Friday, June 7, 2013

TV STORE ONLINE talks with Sheriff Bud himself! Actor William Sanderson talks about True Blood, Newhart and Blade Runner

Sheriff Bud himself, William Sanderson, talks with TV STORE ONLINE about his character on the hit HBO series True Blood, as well as his standout performances in films like Blade Runner, Lone Wolf McQuade, Fight For Your Life as well as his now iconic portrayal of "Larry" on the classic CBS sitcom, Newhart.

"Hi, I'm Larry. This is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl...."  

TV STORE ONLINE:  So I've just seen this amazing film that you did a few years back called STANLEY'S GIG (2000)...What an amazing performance!

SANDERSON:  Oh, thank you!   That was based on a true story, and the director was a first-timer.  It was a fun role, it was really meaty.  I think that we could have done a little better with it, but the filmmakers wanted to do it themselves.  They were offered a lot of money to sell that script, but they wanted to do it on their own.  I guess that if they would've sold it, it would've ended up being made at a studio with Robin Williams.  So it really worked out to my benefit that they decided to make it themselves.

TV STORE ONLINE:  For sure. But I do sincerely love the level of melancholy that exists in your characterization of Stanley.  Where did you find that character internally?

SANDERSON:  We all don't have the same time that Daniel Day-Lewis had to prepare to play LINCOLN (2012). So you start inside of yourself and work outward.  I think that melancholy exists in all of us, and also I'm kind of a lazy guy too.  I'm not too smart like 'Stanley' either.  But I thank you for watching the film. Working with Marla Gibbs was very nice.  She is such a nice person. It's quite a different film from FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE (1977)....laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  Yeah that's very true. It's very different.  I'm a huge fan of FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE though... So who was this real guy that the film was based on?

SANDERSON:   He was kind of an alcoholic. He dreamed of doing this and doing that, but he ended up taking a job in a nursing home in New York.  The filmmakers showed him the film once it was done, and he told them, "Well, I can die now..."   I took that as a compliment.

Watch the trailer for Stanley's Gig HERE:

TV STORE ONLINE:  Could we talk about that great scene where you have to go in as Stanley and audition for that job on the cruise ship and you do that little Chaplinesque dance?

Marla Gibbs and William Sanderson
SANDERSON:   Oh my gosh...That was hard to do.  I'm not a dancer as you probably could have guessed.   You know the guy [Ian Whitcomb] that did all of the ukulele playing for the film really wanted to play that Stanley part.   Playing Stanley was stressful for me.  It brought up my insecurities and self-doubts as a person.  I lost twelve pounds on that five week shoot.  They say in real life that this guy who Stanley was based on found his salvation in helping others, and that's a really nice message I think.  I'm glad that you liked the film.

TV STORE ONLINE:   You grew up in one of my favorite cities: Memphis, Tennessee.  When did the acting bug bite you?

SANDERSON:  Let me just be a smart aleck and say that it's not my fault that I became an actor...laughing   I think my interest in acting came from being around Elvis Presley and Sun Records as a kid growing up.  I was around Elvis quite a bit as a kid, but I'd probably be considered a stalker by today's standards.    I was a really shy kid, but I really liked sports too. I did pretty well in sports in junior high, but when I got into high school I got put on the bench. Being benched made me wanna get back at the coach, so I joined the theater years later to give back at him.  I was such a shy kid and I had bad skin as well.  I would skip taking a crowded elevator and take the stairs wherever I would go because I was embarrassed of my skin.   That's part of the reason why I went into the Army at eighteen years old.

I thought that going off to the Army would help me grow out of shyness, but it didn't.   Then I enrolled in law school after the Army to hide out.  Then all of the pretty girls next door started putting on plays and eventually I got up enough courage to go and try it out.  I tried out, and got the part and I fell in love with it, so I moved to New York and started to study acting with William Hickey.  But why I got started? Who knows.  I really think it was because of seeing Elvis around and all of the woman that would chase him. That inspired me to become an actor I think, that and being shy.  Being shy is painful.  But I've found that all of the good acting teachers can show how to do a good job as an actor but still allow you to be shy.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So you got to hang around with Elvis?

SANDERSON:  I could talk to you for days about Elvis.   His first manager owned a record shop in Memphis, and I used to hang out in there and Elvis would come in there all of the time.  Also, Elvis used to buy all his clothes down at this shop on Beale Street in Memphis called Lansky's.   I used to buy my clothes there too.  I just fell in love with that music.  One of the owners of Lansky's, Guy Lansky, was a very nice guy and I was in there once and he knew that I was an Elvis fan.  He had to deliver a truck-load of clothes to Graceland and he asked me if I wanted to go along with him.  I was in the seventh or eighth grade at the time.    Elvis's mother was still alive at this time. So we pulled up in a truck behind Graceland and we got out and went in and Elvis was there sitting around a piano.  I was told to "sit down and stay there".   While I was there Elvis played "Don't Be Cruel", "Blueberry Hill", and another song on the piano.  I can remember hearing one of his guys that was standing around his pool say, "That mother-fucking song will never get old."  To me, "Don't Be Cruel" has never gotten old.   I can remember hearing him ask Guy who I was and why I was there, but he never knew who I was.  

I once jumped the fence at Graceland and went up to the front door and rung the bell, but I got kicked out.   My friends and I used to go to the amusement park at night when Elvis would rent it out.  It wasn't hard to do, you just needed to drop the right name to get in.  I have a lot of Elvis memories.  When he died, I took it very hard.  It was very sad.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Memphis also had the great Stax Records.  I'm from Detroit the home of Motown Records, so I probably shouldn't admit to you how I prefer Stax over Motown...

SANDERSON:   Motown music was incredible. I loved Stax Records though, and I loved Otis Redding.  I've been to Novi, Michigan. That's not too far away from you.  It was during the Newhart (1982-1990) show.   We had a lot of fun in Novi.  We shot at a bar there and we laid in the snow and had a bit too much to drink.

TV STORE ONLINE:  So what about FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE?   That character is so nasty.  With all of those hateful ideas and racial feelings that you were forced to convey in that character did you draw on any of that old southern attitude that you may have experienced in Memphis as a kid?

SANDERSON:  Yeah.  FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE was an exploitation film.   I wish I was like one of those guys that sits on the stand at a trial and says that he can't remember anything.   It's an appalling film for sure.  I met Quentin Tarantino once and he told me how much he liked FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE.   He told me that its one of the best examples of an exploitation film. Now if I could only get him to hire me...laughing   It was an intense film for me.  People thought afterward that I was this racist and I haven't ever been racist. That wasn't the way I was raised. Robert Judd the African American actor who played 'Ted Turner' in the film became a very good friend of mine after that.  Was it hard to say those words?  I had heard those words before when I was younger for sure. But that character wasn't me.  I've never been like that.   Rambaud said, "I, is somebody else."   Bill Sanderson himself has a hangover after he leaves an HBO party. I don't even drink when I'm there.  I'm always nervous. I'm always fearful and shy.  I'm just a journeyman actor, who has been lucky to work as long as he has been able to.

William Sanderson in
As an actor I was so desperate to start working in movies.   When I did FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE I was like a woman who takes off her clothes so she can break into the business.  I did it, and then I used it and took clips out of it to get myself more work.  I worked on COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER (1980) because of what the producers had saw in FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Growing up in Memphis...Were you around when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated?

SANDERSON:  Oh was I!  It impacted me just as much as when Elvis died some years later.  It was very much on my mind then.  King was preaching exactly what I wanted to hear back then.   It bothered me immensely when he was killed.  Now Memphis has a stigma because of that.

TV STORE ONLINE:   After high school you went into the military...Having that experience... Did you retain any of it and how if at all did it help you in regards to what you do as an actor?

SANDERSON:    For sure.  If anything it gave me a little pride.  I didn't wanna make it career.  I just wanted to stay out of trouble and get the GI Bill and get out.   I found a lot of the things that I saw amusing as well while I was in the service.  I saw a lot of crap too in there.   I tried to endure myself with the Sergeants as best as I could though.  I have no combat stories, but I wish I did.  None of my Army stories are very interesting I'm afraid.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Moving to New York shortly afterward to pursue acting....You studied with William Hickey, what did you learn from him that set you on your way?

Sanderson in
SANDERSON:  New York itself was a great apprenticeship for life.  Hickey was great because he would let me come uptown and rehearse on a Broadway stage.   He'd make you shut-up and pay attention to what others were doing up on the stage.  I remember once my wife and I were in West Hollywood and we ran into him and he pinched my cheek and said, "Billy, you've done so well." I almost teared up.  He was a real hero of mine.

TV STORE ONLINE:  There was a film that you did after FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE called, SAVAGE WEEKEND (1978).  What do you remember about shooting that?  It's a pretty low budget film....

SANDERSON:  Yeah, it was pretty low budget.  I was just happy to be working.  I was carrying lights on that too.   I became pretty good friends with the director on that.   I was playing the town crazy and I used some of what I did in SAVAGE WEEKEND for 'Larry' on Newhart.    For Newhart, I had seen this bum down in the Bowery in New York City who would walk around and pinch things out of his hair and mutter the words, "I'll kill the bitch...I'll kill the bitch..."   So I put on several layers of clothes and put a quarter in my ear. That was Larry...laughing

Sanderson as Larry  on the hit
CBS sitcom Newhart (1982-1990)
TV STORE ONLINE:    Well, Larry has in many ways become a classic character in the American comedy milieu of today...People remember Larry from that show more so today then they remember Bob Newhart I think...Has your performance as Larry become iconic?

SANDERSON:  I don't know.  I don't think I've become an icon. Not in this industry.  If I say anything really I'm gonna come off as a ego maniac.  Merle Haggard once said that if anyone stays around long enough they'll become a legend.   I just wish I could sing like Merle Haggard...laughing   I'm just grateful to be working.  When I'm working, I tell everyone that if there's a happier actor around let me meet him.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Then what about the infamous line from Newhart..."Hi I'm Larry.  This is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl."     Is the comedy and beauty in that line because of the written word or in the delivery do you think?

SANDERSON:   It always starts in the writing. I never got to thank the woman that wrote that.  She wrote that line originally for  actor Tracey Walter, but I ended up getting that part.   I hope that I subconsciously knew then that the line was funny, but I'm not sure about that now.   You are only as good as the people that you work with too, and my-costar's [ Tony Papenfuss & John Voldstad] are wonderful actors as well.   It's easy for me to think that I was important on that show, but I wasn't.  It was the three brothers that made it funny. We were like The Three Stooges, and to me the Stooges and The Marx Brothers are more interesting because they were a threesome.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Being on Newhart for the duration of time that you were there for, does playing that character ever get tiresome?   Do you worry about being type-casted down the road because of the fact that you're playing one character for so long?

SANDERSON:  Well, I wasn't too worried about that.  I was just happy to be working.  You never know if this job is going to be your last.  But there are lots of drawbacks to being on a hit television show too.   Every two years on that show, Bob Newhart would change producers.  He did that so that they wouldn't become too powerful.  This meant that the writing on the show would change as well.    After like the seventh or eighth season it really felt like it was a job to me.   But at the same time it was nice to have a regular paycheck and it was nice to be able to take someone out to dinner.   

TV STORE ONLINE:  How was it working with Bob Newhart as your boss?

John Voldstad, Tony Papenfuss and William Sanderson
on Newhart (1982-90
SANDERSON:  For the record...Bob is a saint.   But, you learn very quickly that you shouldn't be on the wrong side of the power...laughing   You learn very quickly that you need to know your place in the pecking order.   They wanted to give us our own spin-off series, but Bob wouldn't let us do it while his show was on the air.   We got offers to do commercials for American Express and he wouldn't let us do that either.    We couldn't even do PR for the show.   It was his show and that was fine with me.  I was just glad to be working. I have no clue why he wouldn't let us do it.   Bob has a great sense of humor, and he once said something to me that I'll never forget.  He said, "The word brilliant is Hollywood's way of saying that you're just fair."  It's a joke, but it is really true... They motivate you out in Hollywood and they encourage you to death.  Tom Poston...I loved working with him.  He found me my first commercial agent.  I really liked him a lot.   Bob was great to work with as well, but he was a tough business man.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Final question on Newhart...Who was the character of Larry to you?

SANDERSON:  I'd like to say he was a drunk, and slightly insane, but he also had these true insights into what was going on in the world...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  I lied. One more...Do you have a favorite episode of Newhart?  My favorite Larry episode is from Season Four:  "Larry's Dead...Long Live Larry."

SANDERSON:   I like that one about the prodigal Darryl.  The one where he gets a big head and takes off.  

Sanderson in DEATH HUNT (1981)
TV STORE ONLINE:  Then what about DEATH HUNT (1981)?  What a monster cast....Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Ed Lauter, Andrew Stevens, Carl Weathers...I love that shootout scene in the mountains where your character gets his arm caught in that bear trap...

SANDERSON:  Thanks. They were gonna cut my arm off on the screen but it didn't happen.  I was disappointed.  But I got to work with two of my heroes.  I had to audition for that.  It was a really simple thing.  I got a six-week vacation in Canada and I got to hang around with Lee Marvin.  Lee was drinking most of the time he was there.  I really wanted to play roles like the ones that Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson played in their career.  When we shot that I hadn't rode a horse that much, and I had to get up on one for eight hours during that.  I've since gotten more experience...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  What about RAGGEDY MAN (1981)?

SANDERSON:  That came about because Sissy [Spacek] had won the Academy Award.  She wanted to make that.  The director [Jack Fisk] was her husband.  I was very happy to get that part.  I worked with Eric Roberts on that...

Sanderson, Sissy Spacek and Tracey Walter
in RAGGEDY MAN (1981)
TV STORE ONLINE:  Right, that fight scene with you and Eric Roberts is really awesome...

SANDERSON:   Yeah, Eric was only like twenty-one years old at the time.   I had studied martial arts some and the director keep trying to psyche Eric out by telling him that I knew martial arts...

TV STORE ONLINE:  That character is very sleazy....He makes my skin crawl...

SANDERSON:   I just liked the fact that he had been in Huntsville Prison.    The book that the movie was based on had that character very different on the page.  That character was much more stupid than he is in the movie.

TV STORE ONLINE:   Then what about LONE WOLF MCQUADE (1983)?  There is a wonderful intensity to that character that you play 'Snow.'

SANDERSON:   Well, they dressed him, and that costume did a lot for that.  Remember those glasses that he wore?  Working with Chuck Norris was really great.  He put me in quite a few of his projects.  He wanted me to be in MISSING IN ACTION (1984) too but my agent had put me out there for CITY HEAT (1984) with Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood and I got offered that.  It's what happens when you listen to your agent, and it broke my heart that I couldn't do that movie with Chuck. I had even went to the Philippines for it.  I met the writer, but then I had to go back to Los Angeles.  It's one of my biggest regrets that I didn't do that movie for Chuck.  He lost  a brother in Vietnam and I know that MISSING IN ACTION was for his brother.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  There's that scene in LONE WOLF MCQUADE...It's so intense...It's that scene where your character is tied up to that wagon wheel and actor L.Q. Jones is standing over you, and you scream "They're gonna kill my son, goddamnit!"  It's a strange line that isn't explained in the film...

SANDERSON:  Right, I just ad-libbed it.  They really wanted it to be emotional, and it popped into my head.   I don't know what to say, I was just being instinctive...

TV STORE ONLINE:  There's a wonderful Sergio Leone-esque feeling to LONE WOLF MCQUADE. Was that...

SANDERSON:  Right, yeah!  They really stole that, music and everything....

TV STORE ONLINE:   I love that scene when Chuck and the actress playing his daughter walk out of the hospital and in the background of the scene you can see that the hospital is named "Eastwood Hospital..."

SANDERSON:   Right, I think Sergio Leone inspired Chuck's television series as well that came later on.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Then there is that scene too where your character is driving that pick-up truck and he crashes into that gas tanker and it bursts into flames...You can see the jump cut where they replace the stuntman with you...

Darryl Hannah and William Sanderson
SANDERSON:   I'll tell you the truth about that.  I can recall now that I was supposed to go limp for that and Chuck was supposed to pull me out of it.  I could feel the heat coming up through the floor boards of that truck. Something wasn't right.  I was thinking that the stunt man hadn't done his job correctly.  That one made me nervous.  I was lucky enough to get through that.  Some directors like to see their actors do their own stunts, and that director [Steve Carver] had had some accidents on his sets in the past.  Now I won't do that anymore. I like to be doubled...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE:  I don't want to spend a lot of time with you talking about BLADE RUNNER (1982) just because I know you've been asked to death about it....

SANDERSON:  It's fine.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  J.F. Sebastian?

SANDERSON:  Yeah, it was the first time I got to play a sympathetic character.  I really liked that about him.  Working with Rutger was great.  He is very bright, and he was trying to tweek the script in those scenes. I thought it was fine though.  One of the best pieces of direction I ever got from a director was when Ridley walked up to me before that scene and whispered in my ear, "He's a totally innocent man."  I was still really naive then, and I was over-thinking the character, and I had to stop myself from over-thinking it, and just play it like Ridley said.

Rutger Hauer and William Sanderson
TV STORE ONLINE:  You shot BLADE RUNNER in Los Angeles, right?  What did you think of those sets when you first saw them?

SANDERSON:  Well, I knew they were something special when I kept getting asked by friends if they could come and visit the set while we were shooting it...

TV STORE ONLINE:  Had you read the Phillip K. Dick book that the story was based on before shooting started in preparation to play that character?

SANDERSON:  No, I didn't  My then wife at the time did though.  Ridley and I did talk about the book though.  He asked me, "Did you read it?"  I said, "No, I couldn't.  It scared me to death."  Ridley looked at me and said, "Me too."

TV STORE ONLINE:  What do you think about all of these theories years later? Fans of the film think that the Deckard character played by Harrison Ford was actually a replicant himself?

SANDERSON:  Well, it seems to me that Ridley told me that he was a replicant.  I remember that.   He also told me that we were making an adult cartoon, and when he told me that, I knew what I was doing there.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Is there any truth to the rumor that you were originally cast in CUJO (1983)?

SANDERSON:  Yeah, Ed Lauter replaced me, and I never got the money for it that.   I had to hire a lawyer.   Peter Medek was originally the director on that but they let him go too and brought in Lewis Teague.   I  was told that I scared the little boy [Danny Pintauro].   He was scared of me for some reason off camera.  So I was replaced, and it was devastating to me.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  What about working on WAGON'S EAST (1994)?  I'm sure you've got a good John Candy story in you, no?

SANDERSON:  I really wanted to do that film because I wanted to work with John.  I was there shooting on that show for twelve weeks, and I got to learn some Spanish. The film was a mess though.  John died a few weeks before we finished the film, so we had to use a double to finish it.  Ultimately, it was something that was funny on paper when I first read the script, but it didn't turn out that way when it was done.  John would ask me if I wanted to party with him. John would have parties on the set at the end of the night at two or three in the morning.  I'd tell him, "Yes, but let me walk my wife home first."  I'd say that to him, even though I knew that I wouldn't be coming back to the set to hang out with him.  

Also, WAGON'S EAST was something like the third movie in a row that he had shot up in a high altitude as well.  He was going quite hard then, but he was a very sweet guy to be around.  I don't think the producers would say that about him today, but that was my experience working with him.

Carrie Preston, William Sanderson and Chris Bauer
HBO's TRUE BLOOD (2008-Current)
TV STORE ONLINE:  Tell me about playing 'Sheriff Bud Dearborne' on True Blood (2008-2012)?

SANDERSON:  Well, I didn't do much there.  That character didn't do much in the Charlaine Harris books, but they made me a series regular and that was great.  For me it was a big thrill to work with Alan Ball.  I thought it was great to go from working with David Milch on Deadwood (2004-06) to Alan Ball.  I don't know what to say about Sheriff Bud.  He was a self-repeating old bore.   He was lazy, just like I am myself...laughing

TV STORE ONLINE: Were you surprised how fast True Blood took off in terms of how it's audience accepted  it and started to follow it religiously?

SANDERSON:  Yeah, I was.  I really believed in Alan Ball though.   I'm just glad that I got the opportunity to be part of it.

TV STORE ONLINE: To be honest, I was a little disappointed in regards to how they wrote your character out of this past season.  How did you feel about it?

SANDERSON:  Well, there wasn't much for that character to do anymore.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Would you have been interested in playing that character if they would've changed him into a vampire?

SANDERSON:  I just like trying to do different things.  It was a little bizarre though when they made me wear that Obama mask...That was a very different experience for me.

TV STORE ONLINE:     With that Obama mask on...Did you think about ObamaCare?

SANDERSON:  C'mon now...laughing   I can't talk about politics.  I love everybody.   Especially Alan Ball...He's a saint.    Chris Bauer was great to work with.  Ryan [Kwanten] was great. Steven Moyer was great.  All of those people were all great to work with.

TV STORE ONLINE:  Is there any chance that you'll be coming back for this new season that's premiering on June 20th?

Still from TRUE BLOOD episode
Season 5,  Episode 9 "Everybody Wants To Rule the World"
SANDERSON:   Well you never know.   Maybe if they do a flashback or something.   I'm not counting on it though.  They're showing re-runs now.  That's more money for me. They're selling DVD's all over the world, and that's making my wife happy too...laughing   So I'm happy with that.

TV STORE ONLINE:  They're selling TRUE BLOOD drinks too!

SANDERSON:  Oh yeah...It's not bad. Have you tasted it?

TV STORE ONLINE:   I have.  It's not bad... At this stage in the game, is there any type of character or role that you're wanting to experiment with as an actor?

SANDERSON:   I just want to keep changing.  I wanna play characters that are far away from who I actually am.  I once said that I'd like to play a Lesbian.  That would be a stretch for me...laughing

Available at TV STORE ONLINE
TV STORE ONLINE:   Why hasn't William Sanderson gotten behind the camera yet after all of these years in the business?

SANDERSON:   I'm not smart enough.  

TV STORE ONLINE:   Why not?  Directing is visceral on a level, isn't it?

SANDERSON:  Right, but it's also a technical.  

TV STORE ONLINE:  Of course, but you have an DP [Director of Photography] and a Camera Operator for that, right?   I'm sure you've worked with directors that have had no business being behind the camera?

SANDERSON:  Sure. I've worked with those guys before.  Robert Mitchum once told me that you didn't need a director, because the Camera Operator could just do the job.  Now, he was a very cynical man.   I told him that I needed the director for myself. 

TV STORE ONLINE:  What's next for you?

SANDERSON:  Let me enjoy what I did yesterday first...laughing   I did a cartoon yesterday called BRAVEST WARRIORS (2013).   I just did a funny cameo in the new Robin Williams movie A FRIGGIN' CHRISTMAS MIRACLE (2013).  I wrote Robin a note and told him that I could die now after I finished that with him.   Also, I'll be at Parafest 2013 at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  I'll be there with True Blood cast members: Kristin Bauer, Sam Trammell, and Denis O'Hare.  You can check that out HERE:

Check out William Sanderson's official website HERE:
Looking for a True Blood T-shirt?  Check out our selection HERE: