Celebrity Spotlight - Robert Vaughn
HealthyPet recently sat down with Academy Award–nominated and Emmy-winning actor Robert Vaughn. This seasoned actor has starred in numerous movies, including Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, and The Young Philadelphians, and has appeared on television more than 200 times, most notably as Napoleon Solo in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Currently, you can catch him Saturday evenings in BBC’s intriguing new series, Hustle, on AMC.
Was your childhood ambition to be an actor?
I grew up in a family of actors. My mother and father were actors. My stepfather was an actor. My grandparents were actors. And my great- grandparents—going back to the 19th century—were actors in France. In fact, I always thought I was an actor before I ever actually became one.
What was your first job?
Well, the first job I actually got paid for was traveling in a tent show in Iowa with my mother and stepfather. We did six different plays a week—a different play each night—then we would strike the tent and go on to another town. We played 16 towns in Iowa. I was 12 years old at the time. I acted on stage. I sold popcorn. I put out the chairs. I worked the light board. I even assisted the magician.
Can you recall your wildest dream?
I have an ongoing dream in which various major politicians like Nixon and Kennedy and obscure ones like Rusk and McNamara appear and talk to me.
Which politician do you most admire?
Robert Kennedy. I was proud to be with him all through his campaign in California. I also like Bill Clinton because he told me he changed his schedule so he could watch a television show I was appearing in. He may be the consummate politician, but I can never forget the compliment.
What is your proudest moment?
Meeting Robert Kennedy’s family for the first time. I stayed at the Hickory Hill estate in McLean, Virginia. I met nearly everybody famous in the world there.
Would you say that Kennedy became your inspiration?
As a person, yes, but not as an actor. For acting, I was inspired by Laurence Olivier and his masterful interpretation of Shakespeare and Marlon Brando for the toughness he introduced to acting.
Did you study with either of them?
No, but I did study with Michael Chekhov, of the famous Russian Chekhov family. I was basically taught Stanislavsky’s method, as they taught at the Actors Studio.
You taught acting, as well. Who were some of your students?
Some of the students in my classes were Robert Towne, the Academy Award–winning screenwriter of Chinatown, and Sally Kellerman from M*A*S*H (the movie). Another student was a young guy from New Jersey who was at the time 18 or 19 years old. He had a very odd voice, and his name was Jack Nicholson.
The 50th anniversary of The Young Philadelphians is approaching. How did you find out that you were nominated for an Oscar for your role in that film, and what was your initial reaction?
My then–press agent, Jerry Pam, told me of the nomination, and naturally I was on top of the world. The Philadelphian was a marvelous book written by Richard Powell, and it made a very good movie.
You were terrific in The Magnificent Seven.
Thank you. It was an incredible experience to both be a part of that movie and see it in a movie theater.
Your character in The Magnificent Seven wasn’t interested in violence. Was that your interpretation?
That was all mine. John Sturges, who was directing the picture, had seen me in The Young Philadelphians and knew I was nominated for an Oscar. So he invited me over to meet with him and the only two people cast at that time, Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner. It was instantly clear that Steve and Yul were the He-Man types, so I simply decided to go the other way with my character. John liked that interpretation, so I used it.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was a huge hit. Tell us a little about your experience playing the enormously popular Napoleon Solo.
I loved that character. I was doing a series for Norman Felton at MGM called The Lieutenant about the Marine Corps. Gary Lockwood played the lieutenant, and I played his commanding officer, Raymond Rambridge. And during the year that we did that series—at the end of takes, after they said “cut”—I usually would say something kind of wry and Noël Cowardish. Norman, who became the producer of Man from U.N.C.L.E., liked it and, with James Bond gaining electric popularity, it became an easy decision for me to play Napoleon Solo and portray him with that wry sense of humor.
You have had a long and illustrious career. Is there any part that you have not played but still want to?
Yes, absolutely: Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. I have had many opportunities (most recently with James Coburn), but they have never materialized.
Tell us about your beautiful dog, Sam.
Sam came to us indirectly. We had a little bichon frise named Peaches, and she was dying. We were really focused on this little dog. However, my son was living at home at that time and noticed this large, presumably stray or lost dog running around in the backyard. He pointed out the pooch to me and told me that he seemed friendly enough, so we just let the dog be. When Peaches died and I saw this large, lost dog leaping around again, I investigated, sadly discovering that the local SPCA was intending to put him down. With sentiment taking over, we took him in. We have never regretted the decision, not for a second.
In terms of how the dog got his name, my son said, “Let’s call him Sam Adams.” I asked my son, “You named the dog after one of the Founding Fathers of our country?” He answered, “Dad, what are you talking about? It’s a beer.” And that is how I came to meet Sam and how he got his name.
What breed is Sam?
He is a Labrador retriever mix. You know, Labradors are generally bigger in the chest and bigger in the head than Sam, but he definitely has some retriever in him. I didn’t really know he was a retriever until I saw him out on the horizon one day. Sam had noticed a deer and was in this perfect pointing position. It was a beautiful sight, one that I will never forget.
Would you consider yourself a dog person?
We had no pets or animals around when I was growing up. But my wife has been pet crazy since the day she was born, I think. In the first year we were living together, we had two or three dogs, and we continued to always have dogs. We never had a big dog, though. We always had dogs we could transport on airplanes, in the seat next to us—poodles and bichons—because we were traveling so much.
Do you take your dog to the veterinarian regularly?
Absolutely. We take him for vaccinations, dental cleanings, and check-ups; in fact, I’m going to take him to the veterinarian this afternoon. We have taken excellent care of all the animals we have had.
We have a veterinarian here, in town. When we go on location—which we are currently doing, in London—we are gone for 4 or 5 months, so we take Sam to a wonderful kennel. They take excellent care of him. Sam’s got a lot of good country friends there.
Do you have a good relationship with your veterinarian?
Very much so. He is a lovely person—very quiet, very much a gentleman. He always calls Sam Samuel: “How is Samuel these days?” He’s not British, but he just kind of sounds that way.
He absolutely loves animals. Their health is his happiness. For instance, if your dog has some stitches, he will call and ask, “How is he reacting?” He’s a house doctor without coming to the house.
Does Sam have any rituals?
What Sam does every night—as soon as I sit down in my chair after dinner—is come over, sit in front of me, work his front paws up my knees, onto my chest, and look me directly in the eyes. You know how, if you look at a dog for a long time, he will usually turn away. Well, not Sam, not with me. He looks at me like I am the second coming. I mean, every night. He has been doing that for 7 years.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about Sam?
Having Sam has been a revelation. Sam seems to be more human than the smaller dogs. I loved the smaller dogs equally, but I don’t know. I will sometimes link up with him, and I think I know what he is thinking, and he is thinking what I’m thinking. I never really felt that way with the little dogs. I adored the little dogs. All three of them slept on the bed with my wife and me. But Sam—he is my friend, maybe my best friend.
ROBERT ON HUSTLE
He may be a Hollywood legend, but Robert Vaughn is certainly not out of the spotlight. Here he explains how he had to “hustle” to England to begin work on his current television series:
“I flew to Scotland in 2003. There I met with my agent, Gene Diamond, who told me about a fabulous possibility of working with BBC on a project, a weekly series. We met with the producers, then 4 months went by with nothing. Naturally, I assumed they looked elsewhere, but one summer evening during the infamous blackout back in Connecticut, I received a phone call (the phone in the garage is hooked up to our generator) from Gene. He told me that I got the part and they wanted me on the set the next day, in London! So, without hesitation, I packed my bags, made the first flight out, and was shooting this gripping series Hustle within 24 hours of the phone call. I was tired but well fueled by exhilaration.
“The show revolves around a central theory that we never con anyone who cannot afford to be conned. This is important not only ethically but also because the people we con are rich people who, for their own secret reasons, could never go to the police. Also, I have long felt that if my character Napoleon Solo from Man from U.N.C.L.E. came out of retirement, he would come out as my current character, a sophisticated con man in Hustle.”