The Catacombs Catacombs Reference Library
Interviews
Trek Times

AN INTERVIEW WITH NICK TATE

Nick Tate is an attractive, pleasant mannered 34 year old Australian actor. I first met Nick on Tuesday, July 27, 1976 at a press luncheon organized by ITC, for his benefit.

After being introduced to Nick, we discovered that we both were slated to be guests at a Maryland STAR TREK convention coming up that weekend called The August Party. In addition to knowing that we would be doing a Space: 1999 panel together, we arranged to do a personal interview sometime during the convention.

That Saturday afternoon, some of the convention committee members drove me to Nick's hotel. Nick's first inclination was to conduct a poolside chat (pools are a rarity in London and athletic Tate, obviously enjoying swimming, found himself taking full advantage of his hotel accommodations). However, when it turned out that my tape recorder necessitated the use of an electric outlet, we opted to stay in his hotel room and talk there.

The interviewer's job is a special one. He is allowed to glimpse into the inner workings of a person's mind. It's a delicate gift that many journalists misuse. Nick Tate made my job easy. The Australian bred actor is a charming, literate speaker who is never at a loss for words.

During the hour or so it took to conduct the interview, something very special happened. I saw just how dedicated Nick Tate really is, not just to becoming a successful performer, but to being a good person as well. Even more importantly, at the end of our discussion, I had found a new friend.

But judge for yourself. The actor's words speak clearly. Nick Tate is a very special person.

---Jim Burns

JIM BURNS: Nick, you were a child actor, I guess because both of your parents were actors. How did you get involved with the actual acting itself?

NICK TATE: As you just said, Jim, my parents were actors. I'm fourth generation. My great-grandmother and grandmother were opera singers, my grandfather was vaudevillian, and then my parents were in the business. They went the whole gamut. My mother started out as a ballet dancer, went into revue, comedy, dancing, chorus line; she did the lot. Naturally enough, you can't grow up as a kid in that kind of an environment and not get involved with it some how. A lot of kids go against it and become butchers and bakers. Some become actors. I'm one of those that became an actor, but not before trying all sorts of other things. My parents tried to dissuade me very much from becoming an actor because of the precarious nature of the business.

JB: Were your parents upset when you decided to get into acting?

NT: Well, they tried to dissuade me from doing it but they just said, "Look, if you're good at the business, if you really can act, then we have no objections. In the first place, though, try to do something where you can earn a crust and be successful at it." I did the child acting that was all right because I was still at school and it was the occasional break to do something professional. I remember I played Amahl in Menotti's Christmas opera. I used to sing quite a bit when I was a kid but of course, unfortunately, I've lost that talent now. I did, however, play Nicholas the Gallant in Canterbury Tales and I had a lot of singing to do, but I wouldn't call that the same kind of singing.

JB: Did you enjoy doing musicals?

NT: I think really of all the things that I've done in my few musicals are my real one love. It's not that I don't love working in straight theatre but there's always got to be something that you really dig. When that orchestra starts up in the beginning of the show and you hear the violins and the drums beating and the trumpets tuning up and they're all playing the "A" note, there's just a fantastic thrill that wells up inside you. Australia is a very good place in terms of musicals. They have that same kind of vibrance Americans have. Funnily enough, the English are not so good at doing musicals. Perhaps it's the color of America. You have so many different nationalities living here that they can lend all their various talents and inject them into making good musicals. I remember I saw West Side Story when I was a kid- not really a kid, I was out of school. I saw it on the stage and it inspired me so much that I started dancing. I don't mean on my own, started taking classes. Although I remember I did dance down the road after seeing it.

JB: Before you got involved with theatre in Australia and then, later on, television, you were involved with production for about six years?

NT: Yes.

JB: what was that like?

NT: I guess television production is really the best grounding any actor can ever have, because it has shown me all the inherent problems that directors and production companies have in setting up a show. It's given me a great sympathy, and I hope empathy, and rapport with the people who control what I do on stage or in front of the camera. It's something that I wanted to do then and I want to do now. Not right now-later. I will direct I will produce because I feel, and always have felt, that when I read a script I see it as an entity, and not just my own performance as my own character. I see the whole thing. I'm interested in bringing that total visual presentation in one impact to an audience. I see my part as an actor as one integral part of that.

JB: Do you think, if and when Space: 1999 goes into a 3rd season, you might get a chance to direct an episode?

NT: No, I don't, Jim. When I answered "Now", I meant until the next three or four years. I'm not allowing myself any area of change from the acting at the moment. I don't have a program. I'm not the Olympic decathlon man where I set myself a program and stick to it rigidly. If I tell you now the sort of things that I have in mind they may alter. At this particular stage, though, I feel that I've got the ball rolling with the acting and in the next ten years I can see it building up towards an area where I'll start directing. That doesn't mean that I will divorce myself from acting, either. I hope I can combine the two of them.

JB: As a result of Canterbury Tales, which you mentioned fore, you starred in an Australian television series with you father, John Tate, called Dynasty. What was the plot line, and what was your role in it?

NT: As you just said, I was doing Canterbury Tales in Australia, the musical, and we'd been working on it for about eighteen months and before that I had been working for nearly five years in England as an actor, where my father now lives and had been living and working. When I went back to Australia there was a lot of talk about the young Tate coming back to Australia and the "old Tate" still living in England. A writer named Tony Morphed had written a marvellous book which had won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in Australia called Dynasty. I was a story about a very powerful Australian family that runs one of the most influential newspaper networks in Australia. (it's actually based on a real family and for all sorts of reasons I can't say now and we couldn't say then who it was, but everybody in Australia knew). There's a father figure who was played by my father who has three sons all of who are trying to knife one another in the back to gain the real power in the family, before the old man kicks the bucket. Of course, what they don't know the old man has no intention of kicking the bucket and is stronger than all three of them put together. I played the youngest son and perhaps the nastiest of the three.

It's a story of high intrigue, almost industrial espionage throughout a great deal of the stories because of commercial interests and the way that newspapers can bend the political power of a country, especially a country like Australia where it really has happened that way. We went very close to the knuckle many times with our stories.

JB: Newspapers always have that power of being able to manipulate a country's people.

NT: Yes, of course they do and the public realizes it. I think that if at any time the newspapers or the television channels had come down on us trying to stop us from what we were doing public opinion would have been strong against them. It was something that had to be said and we said it. There were a lot of other countries, England in particular, that were interested in taking the series. Unfortunately, it was a time when Australia was still shooting black and white television and everybody else was colour and they didn't want to buy it. They said, "Please do it in colour," but it meant re-shooting the whole series. Anyway, it's part of my background history and it's one of the things I did on the way up.

JB: What were some of the other things you did before Space: 1999 came about?

NT: Canterbury Tales lasted from 1969 to the middle of 1970. The Dynasty series went from the end of 1970 and then a second run went from the beginning of 1971 through the end of 1971. That was two seasons of that series. Then in 1972, I started a whole series of Australian one-off films for television. Although there were many of those things, they're all internal shows, things that don't come to America. They were police shows, homicides, play of the month type things...

JB: Especially made for television.

NT: That's right. I stuck with television mostly, Jim. I spent six years behind the scenes of television and then there were the television series themselves. I did a TV series in 1964 where I played a lifeguard character. In 1965 1 did a series called My Brother, Jack, this was again in Australia, playing a young writer and the series was mostly about his life with his brother. The show was very, very much like a series which has been popular in this country called Rich Man, Poor Man. Then I went to England and I didn't get involved with any series as such, although I played in episodes of TV series in England like The Detective, the special Wednesday plays from the BBC, Troubleshooters, Sherlock Holmes and other things like that.

JB: So then you really are very big in Australia.

NT: Well, this year, in fact, has been very nice for me because I went back between the making of seasons one and two of SPACE and I made a feature called The Devil's Playground. That film has just opened in Australia and it's breaking all box office records. It's just won the Australian awards for best film, best screenplay, and I was very lucky to be awarded best actor, so things are pretty nice for me in Australia, although I very seldom go there now. I'm working mostly out of London.

JB: First of all, congratulations on the award. Do you think the film will be coming to America?

NT: Yeah, I think it will, there are people talking about now. It's only just broken, I might add, in Australia. We made it nearly a year ago and it was made and produced by one man in Australia who's a one many company (he has many people working for him), and he wrote it and directed it. He's done it with his own money and money that he's brought into the picture from people that have supported it so it's taken a long while. It's not like a great big multi-million dollar project in America but you can start and finish and get it into the cinemas within six months. He's taken the best part of eleven to twelve months to get this one on the screens. I think that if we get it rolling in the U.S. it should be there somewhere around the middle of the fail.

JB: How did you actually get the role of Alan Carter in Space: 1999?

NT: Well, that really is a long and involved story but I'll try to make it brief. One of the television productions that I did in Australia was a thing called The Chaser, in which I played a private investigator. A man who was involved in that and liked it very much was then later working in England and he suggested to the Andersons (Gerry and Sylvia, Space's first season producers) that when I arrived they should meet me because he felt that I was the right kind of person that they were looking for one of the astronauts. They met me, I was auditioned, interviewed, talked to (you go through the general screening process), and eventually I got the part of an astronaut in the series. It was not, however, the part of Alan Carter. It was the part of Alan Carter's off-sider. The part of Alan Carter was to have been played by an Italian and the character was going to be called Alphonse Catani. It's getting to be really involved now right? Well, just before the picture started the Italian who was going to play that role couldn't be released from a film he was working in Italy and at the last moment the juggle took place. They tried to find somebody to replace him and I was the man on the spot (they interviewed and screened several people), but the film director, and American man liked me very much, I'm pleased to say. He felt that my sort of Australian aggression suited the flamboyant area of the Italian astronaut that they wanted for the series so they gave me a lucky break and let me do the first episode. After the first episode they offered me another five because things were looking interesting and at the end of the sixth episode they said to me, "We'd like you to sign up for the series."

JB: So in the beginning of Space you were hired on an episode to episode basis?

NT: Absolutely. I was in the first episode only.

JB: Let me just sidetrack for a second because we'll be talking about the changes made in the second season of Space in just a few moments. Is the new character that Tony Anholt will be playing in the show, Tony Verdeschi, more or less the same Italian character that was supposed to be in the first season?

NT: No, not at all. We started Space in 1973. A lot of people don't realize that. We've just started the new season in 1976. There's nearly a three year period in there. The character that I play, Alan Carter, is all that they (the producers), hoped that the original Italian character was going to be. He is the chief astronaut who has the kind of arrogance, the kind of aggression, and the kind of flamboyance that they wanted there in the character. The fact that Tony Anholt has now come into the series and is playing an Italian character is purely coincidental. The series is set up on a kind of multi-national basis where we have people from all over the world in the year 1999 operating from moonbase. They can be Americans, English, Italian, French, Nigerian, and Burmese; in fact, we have all of the nationalities that I've mentioned in the series. Tony Anholt is an actor they wanted in the series when they decided to set up year two. They were looking for two new dynamic characters to come into the series, and I think we'll probably talk about them in a minute; Catherine Schell, who's the new resident alien of the series and Tony Anholt, the guy you're mentioning. The fact that Tony happens to look like an Italian was obviously the reason why they decided to cast him as an Italian in the series.

JB: you mention an interesting fact that Space did actually start production back in 1973. Wasn't it risky for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson to produce all twenty-four episodes of the series and then show it to ITC, instead of just shooting a pilot?

NT: They didn't really shoot all 24 and then show it to ITC. ITC was in from the beginning. The risk came in the fact that they shot all 24 episodes before showing it to the public. The only people, in fact, that knew what was going on with the series at that time were Gerry and Sylvia Anderson and the ITC bosses and, of course, the actors who were involved. They took a very big gamble. I think it's a gamble that's paying off. They didn't make a pilot episode and test it and show it to millions of people and ask them to write and tell them what was right or wrong about the series. They had great faith in the series. It was a project that they felt would go and they didn't want to be influenced by outsiders telling them to do this or that. They wanted to develop the series themselves over a period of a year-in fact, we took seventeen months to make it so you can see the inherent problems and how much they wanted to give it all the full production qualities, as much as they could.

JB: what did you think when you were told you were up for a role in a science fiction series? What did you expect the show to be like?

NT: I guess that, when I first got the script, I hadn't known anything about the show prior to that, and I read it, it sounded like a great idea to me. We people working on the moonbase and being kicked out of the Earth's orbit by the disaster that happens and then being lost in space and travelling on and it is our odyssey to look for a new place to live. It sounded like an exciting premise for a show. There's a certain area of improbability about it but we accept that because of what we call "license"... Then again, so many things in life are slightly improbable and who are we to say what is going to happen in the future. So many people jump up and down and predict things and nobody really knows just what's going on up there. Well, we're on Mars today and that makes our series all the more probable.

JB: All science is based on faith and if some natural phenomena happened that totally disproved that science, a whole new science would have to be developed.

NT: Right. It's not entirely based on faith, though. It's faith built out of knowledge that we have.

JB: During the first season of Space, how long did it make to produce one episode of the show?

NT: Would you believe the first episode took six weeks to make?

JB: Six weeks?

NT: Yeah. That's like making a feature movie! We wanted to get it right. We wanted to have, as I mentioned to you before, everything in it. We were considering the possibility the first episode into a feature movie and then we decided we wouldn't do that. We decided to go ahead with the series all the way through and just make it the first episode. Because we didn't have time to show it to other people we were experimenting with various different elements within the show. The six weeks were a luxury time and the Andersons allowed that we were going to take four or five weeks for that first episode anyway. After that, it came down to two or three weeks per episode and then it came down to a two week cycle. That's what we shoot at now, a two week cycle.

JB: Even two weeks is fairly long for most television series.

NT: It sure is. I believe most of the American weekly series are shot on a weekly basis.

JB: Six days. They take Sundays off.

NT: Yeah. I better tell you that we don't shoot Saturday and Sunday. We shoot Mondays through Fridays and some times we shoot a late night. The series takes on an average of two weeks, about ten working days. Occasionally we run over to the eleventh or even the twelfth day.