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By Michael Travin.
(All photos by: Ryan Orange | Stylist: Adeel Khan | Shot on location in Encino, Ca (contact: [email protected]))
For over three decades Harry Hamlin has been gracing the stage to the screen with his talent. Destined to be an actor, Hamlin knew at an early age this was his calling in life, and though he set out to be a stage actor the universe had a way of steering him in the direction of becoming a film and television star, and the rest is history. Over the years his talent has shone through and though he was probably recognized for his sex appeal garnering the title of People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ he also starred in the cult classics Clash of the Titans, and LA Law. Most recently he received an Emmy nomination for Mad Men and will appear in the Epix series Graves this Fall with Nick Nolte, and stars in the thriller Rebirth premiering this April at the Tribeca Film Festival, and stars as the lead in Penn Jillette’s Director’s Cut which opened Slamdance and has a part in Sundance’s New Frontiers virtual reality feature, Defrost. Here Resident Magazine catches up with Hamlin in Los Angeles as he discusses his journey to stardom and life as a dad.
Q: You’ve had an incredible career over the years spanning from Broadway to TV and film. What is your favorite aspect accumulated over the years?
Hamlin: My favorite aspect accumulated throughout the years is that I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do and I have been lucky enough to have moved between theatre, television and film to writing as well. At the same time, I have a really multidimensional family and my kids are my main focus. To have a career where you’re able to work and support your family and also be there 98 percent of nights while my kids were growing up to put them to bed and tell them a bedtime story was the biggest gift of all.
Q: Tell us a little about your family.
Hamlin: I wish I was able to spend more time with my son as he grew up in Rome and I’m grateful now that I can spend every day with my girls. I’ve traveled with them, raised them and helped them with their homework with while I did not get the chance to do that with my son at all.
Q: Do you feel that there’s a difference in the way your son grew up without you being there on a regular basis as compared to your girls?
Hamlin: Absolutely, it’s night and day. He’s European and he grew up with a European sensibility with his mother. I feel as though I have missed out a lot on not being able to be with him to put him into bed every night and help him with his homework or go to his sporting events and see his plays, none of which I can see because he was there and I was here. One thing I wasn’t able to do was to move over to Italy for 15 years and give up my career. But having this rich experience with these kids I’m hoping that at some point my son and I will get together and maybe spend a lot of time as adults together which we haven’t done yet but I’m hopeful we will.
Q: Lets go to your career from the beginning and how did you get started? You went to Yale, what was your driving force to get into acting?
Hamlin: It’s odd but I always knew I wanted to get into acting but my parents were very much against anything in the arts. They were real pragmatists and they wanted me to be an architect and I even majored in architecture in college. I still love architecture and I’ve built a few things including a house. One thing led to another, and eventually I was pushed into the direction of my passion which was acting and I wasn’t really willing to acknowledge that to anybody and remained my secret for many years. I started with my first two years at Berkeley where I ended up doing show after show and eventually transferred to Yale after my sophomore year.
Q: Is anybody in your family involved in acting?
Hamlin: No. My father was a scientist and an Aerohawk engineer, a rocket scientist I guess, though he would never admit it. And my mother was a housewife. But there never had been anybody in the acting profession in the history of my family. Finally I told them after Yale about the plays that I was doing at college. They always thought that I was on this trajectory to be a businessman or an architect. And then out of the blue I was granted a scholarship by William Wall at ACT upon matriculation from Yale and then I told my parents that I was going to do that. They had arranged a job for me in New York in WNET as an associate producer and thought I would work in the corporate side of entertainment. When I told them that I was not going to take that job and was planning to drive to San Francisco to enroll in the American Conservatory Theatre training program, I packed up my car and I said I am leaving tomorrow. The next morning I turned the ignition and my car wouldn’t start. During the night, they had taken the distributor head out of my car, which is the heart of the car, and hid it and so my car was dead. I had to go that day and enroll in the training program and all I took was a guitar and suitcase spent my last 20 bucks on a cab to the airport and it was the only time in my life I have ever deliberately bounced a check which was to Pacific Southwest Airlines for my flight to San Francisco. I knew I had no money in my account but I had my checkbook. I depended on the kindness of strangers for the next couple of months and stayed in many different people’s apartments and I got a stipend for my scholarship so I was able to survive. We had food stamps.
Q: So what was your first big break?
Hamlin: My first big break was in the end of my second year of a three year classical intensive training program which was similar to the graduate programs at Yale or Carnegie. Peter Scheffer’s award winning play, Equus that had hit the London stage and had just opened in New York and was winning all the Tonys after winning multiple awards in London. It was about a psychiatrist who was trying to take care of a young boy who had stabbed the eyes out of a stable-full of horses. The director Bill Ball who was also the director of the theatre asked me to be the boy in the play because I was the right age, had the right sort of look and I was trained. That was the good news, the bad news was the last 25 minutes of the play the boy has to be completely naked on stage in front of 2000 people every night. So I trepidaciously signed on to do that play, which was my big break. I could enter the union that way. I got on stage and took my clothes off in front of people for two seasons.
Q: Were there any kids that were given the opportunity before you?
Hamlin: Yeah there was a kid who was doing it at the theatre before me but we at that time we were the sister theatre to the Moscow Art Theatre. It was 1976, they were talking about the cold war which was still 15 years from actually ending. Brezhnev was President of Russia, Carter was President of US, we were sharing plays back and forth between Moscow and San Francisco, he went off to Moscow to do a play and I was asked to fill in for him and that kid ended up not coming back.
Q: What happened after the play?
Hamlin: While I was in my third year of the training program, I was in the second season of Equus, but I was still a student. One day I met a girl who was filling out some forms for a scholarship to study abroad for the Fullbright scholarship and offered me an extra form. I thought about it for a minute where would I want to and figured since our play is in Moscow I would want to travel to the Moscow Art Theatre and study with the guy named Efimov who was a very famous actor at that time. A couple of months later I was accepted into the Fullbright program and left the ACT for Moscow.
Q: How are your parents doing at this stage?
Hamlin: They came and saw me naked on stage in “Equus.” The play got standing ovations every night and I was on the front of all the papers and magazines and became really famous in San Francisco for doing that play so I guess that they kind of thought that maybe I had something, and it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. I’m not sure how proud they were of seeing their son naked on stage but they did come to see the play. That was the only time I really spent any time with them during the three years I was at ACT. They liked the fact that I got a Fullbright scholarship, that they felt was pretty cool. Carter and Brezhnev got into a big fight and I left ACT so I didn’t have a job anymore. I went to LA to pack my bags to go to Moscow, and then I got a letter from the Fullbright people saying that they had to pull my visa because detente had disintegrated between the US and Russia. You can’t go anywhere in Russia. They said we’ll send you to London, we don’t want you to study there but you can meet Olivier, we’ll arrange meetings with different people and then you’ll spend eight months writing your paper and you’ll be done with your Fullbright. In the meantime a casting director from Warner Brothers who had seen me in “Equus,” invited me to come over. I said I’m sorry I never want to do movies, I’m only going to be a theatre actor for the rest of my life, movies are selling out. I refused to go and see her but I kept getting needled by people so I finally went to Warner Brothers and met with this casting director. She said look your reviews are great from all the plays you’ve done, you’ve got the right look and we at Warner Brothers are interested in you. She said as a matter of fact there’s a mini series that’s casting right down the hall right now right this very moment. Why don’t you go read the leading role, you’d be perfect for it. It’s a young kid with two brothers, a Western that’s going to be amazing. I said no, I don’t want to do television, I’m a theatre actor. She said oh come on it’ll just be fun. Just go on and do it and handed me the papers. I went down the hall and there was this handsome blonde kid sitting on the bench, who said his father was the producer and he would be reading with me. So we worked on it for five minutes, went in I read it for the guy, by the time I walked back to the casting director’s office, a guy calls up and says you got the part. So within half an hour of me being in the film business, which I wasn’t really in, I got this leading role in this mini series.
Q: What was the mini series?
Hamlin: It was called “Awakening Land.” The blonde kid was Corbin Bernsen. His father was producing it. He wasn’t in it, he was just reading the actor. Ten years later, I ended up working with Corbin on “LA Law,” which is an odd story. But I said no, I turned it down, I said I’m sorry I’m not going to do that, that’s not what I’m here for, I’m going to London. I’m going to study Shakespeare in London. By turning that down, it got everybody really interested. I was serious I wanted to go to London and work with Laurence Olivier on Shakespeare. I was being completely honest with them. All of a sudden, offers started coming in. I was leaving the following week to London. It became like if you can’t get this fish on the deck, I’m going to keep trying. So this casting director’s secretary called me up and said there’s this director who’s coming in from New York who is doing this big movie, a comedy, and is flying in a couple of actresses from New York. He is doing a screen testing for these actresses and he needs a good actor to throw the lines at the girls. You won’t be on camera or anything but we need you. I said No, I’m going to London, I’m not in the film business. She said I might be able to get you $250 for two days and I thought I needed the 35mm camera. I said well look if you can get me enough money to get a camera, I’ll consider it. I’ll come in and meet with the director and so I did. I sat down with the director and read through the whole script. I had no idea who he was. I hadn’t made any inquiries about anything, I just read the script. I had no desire to do the movie, I was just doing a favor for this girl to get the money. Well it turned out to be Stanley Donen, who directed “Singin’ in the Rain,” I didn’t know who he was. After the second day, he called me up and said would you stay in town next week? Could you delay your trip for a week because I want to put you on film. He said you’ve got to cut your hair though, would you mind cutting your hair? If you do, I’ll put you in costume so when you come back from London you’ll have a real film. I said no. I had no interest in that. He said well just do it for me please. We’ll fill in another $250. So I sold out.
Q: What movie did it end up being?
Hamlin: Well it was “Movie Movie,” with George C. Scott. He called me after the next day and he said I’m going to give you a lead role in the movie. I said no, I turned it down. I said I’m not auditioning for movies.
Q: Did you fall in love with anybody on the set?
Hamlin: I had a crush on Kathleen Beller who played my sister. The girl who played my girlfriend was George C. Scott’s recent wife, Trish Van Devere. She was 10 years older than I and she was supposed to play my girlfriend. She muscled her way into the movie, she insisted that George put her in the movie. George ended up going to Stanley and said if you don’t put my wife in the movie, I’m not going to do the movie. It was just totally wrong.
Q: So you’re learning an awful lot about the way it works?
Hamlin: Well I’m 25 years old. Here’s this 37-year old woman that’s supposed to be my girlfriend. It was obvious that there was a disconnect there right? George said well my wife wants to be a movie star. The only place we could put her in was as Harry’s girlfriend. I had a little crush on Kathleen Beller. But I ended up doing a relic with my mother and sister, she said don’t do the Fullbright give the money back, you’ve got too many credits anyway.
Q: So now your mom is really into this?
Hamlin: My mom really wanted me to do it. She convinced me to do it. Within two years, I was paying their bills for them, so then they’re really happy. I was doing movie after movie, I was on every list, up for every movie that was being made and meeting Steven Spielberg.
Q: Do you have a favorite role?
Hamlin: Well I don’t know they always say your first one is your favorite one. Well I guess the movie “Movie Movie,” was pretty fun. But every role you kind of cherish everyone, and obviously every one is a brand new experience. I can’t say it was a favorite.
Q: What about recently like your “Shameless” which is a fun show and “Mad Men”?
Hamlin: I like to do different stuff, and I am more of a character actor than I am a leading man because that’s the way I was trained. So it makes for a lot of time in between jobs but when you get the jobs, the right ones, it’s really fun, it’s really interesting jobs to do. So I don’t play the same guy every time. I guess the “LA Law” character is probably closest to who I really am. I mean I had a character there, I played a character in him, he had a different rhythm and sense of humor than I do but he was closer than most of the characters I play. Like the guy in “Mad Men” is like nothing like who I am.
Q: So who are you? What do you like to drive?
Hamlin: I drive a Toyota but I also have a Tesla. It depends on if I’m feeling Tesla or Toyota. I’m an outdoor person, a mountain climber. I would go alone every year for five days into the High Sea area and that’s when I set out time, my meditation time.
Q: So what other hobbies do you have?
Hamlin: I’m a guitar player, that’s probably my main hobby. Other than that, I’m a scuba diver, and have been doing that since 1963. I’d say that I look forward most to mountain climbing if I’m thinking about something all year long, I’m thinking about that five days that I get to spend solo in the High Seas area.
Q: That’s where you go every single year?
Hamlin: Yeah because it’s very diverse there, you can get really high into the mountains. You can get really far out into the wilderness there really quickly. It only takes about a day to get into the complete unknown. Once there, it’s totally wild and absolute wilderness. There aren’t that many places that you can do that. Perhaps the Rocky Mountains or Glacier National Park, or even the cascades but that would take days to get there. I don’t have days, I take six days in September and say these are my six days.
Q: In terms of dress, do you have a favorite type of designers that you use for your jeans or your shirts or jackets?
Hamlin: What you’re seeing is what I wear every day, it’s easy. I guess Seven would be the jeans that I wear more than anything else. Varvatos is probably closest when it comes to getting gussied up. If I wear a fancy suit it’s Tom Ford, all my suits are Tom Ford or Varvatos. I’ve been doing Tom Ford since he was at Gucci and have his suits that I’ve kept since the 80s since I first discovered him with a couple of Prada years in between.
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