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New Music Interview: Henry Jackman

HJCATWSRead the new interview I recently conducted with Captain America: The Winter Soldier composer Henry Jackman on The New Romanticist. In this exclusive interview about America’s top movie, a Marvel Studios picture which exceeded expectations to earn $96 million in the opening weekend, Jackman talks about the meaning of music for film, whether he sees man as heroic and whom between Captain America and Captain Phillips, another title character from the last film he scored, he would prefer to have as a dinner guest.

This is one of my most free-wheeling interviews – we went into overtime – and, besides The King’s Speech composer Alexandre Desplat and Grammy-winning songwriter Melissa Manchester, who co-wrote a song for The Weinstein Company’s Dirty Girl with Mary Steenburgen, it offers a closer examination of the creative process of telling stories through motion pictures. I hope readers enjoy the new interview as much as I did.

Speaking of music, I am still enjoying what I listen to on CD and iTunes, from James Blunt, Stevie Nicks and Elton John to Avicii, and newly remastered or released recordings by the great conductor Arturo Toscanini. I am also working on an exclusive new series of interviews with one of my favorite artists, Melissa Manchester, who is making a new, crowdfunded album (her 20th!) of the great American songbook with new tunes she wrote and appearances by classic jazz and pop artists. I’ve been privileged to attend recording sessions for the new work and I am excited. This week, I am planning to attend a preview of a new, live show, Summer Nights, by another favorite artist, Olivia Newton-John, at her residency at the Donny and Marie Showroom in the Flamingo Las Vegas. Olivia also has a new record, which I plan to review. New music from legendary artists and for enjoyable movies (and my writing teacher Leonard Peikoff just announced an amateur jazz performance at OCON in Las Vegas this summer) should make for more good tunes throughout the year.

New Interview

K72A7000.CR2I’m planning to attend an evening vocal performance by Academy Award-winning actress Mary Steenburgen, whom I recently interviewed for The New Romanticist, at Herb Alpert’s jazz club Vibrato in Bel Air. I’m looking forward to hearing her sing live for the first time.

I first met Ms. Steenburgen, whose work in pictures I’ve long admired, at an event in Beverly Hills a couple of years ago when she co-wrote a song for Melissa Manchester for an independent movie called Dirty Girl. We subsequently did a three-way interview with Ms. Manchester, which rolled off of our tongues (read the 2011 interview here).

After seeing Mary Steenburgen perform in the new movie Last Vegas, I started to think about what it must be like to make a major career change later in life. I know something about this issue, since I’ve expanded from journalism into writing fiction when I sold my Web site to some years ago and enrolled in a challenging, new writing and philosophy program to restart my career from scratch. I love making improvements – I know I have much to learn – so my recent conversation with Mary Steenburgen was pure pleasure because she does, too.

Read the exclusive interview here.

Peter Breck, Nick on ‘Big Valley’, Dies at 82

Peter Breck, the actor who played Nick Barkley on ABC’s one-hour Western starring Barbara Stanwyck, The Big Valley (1965-1969), died in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada last Monday. He was 82. His death was announced by his wife, Diane, on the Big Valley fan forum Web site The Big Valley Writing Desk.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Breck, who appeared in movies such as I Want to Live! with Susan Hayward and as the father in Benji, for my online column in 2006. I found him to be nothing like his hot-tempered rancher character. He was kind and generous, talking about a range of issues for the short interview, which I conducted for Fox’s release of Big Valley‘s first season on DVD. He was also a regular on the TV Western Maverick starring James Garner. He ran an acting school in Canada with his wife after the couple moved there.

From my 2006 column and interview with Mr. Breck:

“For cinematic, larger-than-life television, The Big Valley cannot be topped. Starring five first-rate actors as a wealthy ranching family, the sweeping, colorful outdoors series depicts an idealized American West. Respect is earned, ranching is business, and cowboys are heroes. It’s rugged individualism in one rich, powerful family.

“The Barkleys own half the San Joaquin Valley in the 1870s. Widow Victoria is played by the indomitable movie star Barbara Stanwyck, eldest Jarrod, a San Francisco lawyer, by the late Richard Long, angelic Audra by Linda Evans (Dynasty) and half-brother Heath by a young Lee Majors (The Six Million Dollar Man). Despite Heath being fathered by her late husband and another woman, Victoria welcomes him into the family with her head held high, in defiance of the community, which refuses to accept Heath as a Barkley.

“The Big Valley also features Heath’s rough, intemperate brother Nick, played by actor Peter Breck, who recalls the fistfights, the shootouts and the demanding stunts. In one episode, Nick drives a Mexican cattleman, played by Martin Landau, off Barkley land when he won’t remove an anthrax-infected herd. But Breck’s horse was spooked.

“I was dragged,” Breck remembered, speaking from his home in Canada. “Martin Landau was shooting over a rock and as I rode up, an explosion went off. I was over my mark, and Boom! The horse went on the wildest eleven seconds I ever had. At one point, I looked up and got it right in the bottom of my chin.” Another time, Nick and Heath encounter a rabid beast ready to pounce on the livestock. “It was a timber wolf,” Breck said. “They threw him off a rock and on to me and doubled the close-up with a German shepherd. We would rehearse it and the gaffers would get up there with him and throw him at me. The paws were going every which way.”

“That episode was “Night of the Wolf,” which memorably features director Ron Howard, already playing Opie in The Andy Griffith Show, as a boy who looks up to Nick. Other first season guest stars include Katharine Ross (The Graduate) as the beautiful Mexican aristocrat who is Heath’s first love, Charles Bronson as an alcoholic trapped in a collapsed church with Victoria following an earthquake and Beah Richards (Sidney Poitier’s mother in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?) as a woman who helped raise bastard Heath.

“Like Gunsmoke, The Big Valley dramatized serious conflicts on principle—involving property rights, justice, racism—and, like the similarly structured Bonanza, the action centered on a family. There the parallels end.

“From its rousing opening score, the show conveys an epic feel, with gorgeous photography in southern California’s Santa Clarita Valley and Ventura County that lingers on wide vistas that give the moral dilemmas a broader canvass. The cast is easy on the eyes, too, whether Audra gallops across the landscape in her form-fitting Western wear to watch the wild Mustangs or the virile Barkley boys are on screen.

“The Barkleys’ idealism, evident in nearly every episode, is anchored in realism threaded with ironic humor. Each member of the family is unique—Jarrod is consistently rational, Nick is passionate, Heath is introspective, Audra is kind—and they are united by common values.

“Holding them together, insisting that each be treated as an individual, is Miss Stanwyck as their mother, an unwavering voice of reason and integrity and always with love. 77-year-old Breck, whose stage work spans Shakespeare, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and his personal favorite, Cyrano de Bergerac, said working with one of the screen’s brightest stars was a constant reward.

“I’d get chills,” Breck explained. “She would look at me with those eyes and our characters had a bond. Barbara was a tiger.” Breck, who lost his only child to leukemia when his son was 28, lives with his wife of 46 years in British Columbia, far from Hollywood in more ways than geography. “I do miss the old Hollywood,” he told this columnist, “I’m not too happy with what’s there now. I did Jiminy Glick in La La Wood—they gave me the role of the head of the studio—and it was just a rush job. Everything’s too fast now and you can’t go bang-bang-bang and get a performance.” As an afterthought, he added: “They don’t make good movies anymore.”

“They do, however, make DVDs of good television shows—and Breck, whose horseback riding in the majestic show still rustles up the Old West, ought to be proud to know that The Big Valley is one of them.”

Interview with Richard Hatch

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 [1978] 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.

Battlestar Galactica

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 WarsPhantom 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 [1989] 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.

Interview: Mary Steenburgen and Melissa Manchester

The unique experience of interviewing two of my favorite artists, Grammy-winning singer Melissa Manchester (“Don’t Cry Out Loud”) and Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) about their collaboration in motion picture songwriting was an early Christmas present. The three of us talked about their mutual work and careers in a lively and earnest conversation. I can attest that the ladies, who let me address them informally, are as lovely as they seem on screen and on record. This is an edited transcript.

New York-born Manchester, daughter of a Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musician and clothing entrepreneur, has studied under Paul Simon, performed as a solo artist in Greenwich Village, played Carnegie Hall and headlined at Radio City Music Hall. Her hit singles include “Midnight Blue”, “Whenever I Call You Friend”, which she co-wrote with Kenny Loggins, “Through The Eyes Of Love” and “You Should Hear How She Talks About You.” In 2010, Ms. Manchester co-created and starred in the ballroom dance spectacular Fascinating Rhythms, and her song “I Know Who I Am” was recorded by Leona Lewis for Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls.

Nine of her songs are highlighted in Dirty Girl, including the original theme song “Rainbird” which she recorded and co-wrote with the movie’s co-star, the widely known and popular Mary Steenburgen, most recently seen in The Help and The Proposal. Ms. Steenburgen (Philadelphia, Back to the Future III, Melvin and Howard, Life as a House) is represented by Universal Music and has been working as a songwriter for the last five years. Dirty Girl is the story of a reputedly “dirty” schoolgirl in an Oklahoma town, circa 1987, who is paired with someone who is secretly gay. Together, they flee to California, and discover each other and themselves. Though the Weinstein Company gave Dirty Girl a brief theatrical release last year, it’s available this Tuesday on DVD. The soundtrack is available on Lakeshore Records.

Scott Holleran: Had you known one another before your collaboration on “Rainbird” for Dirty Girl?

Mary Steenburgen: We had only just met shortly before Dirty Girl. We actually started with another song that had nothing to do with the movie, which didn’t exist yet. I completely idolized Melissa. She narrated many moments of my life—we actually even look a tiny bit alike—including this one day on a bus, when someone thought I was Melissa Manchester. So, everyone that knew me knew I adored her and that her music resonated with me. When I first found out that I might write with her, I was like a little kid. What was so strange about the movie was that she was already on my mind. I had made my list of what I needed to do. The script had been sent to me and I was a little behind in my reading. I started reading the script and it was like a love poem to Melissa—and I thought it was the most beautiful coincidence.

Scott Holleran: Melissa, are you part of the picture’s plot?

Melissa Manchester: Yes. It’s not a spoiler to say that—my work is sort of a muse for one of the characters.

Scott Holleran: Mary, were you moved by the script?

Mary Steenburgen: Yes, and while the press was just catching up with the issue of people being bullied for being gay, it resonated with me on many levels. It’s also funny and quirky and original. I loved the character I was playing.

Melissa Manchester: It’s about this lost young gay guy—[writer and director] Abe Sylvia refers to this film as a vulgar valentine—but it isn’t preachy.

Scott Holleran: The main character is a girl who’s perceived as dirty—?

Mary Steenburgen: —She’s the girl who’s got a bad reputation. Like many of those girls, she’s complicated. It doesn’t ruin anything to say they get thrown together in a parenting class. My character is married to a character played by Dwight Yoakam, with whom I worked in Four Christmases. We’re both terrible gigglers, so we enjoy working together.

Scott Holleran: Is it the girl’s story or the boy’s story?

Mary Steenburgen: It’s even-handed. To me, the film centers on both characters.

Scott Holleran: Melissa, what it means to be female and the art of being feminine is a career theme. Do you see your work as a journey of self-expression?

Melissa Manchester: Oh, yes. My job is totally about the art and craftsmanship of self-expression. I started writing and walking my track of being a singer-songwriter at the height of that [1970s self-help] movement. That’s what we did and I inadvertently became a passing communicator of the women’s [liberation] movement. The unexpected gift is that, when you perform, your work becomes the listener’s version. It’s always a gift.

Scott Holleran: Mary, different points in time are a recurrent theme in your career, from your first film, a Western, to Dirty Girl, which takes place in the 1980s, and the time travel movies. Does this contribute to the perception of you as a versatile actress with a timeless persona?

Mary Steenburgen: I don’t think about how people perceive me. I think it would confuse me and put a pressure on me that I don’t want to have. I’ve never had a game plan. I literally read the things that make me laugh or cry and, if it does, then I want to do that film. Or if [a script] intrigues me or makes me scared that means I will probably do it—it’s like what Melissa said about her music; the receiver takes the work and makes it their own. For every artist, you put your work out there and someone makes it their own. I recently had someone come up to me on a plane. She was a very conservative-looking woman who was a flight attendant and she asked if I would talk with her. She told me her brother was gay and, she said, ‘to be honest, we were not comfortable with that and we kind of banned him from my family—and he was banned from family gatherings and was no longer welcome.’ She said he later became diagnosed with AIDS. In its later stages, she said, he came to them and finally said, ‘I won’t bother you again, please just watch this movie, Philadelphia‘ [1993]. She said they did watch it. After they saw the movie, they saw how the family rallied behind the Tom Hanks character and the family did the same. She told me that it wouldn’t have happened without that movie.

Melissa Manchester: —that is a prime example of what art can do—

Mary Steenburgen: —I lost one of my best friends to AIDS two days before that movie. [Pauses]. Peter.

Scott Holleran: I’m sorry to hear that, Mary. [Pause]. Were you thinking about losing him when you delivered that powerful line, “God I hate this case”?

Mary Steenburgen: Yes. I had just lost him. I was such a wreck when I got there—I was overemoting in every scene and I was struggling so much. When we shot the first scene, I wasn’t good in it. By the time we got to that scene where [my attorney character is] holding the mirror up to [the AIDS patient’s Kaposi’s sarcoma] lesion, [director] Jonathan [Demme] said ‘I think we should add this line’. So, we did. [Pauses]. Philadelphia is really not about AIDS. It’s about justice.

Scott Holleran: It’s interesting and both the lawyer character in Philadelphia and the mother character in Dirty Girl play against the stereotype that the straight woman is the ally of the gay male—

Melissa Manchester: —Right. As with any fear that’s based on ignorance, any time we demonize others, we eventually become the others. The only way to bridge that gap is to humanize them. For example, I work with women in prison. They are largely there for having killed their abusers. When I work with them, the layers are peeled away to reveal their humanity. What’s there is the compassion.

Scott Holleran: What is the musical theme of Dirty Girl and does it match or complement the film’s dramatic theme?

Melissa Manchester: Abe Sylvia comes from the world of musical theater so he understands that, in the world of film, music is an afterthought—and there’s a sort of Greek chorus in Dirty Girl. It’s a whole other texture. It’s a story where music is integral.

Mary Steenburgen: To your question, I can talk about Melissa easier than she can. Just as her music was very personal to me, she is this boy’s muse but she’s kind of more than that. I recently read about this kid who wrote a letter to Lady Gaga about bullying. This boy’s world is not safe, so he related to Lady Gaga—I did this, too [as a youth], by the way, creating a magic world, only mine was in books—and this boy’s world [in Dirty Girl] is not safe and beautiful, so he appreciates beauty and drama and music. He finds all those things in the music of Melissa Manchester. So, his safe place is in his room, with his gigantic headphones, listening to her [songs] and trying to be [like] her and connect with her. In those moments, he can be fully alive. And that’s part of his connection to this girl. So Melissa’s music is the heart of the movie. When you get around to “Rainbird”, for me, it was almost as though Melissa Manchester was speaking in her beautiful, caring, all-knowing voice, saying that it gets better. That is what we are trying to say.

Melissa Manchester: In the end, the heart yearns for the resonance of melodies—it’s what stills that swirling anxiety—and then they can move mountains. Melodies can move kids away from that ledge. The currency of the song can be life-changing and that is no hooey. Mary’s performance occupies as small a space as possible. It left me breathless. The trajectory of her character, who finds her voice and finds a way out, is fantastic.

Scott Holleran: Do you appear in the film, Melissa?

Melissa Manchester: Yes. Mine is a sweet little cameo.

Mary Steenburgen: It’s a wonderful moment.

Scott Holleran: You have something else in common—you both worked on projects with Kelsey Grammer.

Mary Steenburgen: Well, I just did a voice for a call-in on one of the Frasier episodes. And of course [my husband] Ted [Danson] worked with him for so many years [on Cheers and Frasier].

Melissa Manchester: I had a spectacular time working with Kelsey on Sweeney Todd. It was unbelievable working with Stephen Sondheim, who was there, while I played Beggarwoman, so that was thrilling. Working with Kelsey was great but he was still filming Frasier, so it was a bit of a challenge. He is tremendously talented.

Scott Holleran: Mary, how was working with Lasse Hallstrom on What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

Mary Steenburgen: I adored that experience. I would be an idiot to say that I didn’t enjoy spending a large part of my day kissing Johnny Depp and I was huge fan of Lasse’s since My Life as a Dog—and of [writer] Peter Hedges, whose book I had read. I wanted to play Betty Carver. I would love to work with Lasse again—he hasn’t asked me. It would be amazing.

Scott Holleran: As established artists, do either of you encounter sexism?

Mary Steenburgen: [after a long pause] Sure, though I feel very blessed and things are getting better. I love seeing so many women crew members. But I just saw some statistics on women writers, what women are paid and the number of women CEOs specific to [the entertainment] business and I was shocked at how far we have yet to come. When I started, sexual harassment wasn’t even discussed as a subject, so it has gotten better. I’m a proud feminist, but I don’t have a chip on my shoulder. If there’s anything that makes me sad, it’s that some women find the word feminist worrisome or objectionable. To me, it means that I want every woman—just as I want every man—to be the best they can be.

Melissa Manchester: I’m with Mary. There are more roadies that are women and life on the road is a very singular experience. There are certainly more bands made of women. The thing that saddens me is that there’s a sense of entitlement among some women and groups of artists.

Scott Holleran: Your collaboration for Dirty Girl is the bittersweet song, “Rainbird”, which combines a sense of melancholy with an upward arc. Any thoughts on the tune in the context of the motion picture?

Mary Steenburgen: I’ve written a number of songs and the experience of writing that song in particular had a sort of alchemy to it. I’m proud of what the song says as a song and in the movie.

Melissa Manchester: Me, too. I really appreciate that Abe got the point of the song for this moment in the movie—it’s a rare opportunity to be given a song to write after everything’s finished. This song is serving such a special purpose.

Scott Holleran: Why do you think Dirty Girl didn’t do well in theatrical release?

Melissa Manchester: I went with Abe on several [promotional press] junkets to gay pride [events] and people were screaming ‘I love this film!’—but in reviews it was just getting its heart broken. Critics didn’t seem to get it.

Mary Steenburgen: I don’t read reviews, with all due respect, and especially the good ones are bad for me. So I didn’t read a single review. I do know that the movie was very successful at the Toronto Film Festival, one of only two films that the Weinstein Company bought there—they currently have The Artist, The Iron Lady and My Week with Marilyn—and I don’t know if they eclipsed Dirty Girl. With some films, they get lost. Europeans tell me that they don’t know how Melvin and Howard [1980] was dumped for distribution and every time I go to Europe, people ask me why it was never released. They couldn’t figure out how to sell this movie that in their minds was about a loser. I think with this film that may have happened, too. I watched it with my family. They loved it.

Melissa Manchester: I watched it with my daughter. I know there’s always an astounding reaction to Dirty Girl. But, sometimes, it takes a whole lot of people to push something up the mountain.