Robert Vaughn: The TV Squad Interview
Mention The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to a younger, casual TV fan, and they'll probably look at you with a tilted head, the ways dogs often look at people. But to people of a certain age, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (side note: that's a really hard title to type out) brings back a lot of cool memories. It was a spy spoof that debuted in 1964, in the height of the James Bond craze, but unlike a lot of 007 spoofs that didn't make it or were just plain lousy, U.N.C.L.E. stood on its own and still does today as a really fun light adventure show.
I had a chance to talk with U.N.C.L.E. star Robert Vaughn in conjunction with the release of the massive Time-Life Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Collection set.
It's interesting to note that both Vaughn and co-star David McCallum are on popular shows 40 years after The Man From U.N.C.L.E. left the airwaves. Vaughn plays the team leader on AMC's Hustle, and McCallum is the forensics doc on CBS' NCIS. I'm sure that neither actor thought that fans would still be watching the show in 2007.
"Definitely not, and not on this system called DVD. They have been shown throughout the world for the past 40 years. Whenever I travel, whether it's southeast Asia or Africa or South America, people have seen the show, and recently in some cases."
Vaughn and McCallum have kept in touch all these years (both live on the East Coast - Vaughn in Connecticut and McCallum in New York), and have often talked about how it's funny that both are on popular shows again at the same time.
"We've always called each other on our birthdays and I ran into him oddly enough in May. I was doing a pilot for ABC in Valencia, where the fires are happening right now, and I was in a bar one night after finishing a day's work, and in walks David McCallum, who was shooting his show out there also. I didn't know where he shot his show, so we had a good laugh and had dinner....we talked about how we both bookended our lives with two shows that became enormously successful...I hope it's not the final bookend."
The inevitable question always comes up: has there been talk of another Man From U.N.C.L.E. reunion movie (this is where buying the DVD set would be a good idea - make the set popular and you might see another U.N.C.L.E. flick!)? The first one was in the mid-80s.
"Yes, there's always talk and no action," he laughs. "No dates and no money."
Vaughn has had a long, really distinguished career (forget Kevin Bacon; play "Six Degrees of Robert Vaughn" instead), and we sometimes forget that. Besides The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and The Protectors (and a gazillion other shows since the 50s), Vaughn is an Emmy winner and an Oscar-nominee who has appeared in an impressive list of movies, including The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, The Towering Inferno, The Bridge at Remagen, The Caretakers, Murrow, FDR: The Man In The White House, and The Young Philadelphians. He might best be known to younger audiences, though, from the AMC crime caper show.
"We've shot 24 episodes so far and we have another six to shoot...the schedule now is to not only do the fifth season but also 20th Century Fox has optioned it for a motion picture which would be a prequel to the television show in the sense that you will find out how we all met. And that's the plan, of course with motion pictures when the head of a studio changes the next person who takes the job erases the entire slate, so that might not happen, but we're pretty certain we're going to be doing the fifth season in the early spring or late winter."
Looking over his resume, I wondered what movie or TV show - beyond the most popular ones, of course - does Vaughn look back at fondly?
"The one that I enjoyed doing the most and would have done again was a series called Washington Behind Closed Doors, which was a 12 1/2 hour series which starred Jason Robards as Richard Nixon and myself as H.R. Haldeman. Of course the names were changed to protect the guilty. And they had written a bible for the next 12 1/2 hours, the story was going to pick up in the new fall season, but because the show had gotten very very high ratings but not as high as Roots, and that's the barometer of successful television series, we couldn't do the second half, which was unfortunate...I think that was a wonderful piece of literature."
But all that's in the past, let's talk about the future. I was happy to hear that besides the next season of Hustle, Vaughn is writing a book.
"I'm in the middle of my autobiography, finished with about three quarters. It's going to be published by St. Martin's Press next year. It will probably come out after the elections, the first week of November, they feel it's the best time to bring out a new book. I've got about 50-60,000 words already okayed and I'll get another 30-40 in January...I love it. If I could have earned as much money writing as acting I would have been a writer. I've always been the type of person who kept everything, papers I did in sixth grade that I still have. Reviewing my life was fairly easy because I kept all this stuff, and with my PHD work at USC I have a pretty good background in writing...it's been a joyous process."
(The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Complete Series won't be available in stores, but you can preorder it from Time-Life now and it will ship on November 27, in time for Christmas! It comes in a special attache case box, and has tons of extras, including commentaries from Vaughn and McCallum, featurettes, and uncut episodes.)