Interview date: 09/24/2009
Run date: 10/01/2009
With a shaved head and his once ubiquitous moustache now MIA, Carl Weathers doesn’t exactly look like the man he once did. In fact, during the TCA panel for “Brothers,” someone accidentally – though, once you think about it, quite understandably – called him Mr. Foreman due to his resemblance to a certain boxer turned grillmaster. The moment he opens his voice, however, there’s no question that he’s still very much the man you remember from roles in “Rocky,” “Predator,” and, yes, “Action Jackson.” In recent years, Weathers has taken some comedic turns with his acting career, getting laughs in “Happy Gilmore” and on “Arrested Development.” As such, it’s not a tremendous surprise to find him taking on a full-time sitcom gig this season, playing the father of Michael Strahan and Daryl “Chill” Mitchell” on Fox’s “Brothers.” I had a chance to chat with Weathers during the TCA tour, and we discussed his new series as well as some of the iconic roles from his past.
Carl Weathers: How’re you doing, Will? Sit down!
Bullz-Eye: Yes, sir. (Laughs) Well, I’m not going to call you Mr. Foreman…
CW: (Laughs) That was beautiful, wasn’t it? That was beautiful.
BE: For my part, I think I’d be more tempted to call you Action Jackson.
CW: Yeah, well, I think probably a few more people would call me that than Mr. Foreman! But the funny thing is, we were all looking, trying to figure out…I thought she was talking to Michael, maybe, or some other person. I had no idea she was talking to me! But when she explained it to me later, and she said, “Well, I knew you were in a boxing film, and then I was thinking about George Foreman, and it just came out, ‘Mr. Foreman…’” And I said, “You know what? That makes perfect sense.” I really got it. All I need is a couple of those millions of dollars that he got from that grill. (Laughs) That’s all I need.
BE: So what made you decide to do a sitcom? I mean, I know you’ve done comedy before, like “Arrested Development,” but what made you want to venture forth into one of your own?
CW: Well, it was great writing. When I read the script…they wanted to meet me, so they sent me a script, and I read the script, and then I wanted to meet them, because the script was so good. It was so original, and good material really is hard to come by. It takes so long, generally, to develop good material, and then when you get on top of it, you get people who are experienced and with good track records who are already on the air with other projects. For once, it’s not like pushing a heavy rock up a hill! After enough years in this, you just say, “This feels right.” And that was the reason.
BE: So who was on board with the show when you got there?
CW: Mike and Chill. It was really their baby. And then they came to me, and as I said, I saw the material and I wanted to meet, because then it was about, “Well, who are the other people?” And once we met…I obviously didn’t disappoint them, and they certainly didn’t disappoint me, so I was on.
BE: I know people were talking today about your character and how he’s kind of walking a delicate line as far as his mental condition, whether he’s forgetful or senile or worse. Have you gotten an idea about how they’re going to play that?
CW: Well, I maintain that it’s all about projection. I think whenever a person sees something, what we all do is we project our experience on that thing. And the first thing you think, just because people keep saying it, is, “Well, maybe Coach is losing it.” But what if he isn’t losing it? What if he’s playing you because he gets what he wants that way? He gets 1) your attention, 2) to get his way on certain things, and, 3) more than anything, he can kind of maybe keep you off a little bit from where he doesn’t want you to go. So I created the attitude that he’s a very shrew guy who plays it close to the vest. Now, as you get older, you do tend to forget. “Where did I leave my keys? Wait, what was I going upstairs or downstairs for? But, hold on, where are my keys?” You know…? That happens. The question is, what degree of dysfunction does that person have intellectually or mentally?
BE: You said that the guys are kind of like your own sons. But is that a good thing or a bad thing? (Laughs)
CW: A very good thing. My sons and I are really close. I love them nearly. They say they love me dearly, but, you know, the verdict’s out. (Laughs) But they say so. And the dynamic is similar in some way. They’re both great guys, and Mike and Chill are both great guys. I’m Pop to my sons, and to these guys, I’m Coach. They’re both one syllable. Spelled a little differently, but I get it. (Laughs)
BE: Did you enjoy doing “Arrested Development”? That was such a hilarious fictionalized version of you.
CW: Oh, my God, it was fantastic. And it just so happens that Mitch (Hurwitz) is peripherally involved in this show, too. So that was, like…I’m sure that, between Mitch and Chill, that’s how my name probably came up as to who they should get to play this guy. It’s all very interesting. “Arrested Development” was such a joy and such a…kind of strangely sophisticated show. I just think it was way ahead of its time and ultimately…I don’t know if it was the kind of show that was sold properly, because it was a very funny, very edgy, very sophisticated and smart piece of writing. But a lot of good stuff goes under the radar.
BE: I feel like it’s a show that didn’t need to be on cable but maybe should have been.
CW: You know, you might be right. You know what? I agree with you. I hadn’t thought about it before, but network was the wrong place for it, maybe. Yeah, sometimes you get a lot more support and respect if you’re in a place that says, “We don’t have to hit these numbers. Our audience is the kind of audience that fits these parameters, we have this demographic.” Whether it’s subscription or whatever the situation is, they know where the dollars are coming from, they don’t particularly have to rely on advertising, and they don’t have to win the slot. They just have to hit a certain number, and they’re good to go, as long as they can pay the people who they’ve hired to be on the show. All’s good from there.
BE: Have you heard anything about them bringing you back for the “Arrested Development” movie?
CW: They’re talking about it. And Mitch has mentioned it. Hey, man, if they wanted me, I’d be a happy camper, ‘cause I’d love to be a part of that family.
BE: A couple of quick movie questions for you. Apollo Creed…not a role I expect you’d mind being remembered for.
CW: No. Not at all. A fairly iconic character, and it was pretty much seminal, I guess you could say, in the development of my career. And, of course, there’s no place I can go in the world without being recognized for that character, so it doesn’t hurt.
BE: What’s your favorite of the “Rocky” movies?
CW: I guess if I had to say, it’d be the first one, only because it was so simple and, at the same time, such a complicated movie in a way, and a feat that (director) John Avildsen pulled off, to shoot a movie in so few days with so little money that looked so much bigger than it actually was. And not unlike this television series, the right people came together at the right time…and it worked. It just worked. And nobody thought that movie was going to be what it was. In all honesty, I thought it was going to be huge, but I was so young, naïve, and inexperienced that that doesn’t mean very much. (Laughs) I could’ve just as easily been wrong as I was right. But there was something about it that…the experience was just an amazing one.
BE: How do you view “Predator”?
CW: It’s one of my favorite movies, ever. Ever. I think that movie…well, first of all, that’s a movie that did not do incredible business when it opened. I think the movie did maybe $65 million dollars or something like that. Now, it didn’t cost a lot to make, but I think it did about $65 million, and it was, in my opinion, a groundbreaking movie for that type of science fiction. And it was still rooted in such reality, with the actors in it and the approach through the eyes of these characters in dealing with this alien being. So it’s one of my favorites, one of my absolute favorites. When it’s on if I’m switching channels, I have a hard time turning, no matter which stage it’s in.
BE: I brought up “Action Jackson” a minute ago. At the time that movie was pitched to you, was it intended to be a franchise?
CW: Okay, here’s what happened. Here’s the genesis. *I* was the genesis of that movie. (Laughs) We were shooting “Predator,” and Joel Silver, the producer, and I were talking, and I knew he loved a certain kind of movie, so one day I said to him, “Well, why don’t I write a story?” I wrote a story, the title “Action Jackson” happened one day when I was talking to one of the crewman from Australia. On “Predator,” we had three crews: an American crew, an Australian crew, and a Mexican crew. We were shooting in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and a crewman from Australia said to me one day, “I was in like Action Jackson.” I said, “There’s my title.” And I’d been working on it while we were there. We were in Puerto Vallarta for about two months, and by the time the movie was over…while I’m there, doing “Predator,” Shane Black had finished “Lethal Weapon,” and I had a chance to read it. I read it one afternoon, it was that good. And I was inspired. Shane turned me on to John D. McDonald, and I was reading some of those novels, and I thought, “Whoa, why don’t I do this movie about a guy who’s a cop and he finds this whole thing…?” Well, the original story that I wrote was about a guy finding this stuff in a cannery, and I thought we could shoot it in San Jose. I turned the 5-page summary…or however long it was…in to Joel, he took and handed it to another guy named Robert Reneau, and he came up with a different story using the same title and the same character. And, bang, that’s how it started. And from the time I gave Joel the idea, 11 months later, I was under contract to Lorimar and we were making the movie. That’s how it happened.
BE: Do you find a lot of people who are fans of the film?
CW: Oh, a lot of people are fans of “Action Jackson.” I get asked all the time, “Are you ever going to do a sequel?” (Laughs) I still maintain today that it could’ve been a better movie had we taken a little bit longer to develop the screenplay, but a lot of people liked it.
BE: I can still remember a friend of mine and I seeing the trailer for it in the theater and said, “Oh, we have got to see that…”
CW: Oh, yeah. A lot of people liked it! It’s amazing. Sometimes you do things and…well, in Germany, it was huge. Man, I got so much fan mail from Germany…and still do! Yeah, people loved “Action Jackson.” Go figure! (Laughs)
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
CW: I’ll tell you what. It’s “Fortune Dane.” “Fortune Dane” really could’ve been a good, solid series, but there were a number of things that happened. That came about as a result of my getting a deal with ABC, and the man who was the head of the network at the time, shortly after I got the deal, he left the network. A new regime came in, and that was that. We put a crew together…not a crew, but a production team…very quickly. We got a writer, and I partnered with a producer, Barney Rosenzweig, but…I didn’t know as much then as I probably know now that I needed to know about how to put that thing together and make it work for you. And, so, there were so many things that I sort of learned along the way. But the concept and what we were after, I think, was really something special. We just weren’t given time. I mean, six episodes and you’re off the air.
BE: Nowadays, it’d be three.
CW: (Laughs) Now, it’d be two…or one! But I had a guarantee for six, and the money was there for that. They were committed to that, and I was guaranteed that, so that was always going to be, but…you’ve got to have certain elements together to make it stick, especially when you’ve got a new regime coming in, saying, “Look, this doesn’t smell like it’s gonna be a winner. I need fresh stuff, I want my own stuff, and I don’t want baggage.” You’re expendable in that case.
BE: Last question: now that you’re doing a sitcom, would you do another action film if the opportunity arose?
CW: Not only would I, but I will! (Laughs) There’s no question.
BE: It would’ve been nice to see you in “The Expendables.”CW: Oh, yeah! Well, I’ve been working on a couple of things myself, and one of them I’m really, really interested in doing. So we’ll see how it goes!