Saturday, December 6, 2014

Jerry Wasserman: A Conversation

Spoiler Alert!  My next episode review will be Collision Course which guest stars Jerry Wasserman who will be making his 3rd and final MacGyver Project appearance (we've already seen him in Live and Learn and The Gun).  I really enjoyed Jerry's work and reached out to him to ask about his MacGyver experience, and he was kind enough to take time and share a few memories.  

NS: What do you remember most about working on MacGyver?

JW: Richard Dean Anderson was a very nice guy, modest, quiet and VERY hard-working. I remember Live and Learn best for lots of reasons: It was one of the best parts I had in those days. The actor playing my kid was, I thought, terrific. And I got to do some real acting, not just delivering information or serving the plot as the characters I played often did. The literacy theme was also important to the producers. They were very proud of that show and shared with us inspirational letters they had received after it was aired, people saying how moved they had been, how they or people they knew had hidden their illiteracy, etc. And the director, Harry Harris, was a real character. He claimed he had directed more episodes of TV westerns than anyone in Hollywood, and boasted that he always came in on time and under budget--because his motto was "it only hurts for a second -- moving on!" If there was a boom shadow in a shot--too bad, "moving on." He was a riot.

as Falco in Collision Course

NS: Do you recall anything from your first MacGyver appearance on Collision Course where you had a few scenes with G. Gordon Liddy?

JW: I don't actually remember that episode. But I remember Liddy very clearly because I had worked with him before, very recently, in a show called "The New Adventures of Beans Baxter," one of the first series on Fox in 1987. Beans was a teenage spy, I was his comic spymaster (a la Get Smart), and Liddy played himself in a couple of episodes, courting Beans' mother (his father had been abducted by the bad guys). I remember a scene where we sat together on a couch and he showed my character how he could use a pen to kill someone by stabbing him in the throat! Liddy was another amazing character, intent on being an actor now that Watergate was a mostly distant memory.

as Nick Milani in Live and Learn

NS: How did you prepare for your role of Nick Milani?  Your performance as an illiterate construction worker was excellent.  I always read about the cast after I watch an episode, and I found it impressive that you had a PhD in English Literature and yet were able to play an illiterate person so convincingly.   

JW: Interesting question. I don't remember it being difficult. Mostly I recall playing the intensity of the character, which I've always been very good at doing. And, like so many of us, I have always felt that I was faking it--in acting, even in teaching--so playing someone who spent his life faking being able to read wasn't that much of a stretch.

as Maddox in The Gun

NS: What was worse: getting trapped under a collapsed building (Live and Learn) or being rained on by boxes of guns (The Gun)?

JW: The collapsed building was worse because it was pouring rain the whole time we filmed on that construction site. If I remember correctly, the weather was fine for The Gun. And we only faked having the guns fall on us: look up, AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!! But collapsed building acting meant lying in the actual cold mud. Still, I loved doing it. It was such a great part.

NS: Do you still keep in touch with any of the actors, writers, or producers from MacGyver?

JW: Other than the Vancouver actors who were in my episodes--particularly the great Jay Brazeau--I haven't kept in touch. I would run into some of the producers on other shows, and I saw Ricky Dean again a few years later when I worked on a couple of episodes of Stargate. But basically, no--like Harry Harris, for me it's just been moving on.


  1. How on Earth did you get the opportunity to score this brief interview? was a great read. I'm with Jerry that his role in "Live and Learn" was definitely his high point in the series. The young guy who played his son Tony in that episode was Glenn Scarpelli, who was a cast member of "One Day at a Time" in its final couples of seasons in the early-to-mid 80s. He had a kind of John Travolta-style charisma and I liked him a lot as an actor, especially in "Live and Learn".

    1. Thanks Mark! I just found his email online and asked if he'd be willing to answer some questions related to MacGyver and he was kind enough to say yes. Now that I'm in the range of episodes I like better, I hope to have some more of these, but that depends on how willing people are to share. And also depends on how much they remember - it's interesting how even though they may have been directly involved in a particular episode, they may know less about it than we do due to the passage of time.

    2. Yeah I could see that. I remember when Richard Dean Anderson was working with John De Lancie on that "Legend" show in the mid-90s, neither could remember any details of the MacGyver episode they appeared on together in 1986 ("The Escape"). I'm someone very close to the hyperthymesia condition of people that remember every detail of their life. For instance, I remember every detail of where I was when I watched every MacGyver episode originally (and most of the reruns). I can't remember what I had for supper on October 6, 1993, like the people with the pure form of that condition are able to do but I do remember a lot of crazy details about obscure things.

    3. Wow, that's really interesting! I was curious if you were rewatching the episodes before you posted a comment to refresh your memory, but it sounds like you've seen them all enough times and remember everything that it's not necessary to do that.