The actor-turned-director talks about his first action film, his cast and future projects

Tim Matheson has certainly had a fine career in front of the camera, but in recent years he's been establishing himself behind the camera as well. With over 150 film and TV credits to his name, including his beloved Otter character in Animal House and Vice President John Hoynes on The West Wing, Matheson has been directing for the small screen and now finds himself at the helm of Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia (which he also performs in front of the camera in as well), which just hit the DVD shelves on January 6. I had the chance to speak with Matheson over the phone, and here's what he had to say.

So when did you first learn of Tobias' (Iaconis) script and the possibility of you directing it?

Tim Matheson: About a year ago, I guess. I had worked on Burn Notice, the USA series, with Jeff Freilich, who's an old friend of mine and a producer. He produces Burn Notice. I had such a good experience with that show and working with the guys down in Flordia that when Jeff was offered to produce this movie, he said, 'Well, I've got the guy you could use. You should meet him.' He gave me the script and I looked at it and went in and talked to them about it. There were a couple of things that were sort of in my favor. They liked the way I shot, the way I approach the work. They liked that I was an actor and working with Mr. Kennedy - this is his first real acting thing too. The kicker too, the bonus for them was I was a former Marine, so I knew the military. I'm not a gung-ho kind of guy, but I do honor our military. If you're going to do a military movie, you've got to do it right. I think that all sort worked into my favor. When I talked to them, I said the thing I loved about the first Behind Enemy Lines movie that John Moore did, was the film was about, certainly it was about the military and all that, but it was about justice in a world where people didn't seem to care, or were overrun by people who didn't care about justice. Here was this single man who stood up to that. Again, it's that thematic thing, I think it's closer in number one than in number two, but it was that aspect of the movie that I talked about so much, because if you don't care about the men and humanize them and their plight and what they're doing, then I don't care how much money you've got for explosions and stuff, it's just boring, it's stupid. So, unless we get that, the other thing doesn't work either, so we've got to get that. That's the way we approached it, and hopefully, to that extent, it works because we wanted it to be real and true. The guys went through - we only had a week for them - but we gave them a hell week, a week of boot camp and military training and guns and how to fire the weapons, how to march and how a squad works. We had really cracker-jack guys. We had a real Navy Seal named Jeffrey Reeves with us and Tom Minter was our military advisor, a former Marine, so that was good. It helped shape the reality of that, and then fit the dialogue around that.

That's pretty amazing that you only had a week for that, because everything looked very realistic, the way the whole unit worked.

Tim Matheson: Oh, good. The guys worked so hard. We kicked their ass in boot camp. Then they'd come back to the hotel and they'd go to the gym and they'd work out more. They were committed, they wanted to do it and, at the same time they were doing boot camp, they were training and doing the fights that had been choreographed in advance, for all the sequences, so that by the time we got to day one, all the fights had been choreographed and were being rehearsed constantly. That's the only way you can do it. We had guys that are so dedicated, our actors Mangienello and Ken Anderson, Mr. Kennedy, and Channon Roe and all our guys. We were really lucky. We had a bunch of good guys that really cared and worked really hard and we had fun, but there were no prima donna's. Nobody would say, 'I'm not coming out of the trailer,' or anything like that (Laughs). We had a ball.

Yeah, you had a really diverse cast here with Joe (Mangienello), Keith David, Channon Roe, Yancey Arias and Mr. Kennedy. You have some of the new school and some of the old school, so how did that whole dynamic play out? You have some veterans and some newer guys like Mr. Kennedy?

Tim Matheson: Oh, it was great, because Ken, Mr. Kennedy, they're the salt of the earth. I went to a couple of those WWE events and they're professional athletes, you know. And, wrestlers, I don't know if you saw Aronofsky's movie or not...

Oh yeah.

Tim Matheson:... it's on a bigger scale, what I saw, than that. That was sort of local stuff, but these guys, they're good guys. There are no prima donna's and if anyone gets a little uppity, they just knock 'em down real quick. You can't really put any airs around those guys, so Ken, on the set, came to play and he played hard and he was right there with everybody else. Mangienello was great. You know, the fish stinks from the head, and Joe is number one on our call sheet, our lead guy lets say, but nobody worked harder than Joe. He was doing four hours a day of training, six weeks before we started shooting. The guy was in amazing shape when he showed up. I know, when I'd get calls from the editorial department when we'd do a scene where he didn't have his shirt on, they said, 'I don't know man. I'm cutting this scene and like nine women were coming by the editing room coming to see Joe without his shirt on' (Laughs).

I believe you've never directed and acted in the same film before, so what was that whole experience like?

Tim Matheson: Sometimes, the director wants to move on, but the actor is like, 'Let's do that again.' So, there's some conflict like that, but I'm surrounded by really good people, Jeff Freilich the producer and my first A.D., I'd counsel with them. What I'd do is I'd shoot two or three things in a row, and then I'd say, 'Do we need any more?' If I think I got what I'd need, sometimes they'd say, 'Let's do one more.' I'd always rely on them. Filmmaking is such a team effort and I trust my compatriates so well that, if they want to do it again, let's do it again. It was great fun. It was an exhausting experience, but tremendous fun.

With the action, there is a lot of diversity there as well. You have the hand-to-hand combat, a lot of gunfights and chases. Do you have any particular favorite fight or action scene that you filmed?

Tim Matheson: You know, what I tried to do was to ramp it up, and I tried to keep them all different. Like that attack at the base, where they're all watching the meetings between the F.A.R.C. and the military and the guerrila's come in and try to pin it on our guys. That was meant to be... there was a series of Halo commercials that I'd see. I said, 'Well, let's do that. That's our style for that one.' Each sequence had its own particular look. I'd been reading about Ron Howard when he shot Cinderella Man and I forget, there was one other movie. Each boxing sequence had a distinct different style and look. It may not be overtly obvious to the audience or take you out of it, but we approached it the same way in our storyboard and our design and the way we shot it, the lenses we used and everything. Each fight was done differently like that. That was a Halo sequence, another was from Children of Men, we'd throw a little moniker on it like that, so we'd all be on the same page. Like the break-out from the prison, that was Children of Men. The great thing about Children of Men is they have these incredibly long takes with a lot of action and a lot of CG too. We didn't have the budget for the CG or the budget for the continuous takes, but we tried to do as long a take as we could without cuts, because it's different and dirtier and messier. It's just less planned-looking and I don't like CG action movies.

The new season of Burn Notice is starting up. Are you going to be directing any episodes this season?

Tim Matheson: Yeah. Yeah. I actually, I think there are a bunch in the can. I did the cliffhanger and then we're going to bring back the character that I played in the earlier one, and I directed earlier in the year. They're going to start shooting again in Miami in a couple of months. I love that show. Really, we took the key people from Burn Notice and went over and made this movie. They're my peeps (Laughs). They're a great group and they know how to shoot and how to do action.

Cool. So is there anything else you have lined up, either acting or directing? Anymore Entourage, perhaps?

Tim Matheson: God, that would be fun. I love Entourage. You know what, it's wide open, as far as acting goes. I'm working as a writer-director, just sort of trying to expand my scope here and trying to create some material that is stuff that I want to work on as a director, in addition to doing other projects for Fox or for WWE or things like that. I've developed screenplays before with the writers, and now just the natural progression is to write something myself. So I'm taking some time off and doing that. And really, in the episodic world, I'm just directing for people I enjoy working with. I'm doing an episode of Greek, which is a great show on ABC Family.

So, finally, the DVD is on the shelves now. What would you like to say to the fans of the first two films to entice them to pick this third one up on DVD?

Tim Matheson: Well, we just tried to be faithful to the action and the heart that was in the first one and Joe Mangienello doesn't look bad without his shirt on (Laughs). So hopefully we deliver the action and the fun and the heart that were inherint in the first one and the second one, especially the first one, and give a lot of bang for their buck and just try to entertain the hell out of them.

Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you today, Tim. Thanks so much for your time, and I wish you the best of luck.

Tim Matheson: Brian, it was great talking to you. Bye now.

You can check out all the action in Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia, which is on the DVD shelves right now.