Last Man Standing: Adrian Paul
Posted by: Mark Zimmer
Adrian Paul rocketed to stardom in the 1990s in the syndicated series Highlander, which has recently just completed the release of its six-season run on DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment. dOc recently chatted with Adrian Paul about Season Six, the series as a whole, and his new career as a humanitarian.
The December, 2004 tsunami hit home with Paul, whose brother operates a business on the island of Koh Phi Phi, which was devastated in the storm. His reaction was to start Immortal Aid, a relief effort using the Highlander connection to publicize the damage and raise money to rebuild the area. He contacted producers Peter Davis and Bill Panzer to start hosting auctions of Highlander memorabilia, including items from his very own collection. The process was wildly successful, raising over $45,000 in the first week alone. In fact, while he was talking to dOc, Paul was signing certificates of authenticity for another round of memorabilia sales. Although the reconstruction work is slow, Paul said it is progressing. He spoke to his brother last week, and said they had recovered over 50 tons of debris from the harbor.
Humanitarian efforts are not new to Adrian Paul; about five years ago he founded Protect, Educate and Aid Children Everywhere, or PEACE. This group was designed to help needy, ill and abused children by means of involving celebrities in the classroom.
But Adrian Paul is best known as the star of a fantasy/action series. The six seasons of Highlander, now out on DVD, allow one to take a look at the intriguing evolution of the character played by Adrian Paul in the series. One interesting point is the development of the accents that title character Duncan MacLeod used in the character's four-hundred-year journey through time. "Duncan MacLeod starts off with a Scottish accent, and the producers were a bit nervous about the audience, but it seemed to me that that's who Duncan was. They initially wanted me to be Connor, but I told them it should be someone else, otherwise it would be too confusing. When you get into more modern times, Duncan has much more of an American accent, because that's where he landed. I had more trouble with the American accent, really." He seems to have mastered the American accent just fine, most recently portraying an American naval captain in Tides of War. Although he did some work with dialect coaches, much of the character's accent and speech patterns were developed through Paul's own introspection.
Paul had an unusual amount of creative input into the character's development, going so far as to characterize himself as a "control freak." But that was just a determination to make the final product as good as it could possibly be. "I've always said that a fish rots from the head down, and if I'm out there putting in 85-hour weeks, then the rest of the crew pretty much has to follow my lead." How much of Adrian Paul is there in Duncan MacLeod? " Well, certainly there's going to be some when you're the lead actor in a television series that runs for over a hundred episodes. What tends to happen is the writers see some trait in the lead actor and think 'oh, there's something I can use,' and so they introduce that into the character. But Duncan MacLeod and Adrian Paul are by no means the same person."
The sixth and final season of Highlander posed its own special problems, since going into it Paul was determined that it would be his last. "Someone said that the hardest thing to do is an action series, and I think that's true, and that's especially true when you're the lead and in virtually every scene. The producers wanted me to come back for another season, and I told them that I would do it only if I could have a break in the middle. So they gave me about ten days off in the middle of shooting it, as they were wrapping up one episode and they did another one." There was also a certain amount of concern about being typecast, and Paul insists that he was, in fact, typecast as a result of the show, though without the long hair and the sword he gets much less of that now than he did at one point. He would welcome the chance to play a villain again, as he had during the Dark Quickening sequence earlier in the series. "Villains are a lot more fun to play than a hero."
Another problematic element of the sixth season was the contract with USA Network for a spinoff show. "I knew the producers wanted to bring in a female Highlander to have featured in their new show, so they had five different women that were considered for the part and as it turned out none of them got it." Instead, it was series regular Elizabeth Gracen who won the lead in Highlander: The Raven. Since he was filming in Paris for the entire season, he didn't have much input in the decision-making, but Paul wonders why Gracen wasn't the obvious choice in the beginning. "Here you've got someone the audience already knows and likes. Perhaps they should have spent more time in Season Six setting up her character to go off on her own."
The flashback sequences that appeared in nearly every episode (and in some cases dominated entire episodes) were a hallmark of the series. Amazingly, Paul says that the producers initially balked at the expense. "The producers originally wanted to do the show without flashbacks, but I told them, 'you can't do that, there are two things people will tune in to see with Highlander, and those are the romance and the flashbacks. You can't do it without them.' They eventually agreed that I was right." Another important element of the flashbacks was Paul's insistence on strict continuity along a timeline developed near the beginning of the show. "One of the things I wanted to do was establish the entire history of this character, where he was and what he was doing, so that things would fit together. And later that came to be very handy." Indeed, Paul suggests that the flashbacks could probably be strung together on a DVD series and make a sensible progression, with one or two possible exceptions. Paul says that he had a great deal of fun with the flashback sequences, which allowed him the chance to dress up in various costumes and be a slightly different character for a while.
The elaborate and often spectacular swordfights in nearly every episode are another highlight of the show. Although Paul had trained with the katana to some extent beforehand, he was thrust into on-the-job training, learning during the first season or two from master swordsman Bob Anderson, veteran of such films as Star Wars and The Mask of Zorro. But a short shooting schedule left little time for rehearsal and preparation of the fights. "I still have the scars to prove it. Often we'd be working on the next episode's sword fight while we were still finishing up the one before."
Music also plays an important role in the world of Highlander, beginning with the memorable title sequence song, Princes of the Universe by Queen. The first season frequently featured pop musicians in guest roles (often as guest villains), though that became less common as the series wore on. "As in anything that you're trying to sell, you want to get as many reasons for people to tune in as possible, and any musician that has any kind of following will bring along a certain amount of audience. After the first season it wasn't as necessary and so they saved the expense." A recurring theme song, the heart-breaking Bonny Portmore, made its first appearance in an episode directed by Paul. That first episode of Season Four features Duncan's return to Scotland after many years, and the song perfectly captures the melancholy and beauty of the tale of love lost but not forgotten.
Immortality is not all it's cracked up to be, according to Paul. "I think immortality would be a very bad thing in general; what would there be new to do? Duncan MacLeod lived four hundred years, while there are people who lived two thousand or more. What can you do with that? If you haven't learned something in one lifetime, you're not likely to learn it over many."
Being mortal, however, Adrian Paul takes good care of himself. "I take good care of my skin and my physique. I'm careful about what I eat. Some people tell me, 'Adrian, you eat like a saint.' I really don't like the phrase 'my body is a temple,' but to some extent it is true, you are what you eat." He has little use for Western medicine, considering it money-oriented and tending to prescribe drugs too readily. "I will always try the alternative medicine approach first, since I want to be careful about what I put into my body. I try to avoid seeing doctors unless I have a broken bone or something."
It didn't take a broken bone to convince Paul to take part in the conclusion (so far) to the MacLeod saga, Highlander: Endgame (2000). "I felt that there was more to say about Duncan MacLeod, where he ended up. I wasn't entirely happy with the end of the film. The thing that made the series work was not necessarily the action, but the relationships between the characters. I think what people wanted to see were the relationships and I don't think there was enough of that in the film. It's something that could be developed better." But when asked whether the five-year hiatus spelled the end of the tale as far as he is concerned, he answered, "You never know. You neeeeeever know. If I were to get back into Highlander it would most likely be as a producer or as a writer, though."
Producing and writing is where Adrian Paul's path has taken him most recently. He has been working on a miniseries project called Casanova and another script. The reason? "Producing and writing gets more respect than you get as an actor."
For more information about Immortal Aid, click here, and here for more about the Highlander series.