Friday, June 24, 2011

Thom Christopher's "Hawk" Is Soaring - Part One

Emmy Winning Actor Thom Christopher is beloved by daytime fans for his memorable roles on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, LOVING, and GUIDING LIGHT.  However, sci-fi fans know Christopher better as the legendary "Hawk" from NBC's BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY from 1980-1981. Join us as we explore Christopher's unique career track, his insight into his "outsider" roles, as well as memories of getting hired on ONE LIFE TO LIVE.  If you are near Tulsa, Oklahoma, do not miss the opportunity to meet Christopher and his Buck Rogers costars at the Trek Expo this weekend. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you see the Daytime Emmys this year?
Thom Christopher: No, but I read the L.A. Times review.  It was scathing.  Knowing that daytime is in its twilight, I would have thought there would have been  courtesy toward it. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That didn’t seem to be the intention on behalf of the host and the producers. But let’s talk about some of the exciting events coming up for you this weekend.
Thom Christopher: I’m on my way to the Trek Expo in Tulsa.  Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, and Felix Silla, who played Twiki The Robot, will be together for the first time in five years.  It is fundamentally a STAR TREK convention, this is the biggest one in the Southwest. I have yet to not have a good time at a convention because the enthusiasm is so great.  By ‘enthusiasm’ I mean they really want to talk about the show.  Literally, the technical aspects, the production, what you did as an actor, how you approach something.  I always get super charged by that because it means people are paying attention to the product. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you been to STAR TREK conventions before?
Thom Christopher: I have not been to this convention.  I have been to a number of them through the years.  I find it’s a whole rediscovery of something.  On Facebook, the people who watched it are now talking about their children watching the DVDs of it.  It is invariably stunning in the true sense of stunning.  You stand there and think, “my goodness, it is 31 years later.”  But the character of Hawk worked, it still holds.  I like that.  It is a compliment.

I did a recent interview with a blog from the Netherlands.  I said that you subliminally hope that what you are doing as the artist is branded into the subconscious of the audience.  That is also the beauty of live theater.  You know it’s happening at that moment, you know when you are reaching the audience.  That is a wonderful telepathic thing that no one can control.  When an audience is so totally with you in a play you know it.  You hope that is embedded in their minds.  When they do this with Hawk I am very flattered.  I cherish it. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It has an amazing following, especially considering it was only on NBC for two years.
Thom Christopher: It was on a season and a half.  I was only on for the second 13 weeks.  The first year was Gil and Erin and a different producer.  Universal Pictures Television brought John Matley in.  John was someone who went back to the 1940s and 1950s as a writer for television and theater.  He was a very very intelligent and well read man.  He was a major force for changing my life in many respects. His associate John Stevens and Cal Clements, Jr., were unbelievable.  I subsequently worked with John Stevens in SIMON & SIMON, MURDER SHE WROTE.

John wanted to go in a different direction, he made the show darker.  Stories became more multi layered.  It’s not a question of one season being better than the other, they were just very different.  They made demands on actors that hadn’t been made before.  The thing that I found so sad was that NBC kept pre-empting it after it premiered because it was basketball season.  I have always believed that was the main problem. If you move a show around before it get its roots and its anchor, then you are in a lot of trouble.  Don’t you think?

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Absolutely.  Especially when you are trying to build a loyal audience from your sci-fi fan base, they’re not going to invest if they can’t find the show.  And in 1980 we didn’t have the Internet to find a program if it wasn’t on. 
Thom Christopher: It was very hard for the audience to grasp on to that second season.  I have been told by people that they didn’t get the full impact of the program until they watched the DVDs of the full series. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Why is Hawk still remembered and beloved by Buck Rogers fans today?
Thom Christopher: I believe it was his exotic nature.  He was something that was new, he was something really really different.  It can be funny watching it now.  John flew me out to California to meet with the casting director Joel Thurm, he was the man who really put this together.  I was auditioning for something else on a Saturday in 1980 and the following Monday morning my agent called and said, “I don’t know what happened on Saturday, but Joel got very excited, and he’s recommending you to read for a new character they are doing on the second season of Buck Rogers.”

Everyone was very supportive of this exotic guy coming in with black spandex, high boots, a taser gun, and a breast plate. Jack Take was my dresser, he was wonderful, he was such a beautiful man.  He said, “you’re such an easy man to string up, your whole body flips right into it.” I brought all that in to portray this primitive man, and that was the key. All the letters I received, from all over the world, were from people who were alone.  I love playing characters who are isolated, who feel out of the norm. They are not part of the whole, that their uniqueness is that they slip out of the circle.  I just love roles like that. 

Someone else I cherish from this was a director named Vincent McEveety. Vincent did such a beautiful job on the introduction of Hawk.  In retrospect, I said to him, “You didn’t direct Hawk, you presented him.”  He said, “Of course.”  He presented the character, there is a difference.  When you present a character it’s very exciting.  The only comparison I find in presentation was what David Lean did with Peter O’ Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.  He presented him.  It’s one of the agonies of my life that I never worked with David Lean. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: At one point there was a Hawk toy. Do you have one?
Thom Christopher: No, it just came out.  I do have a picture of it though.  Thirty years later, I think that is wonderful.  I am going to get one. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You mentioned earlier that is every actor’s subliminal hope that a role gets branded into one’s subconscious.  I think we can make a strong argument that Carlo Hesser is one of those characters in soap history.  When we think about soaps, especially ONE LIFE TO LIVE, we can’t help but think about Carlo’s impact.
Thom Christopher: You know who’s doing that is? Paul Rauch.  I love that man.  He was the executive producer.  At the end of 1989 I had come back to New York from California and decided to stay in New York.  Meg Mortimer was my agent at the time.  Meg said, “ONE LIFE TO LIVE wants to look at some tapes of yours.  There is a character they would like to bring in.  It’s just for now, they have nothing more than four or five scenes in the Buchanan hotel with Renee, played by Pat Elliott."  I said, “Pat Elliott? I’d pay them to do the scenes with her.” I love Pat, I love her work, she is wonderful.  So Paul looked at the tapes.  During the week between Christmas and New Year’s of 1989 I taped those scenes with her as Carlo.  About  a week later, before the shows aired, Paul called Meg and said, “I’d like Thom to come in and walk across the lobby of the Buchanan Hotel.”  She said, “That’s going to be a very expensive walk.”  I did it, and the next day there was another call, and the rest was just history.  It was all Paul.  When I got the Emmy I meant it from the bottom of my heart, “Paul Rauch wrote the book on daytime producing.”

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What makes Paul so unique?
Thom Christopher: I think it’s his theatrically.  I think the fact he thinks like an actor, he thinks like a director.  Daytime is like doing an independent feature every day.  What Paul did, and this is the key, is that Paul never got caught up in the process.  He did the thing that gave him the best show.  He combines the artistry, the creativity, the courage, and the technical process.  “I have to get this thing out in an hour.”  That’s what I’ve learned, comparing him to other producers in daytime.

There is the director that is brilliant with the process, and that’s wonderful, and the product is good.  But execution is chariot of genius.  I think that when a producer like Paul takes that added step, that added blending, that added chemistry, it is very exciting.  Those first couple of years were so exciting.  He had already left ABC by the time I got the Emmy.  In my speech I said, “I have to thank the engine of Carlo, Paul Rauch.”  He was the engine.  He built it piece by piece.  Anthony Crivello was my son, bringing in Audrey Landers as my daughter.  Paul allowed Carlo’s humanity through all his evilness.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please come back for Part Two during which we share Carlo Hesser's highs and lows, as well as his loves.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating  depression, stress management, anger management, ageism, and grief/loss issues. He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at For more information about scheduling an appointment or a speaking engagement, please email him at [email protected].

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