A Chat With William Katt

Believe it or not, Katrina King transcribed this interview…

William Katt is best known as Ralph Hinkley on The Greatest American Hero. He is also widely known as Tommy Ross in the film Carrie and to many other fans as Paul Drake, Jr. in a series of Perry Mason TV movies. Over the years he has appeared in numerous TV shows and films, like a recent appearance on the show Heroes. Katt was the media guest at this year’s Jet City Comic Show and while he was in town I sat down with him to talk about his famous show, a film I really enjoyed him in and what else he’s been up to recently.

POP CULTURE ZOO: Thank you for talking to me. One of the first questions I wanted to ask you was, what did you think when you first got the role and found out you were going to have to wear the red tights? Did you know that in advance?

WILLIAM KATT: [laughs] I kind of avoided it for as long as possible. I read the script and it did make me laugh. I was on stage with Dianna Wiest at the time in New York, and I got the script, and it did make me laugh. We talked about, conceptualized what the suit was, and the show was going to be comedy as opposed to drama, but I never really saw the suit. They never showed me pictures of it. It was a big surprise. I was definitely shocked that that’s what I was going to have to wear. Yeah.

PCZ: I’ve heard rumours over the years that you were not very comfortable in it, to the point you wouldn’t even wear it for covers of TV Guide and things like that.

WK: Yeah, well, originally in the first year, they wanted to put me on the cover of that, and I said no, I’m not gonna wear the suit. I’ll be in it, but I’m not gonna be in it in the suit. And they said ok, and the next thing I knew, they drew it. Because Steve Cannell and the network, they owned the likeness, so they could do whatever they want. So screw me! [laughs] No, it’s funny though, as the years have gone on, and my perspective changed, I liked the fact that they went ahead and they did that. They knew better than me. I was just a young upstart, punky kid at the time, what did I know?

PCZ: We were talking earlier, you’re a big fan of comic books. Were you a fan of comic books and superheroes back then, as well?

WK: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean I used to, when I was 12 years old, I’d get on my bike and with my buddies in the neighborhood, and we’d drive to the local pharmacy, or drugstore as we knew it then, and all the drugstores in the area would have a rack of comic books. Magazines and comic books, that’s where they would sell that. And we’d sit on the vinyl floor and we’d read comic books. That was our Saturday morning.

PCZ: Excellent. I was really struck by watching the show now how, I commented to you earlier, how amazing the chemistry between you and Robert Culp and Connie Seleca was on the show. Did you audition with any of those two, or did you meet them for the first time when the show started?

WK: I met them when the show started. That’s the first time that I met them. I think Bob Culp was the first one cast, quite honestly, as Steve Cannell recounted it. I was cast second, and then Connie was brought on to just be in the one episode, the opening pilot. And the chemistry was so good, that Steve called the network and made a serious deal for her.

PCZ: It seems that years ago when Greatest American Hero was on, TV sort of seemed to be kind of not as well regarded and film seemed to be kind of the goal. Over the years, especially now, it seems to have reversed a little bit. Do you find that to be true?

WK: Oh my gosh, yeah. Look at all the big stars that are going into television this season as a prime example of that! But in the old days, especially with a show like Greatest American Hero, once you’ve put on a suit like that, and you were considered kind of a comic book character, it would be very hard to get back into the mainstream, doing theater and film and other kinds of work. But today we have the Robert Downeys who gets an Iron Man outfit, and we get an Ed Norton doing his thing, and Captain America. People are jumping around. There’s no boxes to jump in and out of any more.

PCZ: Right. It seemed like a lot of the best episodes of Greatest American Hero seemed to be the more human ones, where they dealt with a personal crisis that a character was having or helping someone as opposed to the grand “gotta save the country from nuclear weapons” and I understand there was a sort of battle at the time with the network?

WK: Well, the way Steve Cannell tells it, is that they thought of the show as a comedy, and because of that, they would find comedic scenarios Ego for instance, when you’re dealing with ego it can be a very funny thing. And then they back a plot into the ego. Like in “Fastball,” which is when Ralph gets carried away with being able to throw this ball at an enormous velocity, and he becomes like a young Nolan Ryan. And what happens when your ego gets in the way. It was kind of funny. Or when they do “The Plague” and they think that they’re getting sick, and then they find out that they couldn’t be sick, because the incubation period is weeks. All those things are very, very funny. And then they back a plot into it, and that’s what Steve always did.

PCZ: Now I know you have a lot of people, such as myself, of a certain age, want to meet you and talk to you about Greatest American Hero. Are you finding now that the show has come out on DVD that people are bringing their kids, who are also now fans of the show?

WK: Yeah. It’s a lot of fun. But I liken it to like a Grateful Dead concert, y’know, it’s like “For Young and Old Alike.”

PCZ: [laughter] Exactly! There’s a movie you’ve done in recent years, and that I’m a huge fan of, The Man from Earth. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you became involved in that?

WK: It was a Jerome Bixby script, who was one of the great sci-fi writers. It was sent to me, and my agent said, no you can’t do this, it’s very low budget, there’s no action, there’s nothing driving the script. But what drove the script when I read it was the story, which was kind of old fashioned, about a guy who’s 10,000 years old, and he’s not a vampire! He’s not undead. He’s just an anomaly, and he can’t figure it out. And then you have all these tenured professors in their various fields, in history, theology, et cetera. We can’t poke a hole in his story. I always tell people, you know if you watch the first 10 minutes, you’ll watch the whole film, because the story is very compelling in itself.

PCZ: Right, and that’s what kind of struck me. It starts out with all these guys going, yeah, sure, you’re immortal. And they kind of ask questions jokingly, but then they get more serious as they go. I thought it was very well done, it’s kind of, like you said, an old-fashioned movie where you throw a bunch of characters in a room and have them talk and make a movie, and you don’t see a lot of that anymore. It’s all kind of flashy, block-buster movies nowadays. So I also understand that you have a production company now, if you could talk a little bit about that?

WK: Well, my partner says I’m like a 10 year old child. I have the attention span of a 10 year old. And I’ve always been very ADD, I’ve done lots of things, along with acting. I like to get my hands into everything. In the last few years, I’ve started directing, and I’ve always been a writer. I primarily learned to write from Bob Culp on the show. I mean, a wonderful writer. Bob Culp thought of himself as a writer first, and then a director, and then an actor. Y’know, in spite of all the work he’d done as an actor. So I’d always been doing a lot of writing and sold a number of scripts. I got involved in the last few years with a production company, and we write and produce toy commercials. So we worked a lot with JAKKS Pacific, Konami, we’ve been doing commercials with Disney. Recently we did a Victorious commercial. Real Steel is coming out, we did the new toy associated with Real Steel. That’s the kind of thing we’re doing. Toys ‘R Us.

PCZ: Any movies, or anything you’re working on recently that we might be seeing in the future?

WK: I did a film last year, two or three little independents that will probably go right to DVD. I did a film [The Encore of Tony Duran] that was kind of fun, played a meth dealer, that Elliot Gould stars in, and that just won the Los Vegas film festival. I don’t know what they’re doing, I haven’t talked to the guys that produced that film, but I think their plans are to bring it out in the next 6 months or so.

PCZ: Does it seem like it takes longer when you do an independent movie before you actually see the finished product come out, whether it’s on DVD or theater?

WK: I don’t know. The bigger the film, the longer it’s going to take to come out. The more money they pump into advertising, et cetera. For a low budget film, it’s really based on sales. They go out and they do the film circuit, and they try to get good word of mouth, and then they take that good word of mouth, and they try and make a deal with a distributor like Anchor Bay or Starz or Sony or what not, and that’s the way that works.

PCZ: Awesome. Well, thank you very much for talking to me.

WK: Oh yeah, it’s been a pleasure man! Cheers!

Thank you to William Katt for his time and to Jet City Comic Show for making it happen.

Joseph Dilworth Jr.

Joseph Dilworth Jr. has been writing since he could hold a pencil (back then it was one of those big, red pencils, the Faber-Castell GOLIATH. Remember those? Now that was a pencil!). As the instigator of this here website he takes full responsibility for any wacky hi-jinks that ensue. He appreciates you taking the time to read his articles.