Catching Up With John Schneider
At 48, John Schneider is busier than ever. With 11 projects in various stages of production, the 48-year-old actor -- who first landed on the pop culture radar as the affable, golden-haired, sideburned Bo in TV's "The Dukes of Hazzard" and has more recently popped up on cable faves "Nip/Tuck" and "Smallville" -- says 2008 has been the most productive, and rewarding, year of his life.
This Sunday, Schneider will join Gary Sinise, Joe Montegna, Charles Durning and others performing at the National Memorial Day Concert in D.C. and broadcast live on PBS Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. He'll also be elsewhere on the dial, co-starring with Darryl Hannah in the made-for-TV movie "Shark Swarm" (also at 8 p.m. ET).
Schneider called from New York yesterday, where he's filming scenes in the upcoming Catherine Zeta-Jones comedy "The Rebound," to talk about Memorial Day, his new-found animal rights activism, why his 16-year-old son probably won't be posing for Annie Leibovitz and the 30th anniversary of "The Dukes of Hazzard."
Read on for the full interview...
Liz: Tell me about your role in this year's Memorial Day concert. What are you going to be doing?
John Schneider: I'm going to be starting it off. I'm going to be singing a medley -- can you call two songs a medley? -- some stuff that I've done with Erich Kunzel before. Two wonderful, patriotic songs along with 200 or so folks in the military band and choir. I've done the show several times before and it really is grand entertainment at its finest. With Erich conducting -- he's really got a heart for lots of different kinds of music -- but this particular kind of music he goes after with such vigor that it makes everybody stand up and want to sing along. It's really great.
Liz: I've talked to Joe Mantegna in the past about the show and one thing that always strikes me is that this is an event that performers come back to again and again. You said you've done the show before. Why do you keep coming back?
John: I think it's the audience because the audience is largely military. You're performing with and for people who have risked their lives for the freedoms we take for granted -- or are now risking their lives for those freedoms. And it's palpable. When you're there -- when you hear that and you're on your way to Costco or to get coffee, it doesn't fall on deaf ears, but it doesn't mean that much until you are standing in front of and among a sea of uniforms from all branches of the armed forces. It really makes you feel like you are part of something far bigger than you've ever been part of before. In an odd way, it makes you more of an American, more of a patriot.
Charles Durning, who is on the show again this year, was on the beach at Normandy. I've known Charles for 20 years and play poker with him, but seeing Charles at this event is different. You get a whole different perspective and appreciation for what Charles has been a part of and what he represents. So it's odd because you almost have to be there to understand.
Liz: Like a Grateful Dead concert, right?
John: There you go.
Liz: You've also got "Shark Swarm" debuting on Sunday, right? Tell me a bit about that.
John: It's a three-hour Hallmark Channel movie I did with Darryl Hannah and F. Murray Abraham and Armand Assante. Really terrific movie. It's not -- there are sharks swarming and that's a major part of it -- but the reason they are doing this is really more newsworthy because it has to do with polluting our oceans.
Liz: I know Daryl is a big advocate of environmental causes. Are you, too?
John: Well, I'm becoming far more educated -- some because of "Shark Swarm," some because of the really amazing people I've met while I'm here in New York doing this movie with Catherine Zeta-Jones, "The Rebound." And I happened upon a group of people at the hotel who are representing a book called "Thanking the Monkey."
It's a non-browbeating book by non-browbeating people whose goal is to educate you and me and everybody else about where food comes from. Conditions, that's all. These are not people who argue diet. They're people who say, "Hey, have any idea how they treat these animals when they're going through this process." And I've seen things now that just horrify me. I had no idea. Absolutely no idea.
Liz: So is there a vegetarian future in store for you?
John: I don't know. I'm certainly thinking about things differently now, which is certainly the first step. It could be. Because like I said, I had no idea of the inhumanity of it. We're hidden from that.
The book is great. Karen Dawn wrote it. Fantastic book. So I've been hanging out with Karen Dawn and, oh -- what's her name? -- "Skinny Bitch" (Note: The book was written by co-authors Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman. We're not sure which one was hanging with John.)
And it's actually changed the way the last three meals I have. I also hung out with Persia White and Heather Mills McCartney. And with Captain Paul -- who's the guy who goes out and puts his boat in between the whales and the whalers and it's just been amazing.
When I saw her [Dawn's] things and there are a lot of references in it to Web sites when you read this book -- these things are just shocking, which is good, I think. Which is funny, because a lot of people at the head of this are saying, "We really don't think we should put stuff out there that's so shocking because it'll turn people away." And I say no. You can't not look at this. You have to show people gore. I mean the kittens in the cages being pushed off a 12-foot drop. I just had no idea that people -- who are fathers and go home and have dinner with their families and pet the family dog -- can be throwing turkeys and chickens against the wall. People need to know that.
Liz: Let's talk about "The Rebound." Can you tell me a little more about your role?
John: Sure. I am a chiropractor -- one of her [Zeta-Jones's] dates. And you look at me and look at her and think, "this is the one." But my character has some quirks I can't tell you about, but they're very funny. And they make me quite obviously not the one. We have three terrific scenes together. One is the meeting scene where I'm talking about what I do as a chiropractor and talking shop. The second is a dinner and a third one is in a taxi cab where I'm trying to force myself on her, which is hysterical, too.
She's very funny. And I've known Michael [Douglas] a long time. Not a lot, but for a long time because the first movie I ever did was with his father, Kirk. So I've known the family a while and it was really cool. As someone who has been in this business a long time, you have a tendency to forget the visibility you have -- or if you have any reputation good, bad or indifferent. And when someone like Catherine says, "Oh Michael wanted me to make sure I said hi to you, he just loves you," that feels good. Here I am sitting in the back of a cab with Catherine Zeta-Jones who is telling me Michael Douglas has fond memories of me -- it just makes me feel good as a human being.
Liz: But you're all over the place right now. I'm looking at IMDB and it lists you as having 11 projects in various stages of production.
John: It's really quite amazing. It's been the most productive year of my life. Children aside, of course. There's "Shark Swarm" -- and I even met the shark people and they say they're "reserving judgment until we see it," because it's really a movie against pollution, not against sharks. So, that and then there's one I'm doing with a wonderful woman, Brenda Hampton, who did "7th Heaven" for 11 years -- she's got a show for ABC family we're doing now called "American Teenager." I'm in that and my son plays a role in that, which is great. It's his first time in front of a camera. And we're shooting a six-hour miniseries on the island of Catalina, starting June 2. That's called "26 Miles."
So it's really fantastic. And I'm not just hired on many of these. On "26 Miles" I'm an executive producer and one of the two directors of the six hours and it really is a very rewarding time in my life right now.
Liz: It's interesting to see you working with your son. When I saw that my mind leaped to thinking about Billy Ray Cyrus and his daughter Miley and their recent press over those Vanity Fair photos. So, any Annie Leibovitz portraits in your son's future?
John: No, I don't think so. That's a little odd, don't you think? The pictures that were most "ewww" to me were not the ones people were talking about. It was the ones with her head in her dad's lap. It's just odd. I don't understand it. So the uproar had to have been manufactured because people were upset about the wrong pictures.
Liz: You've done so much and you're so busy, but are you still plugged in to the "Dukes of Hazzard" fans and the people you worked with on that show?
John: I am. Especially right now because this is our 30th anniversary since we started and we're having a huge event in Atlanta called Dukesfest and that's -- we could have anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 people there, from all over the world. "Dukes" remains a family member. It doesn't feel like a television show anymore. People look back on their Friday nights with the Duke family as time they spent with family members of their own -- grandma and grandpa on the couch who are no longer around. I mean "Dukes" was very popular when it was on, but "Dukes" seems to have worked its way right into peoples' lives -- really unlike any other television show.
Dukesfest.com if people are interested. I'd love people to come out. We've got a really clever guy who does the Web site and he includes directions and places to stay, so you can plan this affordably -- with the price of gas today.
Liz: For sure. The General Lee would be guzzling it up by the hundreds. It'd be a huge portion of the shooting budget.
John: Four glorious miles per gallon.
Liz: Thanks for talking to us.
John: Thank you.
(This isn't my first run-in with residents of Hazzard County. I interviewed Ben "Cooter" Jones back in 2003 when he still had Cooter's Place in Sperryville, Va.)
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