Interview: Scott Bakula is a Man of a Certain Age
Scott Bakula, Ray Romano and Andre Braugher in “Men of a Certain Age”
Scott Bakula may be the geek set’s favorite actor, but he’s been hard to typecast. Sure, producers nowadays probably remember watching him on lonely high school nights as Dr. Sam Beckett on NBC’s “Quantum Leap.” It’s the reason why Josh Schwartz cast him as Chuck’s bumbling scientist/cunning spy dad on “Chuck” this past season. Others may argue his character of Capt. Archer on “Enterprise” was the most down-to-earth Star Trek captain of all time.
But his upcoming role in the new TNT dramedy “Men of a Certain Age” shows how much Bakula can surprise you. He plays Terry, a middle-aged actor who’s finally deciding that he wants to grow up. The show, which also stars Ray Romano and Andre Braugher, examines the choices men make in their lives, and how they deal with them as they get older.
I sat with Bakula to talk about his new show, if he’s going to be on “Chuck” this season, and why “Quantum Leap” resonates so much 16 years after it went off the air:
J: Let’s get to “Men of a Certain Age” first. I watched the first three episodes. The thing that surprised me most: I think everyone expected the show to have a lighthearted edge because Ray Romano is involved, but it’s much more dramatic and sometimes very dark. Do you think people are expecting that from the show? Is that going to surprise people?
SB: I hope it surprises people in a good way. Every time I tell people it’s an hour show they go “oh.” There’s a lot going on in this show. What surprised me in this show is that we all know Ray is funny, but he created this with Mike Royce, and their sense of humor and point of view is a little twisted and a little quirky, and they’ve been allowed to put that into the show. His dramatic moments and his vulnerability and poignancy are going to be the big surprise. The original pilot was too dark for the network, to be quite honest.
J: Well, essentially it’s three guys going through their mid-40’s, and they’re a lot of mid-life crises/changes/just exploring what their place is. Everyone has a different perspective it seems like.
SB: Well, we’re three buddies from college, and we’ve all hung together, but we’re not living together. We’re not old friends. We go home to our separate lives, but we’ve kept our relationship and our bond that we’ve developed over the years. So the storytelling comes from three points of view as they go through their lives, but then they come together and comment on each other’s lives and give each other a hard time. They’re sarcastic and hard on each other and they go back into the world.
A “Men of a Certain Age” teaser
J: Were you surprised that Andre was able to do the lighter aspects of the show so well? His resume is filled with heavier, dramatic roles.
SB: I wasn’t but I think that’s the actor in me. Actors have this kind of bravado that we can do anything: we can be a funny guy, we can ride horses: we can do anything. I was not at all surprised. I bumped into that feeling a lot from other people: “Oh my god, Braugher. He’s funny!” But this show is so well written that it’s not about delivering the jokes, but being real because the situations are just so funny.
J: Did he gain weight for the role?
SB: I don’t know that he gained weight for the role, but he’s losing weight as we talk. But I love it. He’s not shy about it. He’s got it, and he’s working with it, and he’s lifting his shirt up and sticking that needle in it. I love his openness about it all.
J: I mean there’s one scene where he’s sitting with his wife in his room with his belly all hanging out.
SB: I loved that. I love him for it. It’s funny because I’ve been in two things were people had to gain weight for it. In “The Informant!” Matt (Damon) had to gain thirty pounds, and he had a ball with it. I thought, “Could I do that? Could I gain?” Because the older you get, the harder it is to lose weight. Matt’s a young kid, and he’s back to his fabulous self. But I don’t know if I could do it or not, but those two guys are just loving it.
A fan’s tribute to Bakula in “Chuck”
J: Let me ask you a couple questions about “Chuck” because “Chuck” could be starting anytime for all we know.
SB: I just bumped into someone the other day and they said they were working on the set, and Zach was directing an episode.
J: Are you in any episodes this season?
SB: I am not.
J: You mentioned this show kind of fell in your lap. Give me a little bit of background on how you got the role.
SB: From what I understood, I literally got a call and they said, “We’d like you to do this three-episode arc on ‘Chuck.’” They said they want to send you the scripts, and Josh is going to get on the phone and talk to you about it. I said okay. And it was as simple as that.[Creator] Josh [Schwartz] was a big fan of mine from Quantum Leaps days; Zach was a fan of mine. We had a good conversation. I loved the show. I loved the character. The character was a great surprise. It was great to play that old, befuddled guy, somewhat of an act but also a mad scientist. And when he needs to get it together he gets it together in his days. I thought that was a great character and I loved that show.
J: Are you hoping to get back there sometime this season?
SB: I am, yeah.
J: How is it working out with Chevy Chase there?
SB: Hysterical. Exactly what you’d think it would be. Just totally off the wall. You never know what he’s going to say. And a lot of times he takes you out of the scene and you’re all on the ground laughing.
J: What’s a good example of that?
SB: (Laughs) Can’t say.
Bakula DJs and dances on “Quantum Leap”
J: I find it interesting that there’s a generation of producers in Hollywood—they’re my age, mid to late thirties—they saw you in “Quantum Leap” for all those years. Do you think that contributes to why they’re calling you up? And why do you think that show’s legacy has lasted for so long?
SB: That’s been the good and the bad of it. I’m glad that show was so impactful. But I also feel that because of reruns, I never went away, and I feel like people felt like they knew me. A lot of times people go away for a couple of years and they reinvent themselves. They come back and it’s like, “Hey, they’re sexy again.” But you don’t go away anymore. But I’ve never been the new idea in the room. But now it’s working out. I’ve been in their mind. I bumped into Seth MacFarlane. I’ve never met the guy, but he’s used me a hundred times on “Family Guy.” You know, Sam Beckett leaps into Jesus in the back of a pickup truck. That show’s had a huge impact on a huge number of people.
J: How many of those people are Trek fans too.
SB: A lot of them. A lot of them.
J: Do you ever worry that because of “Quantum Leap” and because of “Enterprise” you get pigeon-holed as a sci-fi guy? Or do you not worry because you’ve done other roles?
SB: I’ve done so many other roles. That’s why I wasn’t afraid to do “Enterprise.” Because I’ve mixed so many other things in. and “Men of a Certain Age” is so far from any sci-fi. In fact, Andre is like “I need to find some sci-fi! I haven’t done any sci-fi yet! I want to do some sci-fi!” I’ve certainly turned down a lot of sci-fi that’s come my way just because I want to role from one to another. I like sci-fi. I can’t deny it. And when a good script comes my way, I can’t deny it. I never would have done Star Trek except the franchise was allowing me to be the first captain.
J: You come before Kirk.
SB: That’s right. So, it’s not like I’m following all of these other people. I get to start it. I love that notion. The sci-fi has brought me a lot of great stuff. I love it, but at the same time I make sure I don’t do it any other jobs.
J: Now you have kind of a trio of geek-chic roles with Chuck. What is it about those kind of Comic-Con crowds that engenders such passion in these kind of roles? People debate them, talk about them…
SB: Science fiction generally grabs you because it captures your imagination. It makes you dream. It makes you think outside the box. It attracts someone who’s inclined to do it. It attracts a certain level of intelligence because it requires some sort of understanding, some research. I think that when you combine that kind of passion and imagination and intelligence, if the science fiction is right, then it stays with you. The science fiction that I loved when I was a kid, I love it today. Ray Bradbury – that kind of stuff – stays with me. There’s this kind of relationship that develops that’s a give and take. The demand that the audience wants – they want you to be good, they expect you to be correct, and not screw with them and how they believe things are going to go, and if deliver that then they’re there.
“Men of a Certain Age” debuts on TNT on Monday, December 7, at 10/9c
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