by Jeff Rosado
As fans of reality television fare continue to come down from the double-whammy high of Amber Brkich's win and marriage proposal on Survivor All Stars, carry on endless debating over whether Bachelor Jesse made the right choice by picking Jessica over Tara, and discuss the Fantasia vs. Diana singing showdown on American Idol, there's no better time than the present to chat with one of the tube's most unforgettable participants from the past season: Corbin Bernsen of ABC's Celebrity Mole.
To promote Eagle Vision's recent release of the Hawaii season of the program, the Golden Globe-nominated actor, most famous for his role of conniving divorce attorney Arnie Becker during a nine-season run on Stephen Bochco's classic NBC series, L.A. Law, chatted with dOc's Jeff Rosado for a wide-ranging interview. In addition to recalling his two season Mole experience, the California-born performer discusses his innovative production company that allows internet users to taste the Hollywood filmmaking process, and reflects on his work with two of the industry's most celebrated directors: Roger Corman and recent Academy honoree, Blake Edwards.
dOc: It was evident by the way you played the game that you were a fan of the original series. How did you become involved with Celebrity Mole?
Corbin Bernsen: Well to be honest with you, I was approached by the company that produced the show [Stone Stanley Productions]. They sent me some tapes of the original Mole and I thought it was pretty intriguing. I'm sort of an experimenter; I thought it'd be interesting to play around and see what's there. It was fun. Turned out to be good.
dOc: Sometimes when shows such as this do "celebrity" versions, they tend to create dumbed down scenarios, taking the competitive level down a notch, but that was not the case from what I watched. Were you surprised at how tricky and challenging some of the games were, like, say, the sheep-herding sequence?
CB: Truthfully, the games weren't the most interesting part of the whole thing to me; they were activities to bring out personality. That [sequence] just happened to be a hard game; the rest of the [challenges] weren't that difficult. It wasn't like we were doing Fear Factor.
dOc: So it was more the interactions that appealed to you?
CB: Clearly. That was far more important than the first one to get a sheep.
dOc: One aspect I found interesting was the episode where Stephen Baldwin took a peek at your journal and annoyed you; it got a lot of press even before the show aired, saying you guys got into a bit of fisticuffs, which wasn't true, correct? What really happened? Was it more of a case of agitation or more joking around?
CB: Well, it wasn't like that but it really wasn't agitation either. It was just Stephen being Stephen, so it was fun to go after him. But it wasn't like the press made it out to be.
dOc: That's good to know, because a lot of reality shows like Survivor and The Bachelor tend to be kind of tricky in terms of editing to manufacture something major out of something minor.
CB: That begs the question, is that really "reality TV"? That's my big thing now. Is it really reality TV or is that another form of L.A. Law?
Actually, I've been talking to some people about putting together a show where we create our characters via improvisation, but reaching beyond that; where we bring personal feelings to it. Characters in a situation that form a drama. To me, that would be a great form of reality TV.
dOc: Despite all the agony that you went through in Hawaii, you opted to go through the wringer once more with its follow-up, Celebrity Mole: Yucatan. Why?
CB: It's insane. It's an addictive thing. It's not so much I like to go win, but it's a rush. A horrible gut wrenching thing, but it's exciting.
dOc: What really impressed me about the way you played the game is that you took so many notes, so it really was a shock when you went down so quickly in the first game; I mean Woodward and Bernstein have nothing on you.
CB: Yeah, I think if I were to go again, I'd try to go more on gut feelings and stick with it. I was on to Frederique. I found clues for everything, I found tons of stuff. My mind has a tendency to go somewhere that's fairly simple to say, "that can't be the answer."
dOc: Looking back at your Yucatan adventure, is there anything you wished you'd done differently on this go-round in terms of, say, strategizing?
CB: Follow my instincts. It was like I was going with Angie [as the Mole], but I thought, they wouldn't do that [the supermodel] twice. I'll tell you what got me was that on the second day when I got "executed," we did that piñata game. There was an "exemption" that Baldwin ended up getting and I had formed an opinion that it had to have been placed inside the pink pig that Mark Curry had put inside [the piñata]. I thought, that's weird, that's strange. I'd already been on to him. But Baldwin got it. And at that point, that's when I went down in flames.
dOc: I'll never forget your frustration when that red "execution" screen came up; you had a look like "I'm never gonna do this again."
CB: That's what I felt at the time. It's a horrible feeling. People may think it's just a fun, big old game, but you take someone like Dennis Rodman [another participant in the Yucatan series] who's as cool as they come, and I guarantee any time you saw any kind of emotion from him was during those "executions." Go back and look at Rodman. He is just de-wigged and that's rare to get him wigging out.
dOc: He was my pick as the culprit; I mean, he played everything with such a straight face.
CB: It goes with instinct; that's why he's Rodman, that's why he won.
dOc: A lot of your peers in the television industry tend to look down upon reality fare, saying that it takes away jobs, slots in primetime and such. What's your opinion on that?
CB: I have an argument with that; it's not taking away jobs. Taking employment out of the country—now that's taking away jobs. These shows employ a lot of people: production, post-production, music supervisors, camera people. A hundred people or more.
dOc: I think most folks would be terribly surprised just to see how much in the way of staff goes into producing a typical reality program.
CB: Absolutely. More than a sitcom, I can tell you that.
dOc: Let's talk some about your career as an actor. Although you were born in Hollywood and came out of a showbiz family [Bernsen's mom is veteran daytime actress and recent Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Jeanne Cooper, from CBS's The Young and the Restless], you seriously considered going to law school. What changed your mind and who were some of your biggest influences?
CB: Well, acting was just in me and I tried to avoid it. I didn't want to do what my parents did, you know? The rebellious thing. As far as influences? My mom. I saw the excitement, going to different places, being able to explore emotion in a healthy way. I love to entertain, I love to make people laugh, cry, and move them, perhaps moving them in their lives. I don't do it [solely] for that reason, but I'm fascinated with the power, that you can make someone move forward.
dOc: Like your mom, you did some daytime acting of your own [Ryan's Hope]. What's the biggest difference between doing a soap and doing primetime in terms of creativity and the like?
CB: In daytime, they're doing 50-60 pages a day, whereas nighttime, you do seven or eight. More importantly, primetime allows you a pace, production-wise, where you can explore characters a little bit more as far as the acting experience and storytelling. Unfortunately, with daytime, because it's so serialized, you have to repeat a lot of information, literally; it's part of the lay of the land.
dOc: From looking at your résumé, I think one thing our readers will find fascinating is that you worked with two of Hollywood's greatest directors, Roger Corman and Blake Edwards.
CB: Roger I've known for a long time; my family has sort of grown up around him. He's one of my mentors to some degree. I actually built his house.
Roger gave me one of my very first breaks with Eat My Dust (the 1975 Ron Howard film), and Blake Edwards was a delight; I didn't have much to do in S.O.B., I was sort of a glorified extra, but I did get to work with him for two weeks and sort of watch his genius, his talent, and how he handled some wonderful actors: William Holden, Larry Hagman, Richard Mulligan. Just to watch the way he worked with those terrific people was fantastic. I didn't get too much personal time with him, but it was fun being on one of his sets.
dOc: So what's next for you as far as future projects?
CB: Well, I'm producing stuff nowadays. I have a company, Public Film Works (www.publicfilmworks.com). We make small independent films along with some television. The entry arch at the website is really a virtual studio, a representation of our company. We invite the internet audience to participate in our productions by helping us make selections as to certain things to appear in the film, from some casting to sponsored items—clothes, watches, etc.—and create an interactivity by letting a fan base into the soundstage while we're making a film. Really, it's to create an environment where the Average Joe gets to go behind-the-scenes and see what it takes to make a movie.
dOc: Are you looking to spend more time behind the camera instead of acting?
CB: I'd like to direct some, act in some of them, and produce. I'm very much looking forward to my 30-40 years of acting, and, as I get older, I'm really looking forward to some of the roles that are out there to play.