INTERVIEW - Michael Swan - "V" & Friday the 13th Jason Lives
WARNING: There are spoilers ahead.
SMB - Lets talk about your association with Kenneth Johnson (writer/director of "V").
MS - Kenny hired me in 1978 to do a TV series called “Cliffhangers”. It was a series constructed like three old radio serials in an hour. I was in one of the segments, along with Susan Anton, it was called
“Stop Susan Williams”. It was basically the Perils of Pauline. Every week she would get into a situation – and every week I’d save her!
We ran opposite “Laverne & Shirley” and “Happy Days” right during the height of their popularity. So we ran thirteen weeks, and that was that.
Kenny and I worked together after that, and we became friends. I did a couple episodes of “The Incredible Hulk”. Anything he would do he’d
try and get me in. Then in 1983, I was doing “The Taming of the Shrew” on stage when he came out to see me, and that’s when he showed me the “V” script. He said to me, I wrote this part with you in mind.
SMB - … the cop?
MS - No, the LEAD.
SMB - Oh, wow!
MS - So I said, “Oh, Great!” We then went to the Networks. There was a guy at NBC at the time that just didn’t want a guy as unknown as me in the lead. This went down to the eleventh hour, the last minute with Kenny really pushing for me all that time. It was the day before they started shooting they hired Marc Singer. So, I ended up playing “Bob – the Cop”.
SMB - That so disappointing.
MS - Well, I was disappointed at the time.
SMB - I don’t blame you.
MS - Now of course it’s ancient history.
SMB - … and it wasn’t brought up in on the DVD’s ("V") Audio Commentary.
MS - Oh, Kenny may not have brought it up, but he certainly wouldn’t dispute it. If you asked him to confirmed it, he would say that he did write the lead with me in mind.
SMB - You know, it’s a strange thing. Marc Singer was first choice for one of the leads in the PLANET OF THE APES series but lost the part because he, at that time, was not known – so instead he was given a smaller role in an episode. Getting back to “V” …why the role of the cop?
MS - Well, Kenny kinda wrote this role of Bob, the cop as an inside gag. When we were doing “Cliffhangers” or anything we did together there’s this Mexican restaurant in the barrio with probably the best Mexican food on the planet called, El Tepeyac. In one of my scenes during a roadblock I stop a guy and ask guy in the car where are you going? He answers, “El Tepeyac.” (laughs)
SMB - Yes, I remember. In fact, Kenneth mentions that in the Audio Commentary. He says that it was your favorite restaurant.
MS - I’ll be darned.
SMB - Officer “Bob” isn’t the first or last time you portrayed a cop though.
MS - Oh, many times. I had done so many night-time TV shows as either featured roles, or as a guest star, or co-star. Shows like THE BLUE KNIGHT, JOE FORRESTER, POLICE WOMAN, POLICE STORY. In 1975 I was in a Jack Palance show called BRONK. That was a recurring role as the young detective Sergeant Venamen who was his assistant. … many years experience as playing cops.
SMB - A classic cop-type, huh?
MS - (with a laugh) … cops are the bad guys.
SMB - …except in FRIDAY THE 13Th , PART 6.
MS - I was a cop!
SMB - So, how did you get mixed up fighting Jason?
MS - That was a straight forward call, a read for the part. Then I read for the director, and they hired me.
SMB - You had a great death scene in that.
MS - Oh, yeah! That was so much fun having my head crushed.
SMB - So they had to make a cast of your head then?
MS - Exactly, and the head cast experience isn’t the greatest one of all. Whoever goes though it, one point or another in their career, will tell
you the same.
SMB - Did you get to keep the head?
MS - (with surprise) Oh, no. (then a laugh)
SMB - Where was it filmed?
MS - In Georgia. It was little town 60 miles south of Atlanta called Covington Georgia.
SMB - How long a shoot was that part for you?
MS - A week and half, I guess. You know who else was there with me? Tony Goldwyn, we became friends.
SMB - Oh, right, from GHOST.
MS - He gets killed pretty fast in the picture.
SMB - ah, a prestige part. (laugh)
MS - Well, yeah. (laugh)
SMB - Sure, in those kind of films, that’s what counts.
MS - Exactly.
SMB - What time of year did you film? It gets very hot down there in the summer.
MS - It must have been springtime. I remember flying back from Georgia immediately to do AS THE WORLD TURNS, I think it was in the beginning of April.
SMB - Considering you were making a horror film, was it a pleasant experience?
MS - Yeah, in fact, this is a funny story… We were in the motel, in the middle of nowhere, in Georgia. The only bar in the area was this little one attached to the motel. We were doing all night shooting so the production company made this deal with the bar – the guy opened at 7 o’clock in the morning. Everybody would get done shooting, then go to the bar, then the owner would close at 10 in the morning, and everyone would go to bed.
Then we’d all get up 5 o’clock in the afternoon and go shoot.
SMB - … and start all over again.
MS - Well, yeah. It was morning drinking.
SMB - Did the special effects involved in your scene make it for difficult for you as an actor?
MS - No, I don’t think so. They did the whole head crushing thing in a different shot anyway, so I wasn’t involved at all.
SMB - Oh, so you didn’t get to see it then?
MS - Oh, no, I saw it. It was just a dummy head. They filmed me up to the point where he (Jason) has his hands around my head, and is pressing. Then they just cut to a different shot and he actually squashes the fake one.
SMB - Did everything you shoot for V and the Jason film make it on screen?
MS - I think so. But I do remember one line I wish they had cut from FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 6.
SMB - Oh?
MS - It was something to the effect, “The whole enchilada!”
SMB - That’s not that bad, is it?
(moment of silence)
No, not really… (thinking about it) …well
(Michael laughs first, then I join in) – Hint, watch the movie.
SMB - Are you fan of horror or science fiction?
MS - I’m a fan of any good thriller.
SMB - Yeah, but that cuts out a lot of science fiction and horror. (slight laugh)
MS - No, you’re right. It does. But if it’s a good thriller, and it happens to be science fiction, or horror then that’s great.
SMB - At the time, had you seen any of the previous FRIDAY THE 13TH films?
MS - Yes, the original, the first one, so I knew who Jason was.
SMB - The gore didn’t bother you?
MS - Well, it’s the thrill element. If suspense is done well, that’s what I like. One of my favorite horror pictures of all time is a simple little fil based on Henry James’, “The Turn of the Screw”, called THE INNOCENTS, with Deborah Kerr.
SMB - … and Pamela Franklin from THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE.
MS - Yes, that right! It’s just masterfully directed. It’s just a great little horror picture – a ghost story. For science fiction I think of Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in SOYLENT GREEN,
directed by Richard Flechshler.
SMB - I’d like to talk about something people may not be aware of, your singing career.
MS - (a laugh of modesty) … that might me true.
SMB - … and at the time of this interview you are performing…
MS - Yes, I’m singing at the Las Vegas Hilton, in the nightclub. Everyday from 4 to 7.
SMB - … and you’ve done this previous?
MS - In New York, yes. I was also part of a group called Singing Soap Opera Stars.
SMB - When you’re on your own, what kind of songs do you perform?
MS - Swing, 40’s, 50’s, Tony Bennet type stuff. I was doing musical theater when I was in my teens. Singing cabaret and some of the jazz that I do now, and have been doing since the late 80’s.
SMB - Too bad it can’t be incorporated into your theatrical, or TV career.
MS - Yeah, where are those MGM musicals? (with a laugh)
SMB - They’re a lost form of art now. What’s terrible about that is the fact there are people out there that have that kind of talent who just can’t incorporate it into their theatrical career.
MS - Yeah, that’s true. Well, if I were I was a different age I’d love to do a the remake of PAL JOEY. It’s a great musical.
SMB - What are some of your favorite musicals?
MS - Oh well, there’s MY FAIR LADY. Then of course there’s THE SOUND OF “MUCUS”.
SMB - How long have you been in and out of Soap Operas.
MS - From 1986.
SMB - Describe the differences in working in theatrical, and other Television?
MS - Well. theatrical, meaning on stage, aside from the live audience, you have lots of time to rehearse. With TV film or movie film there’s a lot of hurry up or wait because of lighting set-ups and the like – but you do have a lot of time to rehearse as well. With day-time TV, the soaps, there’s very little time for that. So one has to act “right now”, and make it believable. I think day-time actors are the most underrated artist working, and the best performers in the performing arts … as far as acting is concerned. That’s because they are required to deliver right there and then, with virtually no re-takes. There’re are no, “I didn’t like that, can we do it again.” (laughs)
SMB - So going by what you’re saying, it’s the closest thing to what was live TV and mixed with live theater.
MS - That’s right.
SMB - So your stage background really helps you then.
MS - Yeah, and even as late as I started, when they were looking for people in New York, they were looking for people with a strong stage background.
SMB - Is it still that way now?
MS - Now, I don’t know. Maybe in New York.
SMB - I bring that up because how much stage background can some of these people have … (both laugh) – I mean, the plot lines seem to concern themselves with younger, and younger actors/characters.
MS - Yes, 18 to 34. And you’re right, they don’t. What’s a shame, is that the powers that be in the ad agencies, and at the Networks, are pushing that age thing. Remember, the core audience of Soap Operas are Baby Boomers, and those in power have pretty much snubbed their nose at their core audience. There something else that they just don’t get. The Story lines of Soap Opera are passed down to generation to generation. People who watch AS THE WORLD TURNS watched it because their mother watched it, and their grandmother watched it. So it doesn’t really matter how old the people are on the Soaps, what matters is that they tell good stories – with entire age ranges!
SMB - Exactly.
MS - The Soaps always used to have Grandma, and Grandpa. Now it’s all kids.
SMB - Having the wide range of ages also gave the various plots more depth.
MS - Oh, of course.
SMB - When you come down to it, the life experiences of mature people, and older persons, have a larger scope and intricacies than, let’s face it, the squabbles of those in High School.
MS - Exactly. What they’ve tried to do is write that kind of story – a story that would usually be for people in their 30’s or 40’s – recycled for the kids … it just becomes unbelievable. I mean kids just don’t have those problems, plus the actors aren’t equipped to portray them. A lot of this happened due to the O.J. trial. They lost a lot of viewers then. So they had to do something to gain them back, and gain new viewers.
SMB - It was the beginning of what we call today “reality TV”.
MS - Yes, that’s right. But you know, it didn’t work because the ratings are steadily declining every year.
SMB - On AS THE WORLD TURNS, you’ve portrayed Duncan and have returned again as that character. Is he an enjoyable one to portray?
MS - Yes, he’s very enjoyable to portray.
SMB - You do a great Scottish accent for the character. Has that stood in your way? The actor James Doohan from STAR TREK has stated it has for him. People actually think he is Scottish.
MS - The fans I used to run into when I was doing AS THE WORLD TURNS thought it was real. To day when I meet some people they say, “You don’t have an accent!”
SMB - Do you think that may have stood in your way – you know, “We don’t need a Scotsman in this role.”
MS - No, I don’t think so. Although, Brad Bell when he hired me for THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL did say, “Hey, you don’t have an accent!”
SMB - Now if it went up that far, you know it has to have reached the thinking of casting agents. But hey, it’s a complement.
MS - It’s one of those things that facilitates a character. It hooks a character, and allows you grab on to the character.