Tom Berenger Interview: Oscar Nominee and Emmy Award Winner Heads to "Major Crimes"
Image attributed to Tom Berenger
Tom Berenger is known for such films as In Praise of Older Women, The Big Chill, Major League, Last Rites, Gettysburg, Rustler’s Rhapsody, Training Day, Someone to Watch Over Me, The Substitute, Shoot to Kill and Inception, among others. He earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of sociopath Sergeant Barnes in the 1986 film Platoon.
The actor’s television credits include his critically acclaimed performance as legendary University of Alabama football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant in ESPN’s made for television movie, The Junction Boys, earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Guest Actor in Cheers and won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for Hatfields & McCoys in 2012. Berenger also produced the 1997 miniseries Rough Riders and starred as Theodore Roosevelt. Daytime drama fans will remember him as the second Timmy Siegal on One Life to Live.
"They left it open so whatever the writers and producers want to do with that. I’d come back because I had a good time. I enjoyed it. I like the cast and crew, the producers and writers, the whole bunch. It was nice. It’s not easy doing shows like that day in and day out, but I thought everybody was just fabulous."
Berenger can currently be seen playing Capt. Sharon Raydor’s husband in TNT’s hit police drama Major Crimes beginning July 8 for a three-episode arc.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tom, how are you today?
Tom Berenger: I’m good, just watching the rain out here on the east coast. It never stops. I’m in South Carolina right now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m in Alabama, and we’re getting rain also. How did your involvement in Major Crimes come about?
Tom Berenger: My agent told me about it and said, “You know, they’ve re-titled it. It was The Closer.” I go, “Oh yeah, I know that.” Anyway, Mary and I did a play together back east where she played my wife, and I’ve maybe run into her once over the years. That was a great experience.
G. W. Bailey shot with me in Spain for three months, and I saw him a couple of times in LA after that. He played my sidekick in Rustlers’ Rhapsody. Raymond Cruz was part of my crew in Miami when we shot The Substitute. So I already knew three of the leads.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That was sort of old home week for you.
Tom Berenger: Yeah. It was like that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You play Capt. Sharon Raydor’s (Mary McDonnell) estranged husband who has a drinking and gambling problem, is that correct?
Tom Berenger: He had a drinking problem. He got over that. I would probably call it a degenerate gambler, but how bad that really is isn’t apparent to me yet although my character is teaching Rusty (Graham Patrick Martin) card tricks and Texas Hold ‘Em.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He is not a good influence on the boy.
Tom Berenger: Right, and he just came back from Las Vegas where he was living, so that’s a little scary that he’s there with a gambling problem (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I assume with only a three-episode arc, there will be some friction between your character and Capt. Raydor?
Tom Berenger: There already has been as per the third episode, and that was totally on a professional level, not personal. He gets on the list for court appointed attorneys and gets a client that the police and, of course, the prosecutor are trying to corner. I don’t want to give it away, but there’s some nefarious stuff going on there on both sides, my part as an attorney and also on her part as well, so it gets pretty intense there. The first two episodes were more comic relief.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will your character return?
Tom Berenger: They left it open so whatever the writers and producers want to do with that. I’d come back because I had a good time. I enjoyed it. I like the cast and crew, the producers and writers, the whole bunch. It was nice. It’s not easy doing shows like that day in and day out, but I thought everybody was just fabulous.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tom, I can’t believe it has been 30 years since the release of The Big Chill.
Tom Berenger: I can’t either. In my mind, it doesn’t seem that long ago, but it is.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe it still has a strong appeal.
Tom Berenger: I would think so because of two reasons. One, a lot of the baby boomers are still alive so that movie and The Graduate are kind of bookends for a generation. The other thing is that you still hear about it all the time. People talk about it. But many younger people really got into it … people who are two generations younger.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it easy for you to play an actor in the film?
Tom Berenger: It wasn’t too bad. When I did my reading, Larry Kasdan and the producer both said, “Don’t change a thing! Don’t change a thing!” I said, “From the first reading, don’t change anything?” Things change, you know what I mean? Even when you’re doing a play, it keeps changing. It’s subtle, but it changes. But I didn’t read the whole script when I did that. I did just one scene or something. I guess it wasn’t too difficult because I was an actor. You’re right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Interesting role for an actor (laughs).
Tom Berenger: Right (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Congratulations on the Emmy win for Hatfields & McCoys!
Tom Berenger: Oh, thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you like the whole physical experience of the movie, riding horses and roughing it in the woods?
Tom Berenger: To me, it was like doing Gettysburg, Rough Riders or Platoon. It’s a big bunch of guys. You have that whole team, sort of like a football team going on. You’re all in the same hotel, so it’s a little bit like barracks living. It was so well written and so well casted and directed and everything that everybody just kind of enjoyed everybody else’s work.
You stand around and watch somebody else do a scene, and you go, “Yeah. That was good.” So the actors were just guys, you know? We had a terrific time. Romania was pretty up there in the mountains and primitive, even more primitive than the area in West Virginia. I guess if they had shot there, it would’ve been more expensive and we would’ve had problems with phone lines and billboards, things like that. But it worked well for Appalachia.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I recently interviewed Eric Roberts who got his start on Another World. He said that he hated soap work because it was so hard. What were your feelings when you were on One Life to Live?
Tom Berenger: I found it hard because the more popular I got the more the reams and reams, just huge volumes of dialogue. That’s fine if it’s all extremely well written and it clicks, but I’d hear the older actors bitching about this. You’d go through rehearsals and you’d get some changes, but they wouldn’t change everything because you had a time thing you had to do as well. Originally, soaps were on radio so it was all about the dialogue. People had to hear it on radio. That really hasn’t changed much for television.
You would just go home and study, study, study. You’d wake up and be eating your breakfast and study, study, study. I’d take the train into Manhattan and study, study, study on the train. I’d just work on it all day long! Then you’re finished! Boom! Start the next one for the following day! But the problem was for everybody which kind of drove you crazy because about halfway through the speech, you’d end up repeating yourself. The redundancy would drive you crazy! You felt like you were going backwards. Am I making sense here?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes you are, Tom.
Tom Berenger: You would go, “Yes, I heard you, yes I know what you mean, yes I got that.” It was like that for all the characters. And it was tricky. The fact that people could pull it off was pretty amazing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I need to say that you did an amazing job playing Paul “Bear” Bryant in The Junction Boys!
Tom Berenger: Oh, thanks. I was going to ask you what you thought (laughs). The greatest critics are all sports writers. There were a lot of them. The funny thing is that ESPN did that. It was different than working with any other network. In fact, the producers and directors said, “Wait a minute. You saw trailers?” I said, “Yeah. They’re fantastic!” They go, “We haven’t seen them.” I said, “Well, I got them from the guy at ESPN.” Those guys work fast, but remember, they pull their trucks up outside stadiums, they hook up and they go (laughs).
It was weird and kind of fun that all the reporters were sports journalists. I don’t think there was one showbiz journalist. I think they were all sportswriters for radio shows and stuff like that. It was a lot of fun. It really was and, of course, the Alabama people were your best critics because they were like huge fans! I mean, he was a god. I think the Miami Dolphins wanted him to coach, and he said, “Nah. That’s okay. I’m just fine here.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): For you, Tom, what were your two most memorable roles?
Tom Berenger: I think playing Theodore Roosevelt in Rough Riders was a biggie, and I guess I would say Sgt. Barnes in Platoon. There are about 10 favorites, you know? But it’s kind of hard because I like each for different reasons and for different characters. Sometimes it was just the whole experience of the script, the character and the writing or the location or just how it went, just various reasons. But I suppose Teddy Roosevelt and Sgt. Barnes if you want to narrow it down to two roles.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What have you got coming up?
Tom Berenger: Well, actually if this happens, and I suppose it will if they get the budget … they’re supposed to do Teddy Roosevelt again. It wouldn’t be another Rough Riders. That’s when he was Assistant Secretary to the Navy and he and Leonard Wood started the regiment to volunteer and went down to Cuba as fast as they could, and the rest is history.
After that he was probably the most famous guy in America at that point. He was great in press interviews. He was so entertaining, probably our funniest president, brilliant and smart with a photographic memory and spoke six languages. But he then became governor of New York. When he went to the Republican convention in Chicago, President McKinley wanted him to give up the governorship and run as Vice President with him on his second ticket. He ended up doing all the campaigning while McKinley sat at home in his house in Ohio. That’s how he ran his campaign (laughs). In those days, you could do that (laughs).
Roosevelt hit the railroads and did speeches and stumped all over the country. People came out to see him. McKinley got elected, and a few months after that, Roosevelt was on vacation with his wife and kids in upstate New York in the mountains and a park ranger came up with a message saying, “The president’s been shot. You need to return to Washington quickly.” I think the president had been in Buffalo, New York for a little expedition and was assassinated and died a week later. Roosevelt became the youngest president. So he didn’t even finish being governor when he took the Vice Presidency, and then his first term was mostly McKinley’s second term kind of like a Harry Truman sort of thing. Anyway, it’s a film project.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds great, Tom. What do you do there in South Carolina when not filming?
Tom Berenger: Right now, I’m just looking at the rain. It hasn’t stopped. It just keeps coming down. It’s not tropical per se, but it’s steady like winter rain. Can’t cut the grass, can’t do anything. Everything just keeps getting more and more mushy with the heat and the rain. It’s turning into Cambodia.
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