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Jolly Good Shows American Series Television Takes On a British Touch
by Susan King

Los Angeles Times (11/4/1990) Television Desk (Orange County Edition)

(Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1990 all Rights reserved)

It was 1964 when the Beatles kicked off the British Invasion of America by English rock groups. Today there's a British invasion of another sort-actors from Great Britain are popping up in major roles on American TV series. Not that there haven't been British performers on American TV before (David Niven, Ronald Colman, Judy Carne, Angela Lansbury, Ray Milland, Joan Collins and Lesley Ann Down, to name a few). But more and more today are leaving their homeland for greener pastures stateside.

Edward Woodward has just begun his second series on U.S. television, the CBS comedy-mystery "Over My Dead Body." Woodward received four Emmy nominations and became something of a thinking woman's sex symbol for his role as Robert McCall in the 1985-89 CBS series "The Equalizer."

Before that he was primarily known here as the star of the Australian movie, "Breaker Morant," although he worked 40 years in Britain as a stage, TV and film actor and a best-selling pop music singer (he has made several albums).

Woodward never anticipated a second career in America. "Once you get to your 50s, you expect bigger and better things in your own country," he said, "but (you) don't expect to go overseas and make that kind of impact."

After "The Equalizer" was canceled, Woodward wasn't interested in doing another series. But CBS persisted, making him a deal he couldn't turn down.

"My wife and I have a 7-year-old daughter," he said. "It's OK to move her around from school to school and country to country when she is of this age, but by the time she is 9, that's when all the exams and levels start in British education." So CBS and Universal Studios have agreed that if "Over My Dead Body" is a success, the series would be filmed in London after Woodward's daughter turns 9.

Woodward still isn't accustomed to the hectic work schedule on TV even after two series. "The most successful series I was ever involved with in England...we did six episodes to start," he said, "then we did 13 the next year. Then I went to work with Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre for two years. Then I went back to the series. So over seven years I did 41 episodes," about the equivalent of two years of a U.S. series.

Though Woodward didn't lack for work in England, that wasn't the case for actress Amanda Donohoe, who is joining NBC's "L.A. Law" later this month as a hotshot attorney who becomes an associate at the law firm of MacKenzie, Brackman, Chaney, Kuzak and Becker.

Though she starred in British art house films, Donohoe made the move to Los Angeles earlier this year because of the waning British film industry.

"It's grinding to a standstill," she said. "There's not enough work for an established actor. I was working in all forms of the medium, but you can't get any further. America seemed the next obvious choice."

Still, she found no work until she met with "L.A. Law" executive producer David E. Kelley in June. "My name doesn't generate any financial support," she said. "I needed a platform and `L.A. Law' was the perfect kind of starting point in America."

Donohoe is confident she made the right choice. "I don't find working much different here," she said. "The weather is much better and the beach is beautiful. I just love the old studios. I love driving to work every morning." Marina Sirtis, the half-human/half-alien Deanna Troi on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," moved here because she felt stifled in her native country. "I came over to test the waters," she said. "I got a job on `Hunter,' about 10 days after I arrived. I thought I had made the right move. `Star Trek' didn't come until six months later. I was going to have to go back to England. I had no money and my visa was running out."

Born to Greek working-class parents, the classically trained Sirtis was passed by for starring roles in Britain. "I was kind of exotic-looking and that narrowed it down," she said. "I was working a lot, but always the supporting actress, never the girl-next-door."

Living and working here has been a refuge for Sirtis. "Every working- class person loves L.A," she said. "Everyone is welcomed because of who they are and try to achieve, not because of how much money they make. Until you've lived in England and experienced the wrong end of the class system, you don't know this."

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly was about to do a one-man show in London's West End when he got a call from Michael Elias, one of the executive producers of "Head of the Class," to replace the departed Howard Hesseman on the ABC sitcom. "I have never been interested in television," he said. But the producers gave him a veddy good financial offer.

"The whole point of the exercise is to get myself a platform (in America) and go with it," he said. "I had been working in America over the years, but no one knows I have been born yet. It's a huge place. I have done `David Letterman' six or seven times and played Carnegie Hall and all of those things."

More than 34 million Americans now watch him play Oxford-educated history teacher Billy MacGregor. "We get an audience every single week of a moderately successful film," he said. "You couldn't ask for anything better."

Joseph Marcell was starring on the London stage in August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" when he was asked to audition for the role of the stuffy butler Geoffrey on NBC's new series, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."

A casting director had seen Marcell a few years earlier when he was performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the United States. Marcell was a `bit surprised" when he got the role. "I had done a couple of films and some TV plays in Great Britain. But Hollywood? My training and background had been more into the classical stage. I am not exactly a matinee idol."

Marcell feels like a pioneer. "I think I am the first black English actor to appear on an American TV series," he said.

"Working on the series has been extraordinary. Culturally, since I have been here I have seen some marvelous theater and been to the opera. It is a prejudice (that Los Angeles has no culture) rather than a fact."

It was theater in fact that brought Roger Rees and Jane Carr to Hollywood. Carr, who plays Louise Mercer on NBC's "Dear John," was featured in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" at the Ahmanson Theatre four years ago.

"I was having teas and meetings with lots of people," Carr said. "There was a great deal of interest. I thought I wouldn't mind working here. I loved the weather and I loved L.A. I worked all the time in England. It wasn't a case of no work in England. It just happened there was a lot of interest." She also decided to remain in Los Angeles because soon after "Nicholas" she met and married American actor Mark Arnott.

Carr is having fun on the series. "It's the same process with any job you do," she said. "The struggle is to be as good as you possibly can and that is true if you are with the Royal Shakespeare Company or `Dear John.' "

Rees, who won a Tony Award in the Broadway production of "Nicholas Nickleby" eight years ago, caught the eye of a "Cheers" casting director while starring in Tom Stoppard's play, "Hapgood," at the James A. Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood. Rees joined NBC's popular sitcom last year as billionaire Robin Colcord.

"It was a chance to be on a very high profile show," Rees said. "I don't denigrate different forms of communication. I think acting is the same the world over. It's nice to be part of `Cheers.' You work pretty hard. I like to work hard and intelligently and it provides me with that."

Rees has learned `very interesting things about Americans" in the past year. "Robin is nasty to (`Cheers' bartender) Sam Malone, and I've learned you cannot be rude about the memory of John Wayne, apple pie with an American flag on top and Sam Malone. Audiences really like Sam Malone."

THE BRITISH ACCENT

The actors of television's British invasion, where they're from and where they are on American TV:

Ian Buchanan: East Kilbride, Scotland, "Twin Peaks" (Saturday at 10 p.m. on ABC).

Jane Carr: Loughton, Essex, England, "Dear John" (Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC).

Billy Connolly: Glasgow, Scotland, "Head of the Class" (Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC).

Ben Cross: London, "Dark Shadows" (upcoming on NBC).

Olivia D'Abo: London, "The Wonder Years" (Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC).

Amanda Donohoe: London, "L.A. Law" (Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC).

Finola Hughes: London, "General Hospital" (Monday-Friday at 2 p.m. on ABC).

Angela Lansbury: London, "Murder, She Wrote" (Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS; reruns Monday-Friday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 6 p.m. USA).

Anna Lee: Igtham, Kent, England, "General Hospital" (Monday-Friday at 2 p.m. on ABC).

Joseph Marcell: St. Lucia, Caribbean, migrated to England at age 5, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC).

Ian Olgivy: England, "Generations" (Monday-Friday at 11:30 a.m. on NBC).

Amanda Pays: London, "The Flash" (Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS).

Roger Rees: Aberystwyth, Wales, "Cheers" (Thursday at 9 p.m. on NBC).

Nicolette Sheridan: Sussex, England, "Knots Landing" (Thursday at 10 p.m. on CBS).

Jean Simmons: London, "Dark Shadows" (upcoming NBC).

Marina Sirtis: North London, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. KCOP).

Barbara Steele: Trenton Wirrall, England, "Dark Shadows" (upcoming NBC).

Patrick Stewart: Mirfield, England, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. KCOP).

Edward Woodward: Croydon, Surrey, England, "Over My Dead Body" (Friday at 9 p.m. on CBS); reruns of "The Equalizer (Sunday at 10 p.m. and Tuesday-Friday at midnight on USA).

 

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Home
4 New Shows
Equalizer Movie
Duo To Script
Mad Magazine
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Welfare Hotel
All New York
New TV Hero
Squeeze
Jolly Good Shows
Child Death
Gray Panther
Creative Side--1
Creative Side--2
Creative Side--3

 

  

Jolly Good Shows American Series Television Takes On a British Touch
by Susan King

Los Angeles Times (11/4/1990) Television Desk (Orange County Edition)

(Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1990 all Rights reserved)

It was 1964 when the Beatles kicked off the British Invasion of America by English rock groups. Today there's a British invasion of another sort-actors from Great Britain are popping up in major roles on American TV series. Not that there haven't been British performers on American TV before (David Niven, Ronald Colman, Judy Carne, Angela Lansbury, Ray Milland, Joan Collins and Lesley Ann Down, to name a few). But more and more today are leaving their homeland for greener pastures stateside.

Edward Woodward has just begun his second series on U.S. television, the CBS comedy-mystery "Over My Dead Body." Woodward received four Emmy nominations and became something of a thinking woman's sex symbol for his role as Robert McCall in the 1985-89 CBS series "The Equalizer."

Before that he was primarily known here as the star of the Australian movie, "Breaker Morant," although he worked 40 years in Britain as a stage, TV and film actor and a best-selling pop music singer (he has made several albums).

Woodward never anticipated a second career in America. "Once you get to your 50s, you expect bigger and better things in your own country," he said, "but (you) don't expect to go overseas and make that kind of impact."

After "The Equalizer" was canceled, Woodward wasn't interested in doing another series. But CBS persisted, making him a deal he couldn't turn down.

"My wife and I have a 7-year-old daughter," he said. "It's OK to move her around from school to school and country to country when she is of this age, but by the time she is 9, that's when all the exams and levels start in British education." So CBS and Universal Studios have agreed that if "Over My Dead Body" is a success, the series would be filmed in London after Woodward's daughter turns 9.

Woodward still isn't accustomed to the hectic work schedule on TV even after two series. "The most successful series I was ever involved with in England...we did six episodes to start," he said, "then we did 13 the next year. Then I went to work with Laurence Olivier at the National Theatre for two years. Then I went back to the series. So over seven years I did 41 episodes," about the equivalent of two years of a U.S. series.

Though Woodward didn't lack for work in England, that wasn't the case for actress Amanda Donohoe, who is joining NBC's "L.A. Law" later this month as a hotshot attorney who becomes an associate at the law firm of MacKenzie, Brackman, Chaney, Kuzak and Becker.

Though she starred in British art house films, Donohoe made the move to Los Angeles earlier this year because of the waning British film industry.

"It's grinding to a standstill," she said. "There's not enough work for an established actor. I was working in all forms of the medium, but you can't get any further. America seemed the next obvious choice."

Still, she found no work until she met with "L.A. Law" executive producer David E. Kelley in June. "My name doesn't generate any financial support," she said. "I needed a platform and `L.A. Law' was the perfect kind of starting point in America."

Donohoe is confident she made the right choice. "I don't find working much different here," she said. "The weather is much better and the beach is beautiful. I just love the old studios. I love driving to work every morning." Marina Sirtis, the half-human/half-alien Deanna Troi on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," moved here because she felt stifled in her native country. "I came over to test the waters," she said. "I got a job on `Hunter,' about 10 days after I arrived. I thought I had made the right move. `Star Trek' didn't come until six months later. I was going to have to go back to England. I had no money and my visa was running out."

Born to Greek working-class parents, the classically trained Sirtis was passed by for starring roles in Britain. "I was kind of exotic-looking and that narrowed it down," she said. "I was working a lot, but always the supporting actress, never the girl-next-door."

Living and working here has been a refuge for Sirtis. "Every working- class person loves L.A," she said. "Everyone is welcomed because of who they are and try to achieve, not because of how much money they make. Until you've lived in England and experienced the wrong end of the class system, you don't know this."

Scottish comedian Billy Connolly was about to do a one-man show in London's West End when he got a call from Michael Elias, one of the executive producers of "Head of the Class," to replace the departed Howard Hesseman on the ABC sitcom. "I have never been interested in television," he said. But the producers gave him a veddy good financial offer.

"The whole point of the exercise is to get myself a platform (in America) and go with it," he said. "I had been working in America over the years, but no one knows I have been born yet. It's a huge place. I have done `David Letterman' six or seven times and played Carnegie Hall and all of those things."

More than 34 million Americans now watch him play Oxford-educated history teacher Billy MacGregor. "We get an audience every single week of a moderately successful film," he said. "You couldn't ask for anything better."

Joseph Marcell was starring on the London stage in August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" when he was asked to audition for the role of the stuffy butler Geoffrey on NBC's new series, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."

A casting director had seen Marcell a few years earlier when he was performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company in the United States. Marcell was a `bit surprised" when he got the role. "I had done a couple of films and some TV plays in Great Britain. But Hollywood? My training and background had been more into the classical stage. I am not exactly a matinee idol."

Marcell feels like a pioneer. "I think I am the first black English actor to appear on an American TV series," he said.

"Working on the series has been extraordinary. Culturally, since I have been here I have seen some marvelous theater and been to the opera. It is a prejudice (that Los Angeles has no culture) rather than a fact."

It was theater in fact that brought Roger Rees and Jane Carr to Hollywood. Carr, who plays Louise Mercer on NBC's "Dear John," was featured in the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby" at the Ahmanson Theatre four years ago.

"I was having teas and meetings with lots of people," Carr said. "There was a great deal of interest. I thought I wouldn't mind working here. I loved the weather and I loved L.A. I worked all the time in England. It wasn't a case of no work in England. It just happened there was a lot of interest." She also decided to remain in Los Angeles because soon after "Nicholas" she met and married American actor Mark Arnott.

Carr is having fun on the series. "It's the same process with any job you do," she said. "The struggle is to be as good as you possibly can and that is true if you are with the Royal Shakespeare Company or `Dear John.' "

Rees, who won a Tony Award in the Broadway production of "Nicholas Nickleby" eight years ago, caught the eye of a "Cheers" casting director while starring in Tom Stoppard's play, "Hapgood," at the James A. Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood. Rees joined NBC's popular sitcom last year as billionaire Robin Colcord.

"It was a chance to be on a very high profile show," Rees said. "I don't denigrate different forms of communication. I think acting is the same the world over. It's nice to be part of `Cheers.' You work pretty hard. I like to work hard and intelligently and it provides me with that."

Rees has learned `very interesting things about Americans" in the past year. "Robin is nasty to (`Cheers' bartender) Sam Malone, and I've learned you cannot be rude about the memory of John Wayne, apple pie with an American flag on top and Sam Malone. Audiences really like Sam Malone."

THE BRITISH ACCENT

The actors of television's British invasion, where they're from and where they are on American TV:

Ian Buchanan: East Kilbride, Scotland, "Twin Peaks" (Saturday at 10 p.m. on ABC).

Jane Carr: Loughton, Essex, England, "Dear John" (Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. on NBC).

Billy Connolly: Glasgow, Scotland, "Head of the Class" (Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC).

Ben Cross: London, "Dark Shadows" (upcoming on NBC).

Olivia D'Abo: London, "The Wonder Years" (Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ABC).

Amanda Donohoe: London, "L.A. Law" (Thursday at 10 p.m. on NBC).

Finola Hughes: London, "General Hospital" (Monday-Friday at 2 p.m. on ABC).

Angela Lansbury: London, "Murder, She Wrote" (Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS; reruns Monday-Friday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 6 p.m. USA).

Anna Lee: Igtham, Kent, England, "General Hospital" (Monday-Friday at 2 p.m. on ABC).

Joseph Marcell: St. Lucia, Caribbean, migrated to England at age 5, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" (Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC).

Ian Olgivy: England, "Generations" (Monday-Friday at 11:30 a.m. on NBC).

Amanda Pays: London, "The Flash" (Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS).

Roger Rees: Aberystwyth, Wales, "Cheers" (Thursday at 9 p.m. on NBC).

Nicolette Sheridan: Sussex, England, "Knots Landing" (Thursday at 10 p.m. on CBS).

Jean Simmons: London, "Dark Shadows" (upcoming NBC).

Marina Sirtis: North London, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. KCOP).

Barbara Steele: Trenton Wirrall, England, "Dark Shadows" (upcoming NBC).

Patrick Stewart: Mirfield, England, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (Wednesday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. KCOP).

Edward Woodward: Croydon, Surrey, England, "Over My Dead Body" (Friday at 9 p.m. on CBS); reruns of "The Equalizer (Sunday at 10 p.m. and Tuesday-Friday at midnight on USA).

 

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