From: Soap Opera Digest, October 13, 1992.
LEAP OF FAITH
This Santa Barbara star (Eric Close) is ready to climb every mountain in his quest to do his best. By Gene Sobczak.
Just The Facts:
Birthday: May 24
Early Inspiration: Shirley Temple, The Little Rascals
Where He First Met Kim Zimmer: They played Suzanne Somers's brother and sister in the TV movie Keeping Secrets.
Favourite Singer: John Mellencamp
Favourite Athlete: John McEnroe
If Tiger Beat wanted to feature him as the Teen Dream Of The Month he would: "Talk it over with my people," he laughs.
Leaping from a daunting height while attached to only an elastic harness is not an experience for the faint of heart, but for Santa Barbara's Eric Close, bungee jumping seems to be a perfectly natural activity. "It's the closest you can come to death willingly," he says.
Despite his appetite for adventure, the ambitious young actor has not spent his life blindly jumping off cliffs. "It's nothing to do with danger," he says. "I'm extremely careful in whatever I do. I won't go off the ground more than ten feet without ropes, because I can't afford to. If I get hurt, I won't be able to work."
Work is central to Close. Admitting that he likes to "push the limits" in whatever he does, Close can scale the towering rock formations at Joshua Tree National Monument. He's set his sights on climbing Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Co-star Paula Irvine (Lilly Blake) remarks, "Eric is very concerned about his work. He is interested in making each thing he does the best he can make it."
The graduate of the University of Southern California brings what can only be described as a highly developed moral perspective to everything he does, including recreation. With a friend, he co-founded an outdoor-adventurers' group called Dream-Makers, whose objective, Close says, is "to accomplish our dreams in life through moral support and encouragement. What we do is go out and do adventurous things like river rafting, rock climbing and scuba diving."
Close's love for the great outdoors developed at a very early age. "I was about three weeks old when my parents took me on a trip up and down the New England coastline," he recalls. "I remember I was already carrying my own backpack when I was five."
Family vacations are still a big part of Close's life; the Closes recently took a trip to the British Virgin Islands together. "If I am going to do anything in my spare time, I do it with my family," Close says. The actor, who lives with his two younger brothers, Randy and Chris, says, "I have a couple of friends, but that's it."
With such a scaled-down life, Close has more time to concentrate on his work. He likes and even admires his Santa Barbara character, Sawyer Walker. "I think he's cool," Close says. "I think it's great that he's a gentleman. And he's ambitious. He's like the all-American guy." The similarities Close has to Sawyer are not lost on him. "It's like [head writer] Pam Long has been watching me," he says. "But I'm also finding that Sawyer does have things that are different [about him], because the joy of acting is making a role your own by creating a character."
One big difference between actor and character is the role religion plays in each man's life. Whereas the spirituality of the Walker family is not a theme on Santa Barbara, Close's deep commitment to living a spiritual life sets him apart.
"Whatever I do, whether it's acting or [spending time with] my family or rock climbing, I want to honour God," he says. "I believe that because of Him, all of the things I'm doing now have been possible. A lot of people don't take a stand for something like that, but that's the way I feel. I'm not forcing religion. I'm just stating what gives me drive in my life."
While Close admits he won't take to the streets of Hollywood and say, "Hey, read the Bible," he believes that by being an example to others he can convey his message. "I want to help other people and give of myself. I find that Christ, through his example, has given me strength."
Naturally, Close's pious nature leads him away from many of the flashy temptations of the L.A. lifestyle. "I don't go out to clubs," he says. "It's not what I do. I would rather go rock climbing and sailing." He has an ongoing relationship with a young woman he'd rather not name, who does not live in California. He is by nature, he says, "sexually conservative." Romantic possibilities depend upon meeting a woman who understands where he comes from. "If I'm thinking about dating someone who shares my faith and my moral standards, if that's something they believe in, I'll see them," he says. "If not, I won't take it any further."
All in all, it sounds like a serious life. "You know what they say," he says. "To get something done, you give it to someone who's busy. I'm working. It's my career, and I do the best I can at it," he states matter-of-factly. "You have to be willing to fall on your face and get back up and do it again. It's like anything you do. The more you climb...the more jobs you start booking...you just can't help but get better."
Sunrise At Chatsworth
Photographer Maureen Donaldson stood in a harness on the ledge of a helicopter to photograph the world's longest limousines for Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous, but she declined Eric Close's offer to accompany him as he went rock climbing in Chatsworth in California's West San Fernando Valley. "I told him that at my age, I wouldn't do it," she says. But she did meet Close and his brother Chris at dawn to photograph the actor doing what he loves best. "It was a neck-breaking experience," she laughs.
Donaldson reports that Close is a "perfectionist" who won't give up on a mountain once he decides to climb it. "There was one rock that he couldn't get. He kept trying and falling, but he had to do it so he got there. He's a very gentle spirit and has a great deal of inner strength. I was very impressed with that combination. He obviously comes from a very close family, as evidenced by his camaraderie with his brother."
Donaldson says that Close provided refreshments: "By the time we left, it was steaming hot and the sweat was pouring off us. Thank God Eric had the foresight to bring bottled water; everybody was dehydrated and guzzling it."
Michael Biehn (Chris Larabee): "I play Chris, who is based on the character that Yul Brynner played in the original film. He's had some tragedy in his life and is carrying a lot of demons. I think of him like an anti-hero. Not a man of many words, but when he says something, it means something."
Andrew Kavovit: "I play JD Dunne, who's a guy from the East Coast. He's out seeking adventure and experience. He's learning from these guys, luckily to be accepted by them.
Eric Close: "Vin Tanner is a bit of a drifter. He'd rather be out in the wilderness just walking around, but he's got to make a living. For a while he was a bounty hunter, now the tables are turned and there's a bounty on his head because someone accused him of murdering someone that he didn't."
Rick Worthy: "Nathan Jackson is, kind of, the doctor of the group. He's not a trained doctor. He received a lot of his medical training in the Civil War as a soldier and a medic. Nathan is also a former slave, which I found very appealing in terms of the character aspect of this character."
Anthony Starke: "I'm playing Ezra Standish, who is the trickster gambler of the group. His function within the gang is pointed out in the pilot when Rick's character asks Michael, 'Why would we want a cheater?' And he says, 'We might need one.'"
Ron Perlman: "I play a character named Josiah, who was a preacher. There's a line in the pilot that sort of describes Josiah's mindset. 'Had a little trouble turning the other cheek,' which is why he decides to maybe give God a helping hand, and picks up a gun..."
Dale Midkiff : "I play Buck Wilmington. Buck is loose, I guess you would say. He loves life, he loves women, and he loves to have a good time."
Coming off of last year's Science Fiction drama, Dark Skies (DS), in which, as John Loengard, he sought to reveal the government conspiracy to cover up alien infiltration, Eric Close now finds himself fighting for justice in the Old West. "I was really tired after DS," the actor confesses. "It was a really challenging show. I loved it, but I was beat up by the end. My wife and I took a vacation. Then I was ready to come back to work, to do a lead again and to carry a show. CBS approached me about doing The Magnificent Seven (TM7). What really excited me was that John Watson and Pen Densham (producers) were doing the project, because I had done my first pilot, called Taking Liberty, for them a few years ago."
Even the fact that Close would be one of seven co-stars didn't faze him when considering the role of Vin Tanner. "You look at the shows on TV that are really successful, most of them are ensemble shows like ER or Friends, even though you have a couple of guys who might stand out as the leaders "
In 1960, a low-budget Western based on Kurosawa's legendary motion picture, The Seven Samurai, was released. Entitled The Magnificent Seven, the movie about a mismatched group of gunslingers who band together to protect a Mexican village from a bunch of bandits, became a classic in its own right. Taking on the role that propelled Steve McQueen to stardom nearly 40 years ago, Eric Close has gone out of his way to create a different persona for Vin Tanner. "It's a real honour that I was able to play Steve's character, but, at the same time, I wanted to make Vin my own, that's why I have the long hair and the scruffier face. He's more of a rough and ready kind of guy. I'm finding the character as the episodes go on. When you do a television series you jump into it so quickly that you don't have a lot of prep time and so, a lot of the prepping comes while you're doing the series. The writers give you a basis of who your character is and, if they are good writers, they give you some real interesting stuff to go from, a good launching pad."
As the co-leader of the 'Seven', Close was keenly aware of his youthful appearanc and the problems that might arise from it. "I looked at a lot of these older guys and I thought, 'Why are they going to follow a young guy?' My first thought was how can I make Vin older and more rugged? I started going through western books and I found a drawing of Wild Bill Hickok when he was about my age, and I looked and went, 'That's the guy.' He had long curly hair, and a bit of facial hair."
A character trait that Close created for Vin, and fought to keep in the show, was the gunslinger's steely silence. "He's quiet, I like that. If I have an opportunity to drop a line here or there I will. It's something I pushed for because I think people are uncomfortable with silence, as I am in my own life, so to play a character who can be silent is a real challenge for me. I think that creates more of an edge, some danger and a bit of menace. In those days, it was very difficult to trust people because you didn't know when someone was going to put a bullet in your back. So I think the less a person said the better, becasue you were going to end up getting yourself in trouble."
In comparing the two characters of John Loengard and Vin Tanner, Close acknowledges, "They are both seekers of justice, and that's about it. I think that Vin is a lot wiser than Loengard. Vin has seen a lot of hardship. He is what John probably would have become 10 years later. I think that Vin Tanner has a lot more wisdom because he's been out there."
In speaking with Close, one can't help but feel one of the reasons he took this job was simply to have a great time. "There's something about being a cowboy," the actor says exuberantly. "It's so free, it's rough, it's dirty and it's dangerous. You get to ride horses. When we broke for Christmas, I stayed after the last day and did second unit stuff. I rode in a pack with all the stunt people at a full out sprint on our horses. It was so exciting. I sometimes can't believe that I'm getting paid to do this, it's so much fun. I guess the best way to describe it is...it's just cool."
In retrospect, the actor has no problem discerning why his last series, DS, didn't succeed despite a huge following of devoted fans. "The pilot went well, and then they pulled us off the air. We were pre-empted almost 12 times that season. So what happened was, we had this premiere and we're off the air for three weeks, people thought we were cancelled and we lost the audience. A series takes time. Any of the successful series you look at, like Seinfeld or Cheers, had two seasons that were real slow. Their audience grew. This was a show that had so much potential, it was an amazing concept, but it lost its audience because it was off the air too much." Part of the 'amazing concept' was the producer's vision of aging the two stars, Close and Megan Ward, 10 years for every season the show was on the air. "I think that might have been something that was an issue, that might have come into play," admits Close. "The network might have been saying, 'If this becomes a hit, what happens when our stars have to be 50? What do we do?'"
It's obvious that the spirit of DS hasn't quite worn off for Close, as he acknowledges enthusiastically, "I told John Watson, in one of the episodes, I'd love to have Vin riding out in the desert, and he has an 'encounter'. We see it as so modern, but we've found cave dwelling paintings of things that people really can't explain. I think it would be really interesting to see that."
Would Close ever consider returning to the role of John Loengard, should the opportunity ever arise? Without a beat, the actor responds, "Definitely. I would have to cut my hair...but I would do it!"