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Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With with David James Elliott
David speaks with Patricia from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Hallmark's upcoming movie Dad's Home and other current events in his life and career.
DJE: David James Elliott
PS: Patricia Sheridan
PS INTRO: Welcome to "Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With", the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's weekly Q & A with the people behind the headlines. Today I chat with the former star of the television series "JAG", David James Elliott. He spent a decade in uniform as the star of "JAG", then went on to do other projects. But his shore leave from the small screen is over. The 49-year-old actor will star in ABC's "Scoundrels" with Virginia Madsen, premiering 9 pm Sunday. And he will take the lead in the Hallmark Channel Original Movie "Dad's Home" set to air 9 pm Saturday. He discusses his role in "Dad's Home", about a widower workaholic father. He plays a man who must abruptly face the challenge of balancing work and family. He also talks about his own priorities, when it comes to career and family. His off-screen life includes an 18-year marriage to fellow Canadian Nanci Chambers, with whom he has 2 children. (He talks about) trading in his Canadian passport for US citizenship---they have become US citizens---and much more. As for family time, they recently lived with an indigenous tribe in the Amazon.
PS: Have you personally ever had to make a really difficult career vs. family decision?
DJE: No. I made those decisions before my family came. I remember telling my now wife that. I said 'Look, just so you know so we're up front, my career comes first'. But she hung around.
PS: Did you really say that?
DJE: Yeah. (PS/Laughs) Well, man, we were dating. What am I going to say---Hey, I'm going to put all my eggs in that basket? I wasn't, you know. ( PS/Right) Listen, people may disappoint you, but in the end you still have to feed yourself, and if you have a family, you gotta feed them, too. And if your career is your best shot at that, then I guess that's the decision. That's how I made my decision, anyway. I always said, 'Look, career and then (family)', and I told my children to do that, too.
PS: Do you see your real life role as father to be one of provider and protector more than anything else?
DJE: You know, I don't know that I---I mean, certainly provider is probably paramount. Well, you gotta provide for them. I mean, I'm providing for them emotionally, physically, and mentally. I mean, all those things come in there. I'm not a--- I'm a very present father. I spend a lot of time with my children. And thankfully my career, anyway, has allowed me to do that. It think it's important that you have your career. That's something that's not going to leave you. Marriages may break up. (PS/Your's isn't/Laughs) Not that mine is. Mine has been around for a long time, you know. We've been married coming up---well, we've been together over 20 years. So in Hollywood that's pretty amazing. I think it's amazing probably in America. People tend to just throw stuff away the moment they think it's slightly tarnished, instead of working toward--- Everything takes work. Everything!
PS: Do you see yourself as a guy defined by his job, by his career?
DJE: No, not at all.
PS: Because you are high profile. How do you avoid that in your own head?
DJE: Well, because your job, certainly as an actor, is to hold a mirror up to nature, as Shakespeare said. And you can't do that if you're not living a real life. I mean, how are you going to represent humanity, if you're busy cloistered in some kind of a Hollywood silk bubble? And it just can't happen. So I don't really hang with a lot of actors. In fact, most of my friends are real working people.
PS: You don't get caught up in it.
DJE: I don't get caught up in it. It's a job. I've always looked at it as a job, as a business, and I've always conducted it that way. And I've always made it my main focus, was about observing and experiencing life, and that's how I've conducted my end.
PS: You know David, acting isn't like a 9 to 5 job. So how did you deal with the job insecurity, especially with a family, but even before that?
DJE: Well, you know I never figured that I would ever get married. I mean, when I started on this career, I might have taken a different path if I thought I had to support a bunch of people. So I always thought I would be the--- I was taking the George Clooney path of existence in my youth. (PS/That's kinda funny/Laughs) But listen, I don't leave any stone unturned. I'm very proactive, as far as my career goes. I don't sit idle. You know, I write, I've directed, I've produced, I work in all avenues of the business, and I continue to strive toward that. I mean, I'm always looking for a revenue stream. I've always invested my money well. I never--- I didn't--- Before I spend money, I always consider---can I at least get my money back out of this investment---at the very least. So I never went out and bought a bunch of flashy crap that I could ill afford, thinking that it would never end, because I've had it come and go many times. It's a feast or famine business, and I understand that, and I accept it. And I've been extremely lucky. But I think a lot of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. So when I'm not working, I'm working toward working. I'm working toward being ready. Should the greatest job in my imagination appear, I want to be ready to take it on. So I stay in shape. I read. I continue to write. I work on scripts. I work with other writers. We tear things down. I'm constantly, you know, working in my field.
PS: So, how did you get so driven?
DJE: I don't know---I don't know, but that interests me a great deal. I'm working on a project now that kind of explores that---why some people are driven and why some aren't. I had two brothers that weren't really that driven. (PS/Yeah) And I wondered, why me and not them, and I'm the middle child. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's something that's inherent in some, or maybe it's in everyone and it just gets woken in some by some (PS/trigger)---something that awakes it in your life, some moment, some person, some thing. Who knows what it is? So I don't have an answer. I don't know, but I am driven (PS/But you have been---) I've always been a really driven guy. I've always been that way.
PS: Now, being Canadian, were you torn about becoming a U.S. citizen?
DJE: Never. No I wasn't. I love--- You know what, since I was a child, I almost felt like I had landed in the wrong place. I don't know what it was. I always knew that I would be here, and I had always intended to come here. Where there's a will, there's a way, I guess, because it presented itself, and I jumped at the opportunity when so many around me were hemming and hawing and wishing and thinking and talking about 'Wow, maybe we should go down there, maybe we should make a go of it'. Everyone was so quick---most of them anyway---were so quick to say 'Why, it's impossible, you can't do it, it can't be done'. I'm in the business of taking on those kinds of assumptions, you know, that it can't be done. I know it can't be done---it certainly can't be done if you think that. But that's just me and how I've always been. And I decided when I started in this impossible business, that the only way I could be successful is if I, (a) I didn't have a back-up plan, so I never had one (PS/Right) Because if I had a back-up plan, I would more than likely fall back on it (PS/Uh-huh) and (b) that I would never give up. I would continue to get up no matter how many times I was knocked down, because I believe that you haven't lost, if you're still in the game.
PS: Did your parents---did some of that come from them---I mean, that never give up?
DJE: You know, I don't know. I know that my parents---I remember my parents thought that of the three of us, I was, like, the lost cause. I was the guy that they were most worried about wasn't going to amount to anything. I was a dreamer, I was always dreaming. And I'm the most successful of the three of us. So (PS/So who knew?) Yeah. So who knew. You know what, you just don't know. And I try to keep that in mind when I look at my kid(s). And I try not to draw conclusions (PS/Right) too early. And I try to keep them and stop them from getting down on themselves, and always teach them to just be tenacious---to get up and try again.
PS: So, you know, tell me if I'm wrong, there's a 10-year difference between your children (DJE/Yeah)---age difference. Did your parenting style change at all when your son came along?
DJE: Oh yeah! The first kid, you're a wreck. You're afraid everything is going to destroy her entire life, everything's gonna to damage her inexorably (PS/Laughs) And then when Wyatt James came along, it was like 'Aw, sure. Let him do it. Go ahead. If he falls, he'll be alright'. So the problems we--- And they're completely different personalities. And probably a lot of our fear and our mistrust of our abilities and all of that, are reflected in her to a degree. They're both great kids. They're both really smart, high achievers so far, and they're both driven. Well, it's hard to say Wyatt James is driven, because he's only 7. But Stephanie is definitely a very driven person---you know, has a goal and is going after it with everything she has, and just doesn't give up on anything, really.
PS: So you took them to the Amazon, is that correct? (DJE/Yeah, yeah, I did, yeah) And did you, like, want to put them in HazMat suits, once you found out all the dangers there?
DJE: You know, listen. It wasn't something I did without a great deal of thought, without reading a lot. But I also said, you know life is for living, right? And if you're--- Thoreau said the vast majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation. I didn't want that for me, and I don't want it for my children. And I said, 'Look. It's a big, wide, wild world, you know, and life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. So let's just go and do it. We'll get our shots. We'll take all the precautions. We'll get all the right prophylactics, and we'll just step in. And people have gone before us and returned fine. So let's go see what's going on out there. The Amazon is something that has always fascinated me, and it's close to my heart in what's happening to it now, and all the problems facing the indigenous people of the Amazon and the rain forest itself. (PS/Right) You know it's disappearing at a rate of 7 football fields per minute. (PS/I know it's very distressing) Very distressing! And it provides 20% of the world's oxygen. So when it's gone, more than likely we'll be gone. And it will be gone if we don't do something by the end of this century. We'll no longer exist.
PS: It feels like, I mean it feels like Sting was talking about that 10 years ago, and it's still going on, which.....
DJE: What Sting's talking about---in fact, I've been talking with a guy named Steven Donziger, who's waging a campaign against big oil and on behalf of the indigenous people in Ecuador, with the travesty that happened there with big business, big oil. (PS/Right) And he works closely with Amazon Watch, and he also works with Trudie Styler, Sting's wife. So I'm about to get involved in a project that Trudie's been working on, about bringing water containers to the people down there, because the water in the rivers is no longer potable because of the pollution. I didn't realize to what degree. Maybe I had turned a blind eye. Maybe the information didn't find a current that led it to me. But when I did discover it---and this trip was certainly enlightening on so many levels---I was shocked and scared. And so I'm going to talk and scream about it as much as I can, and hopefully wake a few more souls. You know, it's a very difficult situation. It's not an easy fix. The Amazon touches---exists---in nine separate countries. You think the bureaucracy of one government is an impossible situation, try the bureaucracy in nine third world countries, and with big mega-projects, mega-giant enormous corporations that act with impunity, that really have no real home base. They dart and weave and dodge around the world in various countries, and hide and act to support their own avarice. It's a real human problem, and we've got a lot of big problems. But this is certainly an enormous glaring one, and its one that definitely needs our immediate attention.
PS: The fact that you can bring your celebrity to it helps. I mean, the average guy wouldn't be able to get the word out.
DJE: Well, the average guy can get the word out to his friends. The average guy can get the word out to his cohorts. You know what I mean? (PS/Right) That, I don't think, is no longer a great excuse to go 'Well, you know I'd do something, but really I don't have the juice to be able to do much'. If one person---if everybody---made a little change. I went and talked to my kid's school about---to the children there. (PS/That's great) They're all 7, so I had to tailor it to their mentality. But I just tried to talk to them about just making even little changes. And I didn't want to scare them, but I wanted them to know that likely they would be the ones who are tasked with the final save. (PS/Right)
PS: So speaking of going to your children's school, have you ever found that your son and daughter use your celebrity status for leverage?
DJE: Well, not on any horrible level, you know. We were at---where were we at?---the Jonas Brothers were playing, and we went to an event at Danny DeVito's house on the week-end. And my daughter said 'See if we can meet them backstage maybe'. I said, 'You just can't do that'. She said, 'Just go---tell them you're a celebrity--go look around the corner'. Then somebody recognized me and waved me over and let them come back, and they got to meet the Jonas Brothers (PS/Laughs) You know, that way, yeah. (PS/Okay) I don't know---beyond that, I'm unaware if they are.
PS: Thanks for listening.