Interview With Actor Treat Williams, “Chesapeake Shores”

By Ruth on September 4, 2016 in Interview, movie, television
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As I’ve stated previously, I have been “out of the loop” when it comes to network programming for some time, and as a result, many of the actors who are household names, I have only heard and/or seen in passing. Therefore, Treat Williams was someone I knew by name only until the advent of Chesapeake Shores on the Hallmark Channel. From the pilot onward, his characterization of Mick O’Brien has captivated me in every way possible, and I have been on a quest to rectify my lack of knowledge regarding him and his myriad of outstanding works. Just this past week, Treat and I chatted quite extensively about his current hit show as well as his other passions and future endeavors.
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RH: Why did you choose to become an actor?

TW: Well, I just liked it. I was in seventh grade, and I did a play. I got a big laugh, and I just remember thinking, “That’s really cool.” And then I forgot about it, and I did another play in high school–an Edward Albee play called American Dream. And I got another laugh. And I thought, “This is really kinda fun. I like this. I like making people laugh.” I was the president of my glee club at my prep school, so I also sang quite a bit through high school. And then–I don’t know–I just fell in love with it in college, and by the end of my freshman year in college, I knew that this was what I wanted to pursue. I had a pretty good football career there, and I actually quit football. In college, you’re basically defined by being a football player. It’s year ’round. And I started studying to become a professional actor. It was actually a really kind of natural, organic process, but it was those two plays that made me think that this was what I wanted to do. And of course, once I did it, I was just completely hooked.

And of course, as I look at your credits, you’ve had a very long career and have done a lot of things–

Way long. {laughs}

Many of the fans asked if you stay in contact with the cast of Everwood.

Oh gosh, yes. In fact, I communicate with Chris {Pratt} on occasion through twitter. We shot the show on Vancouver Island in Canada, and I made a point that I flew over to Vancouver, and Greg {Smith} and I had a very, very long and lovely dinner just about four weeks ago just before I left. He’s directing now for Greg Berlanti, and I’m so proud of him. Very proud of him. And I stay in touch with my daughter, of course. She’s in Long Island, and she just has graduated from college. And Tom Amandes came to visit me in Vermont last summer–I took him flying with Nancy, his wife. We had a wonderful week together in Vermont. So we’re all very close–we’re all old friends. None of the contact has stopped. The ones I worked with more intentionally I have more contact with because we were able to get closer. And I’ve worked with some of them since that time, and it’s always been wonderful to see everybody. So everyone stays in touch, and there’s a lot of love that floats out there for Everwood. We all are very proud of it. And it lives on–we loved doing it. Oh, and of course, I was on White Collar with Tim {DeKay}, who played the minister in the first season. And that was a great reunion. So, yes, we all are in touch either through social media or more often, texting and phone calls.

Well, that’s good to know because the fans still remember that show and were very sad when it got canceled.

You know, there was no one sadder than we were. We were very happy to be there. But as you know, the company went through a change, and the new regime wanted their own stuff. It made for some really great friendships that are still so very strong. I’m grateful for that.

Shifting gears to Chesapeake Shores, I think everyone is really loving the show. I sure know I am.

My fingers are very sore from being crossed for three weeks, but thanks. {laughs}

1688926.jpgWhat attracted you to the role of Mick?

Well, I read the pilot, and it reminded me of–it’s not unlike Everwood, though very different but very much alike in certain ways. It had the Frank Capra-esque feeling. I like the fact that at the outset… not unlike Everwood, his wife dies suddenly in a tragic car accident, and then he decides to quit his job as a famous surgeon and move to this small town and open a clinic. I love the idea of Mick at the age of fifty-eight deciding that his family needs to reconvene and get together and try to sort of discover what they had missed over the course of growing up with their mother. There’s that wonderful line, where I say,  “Sometimes you have to take a step backward in order to move forward.” And I thought there were a lot of great possibilities dramatically in the sense of showing tender loving care and some healing. And there’s gonna be conflict. It’s not gonna be like everybody is just happy to be back together, as you’ve seen already in the first three episodes. And I think that attracted me to it. And I like the fact that he’s very tough–he’s very tough on himself. A very hard worker and has high expectations. And what we discover about him, I think, is that his love for his children is just absolute and kind of boundless. And we don’t always get to see it–these small moments where you go, “Oh, I didn’t realize how strongly he loves his kids.”  I thought that was a wonderful quality. That it wasn’t just lovey-dovey all the time. But he too has a lot to learn, and there’s a lot of room for change in Mick O’Brien as well as everybody else. I think for them all to get along, they’re all gonna have to grow into being slightly different people, and I think that’s the wonderful journey of the show is learning to get along and learning to love as well. Which is reflective of other people’s lives–like real life, and that’s the part I like about it. 

So did you have to go through a regular audition process for this role?

Uh, no, I didn’t. I think my body of work–they were already pretty comfortable with what I’d done. I had already done two movies for Hallmark, and they were aware of my work ethic, and I think having seen Everwood, they were pretty sure I was capable of doing it. But no, there was no audition process. There was an offer, and there was a long talk between Nancy Silvers and I. I had already worked with Dan Paulson, who is an executive on the show. And so everybody knew who I was and how I worked, and there’s about a couple thousand hours of film on me to know how I do it. So it wasn’t necessary.

Well, it is nice that they were willing to do that because not every studio is like that.

When I did Good Advice with Shelly Long, I still had a pretty good, strong body of work, but I still had to get up in front of the network executives and audition, and I’ve auditioned even recently if I felt that it was valid. I think there are certain ways to do it where it’s on your terms, and you can just do the scene and send them the tape as opposed to getting up in front of a room of sixteen people, which I find is one of the least organic experiences one could ever experience, and you’re not always at your best.  If I had to audition and no one had ever seen my work, I probably would be an auto mechanic or something ’cause I don’t think it’s my strongest thing to do. {laughs} Luckily, I pretty much do get it when I’m doing it for real. Proving yourself is hard. It’s a very difficult job. I’m pretty proud of being an actor. They put themselves through this consistently tough process.

1722169.jpgWhen I interviewed Barbara Niven while you were still filming Chesapeake Shores, she spoke very highly of you and Diane Ladd especially. So were there any special memories of behind-the-scenes stories between you two?

Well, we got to know each other very well as we went through the process of making the pilot. And then we were on the phone and texting, “What do you think? Do you think they’re gonna pick us up?”  We went through that together as friends, which was great. We were already friends when we started shooting. But I think the thing about Barbara that is most extraordinary is that she usually gets asked to play the most loving roles–which she is loving in this, but she’s someone who has left their family, and we don’t know why. It will be revealed eventually. Even I don’t know why or what had caused the break-up of Mick and Megan. But she was very, very brave, I thought, in allowing herself to have the anger she’s got from some of the kids and their lack of warmth toward her. For what they think is that she abandoned them, but I don’t know if it will turn out to be that or not. She was very, very brave and willing to sort of push the envelope on what people expect of her and not be afraid in certain respects to have unlikable qualities.  Not in her behavior so much but in what she did by leaving the family. We  don’t even know why. It could turn out to be a very valid reason. But she’s terrific. She’s an incredible pro. She certainly is the cheerleader and the den mother of the cast. She’s as committed to Hallmark as anyone I’ve ever met, and I think that’s great. And she’s a lovely, lovely person.

1688961.jpgWhile I don’t want you to tell us what happens this season, if it were up to you, would you want Mick and Megan reunited at the end of season one?

No, I don’t think it’s realistic. I wouldn’t think that gap would make it easy.  They’re different people now. If they decide to reunite them–whatever John Tinker decides to do–he’s an extraordinarily gifted, award-winning writer–whatever he and Hallmark decide to do, I will do. But my feeling is it would take a lot of work and a very long time to find some–they’re not even finding middle ground right now. You know, it’s interesting. In fact, I’m reading this book now–a book about the gal Amanda Knox–her autobiography.  And it’s interesting–her parents were extraordinarily supportive, but they had almost no relationship toward one another–not negative and not positive, but just no relationship. And I think I invite Megan back, not to reunite with her personally, but I think Mick invites Megan back ’cause the way to heal the family is for them to reconnect to their mother. And he knows it’s never gonna be right unless she’s a part of that reconnection. But I just think this season would be much too soon. I say let’s travel the natural course of events. And there’s so much for him to deal with as we see he has other things to deal with other than relationships, and particularly, he’s got the five kids to work things out with that I think his romantic life is not at the top of the list. Which I like about him, I think. He’s good at knowing what’s important. What he should be doing at the moment. And he takes the summer off, not to rekindle a flame, but he takes the summer off to reconnect with his children.

And personally, I agree with you, too. I think some of the fans are wondering or maybe even hoping for Mick and Megan to be reunited at the end of the season.

And I think that’s just too easy. It’s just a bit too easy. As we know, Mick is complex, and Megan is complex. It’s something I will basically defer to Hallmark and John. I’m in very good hands. And what I try to do is I take what they give me and make it as authentic as possible. As Gene Wilder said, “The greatest thing actors can do is be truthful,” and the rest will take care of itself.  The audience just needs to believe that this is a real person doing these real things, and the storylines are out of my control.

Well, I think that’s really good.

Thank you.

We fans, when we are following you on social media, notice you post a lot of great pictures.

I’m a little goofy. I have a goofy sense of humor, and I use it as an outlet for my comedic side. {laughs}

1688914.jpgIs photography something you’ve always enjoyed?

No, someone asked me that on social media, but first of all, I have to tell you one of my favorite tweets I got. Somebody went, ” OMG! Treat Williams is on twitter!” And somebody wrote back, “No, that’s a farmer in Vermont who takes pictures of old buildings and stuff.” {laughs} I was so proud of that. You know, I’m very happy where I live and I love my environment and someone said, “What kind of camera do you use? When did you get interested in photography?” And I said, “Honestly, if I see it and I like it, I take a picture of it and put it on twitter.” I don’t think you can call that photography. It’s just, “This is cool.” You know, I’ll get a picture of an old church or an old building, and I have this one phrase I use a lot when I’m doing this. It’s called “pleasing decay.” If you go back through my photos, you’ll see that I love buildings that are beautifully beginning to crumble but they have beautiful vines growing over them. And a lot of old barns. I’ve always loved Vermont, and it’s kind of a way of sharing that with people. I really never did it to get followers; it’s just sort of a need you have. Some people want to paint a picture, and this is sort of my way of expressing my love of the land and my environment up there. And then, of course, the East Hampton stuff the other day–I’ve never seen houses so big! And you know, I walked by this house, and it looked just like a giant bank! It’s fun. I hope I get people to have a little laugh at it. They seem to respond positively, so it’s fun. I don’t really call myself a photographer. I take pictures. I try to take the most interesting pictures I can, but I still can’t call it photography. You know, it’s just my iPhone. You could put your iPhone on a drone and say, “Go take some pictures. Come back after lunch, and I’ll see what you got.”  You know, someone took me out to fly his drone, and I’ve never seen anything like it. As a pilot, it scares me ’cause you could take it up to seven thousand feet where it conflicts with me. But he said, “You could fly this.” And I said, “No, I’m not good at this stuff. I’m better at the real thing.” And he said, “Try it.” Well, I lifted this thing off the ground, and he said, “Now just let go of everything.” And this drone just hovered. It stayed stock-still ten feet in the air. And then he put it on this thing, and you’re looking at your iPhone, and you can see what the drone sees. And then he went, “Now I have it in a way that it follows you. Walk around.” And I walked around the lawn, and the drone was following me ten feet behind me. It was a little scary actually.

Well, that transitions right to our next question. So how long have you been a pilot?

I have been a pilot for forty-two years. I soloed my senior year in high school in a little field, a grass strip in Connecticut. It was actually called Candlelight Farms Airport. I drove a cab and sang at parties my senior year in college. I painted houses. I sold clothing. And I got my pilot’s license when I was twenty-one in 1973, the year I graduated from college. And then I just kept right on going. I got my instrument, my commercial, my multi, my instructor’s, my helicopter commercial, and it’s been fun. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve become more and more involved in trying to preserve general aviation. John Travolta, Harrison Ford, a bunch of people and myself are members of this group called Living Legends of Aviation. You’re inducted, but part of it is you try very hard to keep young people interested in learning to fly. As you know, the airports are shutting down ’cause the property value’s going up. That part of American history, I think, is slowly coming to an end. So it’s a very, very important part of my life. It centers me. Our business, you know, I don’t know  who watched the show on Sunday night. I don’t know who liked it or not or what we’re gonna do, but I do know if I can fly from Point A to Point B or not.  And there’s  a kind of wonderful absoluteness about that. It’s a very centering thing for me in my life and that’s necessary. I love it very much, and it was really great in the show because the airplane that we use in the show is the airplane I owned and flew for twelve years out of Buck City, Utah. And also back east. It’s called a Piper Navajo. So getting in that cockpit was just like coming home. It was wonderful. And they were very kind to pretty much let me have the airplane for all the shooting. So it was fun.

I know some people asked if you were going to make any more appearances on Chicago Fire

I had answered that it another interview… I don’t know what the deal is with Hallmark, but I think if they asked me and Hallmark was okay with it, it’s a completely different character, and I would jump. I have never felt so–except for White Collar–and Tom Selleck was lovely when I did his show–but I was so instantly welcomed by the cast members and not as a guest. I felt so comfortable with those actors. No bad apples. No egos. Everybody was just delightful. I loved the material. I loved the character. So if they called and I was available and allowed, I would jump. In fact, Taylor {Kinney} is now taking flying lessons. But just a super group of guys. I just felt so comfortable with them. So much fun that I would definitely go back. They haven’t called, but if they do–{laughs} I’ll come a-runnin’.

Someone also asked if you watched Grease Live.

I did not. It wasn’t ’cause I wouldn’t have and I probably will. In fact, I performed with the kid who played Danny Zuko {Aaron Tveit}. Beautiful, beautiful singing voice. And he and I performed at an LGBT benefit in New York. But having sung it and done it three years straight, eight times a week, it’s hard to get me {laughs}–it’s hard to get me back there. But the good news is that the songs in the show–half of ’em didn’t make it to the movie. And I loved the songs that I sang in the show. I sang one of them to Meghan Ory while we were sitting around waiting to shoot. I’m All Alone at the Drive-In Movie, which didn’t make it into the movie, which is a very funny song. But it was just a case of it wasn’t the right time to sit down and enjoy it. And you know, it was one of the happiest three years of my life, and it got me the movie Hair. Milos Forman said the day after he saw me when I met with him the next day,  “I have to tell you something. You do something very few American actors do. You go completely overboard.” {laughs} I still don’t know if it was a compliment or not, but I got the job in Hair, and that was life-changing. But the three years that I did Grease on Broadway were just delightful. A great part of my life.

The-Congressman-Poster-FINAL-300x440_2In addition to Chesapeake Shores,  are there any other upcoming works that you can mention?

Well, you already retweeted something that I’m very proud of–The Congressman. That’s just now being released on VOD, and it’s coming out on DVD and is also on Amazon Instant Video. I co-star with Ryan Merriman, who played my twelve-year-old son when Michelle Pfeiffer and I did The Deep End of the Ocean. And now he’s thirty-three years old, and he plays my aide. George Hamilton is in it and just a wonderful cast. Some great up-and-comers are in it. I’m very much in the spirit of leaning towards these kinds of films–a Frank Capra-type story. And interestingly enough with the  Colin Kaepernick stuff going on right now, this story fits right in. It’s really much about personal rights. You know, the right to protest. We’re going through that in this country. And the civil liberties people–does he have the right to not put his hand over his heart or not? It’s just an interesting period we’re going through, and the film doesn’t have a point of view about it so much as it just addresses the issue. In the case of my character, he accidentally forgets to stand during the pledge of allegiance, and the attacks begin. And at the end of the film, there’s a beautiful defense that Robert Mrazek, the writer, wrote of it’s just being personal choice. And one of things is, you know, you may not like the things that people do, but that’s what makes this country great. People have a right to say and do things, and they have the right to defend it. It’s going on a lot. We see it right now. This political climate is extraordinary. But I think my character is a really wonderful character, and it’s a great film. I love my character, Charlie Winship, and I’m hoping that people will discover the film and take a look at it. I hope they like it. It’s beautiful. It’s shot on an island in Maine. That’s what’s coming up next. Otherwise, I am all Chesapeake Shores all the time. I’ve really got my fingers crossed that we can get right back to work as soon as possible to build the town and to get to know other characters and to go deeper into the relationships between my children and myself. I’m just very excited about that. It’s the main thing on my mind. I’d be very happy to hang out with my kids in Vermont and take my daughter to school–although she’s driving herself now–and go back to work in the spring. So we’re hoping that the audiences like it as much as we love it and that they will continue to stay with us.

1716535.jpgI think it’s been even more positively received than anticipated. There were so many concerns  before it came out that it wasn’t going to be family friendly.

Yeah, I think those fears have been hopefully allayed. And I think Hallmark was very, very brave in letting us–you know, I don’t like the phrase “push the envelope.” We’re leading with the envelope. And that’s what Hallmark does. And they’re right. If it’s Hallmark, and you turn on the television with your eight-year-old granddaughter, you don’t want a surprise that she shouldn’t have seen that. And I think that is very, very important for us to abide by a certain dignity that I think that we have, and I think the show is very classy and knows where its boundaries are without sacrificing the emotional stuff.

Well, I think we’ve covered everything.

I think so. My whole life is in your tape recorder. {laughs} Next time, I get to ask you questions. Next time, we’ll make it a conversation rather than an interview. I prefer those anyway. It was lovely to talk to you.

Well, it was lovely to talk to you, too. Have a wonderful day and rest of your week.

Yep, I’m gonna be flying, and it can’t be a bad day when I’m flying.

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After this entertaining and informative exchange with Treat this week, I have found myself truly astounded with him as an actor and as a human being. Treat has immeasurable and diverse experience within this business, and his keen mind and wit combine to relate such enchanting and fascinating stories and memories from every facet of his career.  For me, I was so awestruck by his perspective, capabilities, and momentos from his decades in the business that I would have loved to have sat at his feet and listened to him relate countless tales for hours on end. Perhaps he did the bulk of the talking, but in this case, I feel that I was able to discern and appreciate the talent and wonder that he is. As a musical person myself who was raised on the classics, I simply adore the wealth of knowledge he continues to share. However, he also attempts to remain as current as possible–another thing I find incredibly praiseworthy. While Treat is a magnificent actor with a vast array of talents, he is still as pragmatic and as genuine as they come, at least in my humble opinion. The very fact that he was willing to take time to chat with someone who is just discovering him and to not talk down to her (even though I know I wasn’t always the most eloquent–I was constantly attempting to make sure I covered as many fan questions as possible, and let me tell you, there were a significant amount) causes me to engender the desire to support him in all his endeavors. Oh, and his sense of humor might be “goofy,” but you know what? I like that, for far too many people in this world take life and themselves too somberly anyway. Although I was already predisposed to applaud Treat as an actor, I now can state that his warmth, kindness, sincerity, generosity, and joviality have caused me to esteem him highly as a person as well. Be sure that you tune in every Sunday night to the Hallmark Channel to watch him portray the character whom he admits may be quickly becoming his favorite–Mick O’Brien–on Chesapeake Shores. And while you’re at it, check out The Congressman and his imposing body of works–you just might find that you become as captivated as I (of course, you probably already knew his work before–I’m the one who’s slow here). Furthermore, be sure that you follow this “farmer in Vermont who takes pictures of old buildings” so that you will be able to keep up-to-date with his many exploits and journeys.

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
42-year-old single mother of an active 13-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

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