Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: The Galaxy
STARLOG Magazine Dec. 1978 - DIRK
TWO CRAZY KIND OF GUYS
By David Houston
On the small television screen, the plotline for the latest Battlestar Galactica episode unfolds. Amidst chaos and confusion appears Starbuck, the new SF TV show’s irresponsible, shortsighted, carefree, wisecracking rocket jock. Starbuck is the quintessential smirking hero, aggravating but endearing. Offscreen, Dirk Benedict claims that he isn’t at all as hedonistic as his Starbuck creation, although he does see certain similarities between himself and the role he plays.
“I live up to commitments, and I’m on time, but I’m not a responsible person. I’m not someone who believes one must fit into some sort of system. I have a policy of not making decisions. You don’t have to decide what you’re going to do, what you’re going to be, what you’re going to major in . . . these things will become known to you eventually, and all you have to do is take the steps.
“You don’t have to decide to be in a TV series. You wait until someone comes up and says, ‘Hey, you want to do a TV series?’ Here I am doing a TV show, and here I’ll stay — unless I become a egomaniac and they fire me.”
Without drawing parallels, he continues to sketch Starbuck: “He’s very excitable, a passionate con man. He’ll cheat, but he’s never malicious or out to hurt anybody. He knows every gambling casino in the galaxy, and enjoys the women. He’s easily distracted in the face of very serious situations; so a large part of him is childlike — even though he smokes cigars. He’s always in trouble, nowhere near ready. to settle down into any sort of monogamous relationship. I think he’s easy for young people to identify with.
“Starbuck and Apollo (played by Richard Hatch) are contemporaries, but Apollo is more mature; he thinks of the future and is concerned with the safety of everybody. But I get lost in the present, and have to be reminded of what’s going on.”
This is an unusual role for Dirk Benedict, who has up to now played largely introspective and sensitive young men, or neurotic criminals. “Galactica is my first opportunity to play an upbeat character with a sense of humor and who enjoys life.”
The character pleases him, and the production of Galactica continues to hold him in awe. “Being on this set for the last five months has been the most incredible experience any actor in television could have! It’s better than being on Charlie’s Angels with Farrah back. There’s no way to make you understand the amount of money that’s being spent. You come in for a shot at 7:30, and the camera doesn’t roll till 11:30 because of all the special effects that have to be prepared.
We just finished a show that takes place on an ice planet. The set was so real you kept looking for the ski lifts. I kept singing ‘White Christmas.’ They used a new kind of snow that even smelled like snow. With huge shakers at the top of the stage, they can control the density of it and everything.
“When we did the first show, it was really something to come in here and see what the Cylons looked like, and how the laser guns worked and all the special equipment we have to use!” The costumes, he admits, are uncomfortably hot, “but I wouldn’t change them for the world, because they’re so right.”
A partial explanation for Benedict’s enthusiasm might come from the fact that show business isn’t old hat to him. He didn’t even experience movies and TV when he was growing up.
“I never grew up, I haven’t grown up yet; but I was born in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, a little ranch town. I was a town boy, the son of a lawyer. I was an aristocrat, I guess, but I worked all the time. I had my first job working on a ranch.”
He saw his first movies during the last few years of high school, when they would show films in town during the summer months. “But they couldn’t compete with the outdoors.” With his father, “a man with an incredible diversity of interests,” he made his own bows and arrows. They had a jeep and would take it — loaded with archery equipment and firearms — “and spend hours just going into the mountains for target practice.”
It was this small town boy, considering himself “very poorly read,” who went to college in Walla Walla, Washington, and a rank greenhorn at it, found himself in show business.
Music interested him most. In early years he had learned to play trombone, piano, and guitar. “I wasn’t interested in economics, political science, biology, and I didn’t know theater existed.”
But the other guys on the freshman football team knew about theater and dared Dirk to try out for the school musical. “I’m ashamed to admit that I had never been to the theater there.” He auditioned though, and was given the lead role of Gaylord Ravanal in Showboat — one of the most demanding of singing and acting chores.
“I tried to get out of it, but the head of the department wouldn’t let me. I was a pledge in a jock fraternity on campus, and that changed the face of the fraternity. A couple of my friends came down to help, and in the course of the years that followed, the Phi Delta fraternity became the number one cracker-jack set builders for the theater. The guys loved it. They liked being around all those theater freaks, and I was sorta the bridge between them.”
As more and more acting and singing opportunities presented themselves at college, Dirk found himself concurrently disenchanted with his music major. “I didn’t get along with the head of the music department. I would write things that didn’t adhere to the rules, and he was afraid I was writing to break rules before I understood them. I was too avant garde, and I wasn’t good in the ear-training aspect.”
So he switched his major to theater, and got his degree. “I decided that acting was something worth pursuing, and I wanted to go to a professional school in Michigan — Meadowbrook Theater, north of Detroit.
There he remained for two years, studying and appearing in repertory theater. Then came a season or two of summer stock, and then New York.
“I got to New York in June and by September I had a job.” The play was Abelard and Heloise — which tried out in Los Angeles, hit New York with a blaze of publicity, and closed after a very short run. Two weeks afterward, Dirk Benedict was on his way to Sweden to make the first of his movies, Georgia, Georgia. Returning home, he replaced Keir Dullea in Butterflies are Free, on Broadway, with Gloria Swanson. When the play closed in New York, the young actor received and accepted an offer to recreate his role in Hawaii. That’s where the television industry Dirk Benedict and gave him a guest lead in Hawaii Five-O. From that came a starring role on Chopper One, which, as he puts it, “was probably Aaron Spelling’s only unsuccessful TV show.”
Following the demise of Chopper One, “I did nothing for two years. Literally nothing. Finally I said, “This is getting ridiculous.”
Consistent with his policy of avoiding decisions, he says, “My career always just happened. It followed me. I never used to call my agent, knock on doors, any of that stuff. So when my cycle ended, I was really out of it. I couldn’t get a job. I had never hustled, never pushed, never tried to make things happen. I knew so different, and I really wasn’t motivated.”
The two years of unemployment were not wasted, however. “I had other interests. So I just took off. I trapped, skied, fished and wrote several things — screenplays.” One of the screenplays is currently under option to a Hollywood producer.
“I am a perfect example of someone who did all the wrong things,” he states. “I never beat my head against a wall to get where I am. I know a lot of people wouldn’t like to hear me say that, but it’s true. Except that I worked, too. I spent years studying and training and I am experienced. But I’ve never tortured myself psychologically, never needed to.”
Benedict’s two year vacation magically ended when casting directors at Universal saw Sssss, a slimy science-fiction thriller about a slightly deranged scientist who turns innocent lads into cobras. Dirk played one of the victims. His performance as a soon-to-be-snake earned him a berth on the Galactica.
“Funny thing was,” he muses, “I had already auditioned for Galactica and they had said, ‘No, he’s not right for it.’ I went back, and they said, ‘We’ve already seen him.’
Following Sssss, however, they saw him again. And, somehow, Dirk Benedict turned rejection into acceptance — quite an extraordinary feat.
Even wise-cracking Starbuck would be impressed.
"I DIDN'T COME THIS FAR JUST TO COME THIS FAR."