’t in science fiction. Star Wars wasn’t a big movie—it was a little movie. I had asked him about Star Wars—we had met numerous times during our television work and we would talk—and he told me it was ‘this little film’, which is what he called it. Until the special effects and music were put in, that’s what it was. I know he was a huge comics fan.
Scott Holleran: Will you be seeing Star Wars’ Phantom Menace in its 3D theatrical release this month?
Richard Hatch: I love the original movies. I’m not a fan of the newer ones. George Lucas had an opportunity to do something extraordinary. He could have brought people in to create something wonderful – it’s his story – but I just read that he says he’s never making another Star Wars because of the critics. Why not listen to the criticism? It doesn’t mean you can’t do it your way, or that critics are right about everything, but why not get some feedback? We all need to be objective. He’s an amazing producer and I just hope he doesn’t stop—I hope he brings outside creative people together. Fans are not stupid and they do have important things to say. Take it in, listen and take what’s a value. Weave that into the work.
Scott Holleran: You’ve been getting fan feedback—not all of it positive—for years about your work on various Battlestar Galactica incarnations and, since co-starring on the original series, you have written seven Battlestar Galactica novels. Do you have any more Battlestar Galactica books planned for publication?
Richard Hatch: Our publisher died, so they lost the license. Universal has been sort of confused about licensing. Then apparently you have [director] Bryan Singer creating a feature film. I don’t know if Universal has a problem [with the novels]. Paramount never did [with Star Trek] so hopefully we’ll get new life and continue the Battlestar books. For plot continuation, there needs to be an eighth book.
Scott Holleran: How do you approach writing as a process?
Richard Hatch: I essentially get an idea for a story and start writing. I let the characters lead me—I write a mini-novel, 50 or 60 pages and that becomes my outline. Then, I go back through the arcs, the throughline and B stories. It has to illuminate some aspect of the Battlestar universe. I like to put characters in life and death circumstances. Then we have to find a creative way to organically get them out with no gimmicks. I let the characters deal with the circumstances, which leads me to a conclusion. I have a general idea before I sit down to write. You have a race of humans mandated to be chased across the universe by a race of Cylons. We are following the 13th tribe and looking for remnants of that human civilization and we’re always searching for resources and looking at the logistics of [outer] space. So we don’t know where the journey is going to go. Each step illuminates the journey and what makes us who we are. My quest as a writer is to enrich. When I start writing, I love to get into the work—work is my passion—I just write, write, write. It’s no different than anything else you get immersed in. It’s the world we want to live in—when you connect on the deepest level—I drink from the well. It’s a nourishing foundation for life.
Scott Holleran: Please explain the origins of how Captain Apollo, your character in Battlestar Galactica (1978), got his name.
Richard Hatch: I honestly have no clue. In the original script, my character’s name was Skyler. When [20th Century] Fox sued [those who made Battlestar Galactica], it was changed to Apollo to avoid confusion with Luke Skywalker from [Fox’s] Star Wars. I liked the name Skyler. Apollo was not my favorite name. We did use mythical names like Athena and Apollo.
Scott Holleran: Do you see your Battlestar Galactica co-star Dirk Benedict, who portrayed Starbuck?
Richard Hatch: I run into him every once in a while. I see his kids. He still lives in Montana, but he comes back to L.A.
Scott Holleran: The pilot episode of Battlestar Galactica was interrupted by ABC News for an hour to cover the so-called Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. Did the lengthy interruption stunt its start and hurt the show?
Richard Hatch: What hurt the show was that they had to rush it into production, so they were behind schedule and cost overruns were exorbitant—it was a hugely expensive show—though it was in the top 20 or top 10. Had we been on any other network than ABC—which already had so many successful shows—we might have survived. ABC replaced us with Mork and Mindy, which didn’t do as well in the ratings. Even with the news interruption, we had 65 million people watching. Today, if a show gets 29 million viewers, it’s in the top five.
Scott Holleran: Should Battlestar Galactica have been a miniseries, not a series?
Richard Hatch: It was a miniseries when we did it. Then, ABC changed it to a series. They didn’t have scripts written. We suffered because we weren’t ready to go with a show on that scale for a weekly series. To go from enormous success to having the budget pulled back just goes to show that they didn’t understand the value of the show in merchandising and moneymaking possibilities. They didn’t see the larger picture. They didn’t get it. Paramount did. They put together a mega-franchise with Star Trek. But ABC wasn’t alone—look at Fox, which I think gave all the merchandising rights for Star Wars to George Lucas.
Scott Holleran: Did Battlestar Galactica’s time slot—against 60 Minutes—hurt?
Richard Hatch: Again, we were rushed. Our shots became redundant and we had some weak mid-season stories—most shows don’t hit their stride until the second or third season. It’s very hard to get through that gauntlet of too many cooks in the kitchen. Star Trek would never have come back had it not been in syndication in an era when syndication was not yet saturated. They were able to relaunch a show that had never been successful in its first run.
Scott Holleran: Were there also content restrictions against violence?
Richard Hatch: That’s one of the reasons Streets of San Francisco went off the air. There were these [Puritanical pressure] groups and they scored points for violence. The same people that want to tell us what we should all watch—and mandate what we should see—are the same people who claim they don’t want government intervention in our lives. If you don’t want to watch, don’t watch. But, if one person complains about something happening on TV, [network executives] are more apt to change it. That amazes me. So, yes, there was a particular type of crackdown in the 1970s and 1980s.
Scott Holleran: You turned down the opportunity to co-star in Galactica 1980. Why?
Richard Hatch: Battlestar was about the journey—Galactica 1980 was about coming to Earth. I had also turned down auditions for the original Battlestar Galactica. I was very idealistic and I had read sci-fi since I was eight, though I thought that most of what was on TV was cheesy. [Creator] Glen Larson took me to dinner and, after I read the script with the Ralph McQuarrie artwork in it, I was still reticent. I turned it down. What ultimately sold me was McQuarrie’s artwork – the little boy in me was absolutely enthralled – because I’ve always been visual.
Scott Holleran: Tell me about your own Battlestar Galactica mock trailer?
Richard Hatch: We got amazing reviews. I set out to make a presentation to Universal. That was the whole thing. Ultimately, I found several production companies that were ready but Universal couldn’t quite believe there were enough fans out there. We showed statistics of how many people watched the show and—even then there were several companies making toys and merchandise—for a show that had been on the air for one year. I ultimately spent too much money. I ended up having to remortgage my home.
Scott Holleran: Were you asked to appear in the pilot for Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome?
Richard Hatch: No. I heard that they filmed the pilot but it has yet to air. The Syfy Channel [formerly Sci Fi Channel] is a business. Blood and Chrome was shot with a lot of green screen but I hear it’s good. I’m hoping to see it soon. I love the Battlestar universe. For whatever reason, Battlestar has never found a home with a studio that really supports it—and we don’t really see space shows anymore. They like sci-fi shows where people look like they’re grounded in today because it doesn’t cost as much in costumes, etc.
Scott Holleran: What in your opinion lies at the core of Battlestar Galactica’s sustained interest—the post-apocalyptic search for safety, characters’ friendships, familial ties, or is it rooted in pure sci-fi escapism?
Richard Hatch: No. Like Lord of the Rings, it’s a journey, and there’s something metaphorical about it—because we’re all on a journey and it’s got a story that people can identify with. Battlestar Galactica is like life on a larger scale: we grow up, leave home, wander and try to find our way, we meet someone, create a homeland, we find the challenge of space and under those conditions we bond – as we did after 9/11, when we all bonded – and Battlestar taps into all those areas. We see the best and worst of humanity and, again, the insights of the human condition are profound, so those that love substance are drawn to it. The greatest light lies within the greatest darkness and it gives us hope and insight but in a realistic way. There are real epiphanies and breakthroughs and the worst in us sometimes becomes the best of us. The struggle to find a home is heroic and all those things touch us and nourish us. So you feel like you have to come back next week. I have to say that Ron Moore and company [in making the 21st century TV series] were brilliant in making you want more.
Scott Holleran: Regarding your Tom Zarek role in Moore’s remade Battlestar Galactica (2004), you said in an interview that you “liked that he was an idealist that turns darker because of the change in the world and government around him”. Explain what you mean.
Richard Hatch: If you read history, and watch the movie Braveheart, there are those who challenge the powers that be and start out looking at the world with rose-colored glasses but discover that there’s injustice and their innocence is destroyed and violated. While most accept the injustice, some rebel and challenge it and stand up against it. That’s what Tom Zarek did—he realized that the world lost its way and he stood for human rights. In the past, men were burned at the stake and thrown in dungeons. Tom went to prison for 25 years.
Scott Holleran: You’ve talked about learning to be objective about new versions of Battlestar Galactica. How do you approach being objective about a work?
Richard Hatch: I’ve lived long enough to know myself. We all have certain biases and levels of what I call programming. We buy into all these ideas. I’m more aware of myself and how we limit our objectivity. I’m more forgiving of flaws and imperfections. We either grow towards being more open or towards being more closed. For me, life has always been more of a spiritual journey. So, I’m able to be more objective. I could see that Ron Moore had an original vision—he wasn’t just copying—he understood the elements of the original Battlestar Galactica.
Scott Holleran: Are you more like Tom Zarek or Captain Apollo?
Richard Hatch: Tom Zarek. I love Apollo—he’s amazing—but they weren’t challenging him enough. He’s the true blue hero and the good guy never gets his due. So again, with Tom Zarek, he was courageous and he was punished. He lost faith and trust in government and I just found him to be a wounded, damaged idealist. Tom Zarek’s closer to the real me. I see people refusing to see the big picture. That’s why I teach. I love to empower people to stop being abused and claim their rights.
Creators, Partners and Castmates
Scott Holleran: I want to get your impressions of artists with whom you’ve worked during your 50-year career. Did you meet Waltons creator Earl Hamner when you played Wade Walton?
Richard Hatch: Yes and he’s a wonderful man. I love the world of The Waltons. It was like being in Pine Valley, where life is about family. I love that old-fashioned world. Earl Hamner embodies that—as a creator, producer and writer. I love the world he created. He was very gracious to me, open to feedback. I felt honored to be part of that show.
Scott Holleran: Jack Lord, with whom you appeared on Hawaii Five-O?
Richard Hatch: He was kind and supportive. I’d met him on the set of his cowboy series, Stoney Burke (1962-1963). I know people say they had their differences with him but, with me, when I was on Hawaii Five-O, he came out and sat down next to me and he just talked with me when I was a nobody. He was kind and he was mentoring and I came on every season. He brought me to Hawaii and put me up in these nice hotels and I got to feel like a human being.
Scott Holleran: Michael Douglas, whom you replaced on Streets of San Francisco?
Richard Hatch: He had a lovely way about him. He took me to lunch while we were working on Streets of San Francisco and he made me feel much better.
Scott Holleran: Arnold Schwarzenegger, who guest starred on Streets of San Francisco?
Richard Hatch: He was this big little boy—he had a childlike quality of openness—like this big kid. He was happy to be on the set. I remember that we had a great conversation.
Scott Holleran: Quinn Martin, who produced Streets of San Francisco?
Richard Hatch: The quintessential producer [Cannon, The Fugitive, Barnaby Jones, The Untouchables, Twelve O’Clock High, Most Wanted, The FBI]. Gracious and always kind. The pressure got to me because I was terrified of replacing Michael Douglas and terrified of being replaced and [Quinn Martin] brought me down from San Francisco and made me feel like it was going to be OK. He was kind, never critical. He was businesslike, generous. And intelligent.
Scott Holleran: Patty Duke?
Richard Hatch: With her, it’s all about the work. I worked with her on a  film adaptation of a Eudora Welty short story—The Hitch-Hiker—and she was a very smart woman, very direct, no nonsense.
Scott Holleran: Aaron Spelling?
Richard Hatch: I did get to know Aaron Spelling because he was always calling me. He was relentless. I said No to way too many things for all the wrong reasons, because I was an idealistic actor. But he was always very nice and he kept calling and asking. He treated his guest stars like stars, he was amazing in terms of his appreciation for actors.
Scott Holleran: You have talked about being shy and withdrawn before you became an actor. How did JFK’s assassination move you and draw you out?
Richard Hatch: I felt a kind of cosmic connection because our president had tapped into this spirit and we all needed that; he called out and touched us and exemplified idealism. It was the loss of innocence in America. I was a student and what I had read about his assassination made me cry. When I started to read it in class, I forgot myself—I forgot my shyness and insecurities and I felt this connection to something deeper. It took me out of being frightened and scared.
Scott Holleran: You played against type when you portrayed a frustrated writer who turns the tables on a criminal in an Obie award-winning, two-man stage play, P.S. Your Cat is Dead—
Richard Hatch: —My character is a down and out playwright and he takes out all his frustrations and anger when he catches this bisexual burglar named Vito. Then, he opens my mind and challenges me to step out of the box and stop being uptight. I could totally identify with the part, though the Vito character gets all the funny lines. Vito is the provocateur. The comedy comes out of the repartee.
Scott Holleran: Did you enjoy doing Dynasty?
Richard Hatch: Yes and no. That’s not really my kind of thing—I was playing another handsome art dealer type—but I loved working with Pamela Bellwood [as Claudia] again [she had previously appeared with Hatch in Deadman’s Curve].
Success and Self-Improvement
Scott Holleran: As a former gymnast and pole-vaulter who surfed, worked as a lifeguard and still plays basketball, how important is physical fitness to your artistic success?
Richard Hatch: I had studied ballet for three years in Beverly Hills, sleeping in the ballet studio’s back room—I was gifted in gymnastics, so they gave me a scholarship—and while I was always athletic, I always had a love for ballet, admiring [Mikhail] Baryshnikov and [Rudolph] Nureyev, amazed at how they could leap across the stage. During that time, I only dated ballet girls. Later, I studied the biology of the body and its proper nutrition, and I realized that everything in life is about building energy and vitality. So, I knew that if I wanted to maximize my life, I had to nourish myself. It’s like a plant; if you don’t take care of it, it dies. While I’m here for this time on the planet, I want to maximize my life. As for it being part of my success, my self-valuing was low when I started becoming successful, so I had to start with mental health. Having the house in Beverly Hills didn’t feel authentic. I felt like a fraud. I crashed and burned after Battlestar Galactica. People I’d been working with had drained my bank account. I had to go back into a deep journey into my soul and I knew I was feeling depressed. When your life as an actor gets magnified into stardom, with all the adulation, it’s so beyond reality that, when it goes away, you feel withdrawal. All the people taking your calls and meetings and everyone saying they love you is like a drug. Being famous is like being high all the time. You lose that and it taps into your abandonment issues—it pours acid on old wounds. I’m still learning to love myself unconditionally—overcoming guilt and shame from childhood has been a struggle for me—and I’m dealing with my issues. That’s why I do these seminars. I get joy from teaching.
Scott Holleran: Are you left-handed?
Richard Hatch: I’m ambidextrous; I write, play tennis and eat with my left hand. I bat, golf and play guitar with my right hand.
Scott Holleran: You talk openly during your self-help work about struggling with your issues. How did you pull through?
Richard Hatch: I’ve been through every form of therapy—Gestalt, Freudian, you name it. I grew up with abusive stepfathers who hated me, so I was basically medicating myself with food and carbohydrates. I was never into drugs and, though I like an occasional shot of Tequila, I never could drink very much. I would feel a deep sadness and disconnection, feeling rejected and not belonging and through studying philosophy and religions, reading the Bible, studying Buddhism and reading Tony Robbins or Marianne Williamson, I learned that there’s a deeper truth—that each one of us is supposed to connect with life. For me, acting is like a religion.
Scott Holleran: What are you working on now?
Richard Hatch: I just directed an episode for a series of shorts called Silicon Assassins, a quirky sci-fi series for the Web with a sort of libertarian political bent in which I also star and I just filmed a pilot called Mindbenders. It’s similar to The Twilight Zone. I play a Catholic priest in a film called Dead by Friday and a park ranger in a movie called The Pod—I think that’s supposed to be coming out soon. I am also preparing a new social media site for Battlestar Galactica fans. And I do my seminars and a Web-based reality series called Who the Frak. We’re taking the series on an excursion to Mexico in May.
Scott Holleran: Do you consider yourself a nerd, a geek—or an individualist?
Richard Hatch: I was a nerd. I was an athlete but I liked hanging out with kids studying physics. I was interested in science fiction and philosophy and understanding the world on a deeper level—I have a very inquisitive mind. It’s hard for me to understand that there are people who don’t. Am I an individualist? It depends on what you mean. I think we are all interconnected on a deeper level, part of something greater. I don’t think being an individualist and being interconnected are mutually exclusive.
Scott Holleran: In your motivational seminars, you talk about not basing self-esteem on the opinions of others and you tell audiences that people should love themselves. Are you advocating self-interest?
Richard Hatch: Yes. The biggest problem in the world is that most of us are trying to deal with a fractured self. What a child needs is the sense that he’s worth something—that he’s valuable. You have to really love yourself and people who are egotistical don’t really love themselves. Real self-worth comes from loving yourself.