From Illya Kuryakin to Ducky, David McCallum has had an interesting career
Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2015 12:00 am
BY ROB HEDELT/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Posted on May 19, 2015
by Rob Hedelt
TURNS out David McCallum is a really nice, accessible guy.
He has taken part in real autopsies and works hard to make Medical Examiner Donald “Ducky” Mallard as accurate and spot-on as possible on CBS’ “NCIS.”
He’s even got an official looking “Medical Examiner” badge and ID he occasionally flashes for fun for police officers or military folk.
He’s also on a first-name basis with more four-star generals than most folks will ever know.
That’s just a bit of what I learned about McCallum after chatting with him at length during a Saturday dinner at Snowden. It was hosted by Sodexo, for those involved with the Marine Corps Historic Half marathon.
McCallum, who served as the official starter for Sunday’s Historic Half, was involved because his charming wife, Katherine Carpenter McCallum, is on the board of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.
In Sunday’s column, I noted how the Scottish-born actor was my hero growing up for playing the super-cool spy Illya Kuryakin in the hit ’60s TV show “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
When I mentioned that to him, the actor—who looks much younger than his 81 years—said he had no idea when he signed on that “U.N.C.L.E.” would be such a big hit.
He took the job after getting his big break playing a lieutenant commander in the 1963 film “The Great Escape.”
“I was just looking for a job,” he said of “U.N.C.L.E.” It started out with an interesting edge, he said, but evolved more into a tongue-in-cheek, campy spy series.
He said that by its third and fourth year, a succession of show-runners made it sillier than it could sustain.
“You can’t really satirize a satire,” he noted, saying that’s what eventually led to the show’s end.
His wife, by the way, said she’d never seen “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” when she met him—she didn’t own a television at the time.
McCallum, who graciously spent hours this weekend posing for pictures and signing items for fans, said he hasn’t been contacted by those who’ve made a new movie version of “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” That airs later this summer.
He said he was just as glad, because he doesn’t think they are interested in trying to re-create the characters or the feel of the original.
“It just looks like a bunch of people shooting at each other,” he said of previews he’s seen.
The actor spoke warmly of the feeling of family that exists among cast members of “NCIS,” which this fall will be nearing 300 episodes.
He said he thinks that feeling and the hard work that goes into making the series realistic are two big reasons why the show has garnered top ratings for years.
He noted that when he gets each initial script, he goes over it with the show’s “excellent” writers and others to make sure medical terms and even the way his character speaks are on target.
“The character of Ducky speaks in a very grammatically correct manner,” said McCallum, who lives in New York and flies to California to film episodes.
He said he and others in the cast don’t know how the final episode’s shock ending—team leader Jethro Gibbs gets shot—will be resolved.
He said Gibbs (played by series star Mark Harmon) will surely survive, but he doesn’t know how all that will play out when the next season starts in the fall.
He noted that the season-ending arc of episodes featuring boys recruited by terrorists was eerily made all too real when news stories came out, as those episodes aired, about real-life children being recruited by ISIS.
When I asked him about comments he’d made earlier about actress Cote de Pablo suddenly leaving the show last year, McCallum said he just couldn’t understand why the popular actress would split from the show with such little notice or seeming concern for the rest of the cast.
“A bad career move,” McCallum called it.
The actor said he’s met NCIS officials and toured their offices. But he’s always wanted to tour the CIA at Langley. He took a shot at making that happen when he asked the secretary of the Navy for a tour when he showed up during the filming of a recent “NCIS” episode.
The result: He’s been promised a tour.
McCallum, who is looking forward to spending a week soon with his children and grandchildren, said he’s enjoyed having Robert Wagner guest starring on “NCIS.”
He noted that the two first became acquainted when they worked on the BBC’s “Colditz,” a series about Allied prisoners of war imprisoned at the supposedly escape-proof Colditz Castle.
He noted that his children played with those of Robert Wagner and Natalie Woods while that was being filmed.
Rob Hedelt: 540/374-5415