Robert Vaughn discusses shooting the show in the States, why he doesn't watch dramatic TV and his favorite roles
In the AMC series Hustle, Robert Vaughn plays a veteran con man. He is and will always be best known for his role as Napoleon Solo in the 1960's show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Besides these two television shows - and countless guest spots on various other TV shows - Vaughn has had an illustrious film career.
The new season of Hustle premiers April 18 with Robert Wagner guest starring. This episode will bring the London-based group to Los Angeles where they set their sights on a rather big and well-known emblem of the city and the entertainment industry - The Hollywood sign.
Mr. Vaughn, is this easier for you to come to Los Angeles than go to London or is it just as far?
Robert Vaughn: I live in Connecticut, so it's about five hours either way. I live in the middle.
Which do you prefer? Are you glad it's in the States this time?
Robert Vaughn: I love London. I loved it when I went there in the late '50s. I think I was born in Elizabethan times. I've always just had a great feeling for London and British people. When I had a chance to work there, I didn't know it was going to be five years. It's four years so far, and I love it. I can't wait to go back.
What are your thoughts about several network shows that were sort of the same theme as Hustle, but a couple of them this past fall had failed while yours was going strong. Did you see Smith, for example, and what do you think?
Robert Vaughn: I don't see dramatic television because my wife is a political junkie, and we have 12 sets going night and day so she doesn't miss a word walking from room to room. So I have no idea what's going on in television because I really don't look at it.
Have you ever been conned?
Robert Vaughn: Not that I know of. I've been conned in the sense, and I'm sure Robert (Wagner has) had this problem of having a producer circumscribe my agent and call me directly and tell me who was going to be in a movie. "We have Vanessa Redgrave and we got Oliver Reed." And then I call Vanessa Redgrave and they've been told that I'm in the picture, and that happens more often than not in Hollywood.
To what do you ascribe your youthful appearance?
Robert Vaughn: Good whiskey and no exercise. No. I don't know. My mother and father both looked much younger than they were when they died at a relatively young age. So I can contribute nothing to the question except I don't know.
Tell us about the continuing years that you've been involved with "Hustle." When did you think the series really got into his groove, for lack of a better term, and just tell us what you think is different about this approaching season, other than the obvious one about being in California for the premier episode.
Robert Vaughn: I think it grew each year because we all got to know each other very well on a social level in addition to the level of working together. Most people that are in series do not see each other at the end of the day, but we do see each other. We do like each other, and I think the more that we've liked each other and growing each year to be more friendly and a part of our lives, I think the show has improved for that reason as a result of our personal relationships.
How much are you still sort of defined by your role in The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? Can you still maybe not go walk down the street without somebody remembering you from Man from U.N.C.L.E. or has that waned over the years?
Robert Vaughn: I knew it changed for me from U.N.C.L.E. to Hustle the first time I gave a cabdriver in London a 5 pound note, and he held it up to the light and said, "Is this any good, mate?" I said, "Ah. I think the show is being watched here." And that was about the second year.
Going back to the other show, the first time I knew it seemed to be successful, I was in Geneva and there was some kind of political conference there, and a king of an emerging country in Africa wearing his crown and robes came up and asked me for my autograph. And I thanked the king and I gave him the autograph. It's just amazing how television permeates the entire world from people who are just listeners and viewers to people of considerable importance who find relaxation watching television. Somebody called it a talking lamp. Television, that is.
Do you give your cast members any tips?
Robert Vaughn: I just think everybody on the cast is so wonderful unto themselves. I have nothing to offer any of them because they are -- they can dance. They can sing. They can do dialects. They can do trick voices. They can ride horses. They can do everything. I act, hopefully. But they really are enormously talented people. Except -- apart from their personalities.
What are your favorite roles, movies you cherish the most that you appeared in?
Robert Vaughn: Well, the two pictures that I've done that probably will be remembered as long as there are pictures I would have bet against both of them being successful: The Magnificent Seven, because we had no script when we went down to the shoot, and Bullitt because the script we did have was awful. And Steve (McQueen) I had gotten to know quite well at that time, and he was producing the picture Bullitt. And I said, "Why are you doing this?" I suggested rewrites, and they were never made. And I suggested more rewrites. I sent in a girl who did some rewrites. And nothing changed in the script, but they kept upping the salary offer. So after a while the script got quite clear to me. (Laughter.)
And from that point on, I thought, "Well, with Steve as the centerpiece, I think this will be a much better picture than I thought it would be the first time I read the script." And really it was the first big car chase, and all the other pictures that followed that that were an action picture had a car chase. It was a minor one in Bullitt with just one guy in a little car going up and down the San Francisco hills. A little car. I think it was a Mustang.
Any thoughts on the industry itself?
Robert Vaughn: The big three, Jack Warner and Sam Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer, came into the country as émigrés from pogroms that were in Eastern Europe. And I think they never forgot their roots. And when they were able to start being successful doing ordinary pictures and B pictures, if you will, they also wanted to do -- in the case of Goldwyn, he wanted to do Wuthering Heights. They wanted to give back to America what they felt America had given them the chance to be, successful businessmen, when they were tire salesmen and glove salesmen in Eastern Europe.
And I think the main change is the fact there are so many women involved on the set now. When you go on a movie set, there used to be one woman: script supervisor. Now they were in all capacities in addition to heading studios. So that's the biggest change of all from the early '50s, when I first started.
The new season of Hustle premiers April 18 on AMC.
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