Interview With Actor Jack Wagner, “When Calls the Heart”

By Ruth on February 16, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
6
2

Full disclosure–I was never a soap opera fan, but my grandmother and mother watched them when I was quite young (actually before Jack Wagner even graced the screen of General Hospital). In spite of this fissure in my television viewing, for some reason, I remember being familiar with the name Jack Wagner and even recognizing him when he appeared as Bill Avery in season one of When Calls the Heart. I was a tremendous fan of his character. In fact, I was known to banter back and forth with other younger Hearties about why Bill was a better and more handsome Mountie than Jack. In spite of the unpredictable nature of Bill as played so effortlessly by Jack, I still revel in the sense of humor and intensity of passion he skillfully brings to this character every time we witness his prowess on screen. Just this week, I was finally able to chat with Jack, and this is one interview you do NOT want to disregard. We discussed a wide variety of topics including his early acting roles, his ever-expanding work for the Hallmark Channel, and even a bit about his charitable endeavors.

RH: Jack, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today.

JW: I’ve had a lot on my plate recently, but I’m glad I finally have some time to chat, so let’s go for it.

How did you get started in acting?

I started in high school. I was born in Missouri. I started out doing the play Oliver and I played Mr. Bumble. So I kinda caught the bug in high school. I went to the University of Arizona and graduated with my BFA in 1982. Then I studied at Stella Adler in LA. And that’s what I was doing when I joined the cast of General Hospital at the end of 1983.

I would imagine that a lot of people don’t know that I was a thespian. I was absolutely adamant about going to do theater in New York after drama school, but the head of the department told me, “Oh I know somebody in LA.”  I was committed to going with theater–that’s what I trained for. But ironically, I ended up on General Hospital and also got a record deal with Quincy Jones. So I guess  I was directed the right way in coming out to LA.

______________________________________________________________________________

KWIK KWOTE

From a fan

Lisa Flegal: “I remember being in college and not really being into soaps, but I was always in love with theatre. When I was a freshman, I had the opportunity to see Jack Wagner in West Side Story. It was the first time I had gone to the theatre by myself and I was lucky enough to get 3rd row orchestra (someone was selling an extra ticket). I was just blown away. I could not believe the range and talent of this man. My hope is to someday see him on stage again. Until then I’ll continue to enjoy When Calls The Heart.”

______________________________________________________________________________

When I was younger, the soap opera stereotype was sometimes difficult for me. I was with General Hospital from ’83 to ’87. Then I did a national tour of West Side Story. Then I did a national tour of Grease. I guess a lot of actors don’t like to be labeled. It was a hard label to be called a “soap opera actor.” That’s how I was always referred to in articles. I’ve come to accept that none of that really matters, but when I was younger, I always kept my hand in the theater and did as much as I could to make sure my mind was straight about who I was as an actor and where I came from.

I have heard that same kind of struggle from other actors who got their start on soap operas. And honestly, I think it’s a shame because if you look at the amount of work that “soap opera actors” are required to do–how you memorize all those lines in such a short time is mind-blowing to me.

It’s a lot. Sometimes when we’re filming in Hope Valley, the director or the DP will just go, “If we were doing a soap opera, how many pages would you do in a day?” In When Calls the Heart, we might do eight pages, which is a lot for us. My response is, “We would have shot fifty-five to sixty pages in a day.”  I think it’s hard for anyone to wrap their mind around how quickly things happen on a soap opera. It’s a real test for every part of the production of a soap opera. From the writers to the directors to the camera operators, the props, the actors, wardrobe–because everything has to be done in such a short time period. Especially nowadays because they’ve crunched it even tighter. They do more work than they ever have in a shorter period of time. You have to know your lines, and you have to hit your mark. And the challenge is giving a good, believable performance when you ultimately don’t have a lot of rehearsal time. So I think that’s where the medium is somewhat sacrificed–time.

But in spite of any struggles with soap opera labeling, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have played Frisco in General Hospital. I know about all the stereotypes and all that, but people still remember me as Frisco and even call me that to this day. I truly count it as a blessing to have played that important role in such a well-loved show and all these years later to be remembered. One thing about soap opera fans is they are often very loyal.

Before When Calls the Heart, I think you had done at least one movie with Hallmark. 

Yes, I had done one or two with them, but it was actually the TCA’s from that movie where my association with When Calls the Heart came about. Lori Loughlin and I are buddies. Her husband, Mossimo, is my golfing buddy. She said, “Hey, the producers of the show I’m on really want to meet you.” So I met Brad Krevoy, and when we met, he so wanted me on the show that he was willing to fly me up to Vancouver to do the final two episodes of this pioneer show he was doing.  And it wound up happening.

I’ve been watching When Calls the Heart from the beginning. I actually preferred watching your character to Daniel Lissing’s character only because I’m not really all that young–now I’m in my 40’s. I couldn’t relate to Dan’s character as much. Your character was more mature, but in a good way. So I really liked Bill from the beginning.

Well, thank you. I was challenged with portraying him because I don’t think they knew what he was supposed to be. I did the last two episodes of the first season, and he was a forensic investigator. He was solving the explosion at the coal mines. I took a pretty practical approach to the material. I looked for places to spotlight his humor and to develop his character.

I was written into the first couple episodes of season two. Bill Abbott and Michelle Vicary come up every year to have dinner with the producers and the four leads. I was included in the dinner, and they asked me, “So, do you want to do the whole season?” That’s literally like asking, “Do you want to play golf tomorrow?” So I was like, “Yes, I guess.” And that was how the deal was done–right there. And that was when the writers and I began to look at the body of work and how Bill might fit into the whole story rather than just a two to four episode arc.

I think a lot of us–myself included–really wanted Abigail and Bill together. In fact, as I told Mark Humphrey, I saw his character as the interloper at first because I was convinced Abigail and Bill were supposed to be together. I think with your character, Bill, he has undergone a lot of changes. I would say Bill is very unpredictable.

Which is kind of a dream for an actor like me. You know, Ruth, I think I’ve joined almost every show I’ve been on…. when I reflect back on it–except the theater of course. And that’s just because a play is a play. It has a beginning, middle and an end. I joined General Hospital. I joined Melrose Place. I joined The Bold and the Beautiful. I joined When Calls the Heart. I guess the key word to me has always been impact. My goal has always been to make an impact. Because if you’re joining a company, it’s almost like a team. It’s almost like you’re joining a football team, a basketball team. So how can I have the greatest impact and still be part of the team? That’s how I look at it. Not to necessarily stand out, but how do I make the whole piece better because I’m as good as I can be? I think part of that for me is always looking for a sense of humor. Also, what’s the charm in the character? Women want to be entertained. They want to have a fantasy. They want to feel romance. They want to feel danger. They want to feel all of those things. So that’s what I really communicated to Bill and Michelle and to the writers, and that’s what they chased after with me. Not to step on Daniel’s character in any way, but more to be a mentor and a confidant for the character Jack as well as having my own identity. I think this year really has been a big shift and a big evolution for the character Bill. I was so grateful that the writers gave me so much to play with. To follow up with what you were saying that you just don’t know what Bill is going to do next. Well, this season, you really don’t know. Which is so much fun. I mean, who doesn’t want to be on the edge of their seat after an episode, right?

Definitely. I was actually going to ask you if there was anything you could say about the upcoming season without giving anything away. 

Well, I think I can tell you this too. Bill is empowered in the right way this season. You know, I’ve been around so many great actors. I’ve played golf with Clint Eastwood. I’ve played golf with Jack Nicholson. I used to play a lot of golf with Sean Connery. I’ve observed these guys in real life. James Garner and I played a ton of golf together, God rest his soul. James Garner was one of the most successful television actors ever. He was also a big feature guy in the ’50’s and ’60’s. But people know him from The Rockford Files and the Polaroid commercials, right, Ruth? I have really listened to these guys. I’ve observed them. Actors are like comedians. {laughs} We have to steal all we can for our little bag of tricks. Fortunately, I’ve been a great listener and observer around some pretty iconic actors, and I relish those moments. We can be talking about golf, or we can be talking about anything. I feel like these guys have such an impact in their projects because of who they are and how they can take who they are and deliver those qualities in a performance.

Wow. That is very well put.

Thank you.

______________________________________________________________________________

KWIK KWOTES

From the fans

Kellie Fogg: “Just want to say hi. Cannot wait to see what Bill is up to in Season 4.”

Marla Erhart: “Just a simple Hi and Thank You will do.”

Pamela Conn:  You’re doing a great job playing Bill Avery and excited to see what Bill will be up to in Season 4.”

______________________________________________________________________________

In addition to When Calls the Heart, you did The Wedding March. And according to Hallmark, there’s going to be a part two, right?

Yes, we are shooting two more movies. They wanted to do several this year. They wanted to do a Christmas one, and I said that I really thought we needed to go back to June. Follow it up with one to really tell the story of where they are now and what life looks like for them. I think we have a great treatment for that, Ruth. We really want to capture that chemistry that I think Josie {Bissett} and I had. It’s a beautiful romantic comedy that combines music and romance, and it is very well-written. Josie and I hadn’t seen each other or worked together for ages, and it was just so much fun both on and off camera. So we’re going to do a June Wedding March and a Christmas Wedding March.

I had been developing this series, and I wasn’t really sure if we wanted to do a weekly series or a series of movies. I executive produced this and collaborated on the story from the get-go. I pre-sold this to Bill Abbott–what I saw this as. Once the movie aired and the numbers came back, they were record-breaking for Hallmark. And Bill Abbott said, “When can we meet?” So I was able to relate what I thought this really could be as a future franchise for Hallmark with Jack Wagner, Josie Bissett, music, airing a message of hope and heart with laughter and romance. Hallmark doesn’t really have that bridge of music. So that’s what I’m going to try to continue to bring here. I really want to develop that children’s chorus in the movie so that it would be a community, sort of like Hope Valley, how they have in their school. That will probably always be a “C” or “B” story in the movie franchise where we’re always carrying that wonderful aspect of music and how it bridges love and hope and heart and relationships as well as how to resolve conflict among the community.  Music is part of my story. I want to be able to be musical on Hallmark.  Oh, and I will let you know. Bill gets a little musical this year.

Oh I’m so glad. And the fans will be glad too. {pause} Do you have plans any time soon to return to the theater?

You know, I could only go back to the theater if I did something small here in LA. But for now, my focus is primarily the projects I’m working on at the Hallmark Channel. It’s become very General Hospital-y. Kind of handshake deals is what I mean. It’s very old school. It’s like you call up the people in charge and say, “Hey, what do you think of this?” And they say, “We love it.” It’s not like you’re dealing with a network or a studio for a feature film. You’re dealing with everyone who understands the demographic of this network. I think that people like Lori and myself who have been around for a while and have done pretty much everything–we really feel comfortable in our skin and the fact that we’re doing family-friendly programming. I don’t want to speak for her, but I think we both share that place where we can feel comfortable and give a great performance and do our best, and it’s going to be watched by an audience who’s going to appreciate what we’re doing.

______________________________________________________________________________

KWIK KWOTE

From a fan

Mary Anagnostopoulos: “I can remember all through high school all the girls would talk about General Hospital. I have to admit that after listening to them talk about you and your character Frisco, I started watching. I was hooked! Then I heard your singing and was absolutely amazed. I still have my cassette tape. I have completely enjoyed you in everything you’ve done. My favorites include My Gal Sunday and When Calls the Heart. Would love to see you doing musical theater.”

______________________________________________________________________________

Speaking of theater, I think the most challenging role I ever did was playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on Broadway in 2000 in the musical Jekyll and Hyde. It’s an amazing show, and I was glad for the opportunity to work on that.

I know in addition to all of this, you’re very active in working with charities and doing golf tournaments. A fan really wanted me to ask what your favorite golf course is.

Pebble Beach. And then it would probably be Augusta and then probably Riviera Country Club.

What charities are you really passionate about?

I had my own tournament for eight or nine years for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. My brother was diagnosed with leukemia in ’99 and actually had a bone marrow transplant in ’07. So that was my platform for quite a while. That’s sort of run its course. We did great fundraising here in LA. And that’s really when you know who your friends are. It’s never comfortable calling on actors and celebrities to show up at your golf event, but that’s part of fundraising…to call out favors from people. We did the last of my tournaments last year. My brother is doing well after his bone marrow transplant. He’s alive and well. So now I just show up and play at various tournaments. I’ll be playing in George Lopez’s tournament. And the list goes on. I try to do at least four or five a year. There’s a community of golfers in Los Angeles. It can be singers, actors, whatever, but we all see each other there about two or three times a year at charity events. And every pro tournament I play in–the one at Lake Tahoe, the one in Orlando back in January–their primary function is fundraising for the local community or specific charities. I believe it’s just a part of my golfing role in the world. I don’t have a specific charity now that I work for. It’s always primarily cancer or children. That’s what I try to focus on. That’s a broad stroke of my charity work.

I think that is amazing that you do all that–I greatly appreciate actors who give back like that. Well, Jack, I think I’ve asked you everything that I was going to ask you. I plan to get this up this week before the premiere. 

Premiere? What premiere are you talking about?

Um, the premiere of When Call the Heart on Sunday…

I’m kidding, Ruth. I was joking.  You were hooked in pretty good, Ruth. I had you really good–hook, line and sinker.

{laughs} Yes, you did. I fully admit that you had me on that.

Okay, well, good. I’m glad. Always good to laugh at ourselves once in awhile. But it’s not fair. You couldn’t see my face. Technically not really fair.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me, Jack.

Enjoy the show this year. It was shot beautifully. I think the writing is seamless. Really good writing on all levels on every storyline. I think the actors this year comfortably fell into their characters even more naturally than the years before. As you know, having been around actors and series, it takes a little time for everything to gel. And this was the year for it to gel.

I will admit that as an interviewer, it is a very rare thing to be “hoodwinked” by my interviewee. In fact, Jack may be the first one to ever do that, and I don’t mind bestowing that singular honor upon him. In truth, I am immensely grateful to Jack for his willingness to share so much with me about his projects, his passions, and his personality. Of course, Jack is a consummate interviewee, and I believe I got at least a glimpse of the remarkable artist and humanitarian that he is.  Neither one of us had really had any contact online before this chat, so in many ways this was a “cold” interview, and those can always be a bit complicated and sometimes nerve-wracking to navigate. In the case of Jack, however, he spoke brilliantly and passionately about the things that were dearest to his heart, and that was the strength of our conversation. If only every actor I interview was as accomplished, humble, well-spoken, and as forthcoming as Jack–my job would be incredibly easy. Oh, and did I mention that he is truly just as charming as his Hallmark characters–in fact, probably more so.  

In addition to this, I fully appreciate that Jack comes from a more old-fashioned way of doing things, and I am convinced that is a massive part of his appeal as a performer as well as a person. He doesn’t merely work for the Hallmark network because it is a job or a way to earn an income. On the contrary, he has a passion for creating content that resonates with viewers who gravitate to and appreciate this genre of films and shows. While the profundity of Jack’s talent is practically unfathomable (it’s uncommon in this day and age to come in contact with a TV/film actor who is as cultured and proficient as he in the ways of the theater), he has used his wealth of knowledge to provide fans like us with the kind of quality entertainment that resonates with us on a deep level. And the fact that Jack utilizes the entire scope of his talent and shares it with us is something that blesses us every time we have the opportunity to witness Jack in yet another show or film on the network. In a society and profession where actors and networks are often at odds with one another, it’s refreshing to witness a mutually beneficial relationship between an actor and a network that furnishes such phenomenal material for the families like mine who delight in being able to trust that Hallmark will not put something out that is going to embarrass me as a parent, and it warms my heart to have captured a snapshot of Jack’s vision that is exactly in line with the Hallmark network as well. Be sure that you follow Jack at the links below. In fact, it’s worth joining Twitter just to follow Jack Wagner if for no other reason (I’m not joking!). Also, don’t forget to join Jack and the entire cast of When Calls the Heart for the season four premiere this Sunday, February 19, on the Hallmark Channel. {Oh, it bugs me that I can’t get even with Jack!! Not really, but know this, that I DO NOT FORGET! 🙂 }

FOLLOW JACK

Twitter

IMDB

AND BE SURE TO TUNE INTO THE HALLMARK CHANNEL ON SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 19TH TO CELEBRATE THE RETURN TO HOPE VALLEY IN SEASON FOUR OF WHEN CALLS THE HEART AND TO SEE JACK CONTINUE HIS AMAZING STINT AS BILL!

Jack Wagner (Bill) Credit: Copyright 2016 Crown Media United States, LLC/Photographer: Eike Schroter

 

Interested in subscribing to all my site's updates? Subscribe below!

Subscribe to My Devotional Thoughts

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

6 Comments

  1. Anonymous February 18, 2017 Reply

    Great interview Ruth . As you know I am a forever Frisco fan and also enjoy Jacks long list of albums & music i still play today .
    So nice to read about The Wedding March SQL
    Again Thankyou for sharing !
    Sammie

    • Author
      Ruth February 18, 2017 Reply

      So glad you enjoyed it! Have a great one Sammmie.

  2. Maryann D. February 19, 2017 Reply

    Jack Wagner is a very good actor and I remember him from many shows.

    • Author
      Ruth February 19, 2017 Reply

      So glad–thanks for stopping by.

  3. Amy Green March 29, 2017 Reply

    It’s so neat to see actor Jack Wagner on television! It’s cool to see him in a period piece. He’s a super talented actor, and his songs are great. My mom was always a huge fan of him as part of ‘Frisco and Felicia’ on “General Hospital”. I loved him on the original “Melrose Place” and “Dancing With The Stars”. Plus he’s still cute.

    • Author
      Ruth March 29, 2017 Reply

      Amy so glad you stopped by. I hope you are enjoying his Hallmark work!

Add comment

Leave a Reply

Please know that comment moderation is in effect on this site. Comments may not appear immediately. Also, please note that any negative attacks on people, networks, or other comments that are deemed "inappropriate" or "overtly negative" may be removed and/or edited by the administrator.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

CommentLuv badge