Actor-director Tim Matheson is probably best remembered as Otter in the 1978 frat-boy flick "Animal House." He had a long career in television before his big-screen success, appearing in "Bonanza," "The Virginian," "My Three Sons," "Leave It to Beaver" and, later, "The West Wing," to name a few. He has honed his craft well, and, at 64, he continues to love his work. Matheson currently stars in The CW's "Hart of Dixie" and sometimes directs the show. It's about a transplanted New York doctor, played by Rachel Bilson, who takes over a medical practice in Bluebell, Ala. The season premiere is 8 p.m. EDT Oct. 2. He has been married twice and has three children.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q: How did your life change after you were in "Animal House"?
A: Well, it was like my first sort of adult role. First opportunity to be in a comedy and it was a turning point, I guess, from the early part of my career, which was like old Hollywood, you know, with Lucy and Bob Hope, sort of the old studio way. I was under contract and doing a lot of TV. "Animal House" was sort of the first real contemporary, youthful voice of the baby-boom generation. It spoke to that audience and it spoke to that part of me which was saying out with the old, in with the new.
Q: Was the atmosphere as loose on the set as it was on film?
A: Yes, it was, within the context that it's still a movie and everybody has to know their lines. There was a lot of goofing around and partying and high jinks and fun. I didn't partake in much of it because I had a lot of dialogue. As an actor you still have to be very responsible. But it was loose. (Director) John Landis kept a very loose spirit on the set, which was sort of anarchic anyway, because the movie was sort of about anarchy and revolution. Universal said you can only print one take, so John would never cut. He would just say, "Keep rolling, keep rolling. Go in there and do it again." To get around the rules, you just sort of bend them a little bit.
Q: Where do you find you are most creative? Is it directing, or acting?
A: You know, they are such different things. They are such different sides of the brain. Acting requires emotional flexibility and demands, and directing is more cerebral and managerial and a tactical kind of thing. How do you try and finesse working the crew and politically, so they are two different skill sets. With "Hart of Dixie," it's such a treat to be able to do both and not have to isolate them and have to make a choice. It's kind of the best of both worlds.
Q: Do you find that difficult at all to keep switching hats?
A: It can be. (Laughs) When I'm in a scene I can't really look at it and be objective, but I worked with two guys who did it better than most. Hopefully, I picked up some stuff from them. You know, I did a "Magnum Force" with Clint (Eastwood) early on. Clint Eastwood is sort of John Wayne and John Ford rolled into one. Before that I did the last season of "Bonanza" when I was a kid. I got to work with Michael Landon, who was writing, directing and starring. The sort of ease he did that with was monumental.
Q: Tim, is that when you thought you wanted to get into directing?
A: You know what? I actually started (with) directing. I was directing as a kid in movies, and that was always my strongest interest. When I was under contract at Universal, I conned an editing room out of them and spent my money to rent a camera and shoot film and make some movies. I actually applied to (a performing-arts school in California) when it first opened up to try and get in their film program. But I was rejected. (Laughs) My grades probably weren't good enough. I mean, I was working so much as an actor in high school, I really didn't focus on my grades that much.
Q: How do you think the audience experience has changed from when you started out in the "Leave It to Beaver" days?
A: That's an interesting question. I think with social media, film which you put it out there and nothing came back, maybe a review here or there, now we can have more of the traditional feedback from Twitter and Facebook, blogs, chat rooms about how people like this character in that situation and this and that, on "Hart of Dixie" or whatever show. I think that is beneficial, although I don't tend to dwell on those because I have to trust my gut about what I like is going to work. I have to trust my instincts that if I tell a story well, in a truthful manner and you know what the tone of it is and the author's intentions are and you deliver that, the audience will be there.
Q: Do you think audiences want to be in control?
A: I think they want to be entertained and they want to be involved. There are always people who say, "Let the audience choose if this character does this or that." I don't think that quite works. The crass mercenaries of the corporate world who say, "Let's get them involved and maybe if they are more involved they can choose A, B or C ending and it will work better" -- I don't think so. You tell