Bill Mumy has been in the business a long time as a child star in "Lost in Space", voice over actor in such hits as “Ben Ten”, acting in “Babylon 5”, “Batman” the animated series to being a musician and songwriter. We sat down with Bill to talk with him about his latest project “Space Command” and his involvement in the entertainment industry throughout his life.
AL: Bill you have been in the business along time, both as a child star and as an adult. What changes have you seen over the years, as an actor and how the business is creating entertainment, and how it treats both its young stars and performers as they age?
BM: Hmmm. Showbiz Philosophy 101, eh? I think the single biggest change in the industry from the "Golden Age" of TV to the present, is the amount of producers attached to projects. Back in the early days of TV, you had an executive producer and a line producer... maybe one or another. A creative producer's vision was allowed to be created without a lot of interference, with the exception of the code of morals of the day and some sponsor pressure... but in today's TV world, there are generally a dozen or more producers attached to every project that moves forward... they all want to justify their pay checks, right? So, it becomes a case of "too many cooks spoil the stew". Networks don't have enough faith in the vision of a creator to allow them to control their projects on their own. And, so... the original pitch, the original vision gets watered down and it loses what made it special in the first place. That and the fact that very rarely these days do the networks allow any new show to find its groove. They cancel shows after one or a hand full of episodes if the numbers aren't what they projected them to be. In the past, the 50's and 60's, into the 70s as well, if they liked a show but it didn't debut with great numbers, they'd give it a second season. This would have been either 13 or 26 episodes. Today, a season seems to be anywhere from 6 to 13 episodes. We shot three seasons of “Lost in Space”, 1965 through 1968, 84 episodes. Today that would equate to six seasons. Sometime in the 70's the studios decided that accountants and lawyers should run the game, not creative executives. It's very different. I think the industry treats its young pretty much the same. They follow the rules the unions dictate and some people are warm and fuzzy and some people are cranky and tough. With “Space Command”, Marc Zicree has the tenacity to hold true to his vision and see it through, which is impressive and not common these days.
AL: You have two children, a son and daughter. When your daughter chose to enter the field, what advice did you give her? And how did you as a young performer keep your mind focused and away from the pitfalls that young performers are often susceptible to.
I never even thought about pitfalls or anything like that when I was working or aging through my career. I just memorized the scripts and showed up ready to do the job. The directors were almost always quite pleased with my choices and it was easy for me. If they wanted something completely different, I never had a hard time making those quick adjustments. My friends and my parents would have kicked my butt if I'd started getting a big head or acting any different in real life than I always had. It simply never occurred to me. Both my kids starred in major studio films when they were little. Seth co-starred in “3 Wishes”, with Patrick Swayze, a Martha Coolidge film, back in 1995 when he was just six years old. He did a few other films, "Dear God" with Greg Kinnear and "Paulee", and some TV projects until he decided it wasn't the right path for him. Now he's in law school. But, he was treated great and he had a nice little nest egg that he earned for himself. My daughter, Liliana, started working in film and TV when she was seven and co-starred in the "Cheaper by the Dozen" and "Santa Clause" franchises, as well as a couple seasons with Benjamin Bratt on "The Cleaner" series. She's been extremely prolific and successful in the voice over arena and has starred in hundreds and hundreds of animation series. She's got a couple running right now. In fact, I play her father, "Waldo Pickle Chips" in "Bravest Warriors", a Cartoon Hangover series she stars in now. It's fun to work with her. She's great. I didn't give them any advice beyond, show up prepared, believe what you say when you deliver your lines, be nice to everyone on the crew, and speak your mind. If you have a question or you're not comfortable with something, don't be afraid to communicate how you feel. Showbiz isn't scary to me or to them. It's a great gig if you're enjoying it and you can handle the rejection of not booking every audition you go up on. Acting as a child has allowed me to live a totally creative life with very little compromising. I'm grateful for my experiences.
AL: Your son chose not to go into the business, has he ever been curious, or was it just something which did not appeal to him?
BM: He sometimes wishes he'd stayed in acting because it IS a good paying and relatively easy gig, IF you're working a lot.
AL: As a father and husband, how have you kept it together in an industry that which is known for a high percentage of divorce?
BM: We simply haven't gotten divorced. I'm lucky. My wife Eileen is a wonderful person. She's a giver and she's a forgiver. She nurtures. She's a teacher. These days she's teaching pre-schoolers every day. Marriage is great. It's also a constant lesson in compromise. Life is hills and valleys. We're lucky. We've been through some rough patches, like everyone else, but we're still standing and doing quite well! 28 years with the rings on and about 5 before the ceremony. We know each other really well!
AL: With your latest project “Space Command” what is your role in the project and where do you see it going? What were your objectives in it?
BM: “Space Command” is Marc Zicree's baby. Marc has been in the Sci- Fi game for many decades. He and I actually met when we were little kids. He lived in the same neighbourhood I did. When “Lost in Space” first started airing back in 1965, he looked up our number in the phone book and called me up and we met and traded comic books. Marc is a few years younger than me. We went to the same high school for a while, and then he contacted me way back in the 80's when he was writing his "Twilight Zone Companion" book, which was a big success. I gave him some rare “Twilight Zone” stills and shared my thoughts on working with Rod Serling with him that helped his project... Anyway, he and I were doing a radio show together a few years ago promoting the 50th anniversary of “Twilight Zone”; George Noory's "Coast 2 Coast", a globally syndicated radio show I enjoy guesting on, and Marc announced on the air that he was working on an ambitious, multi-generational, Sci-Fi project and he asked me on the radio if I'd be interested in one of the lead roles. I said "Sure." So.. skip ahead a couple of years, the phone rings and “Space Command” became a reality.
The script is very good, it has a flavour of "vintage" Sci- Fi to it, it's not a dark, heinous, future he's envisioned, and it has a positive vibe. Marc cast Mira Furlan, who I worked very closely with for 5 years on Babylon 5, so that was great for me, cuz I love Mira. And Bob Picardo is in the cast, and Bob is a really good actor and a very smart and funny guy. I've enjoyed hanging with him. Doug Jones is doing a great job in the cast... everyone, cast and crew have been on top of their games and it's an arena I enjoy playing in. My character, Greg Mazzey, is somewhat of a cross between Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and John Lennon. He successfully creates and markets synthetic workers... which becomes the major conflict... and... You’ll just have to wait and see what happens. It would be a pleasure to carry on with this group and be a part of another quality Sci-Fi project. My objectives were the same as they've always been. Create a character the audience believes.
AL: Given the title, it sounds like it will be in the Sci-Fi genre. Is this something which could piggy back onto other things you have done?
Well, my Sci-Fi resume IS an impressive one, I'll admit that. It spans more than fifty years of work. “Space Command” certainly fits that Sci-Fi description. Next year is the 50th anniversary of “Lost in Space”, the series will be re-released on Blu Ray and I've seen the transfers and it looks UNBELIEVABLE, super sharp. All missing bits that the fans complained about on the DVD release from the 90's have been restored, and we're working on some cool bonus stuff that hopefully will be included... I imagine that will get a bit of attention, and if Space Command can "piggy back" and surf that wave... that's cool.
AL: Of all your endeavours, acting, voice over work, writing, comics, music, which do you see as closest to you and the message you’re trying to convey? What has been the most fun for you?
Writing music and recording it, releasing it as an album and then performing it live with other musicians is my favourite thing to do. It all comes from the muse and it's "mine" to decipher and deliver. Right now, I'm working on a new band project that I'm turbo excited about; Vicki Peterson from the Bangles, John Cowsill from the Beach Boys and the Cowsills’s, Rick the bass player Rosas from Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield and I have 11 basic tracks recorded for an album of original rock n roll that we are SLOWLY getting finished. All three of them are out on the road right now, so I'm in the studio sweetening the tracks and doing some vocals... waiting for them to come back home and get their vocals recorded. That will get done sometime for a release next year.
I love being in a group, not just being the solo artist. So far, it's sounding great. But, having said that... I'm fully committed to whatever project I'm working on at the moment. If that's a narration or animation voice over, an on camera acting gig, producing a music video, plotting or scripting out a comic book or a spec script, or playing a game of ping pong. I'm committed to what I do when I do it.
AL: Many people in the younger generation are not familiar with “Lost in Space” so how do see yourself reaching out to them? Is there anything in particular you want to express?
It's clear that my catalogue of work, whether that's “Lost in Space” or the “Twilight Zone”, “Fish Heads” “Babylon 5’ “Bless the Beasts and Children”, or comic books I've written, songs, etc... It's all going to be there.. It's not disappearing. There may be new delivery systems that we watch or read or listen on, but the work endures long beyond my life span. I hope “Space Command” inspires someone in a positive way. As an actor and a writer, I'm not always trying to express the same thing: some projects are light and funny, other projects are dark and disturbing, the desire is to take the audience for a ride where they forget about what's going on outside of that entertainment experience for a while... to keep them believing in that story, engulf them in that music, cover them in that believable vibe til the end credits roll or the last page is turned. Then they can go back to their own true realities.
I always say: "Do the best you can, and can the best you do."
Thanks Bill for taking the time to speak with us and please look out for “Space Command” You can also connect with Bill Mumy at @BillMumy, or on
https://myspace.com/billmumy , www.billmumy.com
Facebook.com or check out the website for “Space Command” at http://spacecommandmovie.com/