Tim Matheson is best known for playing Eric "Otter" Stratton in the 1978 cult comedy "Animal House," and VP John Hoynes on TV series "The West Wing." But the esteemed actor and sometime director has a 40-year career with many highlights. He provided the voice for "Jonny Quest" and has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, including "Yours, Mine and Ours," "Magnum Force," "Fletch," "The Virginian," "Bonanza," and "CSI." He currently plays Dr. Brick Breeland on the CW's "Hart of Dixie," opposite Rachel Bilson.
I chatted with Tim Matheson about what he learned working with Hollywood legends like Clint Eastwood and John Belushi, as well as his thoughts on Westerns, dating apps, and his favorite mobile software.
Since you direct on "Hart of Dixie" and other TV shows, I'm wondering what it's like to work on a series, such as "CSI," and not be a director. Is it hard to relinquish that control?
Surprisingly, it is so much easier to just act in a show and not direct. And it's more relaxing, getting lost inside the character and not having to think about all of the other things that come up when directing.
You've worked opposite some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Who taught you the most about acting, and what did they teach you?
I think working with stars like Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda, and Clint Eastwood taught me the level of professionalism, dedication, and preparation that is necessary to do your best work. Lucy told me to "always rehearse with your props"; i.e., work out everything in advance, even the comic "accidents." Especially the comic accidents! Henry Fonda showed me how to infuse your point of view/personality into the character -- and make it live. And Clint Eastwood was just the most relaxed and coolest guy on the set. When I asked if he wanted to run lines before a scene, he said, "Nah. There's something special about saying the lines for the first time on film." He still shoots that way, and I love his spontaneity.
You've been in/on a lot of Westerns in your time. Why do you think they've fallen out of fashion, and will we ever see that trend return?
They were of a time, I think. Once the Baby Boomers came of age, we were looking for a new type of film and a new type of star. Thus, we had our "Star Wars," "Indiana Jones," and "Jack Ryan" films. Westerns were fun, but after "Blazing Saddles," I think it was hard to take them seriously.
You once tried to save National Lampoon magazine and weren't successful. What do you think of the current state of the media industry? Do you read print magazines or magazine apps?
I love magazines. They hold a special place in my world, and I think an important place in today's world. There is something special about literature on a page, that you can make notes on, fold over, take with you, flip through, and read again and again. It's altogether different from reading on a Kindle or iPad. I like the real page, either book or magazine, better than an electronic reader.
As for the Lampoon, we tried to turn it around but couldn't raise the money or attract the people with the vision to help us do it. We were against the clock and ran out of time. It makes me very sad that we couldn't do it.
What are your top five apps and why?
1. Voice Memos, because it helps me learn my lines and rehearse scenes over and over.
2. Spotify holds all of my music and everything that I want to hear. It's also a valuable research tool to hear any song that I need to hear, right now!
3. Fitbit. I wear the Fitbit Flex, which calculates my daily activity, sleep hours, calories, and all-around activity.
4. Earthmate. It's a map application that works with a satellite phone to give you a real-time location, 24 hours a day, wherever you are!
5. Instagram, because it's a place to post and view friends' photos.
Who teaches you about new apps? Do your children or cast members ever bring up new apps to you that you must try? Which ones?
I get info from everyone. My daughters both work in social media and the digital world. They are both on the cutting edge and hip me to everything new that is coming out. Cast members are way out front on the app scene, as well, and I learn a lot from them, too. Wilson Bethel and Scott Porter both turned me onto MacBook Air and iPad Air. I'm in love with both now!
You've played a VP on "The West Wing," so I'm curious if that made you more understanding or critical of VPs and presidents? How do you think John Hoynes compares to our last handful of VPs?
Hoynes was a VP in the LBJ mold: very connected, very savvy about the political world, and with a huge ego. He was better than Cheney and about like Gore or Biden.
You mentioned in a previous interview that you're currently dating, so I was wondering what you think about the many dating apps out there and if you've tried any?
Never tried a dating app. Don't think it would work well for an actor. Just being sort of recognized for the work you do is a better dating app. But just being outgoing and liking people has always worked for me. Online stuff wouldn't cut it.
What kind of trouble could the "Animal House" Delta Tau Chi fraternity have gotten into if mobile apps had existed in 1962?
I'm sure it would have had to do with posting pictures.
You made two films with John Belushi, "Animal House" and "1941." Did you know that he was spiraling out of control? What could have saved him?
Belushi was a fantastic talent, wonderful man, and a tragic figure. All of us tried to moderate him, calm him down, keep him safe. But he was in a fast, fast lane, and eventually he'd be off to another city, another movie, another gig, and you'd disconnect. He burned bright and gave it everything he had. He was deeply loved by all of his friends and family.