Transcript of the interview with actor
One of the stars of the syndicated police drama
The interview aired live at 8:30pm eastern, on Friday, October 21, 1994
It was conducted by Peter Anthony Holder
the evening talk show host on
CJAD 800 AM, Montreal

CJAD: In studio with us is Tim Thomerson, one of the stars of SIRENS, which is currently shooting in Montreal. 22 episodes there of. It's in syndication already in the United States. It hasn't aired in Canada, at least not in the Montreal area, but I understand it should be going onto the CTV network in January. It's doing very well in the States right now. Welcome to studio Tim. Thank you for being here!

TIM: Thank you. I've never been in a radio station before. The size of this microphone is amazing. A lot of TV and movie sets, but I've never been in a radio station. This is quite impressive.

CJAD: You're in town shooting SIRENS. It's a television show that has a second life. It was first on ABC, I think two years ago....

TIM: Well, it's three years now. We shot the pilot in Vancouver three years ago, then thirteen were put on the air on ABC. Then it was cancelled, and then a year ago about this time, we were approached again. That is, Liza, AJ and myself. We were approached about doing this again. You yeah, it does have a second life. Like a third life.

CJAD: I guess you thought at the time when it was cancelled by ABC it was dead in the water?

TIM: To me it was. I was already in Thailand once the show started airing. I had flown to Thailand to do this kind of spy-psychological-political thriller type deal with Ali MacGraw and Linda Purl called NATURAL CAUSES. So when I got back it was over, so I was just getting residual cheques. You know to me it's a pay cheque, (laughter)....No, I was quite surprised when they did call back.

CJAD: Now this is a situation....unfortunately we are on radio and not television. I'm sure people out there are saying I know that voice and the name sounds familiar, but you're one of those faces that people have seen on literally everything. If there has been an episodic television show in the last fifteen, twenty years, you've been on it!

TIM: Yes, I was on STARSKY & HUTCH, I was on HAWAII FIVE-O, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, the pilot. I was in the LAVERNE & SHIRLEY pilot. MORK & MINDY. All of those things. I was sort of like a disco guy in the 70s, then I became sort of a Vietnam guy in the 80s and a cyborg in the 90s, (laughter). It's three generations of acting.

CJAD: How did you get into acting in the first place?

TIM: Well after the army I kind of drifted into it, you know. Didn't really know what to do. A friend of mine was working as a stage hand at the Shakespeare Festival in San Diego. I just got out of the service and I said, "what are you doing." He said, "well, I'm working down here and doing this theatre thing. Come and check it out." So I went down there and I watched these guys do OTHELLO and I was really impressed. I said, "my gosh, that's something I don't think I can do. But I think I can role around and shoot a gun and maybe try and get into the picture business." But getting into theatre was pretty intimidating because of all the words you had to memorize. But what I finally did do was I got the bug and I ended up going back to New York and was very fortunate to have studied with Stella Adler for a good period, like three and a half, almost four years. It was a real eye opener for me as far as understanding the craft, the technique and what you really have to do. How you have to pay a price to be an actor. You have to understand the classics and read and study, and it's something I just wasn't used to. She just sort of opened my eyes to that, so that's how I got into it.

CJAD: Did you have goal in mind? Did you want to be a big time movie star or a big time television star?

TIM: I just wanted to work. I really just wanted to work as an actor. I never had visions of being a movie star or a television star. I wanted to do stand up too, which I used to do too, which I no longer do.

CJAD: I've actually seen you doing some standup on a cable show years ago.

TIM: That was a long time ago. I'm a much older guy man. Yeah that was probably EVENING AT THE IMPROV or one of those deals, but I did standup for years. Once I had a kid I got burned out. I go to bed at 9 o'clock at night now. Then you were just waking up at 9 o'clock. So to answer your question, I just wanted to work as an actor and that's what I do.

CJAD: The role you play now is that of a police officer on SIRENS. It's a regular series for you. Have you done much regular series work as opposed to guest starring?

TIM: Yeah, all comedies. All half hour comedies. In fact there was one that actually Marty Short was in. Joe Regalbuto.....


TIM: THE ASSOCIATES with Wilfred Hyde-White, who has now passed on. It was the guys who create TAXI. The original writers from MARY TYLER MOORE. Jim Brooks, Jim Burrows, was one of the revolving directors. It was a very good show that I was involved in. I was also involved in a short-lived series with Richard Benjamin called QUARK. We were spacemen. Garbage collectors in space. We were always spacemen, but any rate to answer your question, yes, mostly comedies. This is the first hours series I've ever been involved in, on a regular basis.

CJAD: It's always a risk in television. You mentioned THE ASSOCIATES....

TIM: This interview is a risk, (laughter)

CJAD: You mention a show like THE ASSOCIATES. The cast was incredible.....

TIM: It's a crap shot. We did thirteen on the air and it was great reviews, just like SIRENS, the original series on ABC. You could never get a read on what it's going to be, because good reviews, bad time slots, good acting. Then all of a sudden they dump it, then they bring it back. This whole business, you know, you've been doing this a long time, this entire business is a crap shoot. But if you stick with it, you never know what's going to take place.

CJAD: On SIRENS you play Buddy Zunder. TIM Buddy Zunder, yeah, James "Buddy" Zunder.

CJAD: James "Buddy" Zunder. I guess we should describe for those who haven't seen the show, especially since....

TIM: I'm the old guy with the glasses. (laughter). I used to have a flat top, but I decided to let my hair grow because I'm a 90s guy now.

CJAD: For those who didn't see the show when it ran initially on ABC, the premise of the show basically deals with three young female police officers.

TIM: Training officers. Pittsburgh Police Department.

CJAD: And you play one of their....

TIM: One of their T.Os or training officer. I was Adrienne Johnson's training officer and partner, but what they've done is sort of changed it up and put me behind the desk as the sage desk sergeant, a la Michael Conrad from HILL STREET BLUES. But now they are kind of putting me back in the street, so it's a good change up. I get to work with everybody. But Adrienne and I spend a lot of time together in the car tracking criminals and I'm supposed to kind of tell her how to be a cop and a mother. She's a single parent.

CJAD: Was there a lot of research in your part with police departments.

TIM: We did go to Pittsburgh PD and I got a lot of help. I did some drive arounds with two different cops that were very helpful and it was a real eye opener, because I have driven around in L.A. and in San Diego, my home town, but on the East Coast and Pittsburgh it's a different deal. (laughter). It's a really different deal. I went on a couple of actual chase downs which kept my attention and kept my eyes open. But there were two guys that I kind of picked my character from. This Italian guy and this Polish guy. I kind of did a combination.

CJAD: I remember when the show was on ABC there was a lot of words of wisdom that came from good old Buddy.

TIM: Buddy with the words of wisdom. Don't leave home without this and put a lid on that. You know, stuff like that, (laughter).

CJAD: It's a very cool kind of character.

TIM: Yeah, he's cool, because he's into Miles Davis and he's into John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. He was supposed to be a guy who didn't go to Vietnam, fled across the border to Canada, then went back because he felt guilty and became a cop. So he's kind of like a hippie/cop.

CJAD: Which is almost like an oxymoron.

TIM: It's really an oxymoron, which I've been guilty of many times ladies and gentleman.

CJAD: Is there a lot of Tim Thomerson in Buddy Zunder or vice versa?

TIM: I think now there's more of me in it. When I first did it, I tried to be very specific with the character, because as I told you before. Before we went on the air, the original director, Bob Butler and I, talked about how this guy should be. This is the East Coast. I'm a San Diegian. I'm from the West Coast, so I had to come up with some kind of character rather than....because basically I'm sort of a surf guy. That's how I talk. I talk like my son. But now, more of my humour is coming out, I think, in these 22 episodes that we're shooting here. We're on our 15th now or 14th. So with the original 13 I didn't really have a chance to let myself come out. The humour part of it. You kind of had to stick to the words, but they're letting me run a little bit with this.

CJAD: Being a journeyman actor like you are, having been in everything.....

TIM: I've been in everything that you've ever seen! (laughter)

CJAD: But now you're in a situation where you have this regular gig and from all I've been reading about the ratings, as it's already started playing in the United States. It's doing phenomenal ratings for a syndicated show in the United States.....

TIM: Syndication is tough to read because it's not like a network show where you have a weekly set thing. You get a read from all around. Everything is geared to New York, Chicago, L.A. This show plays all around the world.

CJAD: It's in at least 33 different countries. Unfortunately not Canada yet, but it will be by the beginning of next year.

TIM: By the end of the century it will be in Canada, ladies and gentlemen.

CJAD: But now you have regular gig. Is that a different situation for you, not having to worry.

TIM: My ex-wife is pretty happy about it, I'll tell you that, ladies and gentlemen! (laughter). No, I've been able to do other projects. I've been flying back and forth doing this movie. The schedule's been a bit tight but it's okay. It's always great to be working as an actor and have a regular job. It's like a dream come true. This job affords me some windows of opportunity where I can go do other stuff. Because I like to play different guys and different characters. That's what I do.

CJAD: Most of the time, as you said, in a lot of the series you've done in the past you've done sitcoms.

TIM: In series, but in movies it's been bad guys, good guys, 42 regular. Good guy, bad guy. What do you want this week? I sort of show up, hit the mark and I either shot a gun or get killed or say a joke or bring a sandwich or get a coffee.

CJAD: Is there a preference to the type of role you prefer?

TIM: No, not really. What I enjoy is the process of the work. I like to get with the camera guys and get with the crew and figure out, "how are we going to make this work? How is this going to work?" The end result, I really don't have any control over. The process of the work I find enjoyable. How are we going to make this scene work? Is it going to work? Do we have to fake this? Am I going to be lame in this, or can I pull out a bag of trick? Was that a real moment? That's what a really enjoy. But in camera work it's a technical thing.

CJAD: You sound like you're very involved in the process. A lot of actors, especially actors who do the type of journeyman acting you've done in the last 20 years or so, often move on to direct. Have you ever thought of going that route yourself?

TIM: No, I'm digitally impaired. I'm not good with tools. I can show up and say a couple of words and hit a mark and then you give me a pay cheque and I'm a happy guy. I wouldn't be so bold as to say direct. No, I might be able to direct myself, which I think every actor should do, in his own mind and then work with the director in orchestrating how the scene is going to be played, but no, I have no designs. Not now I don't.

CJAD: This is not the only regular character, or semi-regular character you play. You also do, what's the name of the character, Jack Deth?

TIM: Jack Deth.

CJAD: Tell us about Jack Deth...and that's spelt D-E-T-H.

TIM: Jack Deth was created almost ten years ago. The original TRANCERS. It was created by the guys who created THE ROCKATEER. Danny Bilson and Paul Dimaio. They also did THE FLASH, the TV show THE FLASH. You guys saw that, right?

CJAD: Yes, it was on CBS.

TIM: This isn't Mars. You guys get this stuff, right?....But anyway, so the producer wanted this kind of space future cop, right. So was sort of a Raymond Chandler/Dashiell Hammett fan. These guys were Bogart fans. Raymond Chandler L.A. guys. So we all agreed on doing that sort of cigarette smoking, gun toting, trench coat wearing, private detective gumshoe. We presented that to a producer. He didn't know what we were doing. He's said, "that's great, that's wonderful, that's terrific, we'll do that." So we got to do that guy. We did TRANCERS IV and V back to back, almost a year and a half, two years ago in Romania. Jack Deth went back to medieval times. So it's been a fun guy to play. It's like playing Columbo. You know I put on a trench coat, a cigarette and a gun and there's always this great looking chick I work with....woman, sorry, person, anyway. I better be correct here before I get knifed in the streets, (laughter). So it's really been a lot of fun to play that guy.

CJAD: This is, if I'm not mistaken, a straight to video project?

TIM: Originally, the first two were theatrical, but everything ends up on video. We're on video as we speak, right?

CJAD: Right!

TIM: I'm kidding. No. Everything ends up on video. But the last three of them were straight to video.

CJAD: Chances of doing more of these?

TIM: If it does well, who knows. You never know. I mean, I've done this guy for ten years. And I have no problem with doing him again. He's kind of running out of places to go to unless he goes to the Old West, which would be great and fun to do. But who knows. It all kind of depends on the public and what they want. If they want to keep seeing this character, you know. With cable and HBO and all these new satellite things, these things will have a second, third and fourth life. Maybe. I can't answer that. I don't know. I hope so.

CJAD: You mentioned that you have a son. You have been going at this for quite a few years. Would you like to see your son follow in your footsteps and be an actor, because I always find it interesting that people do this for a living and they talk about the fun they have. But then when you say, "gee would you like your kids in that." "Oh no!!! No, No, No."

TIM: Like I said earlier, to be an actor you have to pay a pretty big price. I'll let the kid make his own decision on that. I don't want to push him into anything. The most important thing is get the education and figure out what you want to do. If he wants to drift into it fine, but I don't push that, no. He's been raised on sets, so nothing affects he. When he sees a movie he says, "that's a rubber monster." He's worked as an extra and he's worked as my assistant, helping me with my words. Who knows. I don't know, it's up to him, but the education is the most important thing.

CJAD: You say you have to pay a high price to become an actor. What price did you pay?

TIM: Well, I think that you have to give up a lot of things. I didn't go to college. I didn't start working, or making a living until I was in my late 20s. I sort of did odd jobs. Did some standup gigs. I think you really want to do this to be an actor, or a musician or what you do. Anybody in this business. You have to stick with it no matter what the obstacles are, because a lot of dreams can be dashed and hopes can be not fulfilled. But if you keep straight ahead and keep working toward a goal, and that is to work in this business. Show business. It's not show art. You have to be willing to pay a price.

CJAD: Before you went into the army what did you think you were going to do with the rest of your life?

TIM: I thought I was going to surf and ski, (laughter). You know, to be a fry cook. That's what I thought I wanted to do. No, that's not what I wanted to do, but that's what I thought I was going to do.

CJAD: What did you want to do before you went to the army?

TIM: Surf and ski, (laughter). That's what I wanted to do.

CJAD: It sounds like you were planning....

TIM: I had a career planned. I was going to get into the ski business. That was my goal, slash surf business, but that didn't work out.

CJAD: It sounds like what you wanted to do.....and if people see you from the roles you've played....that you're a very laid back kind of guy.

TIM: Well, there are certain times on the set when I'm not laid back, when my head is twirling around and I turn into Rod Steiger. I'm sure some of my fellow players will say that, "HE'S OUT OF HIS MIND!!!"

CJAD: But this is not a business, despite what people might think about the glamour and all where you can be laid back. There's a lot pressure involved.

TIM: Well yeah, anybody who comes to visit a set, and they're there for more than two or three hours. Let's say three hours max. The notion of it being a romantic type of business is squelched quickly, because you put in a fifteen, sixteen, sometimes twenty hour days. I did two twenty hour days back to back on a shoot in Mexico where I was crazy. Everybody on the show was crazy. Jimmy Smits, Cheech, of Cheech & Chong, were doing this thing called CISCO KID. We were insane. It's long hard arduous work.

CJAD: I've been on your set at two o'clock in the morning. I've seen....

TIM: It's touch. You have to have to keep the humour up. And these guys that I work with. These camera guys and these crew guys that I work with and the fellow's hard, but everybody hangs in there and they do their job and that's what it's about. It's just doing the work. You can be laid back, but you also have to be focused and stay on top of it. Like in any business, tempers flair and people have different views of how it should be done, but ultimately what takes place is the process of work, which is what we're all here to do.

CJAD: The show SIRENS, again the ratings have been very good in the United States so far, and it looks like it has a good chance of being renewed. Do you anticipate sticking through it for the long haul, or are you going to be David Caruso and just go off (laughter).

TIM: WELL LIKE I SAID, MY EX-WIFE WILL DICTATE, (laughter). I don't know. Who knows what's going to take place. I can't predict the future. But I enjoy working here right now. I enjoy what I'm doing. I like the people I work with. You never know. You have to see what happens with the way this business lays out. It's doing well in the ratings. The first one did well in the ratings but they dumped it. But on syndicated TV I think you have more of a shot, because it has more of a life. If this thing is seen in 33 countries, maybe five of those countries want to keep this thing going and maybe the rest of them say, "listen, let's watch BAYWATCH" (laughter). So, it's a crap shoot, what can I tell you.

CJAD: Well continued success Tim and thank you for coming in.

TIM: Well thank you very much and I want to apologize for not being here....I was supposed to be here three times before, but I was working.

CJAD: We know, we know whatsoever....

TIM: Working on my tan, ladies and gentlemen, (laughter) That's what I was doing.

CJAD: I thank you for being in studio with us.

TIM: Thank you.

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