Yanked From Slumber

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Interview with soap star took bizarre turn

Were you a fan of Tristan Rogers, one of the biggest soaperstars on TV during the Eighties?

If so, you are about to see an entirely new side of the suave Aussie actor, who played Robert Scorpio on General Hospital (GH), from 1980 to 1992. (That's him at right, with leading lady Finola Hughes, who played Anna Devane.)

And there is a lesson here for any celebrity who receives an early morning phone call whilst in deep slumber: politely hang up.

First, some background. I worked at The Newfoundland Herald for most of the 1980s, interviewing all sorts of celebrities, primarily in the field of entertainment. I had only been working at the magazine for a few months when I opened a letter from Beverlee McKinsey, who played Iris Carrington on Another World.

"Thank you so much for the article you wrote about me recently," she wrote (and I paraphrase from memory here). "However, I did not talk with anyone from your magazine and did not say any of the things attributed to me. In future, if you would like an interview, please call me. I will be happy to talk with you."

And there was her home phone number, simple as that. (Somebody else at the magazine had made up the story she referenced, but I won't go there. Not today.)

Needless to say, there was no more manufacturing of interviews. But I didn't vigorously pursue interviews with Hollywood stars until becoming editor myself, in 1987. We had TV stars on the cover all the time, yet we were using syndicated articles to go with them. Why not aim for a locally-generated interview with everyone on the cover?

That was my approach, and, if memory serves, I was successful about 70 per cent of the time. I figured out that the stars had a publicity system in place that was geared to respond to interview requests. Very few publicists said no and the few who did, said the star was not available for interviews. Period.

Yes, I did receive some skeptical reactions on revealing where I was calling from. "New found what?" one guy said.

On occasion, there was resistance and even a patronizing why bother?' attitude from a few publicists, but I overcame this by drawing upon Beverlee McKinsey's lesson.

"Oh, so you'd rather I just make something up? I can do that too"

"Uh, no, don't do that. We'll see what we can do."

And they usually delivered the goods. I interviewed numerous actors from the soaps, plus several stars of evening TV, from Emma Samms ("Dynasty") to Anne Schedeen ("Alf") to Andy Griffith ("Matlock"). The Andy Griffith one was most impressive his publicist had been trying to pin Griffith down for weeks, but the star was too busy. Finally, he asked me to send a list of questions, and he would do the interview for me, during quiet moments on the set. As it turned out, the publicist finally interviewed Griffith on a golf cart, zooming between soundstages you could hear the wheels whirring and mailed me the tape. I will not forget that publicist. He was good.

But the most bizarre interview was with Tristan Rogers. His publicity machine was happy to set up an interview, but I was surprised when they said I should call at 9:30 am my time.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "That's five am in Hollywood."

Cindy, the publicist, explained that he was always up by then, and I knew that they did arrive for makeup pretty darn early, so I called at the appointed time.

Hoo boy.

Rogers answers, and sounds groggy. I identify myself and ask if I have awakened him. He says yes, but when I say I did?" he quickly says no. This is when he should have said yes, and would you mind rescheduling for later today,' or just hung up in my ear.

As it was, the star was not in any frame of mind for an interview. He had been yanked from a deep sleep and was, at times, barely coherent. He may have had a few drinks the night before or was just dog-tired it's hard to say.

I ask if he is aware of the interview that his publicist, Cindy, had arranged. Rogers said he was, but then mumbled this:

"There's no big problem. The fact that she knew I was busy, that I knew she was busy blah, blah, blah that was cool. There's no hassle, no hassle at all I don't get bent out of shape by that."

Several minutes of the recording are inaudible, as the connection goes weak and the presses in the back of The Herald building start up, but it's mainly small talk about GH being his first big break as an actor. Then he talks about how he gets involved personally in the development of his Scorpio character, saying "you have to ride these people or they'll fuck it up."

So I ask if he is happy with how the storyline is evolving on GH.

"God, no, not in the slightest. We're in the middle of a writer's strike we're just kind of bumbling along right now with no real direction, which is dangerous."

We talk about how he would like to move from soaps to either movies or nighttime TV, and he agrees that this transition does not happen easily.

"For Australians, it's particularly tough. Everyone says Oh, you're Australian, it's Paul Hogan (star of "Crocodile Dundee"), isn't that wonderful!' But that doesn't mean shit for anybody! Nobody cares about that. It's always tough for anybody with an accent, but particularly tough for Australians When you really turn around and slide it right to be bone, it's tough."

Rogers says he is frequently called to audition for roles that require "cute Aussie accents".

"But when they turn around and hear you do the role, as they suggest, all of a sudden their enthusiasm goes out of it because it's not the way they expected it to sound. When I sit back and look at it, I realize, Alright, what they want is their normal vapid American read with an American accent,' and when you try to give that it comes out differently, and then it comes out differently to them, and finally you find yourself doing a disservice so you say Oh fuck it, I'm going to do this damn thing the way I'd like to do it, the way I think it should be done.' When you do that, they kind of get excited but it excites them in a way that they (hadn't anticipated). Either way you go, it's tough."

So I ask if his Aussie accent is a liability.

"I wouldn't say it's a liability. You are in a foreign country. You have a foreign accent and consequently you have to be able to take the knocks that come with it. You're different. That's all there is to it."

It was refreshing. Someone who actually says what they think. This early morning interview thing worked for me not so much for Tristan Rogers. I really don't think he'd have been as frank, had he been fresh and alert. I used most of what he said, but sanitized the language somewhat. The F word' did not appear in The Herald back then, and probably doesn't today.

As accommodating as he was, Rogers really shouldn't have done the interview. My advice to anyone in similar circumstances is to apologize and ask to reschedule. Or perhaps react more the way local actor Rick Boland did, back in the Eighties, when I called for a comment on one of my stories. The time was 9:00 am, which was normal for me, but probably early for a performing artist.

I am paraphrasing, but it went something like this:

"Oh. Did I wake you up?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry."

"No you're not."

"Well, I "

"Whadaya want?"

I told him, grabbed a fast comment and hung up. As quickly as possible.

Sure, he was abrupt. But, again, refreshingly honest. And he wasn't on the line long enough to say anything he might regret.

Note: I also have in my archive an interview with the late, great Brian MacLeod, of Chilliwack, Headpins and Garrison Hill fame. It's 20 minutes of tape that I know his relatives have never heard, and I suspect that voice recordings of Brian are rare. MacLeod's relatives are invited to email me (at the address on my profile) and I will be sure to get a copy to them.

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