Treat Williams Interview: Famed Actor Talks First Hallmark Christmas Movie to Feature Gay Couple
Image attributed to Hallmark Channel
Actor and writer Treat Williams has appeared on film, stage and television in over 120 credits. He had a starring role in the 1979 musical film Hair, and appearances in other films including The Ritz, 1941, The Empire Strikes Back, Prince of the City, Once Upon a Time in America, Heart of Dixie, Mulholland Falls, The Late Shift and Drunk Parents.
Williams portrayed Dr. Andrew Brown in the WB television drama series Everwood (2002-2006), guest-starred on Brothers & Sisters, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Chicago Fire and has a recurring role as Lenny Ross on Blue Bloods. He currently portrays Mick O’Brien in Hallmark Channel’s drama series Chesapeake Shores.
"What I really love about that plotline is that they don’t make a big deal out of it. My son is gay. He’s married, and he’s come home for Christmas."
Premiering on November 22, 2020, Williams joins Mean Girls actor Jonathan Bennett and Sharon Lawrence, Robert Buckley, Ana Ayore and Brad Harder for Hallmark Channel’s The Christmas House, which focuses on a gay couple looking to adopt their first child. Williams can also be seen on Netflix in Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square with Dolly Parton, Christine Baranski and Jennifer Lewis.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Treat, how are you and your family doing during this health crisis?
Treat Williams: We’re actually doing really great. I mean, as great as one can be during a pandemic. We live in Vermont, which doesn’t have a lot of people. Consequently, in the last five months, we’ve had 58 deaths which is very low. One is too many, but there’s a lot of spreads around here, so we don’t get too close to too many people too often. My daughter is up at UVM, and my son’s living with us. I think being on an old farm with land and able to get out and about every day makes it a lot easier than my friends in New York City. So I feel very blessed that we’re in an environment that I love.
So we don’t feel the weight of it, I think, as much as some other folks do other than what we see on television, although the news about a possible vaccine was very heartening a few days ago. Hopefully, that’s real, you know, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, not even a pandemic can stop Hallmark from making Christmas movies!
Treat Williams: I know. I was actually very, very concerned because I was going to have to fly on four airplanes to get to shoot The Christmas House. I went to LA. That was two flights and then two flights on up to Vancouver. But they handled it really well with the testing, our temperatures were taken every day, and everybody was told to keep their masks on. If somebody’s mask was down, we had someone on set to say, “Get it back up over your nose please.”
They were very thorough and professional. I came back, and I quarantined for a week here, took the COVID test, and here we are. So I feel very lucky. In the show business world, it’s very hard for people to find work right now. There’s just so little being made. So I’m very pleased I was able to make this movie.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You filmed over the summer?
Treat Williams: Oh, don’t you know Hallmark? We finished two weeks ago (laughs). I mean, they have the film out within a month of being finished. It’s extraordinary. They put out 40 Christmas movies every year, I think. So they’ve got it figured out. It’s not like you feel this deep intense pressure like doing 17 or 18 hour days. They’ve got it figured out. It was very pleasurable and a lovely cast to work with.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tell me a little about the movie and your character who is the Mitchell family patriarch.
Treat Williams: The movie’s based on Robert Buckley’s family out in California. They were the people that did the funny Christmas house every year with all the lights and stuff. So he built this story around his own family. Basically, Bill is a retired builder, and Sharon Lawrence plays my wife. She is just retiring. I’ve been retired for a year, and I’m quite comfortable with it. She’s going through the anxiety of what she will do with herself.
The issue for us is that my wife feels that she’s not going to catch up with me being so comfortable and having moved on to all these other interests, and she is just starting retirement. That’s resolved, but that’s the basic thing. Bill is a really good guy, loves his kids, easygoing, tells really bad dad jokes, and is probably a lot nicer than I am (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, I hear actors all the time say they’d rather play a bad guy than a good one (laughs).
Treat Williams: I was thinking about that, coming to terms with characters that don’t demand what I’m capable of doing. Then I kind of looked in the mirror and said, “Treat, why don’t you just enjoy the rest you get and the fun of not having to go in and drain an enormous amount of rage or pain into a character? Just enjoy being on a set.” There are so many lovely movies made in the 1940s. There was no television, so they made lots and lots of films, and some of them were fluffy and didn’t have a whole lot of drama.
I think that people just love getting away from it. That’s part of what Hallmark does for people. There are so many tough guys here in Vermont that actually bingewatch the Hallmark movies and don’t want anybody to know (laughs). But I’m very comfortable now with playing people that are nice, being comfortable on a set and not having to push too deep. I enjoy it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So proud that The Christmas House features the very first married gay couple to appear onscreen in a Hallmark Christmas movie.
Treat Williams: It is wonderful. Yeah. I’m very proud to be a part of that. Very, very proud, and Jonathan Bennett does a great job. I’m just really thrilled to be a part of Hallmark’s stepping up to a new plateau in their entertainment. You know, when you grow in life, you’re going to lose a couple of friends, but you’re going to gain a lot more. I think Hallmark will have a whole new audience that they will be grateful to have for being more inclusive now.
What I really love about that plotline is that they don’t make a big deal out of it. My son is gay. He’s married, and he’s come home for Christmas. They have some problems to resolve as every movie does. I don’t want to give it away, but it’s not something you make a big deal out of. I was a chorus boy 40 years ago (laughs). That went on for a long time before anyone was able to put a moniker to it, you know.
So I think it was time for everybody to catch up with the fact that we’re all here, and it’s really just about loving one another. They’re not scary people. The new head of Hallmark is African-American, which I think is terrific. So they really are moving forward in ways that I’m very proud to be a part of this network.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You are currently in Hallmark Channel’s Chesapeake Shores, so were you asked to do The Christmas House?
Treat Williams: Yes, I’ve been one of the lead actors in Chesapeake Shores for them for four years. I thought what they did was extraordinary. They called us and said, “Guys, we’re going to postpone your show for a year because of COVID, but we’re going to find work for you that will help you to get through the year financially because we know you were depending on it, and we want you to be around when we start up again.” So they’ve been very standup about finding us all a movie to do just to financially get us through the year, and I’m deeply grateful to them for this. So they did just offer it to me, and I was thrilled when I read the script. They’ve been fantastic. I can’t say enough about Hallmark.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You also have a Christmas musical coming out on Netflix (Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square).
Treat Williams: I do! I do, with somebody closer to your neck of the woods (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was it the accent or the Alabama area code that gave it away?
Treat Williams: The accent (laughs). It’s not too far from Tennessee. One of the great disappointments that COVID created for me was that I didn’t get to go to Dollywood. We would’ve had a blast. I saw Christmas on the Square a few nights ago, and it’s lovely. It’s very sweet, very touching. It’s all Dolly all the time. You can feel her presence in it all through. Her songs are wonderful. She wrote great music for it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: And you do sing in the movie, of course.
Treat Williams: Yes. Oh, yeah. I started in musicals. I played Danny Zuko in Grease for three years before I got Hair. But Dolly wrote, I think, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever sung on film or on Broadway. It’s a lovely song, and I was very grateful to sing it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Christine Baranski as Scrooge?
Treat Williams: Christine does a great job of transitioning into someone from Whoville. She does a really wonderful job of being someone who’s somewhat embittered by life. She has to be shaken up and changed to get the Christmas spirit. It’s a great little plot. It’s great fun.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is 12 Mighty Orphans a project you’ve recently filmed?
Treat Williams: In the last 16 months, I’ve done four other movies. 12 Mighty Orphans is with Marty Sheen, Bob Duvall and Luke Wilson. Luke is actually the central character in the piece. It’s about a football team in the 1920s. There were only 12 players on the team, and they beat every single high school team with 40+ players because they were so tough and so good. They’d been in an orphanage, so they were like the first rock stars of athleticism in the 1920s. They were all over the papers all around the country.
I did a movie also about the Dougherty gang, the three siblings that went on a kind of Bonnie and Clyde spree from Florida to Colorado. I did one called Run Hide Fight, which is about a school shooting. It’s very serious, and that was in Texas also. I’ve been running around until COVID slowed us down. I was about to start on a Broadway show. The day after I was to get the offer, they shut down Broadway completely because of COVID.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You mentioned Hair earlier. The musical film celebrated its 40thanniversary last year. Wow. I feel old (laughs).
Treat Williams: You feel old? I pulled everybody together, and we did a screening in Connecticut. Everybody came – John Savage, Beverly D’Angelo, Annie Golden, Don Dacus, all the hippies. We did a screening and a Q&A afterward and had a great time. That was a lot of fun.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Was that the first time you had a taste of fame and being recognized on the street?
Treat Williams: Yeah, but the film wasn’t a big hit. You know, being famous is not something to aspire to. Once you are, you realize the best thing about it, as Bill Murray once said, is that you get a good table in a restaurant once in a while, and the rest of it you can throw out. There’s a degree of responsibility that comes with it. Whatever you’re doing, you have to stop and acknowledge that person and acknowledge them wanting to tell you that they like what you do, and you cannot be rude. Sometimes you really don’t want to stop doing what you are doing, but you have to. I mean, I feel like you have to.
So I’ve been lucky enough to because I’ve been a character actor, too, so that I don’t have that issue. I go down and shop every other day downtown here in our little town in Vermont. I wanted to be well known enough that I get the good jobs, and on the other hand, I wanted to be able to freely go where I wanted to go without being bothered too much. But yeah, I did have a taste of fame then. It was fun when I was traveling around the world. People treated me very nicely and that sort of thing, but I’m just as happy on my tractor in Vermont. Nobody recognizes me (laughs).
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Looking back at your career spanning almost 50 years, do you feel content about what you’ve accomplished?
Treat Williams: I do. I do now. There were disappointments. Why aren’t I getting the parts that he’s getting? But at that time when I was feeling those feelings of envy for somebody doing better than me or having better parts, I think it was because I didn’t really have the life. I didn’t have enough of an outside life as I do now with my wife and my children. I discovered aviation just out of college, and that grew into a passion for me. I have gardening and traveling with my wife and kids.
So I think, over a period of time, it’s all leveled off, and I feel actually very grateful for the amount of success that I’ve had. I don’t think many people have been as lucky as I have. Some have been luckier, but I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is, are you happy with yourself and what you’re doing? I think I lead a pretty exciting life still. I get the parts, take what I’ve been given and do the best I can with them. But life outside of film, theater and television is really just as interesting and exciting for me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Other than the Hallmark movies, do you currently have other television work?
Treat Williams: I was on Chicago Fire and Blue Bloods. Once in a while, they let you kind of chew the scenery. I played an NFL quarterback with dementia on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which was just delicious and wonderfully received. Once in a while, you get one of those parts that you say, “I get to do what I do. This is great!”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Any plans to return to Blue Bloods?
Treat Williams: I hope they call!
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What’s it like working with Tom Selleck?
Treat Williams: We’re like two old pros. We come into work. Both of us are pretty good about knowing our lines. We sat down at a table for a scene, camera over Tom and a camera over me so we’re both being shot at the same time. The director said, “Okay. Let’s rehearse.” Tom and I said, “Rehearse? What are you talking about? Let’s shoot this.” We’re ready to go. We’d have one or two takes, and off we went to the next scene. I think between me and Tom there’s probably 85 or 90 years of acting on screen. He’s a wonderful partner and really cares about the show, very meticulous about it and a lovely guy. I couldn’t work with a nicer co-star. They write me great stuff. Kevin, the showrunner, is a great playwright, so I always get meaty stuff to do. I’m always discovering I have a new daughter somewhere (laughs).
The episode I was last in was the 200thone, and I did the Sunday dinner scene with the family. One of the younger actors said to me, “You know, this is pretty amazing.” I said, “What?” He said, “No actor outside of this family has ever been invited to be in this scene. No one in 200 episodes of the show but you.” I said, “That is a great honor.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are there fans still wanting to talk about Everwood with you?
Treat Williams: Oh, sure. A lot of people talk about how it was a show they could talk about with their kids, which I think is really wonderful. A lot of young women, who are now in their 20s, would say that whey they were 12 or 13, they’d watch it with their dads every Sunday night. Everwood was their thing to look forward to. It was a lovely show.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Treat, are you a Democrat?
Treat Williams: I’m not a Democrat. I’m an Independent. I call myself a Marxian, and people look at me like, “What do you mean, Marxian?” I say, “Well, Groucho Marx used to say that he didn’t want to be a member of any club that would have him.” That’s why I don’t join a party (laughs). My dad never talked about who he voted for when I was growing up. I’ve always felt when people would ask me who I was voting for, I’d say that I was voting for my children’s future and my grandchildren’s future. Whoever I think would be best for that, that was the person I was voting for. So I’m not a Democrat, but I certainly voted for Biden.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That’s an interesting point about your dad not talking about who he voted for. As a child, my parents really didn’t discuss politics that much.
Treat Williams: I’m like you. We did not talk politics around the table. My father was anything but the crazy uncle. He felt that was a personal thing for someone to go into that voting booth and close the curtain. That’s why it’s private. That’s why the voting booth had a curtain. Nobody got to know who you voted for. There wasn’t social media then either, so you had the paper, you made your decision, and you went and voted. My dad was wonderful that way. He didn’t have highfalutin speeches about who he liked or didn’t like. My dad usually only talked about people he thought were special or good or that he looked up to, which was a great attribute of his.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I don’t think anyone lost family members or friends back then either because of the way they voted.
Treat Williams: I don’t know. One of my best friends is a Trump supporter. But you’re not going to really change anybody’s mind, so you might as well just listen to them. By talking to them, I just don’t think you’re going to change their mind. I’d be better off hearing why somebody is supporting Donald Trump as opposed to trying to explain to them why it’s a good idea not to, you know. Everybody’s got who they believe in for whatever reasons they believe in them.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It would be great if the country would just begin to heal.
Treat Williams: We need it. I think, to be honest with you, we’ve been trying to heal since the Civil War and haven’t healed yet from that. I think we just haven’t quite figured out how to all live in this space together. I think we will eventually. I really do.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, we must believe it’s possible. Do you have any other projects coming up?
Treat Williams: I wish I did! (laughs) At the end of the interview, you could say, “By the way, he says he’s available if anybody’s interested.”
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Most definitely (laughs).
Treat Williams: No, I’m actually going to tell you the truth. I’m comfortable for a while. I’d like to actually stay home through Christmas, ski for January and February and then Europe or my show in Vancouver. I leave my family for four months, so I’d just like to go overseas or something. I actually go to the Island to shoot the show, so I’d love to just be home, go make my show, and at the end of the summer, come back and enjoy my family again. I think that’s enough right now. I did a lot of stuff this past year. So I think I deserve a little bit of skiing and a little bit of fun to get us past this COVID thing.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Let’s hope we do get past it in the near future.
Treat Williams: Knock wood! That vaccine seems real, and if so, that’s the greatest news.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Treat, stay safe and well. I’m always a fan of your work.
Treat Williams: Aw, thank you! It was an honor to talk to you. It was a blessing and great fun.
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