Alan, I just saw the Youtube video preview posted on Facebook of your movie project “The Senator: Islandcare is Born” (check out http://youtu.be/dk-IuudzmAk and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ce7nTkjn-Y&feature=youtu.be ). It looks like a lot of fun. Can you tell us a little bit about the project… where it stands now and where and when we might be able to see the final product?
I finished shooting it as of 2 weeks ago and have been editing as we went along. I just have some musical transitions to write and then start locking in the whole piece. The rough edit is done. It has been great fun. I wrote, directed, produced ( as well as played the Senator). For once I wanted to do a project that I wanted to do- the way I wanted to do it. The only way I could do that was to finance it myself. I have served as executive producer, producer or director on many different projects- but that was all hired gun stuff. I already owned the equipment and the studio- so all I had to do was gather up my crew (that already worked with me ) and the funniest actors that had ever passed through the door of The Actor’s School. It is way over the top comedy. I like that. I kind of did this one for me. It’s a bucket list thing. In the end it will be a comedy series – instead of film- but there will be a film version for film festivals. I was a comedy guy before I did All My Children- but people only know about the soap. This goofy stuff is more of who I am.
Who else is involved in the project… any other names that we’d recognize?
I have used the funniest people I have found in the Nashville area for this project. One of them is Jay DeMarcus, who is one of the 3 members of the country music super group, Rascal Flatts. Jay plays my speechwriter. He is very funny. Jay and every actor in the project has either been an acting student at my school, a teacher, or a private student, including Playboy Playmate of the Year 2005, Tiffany Fallon. Her husband is also in Rascal Flatts. I did the project to show that the comedy acting talent in Nashville is as good as it is on either coast.
I know that you run an Actor’s School in Nashville. Did this project come out of that business? Tell us about your business, how it got started and some of the other sorts of things that you do?
I never planned to start a school. I was actually here for music projects when the Screen Actors Guild asked me to teach a workshop here in Nashville. It went over well and grew from that. At a certain point I decided to turn it into a training center for actors, singers, filmmakers and public speakers. It is now the biggest training center for Film and TV actors in the Southeast. The website is www.ActorsSchoolUSA.com. I have 25 or so casting directors, directors, producers etc. that teach at the school. I fly most of them in for Los Angeles. I also teach group classes and specialty workshops. I have been lucky enough to work with some of the biggest names in town. I wrote, directed and produced multi-media shows for Ronnie Milsap, Lee Greenwood and others that built their own 2,000 seat theaters. I work with the guys from Rascal Flatts, Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley, Tiffany, Old Crow Medicine Show, Jo Dee Messina,consulted for Garth Brooks’ team in the early years – and many others. I have trained the young Miley Cyrus, 2 other Disney stars and Chord Overstreet from GLEE that were discovered at my school. Many of my clients don’t plan to have acting careers. One is a federal judge, some are CEOs, and many are attorneys that want to be better in the courtroom. I also have corporate training side. I have developed programs, for small to very large groups, for five Fortune 500 companies.
How long have you been in Nashville and who are some of the most notable people you have worked with in your time there? Can you share some inside scoop on any of the Nashville stars? Who are some of the most interesting and talented people who you have worked with over the years?
Ronnie Milsap was the most talented artist by far. 42 number 1 hits and 7 Grammies or so. We had a great and creative time together. He let me do my thing with his show. I worked with Ronnie for a big part of 2 years. The opening night of his theater in Myrtle Beach, with the show he hired me to put together, was right up there with the birth of children. He just asked me if I could help him with another show. Miley Cyrus was very interesting even when she was 11. There was no question she was going to be big. I have another young girl that is on Disney’s #1 show A-N-T Farm . She was the most driven eight year old I ever met. And Coco Jones is off the charts crazy amazing at 15 years old. Some of these kids are from another planet. It is so much fun to be a part of that.
You’ve been in show business for a long time. I know that one of your early roles was playing Sean Cudahy on the Soap Opera All My Children back in the late 80’s. How did you get from the University of Illinois in Champaign, Illinois to being TV actor?
I started out to be a doctor- then I switched to pre-law of something. One day I was in a business calculus class and I looked at an equation on the board and thought, “ If this has anything to do with the rest of my life- I am going to go home and shoot myself right now”. I went back to ATO- pulled out a Uof I course catalog and ran my finger down the pages until I found something fun. I was very excited when my finger came upon the curriculum “Film, TV and Radio” under the College of Communications. I immediately switched into the College of Communications as fast as I could. I never planned or wanted to be an actor. It evolved. I wanted to write comedy. I was into political satire and in 1975 moved to San Francisco where I started doing stand-up. I didn’t really want to do stand-up either but I thought it would be a good way to get my writing noticed. In 1977 I moved to LA to do the comedy thing . I started to hate the club scene and it was getting to me so my friends said “ You should act- you look more like an actor”. So I said “Ok, I’ll try that”. About 2 years after that things started to happen. I did a Cheech and Chong movie (which was a disaster for me in the end) and some other comedy stuff. Then after a long tortuous 3 month audition process- I ended up with the part of Sean Cudahy on All My Children. I started in January of 1980 and I guess I did over 500 episodes of the show during the two long-term contracts I did with them. My last shows there were in 1990.
You were a well known actor time playing a very popular character. What are some of your favorite memories from that experience? Tell us a little bit about what it was like to be a Hollywood star?
It was a different time in TV history. When I start at ABC there was really no cable at all. The networks were it and ABC had the top three Soaps. They were giant cash cows then. The ABC soaps paid for all the losses in the other divisions of the network. The audiences were 8 times what they are now because that was all there was to watch besides public television. Because of that we had a lot more exposure than they do now. We were often overexposed. It had its good side -and its bad side. It was hard to get privacy out in public. That does weird things to people. Some people don’t handle the exposure well. I was Ok with it. My wife hated it. I thought I handled it well until I didn’t have to deal with it as much. That was when I realized how much it affected my life. I like being more on the anonymous side now. You lose a lot when you are a known commodity from television. People come up to you all day long like they know you. It is weird. Thank heaven we didn’t have all the social media back then. It is crazy now. The good side was that we had tremendous access to sports people, entertainers etc. You could pretty much get in anywhere – anytime. I have to say I took advantage of that aspect. ABC threw money around in the early 80s so the contracts were great and the parties were pretty extravagant. I got to hang with some serious folks. Who would think that The Grateful Dead, Jimmy Buffett, Oprah and the Chicago Bulls would be totally into All My Children. I have special relationships from my days at All My Children. When I went back in the late 80s things had changed. Soaps had competition. Not big competition – but they saw it coming and the new owners of ABC, Capital Cities, did not like to spend money like ABC did in the old days. They were better business folks. Now Disney owns it all- and they are very tough. Goofy and Mickey Mouse left the building a long time ago.
Did you know that we used to rush back to the ATO house to catch you on All My Children at lunch time and that we gambled on which characters would appear in the final scene after the last commercial? I’ve always wanted to know if Mick Mayville ’76 had some sort of direct tip line to you because he always seemed to win those bets. Fess up… were you tipping Mick off?
I love the fact that the brothers at ATO kept up with the show when I was on. I think that is so cool. But I did not give any inside info to Mick. I would have for a price- but nobody asked.
What are some of your favorite memories and favorite people from your time at ATO?
Some I can’t talk about of course. I was social chairman. Outhouse Scramble was ridiculously crazy back then- and it was on our farm. I still can’t believe that my parents went for that. But I can still remember times when we all really needed somebody to talk to- and those were the guys- or pledge brothers. Hell week was primitive and brutal -and I am really against it- but there was some serious human stuff that we witnessed together( good and bad- strengths and weakness). It bothers me that I will never see some the guys again. I see my old roommate, Jeff McGill, the most. Jeff lives in Champaign and our farm is not far away. I manage the farm so I am up there a fair amount. Jeff stops in at what he calls “ The Dysert Hotel” when he passes through Nashville to see his son at Auburn. It was great to see his son swim for the U.S. Olympic Swim Team. How cool is that? In fact, he stopped last week on his way to witness the birth of his first grandchild. Eight hours after he left my house, he texted me a photo of his brand new granddaughter, Amelia. Now that is some real life stuff and it was so special to feel a part of it. That is what brotherhood can be. I talk with Steve Stratton every so often and see some of the guys at homecoming. We went to Steve’s 60th at his mountain retreat in Vail a couple years ago. It felt like old times. That was special. It really isn’t enough though. Everyone is too busy. It is kind of sad really. Some of the classes do a much better job of keeping it together. Who else have I known since I was 18 other than my family? Only the guys at the house. I think I am to blame for a lot of that- and I am sorry about it. I will try to be better.
I’ve heard that you had an awesome car when you were living at ATO… if memory serves me right, a red Corvette. How did a college kid happen to get a car like that and how did you keep your fraternity brothers from stealing it every weekend for a drive past Kam’s, Dooley’s 2nd Chance and Chances R?
About that car: I have heard so many stories about that car. It is time to set the record straight. Only about half of those stories are true. But I did set the car up on the main sidewalk of the quad and lay rubber all the way across the quad at straight up noon one day with my crazy roommate, John Cosgrove, riding shotgun. Then we hid the car for about a week. That night John had to try to top me so he stole the lights off of a cop car and hooked them up on the ceiling of our room at ATO. When I got back that night they were hooked up and flashing in our room. He was very good mechanically. How can you forget that stuff? Another thing: My parents did not buy that car for me as most thought. My brother and I raised purebred English Suffolk sheep from age 8. We bought and sold and showed them at the state, county and regional fairs. We made money that way and it was not easy. This is going to sound like total BS- but I bought that car because it was a dream. I saw it as a concept car in a magazine- same color (red on red with a white convertible top). The 1968 was one of the greatest designs of all time. Right up there with the Wassily chair and a Frank Lloyd Wright home. One weekend I was driving back to Danville from Chicago the small town route. There on a pedestal in this little town, Watseka, was my dream car- exactly as it was as a concept car in the magazine. It was a cosmic event. One of those times when things come together in the universe and you can’t stop it from happening even if you tried. It was a year old. I stopped and looked at it knowing I could not buy it. When I got home I told my dad that I saw my dream car. He said maybe we’ll all go up there tomorrow and look at it again. I said “ Why – you won’t let me buy it”. He said “Let’s just take a nice Sunday drive and look at the car for fun”. We were going to drive only my car up but then, at the last minute, my dad said he needed to drive too-which I thought was weird. After we looked at the car, my dad said ”Ask him what he would give you for your car on a trade”. This was my first negotiation- and I was not good at it. The guy gave me a figure that seemed miles apart. My dad reminded me I had some money in the bank and told me to ask the man what the difference would be if I kicked in the extra money. The guy gave me a figure and I came back deflated. Dad asked what he said. I told him we were still $700 apart (remember this was 1969). My dad looked me straight in the eyes and said “ Son- are you going to let $700 keep you from the car of your dreams?” I bought the car. I will never forget the look on his face. And I have often remembered that when I really wanted something -that others might pass on. Life is short. It was that the best advice I ever got- from anyone. I did learn some big life lessons from that car as well:
- Not all people will be happy for you when you buy something nice. You find out who your real friends are at times like these. Your real friends are happy for you.
- Women like to ride in a sports car with the top down when it is snowing- but only up to the age of 26.
- The front end of a 1968 corvette lifts off the road at 119 mph
- Some people think you are a dick just because of the car you drive.
- Stories about a car can outlive the man that drove it.
- You should have a car with a trunk
What were some things that you learned from your ATO experience that served you well as you have advanced through your career?
I grew up a lot in that house. I met some great women through my association with the house. Good enough reason right there. I learned a lot about how difficult, but fun, it can be living with a bunch of guys who all have different ideas about the way things should be done. This has been very useful in the business I am in. But I still like doing things my way.
Tell us a little bit about your family and what you do for fun now outside of making movies?
I have 2 sons. Cody, 27, and is a mechanical engineer. Cooper,23, is working and taking more college classes. He makes an appearance in my movie. He is a funny guy. Neither have been in jail or caused any big heartache. I feel blessed. My wife, Michele, and I like to travel. We try to take a trip every month these days because we have become very aware that life on this planet is short. We still see lots of movies and I do as much music stuff as I can. We still work out 6 days a week because farmers don’t golf.
After playing a Senator in a movie now, are you tempted to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other actors who have gone into real politics?
Besides being a farmer, my father was a politician for 35 years. I have been to too many pancake breakfasts and smiled at too many strangers. It is a thankless job and we are lucky that anyone will do it. I would never consider it these days. When I was young and stupid there was a plan for that to happen- but I have been backstage at the puppet show. Another great lesson from my father “ Just because you can do something- doesn’t mean you should do it”.