A Chat with “Harper’s Island” Victim #1

If you watched the premiere of CBS’s new murder-mystery series, “Harper’s Island,” either last night at 10 PM, where it won its timeslot against the stiff competition of NBC’s “Southland,” or online, where it was CBS.com’s biggest online premiere ever, then you already know who the show claimed as its first victim. But in case the episode is currently sitting on your DVR, waiting for an hour to free up on your busy schedule, we wouldn’t want to spoil their identity for you, so we’ll wait ’til after the jump to do any namedropping. We will, however, offer up a bit of an in-joke for those of you who are in the know:

This person may not be “sixteen, clumsy, and shy” at this point in their career, but the Smiths song in which those words are featured says a great deal about how their character was left at the end of the first episode of “Harper’s Island.”

Victim #1, would you sign in, please?

Premium Hollywood: Harry, how’s it going?

Harry Hamlin: Will!

PH: Pleasure to talk to you.

HH: I’m still breathing, Will.

PH: Excellent. Good to know. That’ll make the interview go a lot more smoothly. Well, if I’d talked to you before last night, I would’ve asked you what it was like to return to series television, but I don’t guess you can call a single episode a proper return.

HH: No, you can’t! And that’s fine with me. I mean, when I was asked to do that role, I read it and I loved the character of Uncle Marty, I knew that I was going to be only doing it for a couple of weeks, I knew that I was going to be the…well, the second character to die, but the first one to die that you actually got to know. And that was just fine with me, because I loved the idea, and I really wanted to work with John Turtletaub, who directed the first episode. And I think it worked out just fine.

PH: So how did you find your way onto the show? You said you were asked to do it?

HH: Yeah, they came to me. I don’t usually work in August, so I actually broke a big rule of mine and took a couple of weeks of August and went to work.

PH: Where was the series actually filmed?

HH: In Vancouver.

PH: Well, I’ll tell you: you look good in a sombrero. Not a lot of Americans can pull it off, but on you, it works.

HH: (Laughs) Thank you!

PH: That scene on the dock seemed like it was fun to play.

HH: Well, it was, but when I was doing that scene, I was doing sort of the Mexican hat dance, I guess, where you couldn’t really see my feet. I’d have to go back and look to be sure. But I was doing a whole lot of stomping, and we shot the scene four or five times in a row…and during the stomping, I loosened up a kidney stone.

PH: Yikes.

HH: Yeah. So for the remainder of the shoot, let’s just say that I don’t remember much of it. (Laughs) I was taking a lot of very heavy drugs.

PH: Probably a good idea. So you got to play both Fun Uncle Marty and Concerned Uncle Marty, but which was the most challenging?

HH: Um…well, I don’t know. The Concerned Uncle Marty was actually more fun to play than the Fun Uncle Marty. There was a scene where I’m smoking a cigar with Richard Burgi, and that was a really fun scene to play. I guess that you could call that the Concerned Uncle Marty.

PH: I was actually going to note that the scenes with you and Richard were particularly tense, if that’s the right word. Did you two work out beforehand how you were going to play it?

HH: No, we just waited for them to say, “Action,” and then we did it.

PH: Was the scene where you and Cameron Richardson dance together fun, or was it weird because of the age difference?

HH: (With mock indignation) What age difference? What are you talking about?

PH: I must have misspoke. My apologies.

HH: (Laughs) Yeah, I mean, I think they figured I knew how to dance because I’d done “Dancing with the Stars” on TV, but what they didn’t really know is that you do that show but you don’t really learn how to dance in the moment. They figured it’d be easy for me to do that scene. And the scene, as we shot it, there was much more dancing that you see on TV…and I’m very thankful that they cut it down to where they did. It wouldn’t have been fun to watch.

PH: I’ll keep my fingers crossed for some deleted scenes on the DVD. Well, the show is full of plenty of potential red herrings, but the shot of you shoving the gun into the waistband of your pants made you the man to watch and, in turn, it also made it more shocking that you were the first man down.

HH: Well, I think the whole show is red herrings. That’s the whole point. It’s a red herring show. The fact that Marty died in the first episode, that whole scenario is there to inform the audience that no-one is safe. And it’s true. In the following episodes, everyone is vulnerable, and I think the audience will shocked every week at who goes.

PH: Obviously, Uncle Marty is no longer among the living, but does that really mean that you’re gone from the show entirely? Will there be flashback sequences in upcoming weeks?

HH: Well, it’s television. You never know! But if I told you any more about the story of this show, I’d have to find you and kill you.

PH: Well, I don’t think either of us wants that. What are your thoughts about CBS bringing a show like this to network television. It’s not like you don’t get gore on “CSI,” but do you think it’s going to be too in-your-face for the average viewer?

HH: No, I don’t think so at all. The average viewer has been watching stuff on cable and in feature films for years that are much, much more graphic than this. It’s on at 10 PM, so it’s going to be a mature audience that’s watching it. I think it’s going to be just the right amount of gore and blood and guts to keep people tuning in. But it’s the mystery that I think is what’s at the core of this. Who’s behind all of this? Nobody knows. I mean, even the cast members don’t know, so it’s still a secret. Well, maybe a couple of people know, but I think they’re probably wearing special devices that, if they leak it out, will immediately poison them.

PH: You brought up “Dancing with the Stars” a minute ago. Do you actually still watch the show, or did you immediately swear off watching it the moment you were voted off?

HH: No, I still watch it. I have friends who work on that show. I made a lot of friends while doing that. And, of course, my wife (Lisa Rinna) did it much, much better than I did, so she tunes in all the time. It’s a very fun show to watch, and it’s a very, very fun show to do. It’s very hard to do the show, and this year there’ve been a lot of injuries, and so people are beginning to realize just how hard it is to do it. It’s probably the most difficult elimination show out there, physically. Well, I know it’s the most difficult, physically. And in terms of the challenges to the contestants, it’s probably as hard as anything because, for example, with “American Idol,” which is another elimination show, you have people who’ve been singing for years, and they’re accustomed to this. This is what they do, and it’s also what they want to do. When they finish the show, they want to become singers for their careers. But “Dancing with the Stars,” you have people who’ve never even contemplated dancing, don’t want to do it for a living, and are mainly not in shape to be able to do it. There are some Olympic athletes who do it and some award-winning athletes from football that do it, and those guys are in shape to win the thing…and they do. That’s pretty much who wins it. So, y’know, you’re finding out this season, with all of the people being eliminated just because of their bodies not being able to handle it, how tough it is.

PH: Speaking of your wife, what’s the status of the TV Land reality series that had been talked about? Is it moving forward?

HH: Yeah, that’s…well, we haven’t had an official pick-up yet, but all indications are that that’s going to happen, and we’re preparing for it. I mean, you never know with something like that. It’s kind of an interesting experience for us, because Lisa and I have done movies together, we’ve done TV shows together, we’ve done Broadway together, and this is another format. We’re going to try and create some original expression, and we’re going to try it out because it’s there and it’s available. Why not?

PH: Actually, I wanted to ask you another project that you worked on together: “Veronica Mars.” Did you enjoy played Aaron Echols? It seemed like a lot of fun.

HH: Oh, yeah, he was great. What a crazy guy he was. (Laughs) I loved playing him. I was really sad when I got my head blown off, but…that seems to happen to me. I seem to be murdered on all of these shows, but, okay, as long as the checks don’t bounce, I’m all right with that.

PH: Which did you prefer: getting sliced in half or getting your head blown off?

HH: Well, when Aaron Echols was killed, as I recall, he’d just had sex with a beautiful young girl, he was smoking a Cuban cigar and drinking a rare, 18-year-old brandy, and watching himself on television.

PH: Well, if you gotta go…

HH: If you gotta go, I think that’s probably the way to go.

PH: When they originally pitched the character of Aaron Echols to you as being kind of a faded action star, what were your thoughts? You hadn’t really been doing series television for awhile at that point, so you could argue that people might’ve seen semi-parallels, anyway.

HH: Oh. (Laughs uncertainly) You know, I never really thought about the parallels about being a fading television star going to play a fading actor star. Well, my choice to not go back to series television was my choice. I pulled back from it because I had kids and, y’know, people might say, “Oh, well, he’s done, he’s all washed up,” but that’s okay. My choice was to spend time with my family and be a dad for a few years, ‘til they grew up. And, now, I feel like going back to work again, and this is sort of the beginning of it, doing this “Harper’s Island” thing. So we’ll see what happens. I don’t know if I’ll be accepted back or not, but in terms of having any parallel between myself and Aaron Echols, you’d have to leave that up to people who are making those kinds of conclusions. I’m not going to go there.

PH: Have you heard any word about “L.A. Law” coming to DVD? Because it seems like a big omission from the shows that are being released.

HH: Yeah! I haven’t heard anything, but I’ve had the same thought! Every other show that’s ever been made is on DVD, so why isn’t “L.A. Law” on DVD? It’s a good question.

PH: The big question is, will “L.A. Law” make it to DVD before “Movie Movie” does?

HH: “Movie Movie” may never make it to DVD. (Laughs) Boy, that’s ancient history!

PH: Did you enjoy working with George C. Scott?

HH: Oh, yeah! Oh, he was great. You know, he kept to himself pretty much. But I made some good friends on that film.

PH: I’d think it was an education, at the very least.

HH: Well, it was. It was my first movie, you know. Red Buttons took me aside and kind of showed me some ropes, and Eli Wallach took me aside, too. George didn’t, but…it was an interesting experience, I gotta tell you. It was quite something.

PH: What are your feelings about the “Clash of the Titans” remake that’s moving forward?

HH: Is that being filmed now?

PH: Not quite yet, but they’re doing the casting. I just heard that Ray Fiennes signed on.

HH: Ray Fiennes? Wow. You know, I say, “Go for it.” (Laughs) I mean, we’ll see what it looks like. There’ll never be a way to eclipse the…how do you describe it?…the difference between stop-motion animation and CGI. CGI is, of course, much more evolved and much more realistic, I guess. But the stop-motion animation…there’s something about it that’s so creepy because it is so raw and so untamed, and there’s so much more that the imagination can conjure up with stop-motion. No-one will ever do stop-motion again in a film like that, and it’s kind of tragic that’s not going to happen. But I look forward to seeing what CGI does to it.

PH: So did the Perseus costume ever get chilly?

HH: Well, fortunately, we filmed in the summer, so it was hot…and it was great!

PH: Last question: what’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

HH: (Long pause) That’s an interesting question. Well, I think that “Movie Stars” was actually a really funny show on the WB, and it did get the love it deserved in the first season, but the second season, we were up against this new show that changed television forever. It was called “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”

PH: Ah, yes.

HH: And we were up against it, and it just slaughtered everything in its path, and we were canceled as a result of that. And then “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” faded off into the distance a year later. If we had been able to survive that, we would probably have gone on for years.

PH: Actually, I just remembered that I did have one more quick question. You actually got to play Perseus again a couple of years ago, voicing the character in the video game “God of War II.” How did that come about?

HH: Well, they just called me up. They had the idea…it must’ve been someone who was a fan of “Clash of the Titans”…and they called me up and asked if I’d come down and do it. And I said, “Okay.” As simple as that.

PH: Was there any hesitation about returning to the character?

HH: Nah. (Pauses) So were you a fan of “Clash of the Titans”?

PH: Oh, yeah! I saw it when I was…geez, I guess I was 11 at the time. So if you were concerned, there is absolutely no snark involved in my questions about it. I grew up loving it.

HH: Well, there are a couple of good stories about “Clash of the Titans” that I don’t think have ever been in the press. You might get an exclusive.

PH: Hey, I’ll take one if you’ve got one…if Katie (the lovely publicist for “Harper’s Island”) doesn’t kill me. I think I’ve only got a minute left ‘til I get the hook.

HH: Do you remember the scene where I cut off Medusa’s head?

PH: Absolutely.

HH: Well, they came to me the morning we were going to shoot that scene, and they said, “You can’t cut her head off with a sword. You’ve got to throw your shield against the wall, and it’s got to inadvertently cut her head off, like a Frisbee.” Because they were afraid they were going to get an X-rating in England. So it was the only time in my career that I actually locked myself in my trailer, in Malta. We were halfway through filming, and I said, “You guys have to find another person to play Perseus from now on, because I’m not going to kill Medusa that way. I’m going to cut her head off with a sword, and if you don’t want that, then you’ve got to find somebody else.” And they freaked. Completely. They cut off the electricity in my trailer, and it was before cell phones, so they just had telexes back and forth, so they were telexing back and forth from Malta to London, from London to Malta, all day long. But, finally, I won the battle. They said, “Okay! Cut her head off with a sword!” And if I had not, I don’t think the movie would’ve been the same movie. If I’d cut her head off with a shield…?

PH: Never would’ve worked.

HH: (Laughs) So, anyway, there’s a story for you.

PH: Well, Harry, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Kudos again on your demise on “Harper’s Island,” and even if you aren’t able to commit to it, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’ll see you again in a flashback.

HH: Well, you just never know…

  

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