As one of TBS’ “Men Of A Certain Age,” Scott Bakula gets to do something he’s never had much of a chance to do throughout his long acting career: play younger. Of course he’s now 56, and younger means trimming off six years to play eternal manchild Terry Elliott. “But still, younger is younger,” jokes Bakula, “I’ve always been told I had an old face. So when I was in my 20s, I never got to play a teenager. I don’t even know how many times I auditioned for Danny Zuko in ‘Grease.’”
Sandy’s loss was TV’s gain, though, as Bakula has gone on to a long career with shows like “Quantum Leap,” “Murphy Brown” and now “Men Of A Certain Age.” The critically-acclaimed series, which enters its third season this week (Wednesday night on TNT at 10 pm), follows longtime friends Terry, divorced dad Joe (Ray Romano) and devoted husband Owen (Andre Braugher) as the navigate the crises of midlife. Bakula sat down with XfinityTV.com to talk about life as Terry, colonoscopies and fan favorite “Quantum Leap.”
First of all, congratulations on winning a Peabody Award last week! So….what is a Peabody Award?
Ray jokes that when he got the news, he went right to his computer and Googled “Peabody Awards.” This the 70th year they’ve handed the awards out. The organization is all bout excellence in broadcasting, so it’s a real honor. It tracks with the response we’ve been getting from fans and critics since we went on the air. We’re up there with lots of HBO and PBS stuff, and shows like “Justified” and “The Good Wife.”
When we last left Men Of A Certain Age, you guys were just back from your trip to the desert for colonoscopies. Are you still scarred by the memory of that?
Honestly, that was one of my all-time favorite episodes of any show I’ve ever done. You just don’t see a lot of that combination of humor and drama. It was funny…our executive producer, Mike Royce, got a colonoscopy recently and he was tweeting us about it. He just drank the stuff and sent out a picture of the empty bottle. Ray, Andre and I talk about it all the time. I need to get another one, and we keep telling Andrew he needs to do it.
Speaking of scary experiences, the first few episodes of this season seem much darker, though. Joe is considering gambling again. Owen’s car dealership is in trouble. And Terry seems to have lost the love of his life, and is being a jerk to all his friends because of that.
The true leaning of the show would always be darker if you let Ray and the writers have their way. The network goes back and forth on that. And these last six episodes of our season are full of big things that happen to each of us, some of them not so good. I love that things are darker, that we’re not just playing things for laughs. That’s how life is, a mix of serious and funny, and we want the show to feel as real as it can.
Terry seems to getting more drama than comedy this season, like when he happily places his toothbrush in the same cup as his girlfriend’s when he sleeps over. But then, the next morning, he wakes up and is crushed to find that she’s removed it.
That moment with the toothbrush was such a little scene in the big scheme of things, but that’s what our show is about, those little choices we make every day that really add up. I think we all have a fascination with those moments. But Ray always says, “Don’t worry. We’ll add some vampires and car chases soon.”
For someone who has never seen the show, how would you describe ex-actor turned car salesman Terry?
It’s like he said of himself at the end of the first season, “I’m a professional charming guy.” I do like how they’re making an effort to grow him up a little bit. They’re pushing him, forcing him to make bigger choices. He’s still all over the place relationship-wise and there’s some wild stuff coming. There are a bunch of big issues that will come up through work, especially related to Owen. There’s a great personal conflict he goes through, and his life will be taking a big right turn.
Is there much of Terry in your, or vice versa?
I’ve never had that much in common with him other than being an actor, so I can relate to his times of non-success. But his lack of stability? That’s not really who I am. I got divorced years ago, and went through all that, so I actually understand the Joe character in a way more than I do Terry.
Is it hard to play younger?
(Laughing) You do have to stay in the best shape to do it. So it’s painful, but I guess it’s also flattering that they think I can do it. I’m having fun with it, although the guys give me grief about being the old one of the group.
The show is about older guys, but do you ever hear from young female fans?
Women love the show. Most of the ones who speak to me are usually with their boyfriend or husband, and they’ll say something like, “You know that episode where you threw the cup of coffee at that car? Well, he almost did that too.” They tell me they watch the show together, and it’s a way for women to find out what their men are thinking.
Do you still hear from people wanting to talk about ‘Quantum Leap?’
Oh yeah! They tell me about their favorite episodes, like the ones where I leapt into the body of a young man with Down’s Syndrome or when I got to sing ‘La Mancha’ or when I ended up in my own younger body before going to Vietnam. I also hear lots of stories from people who tell me the show got them through difficult times, that it meant so much to them while they were in a hospital recovering from surgery. I love to hear people say they would just sit around with their family and watch it. That’s really from another era. I can relate because I used to sit and watch shows with my family, like the ‘Disney Sunday Night Movie.’
Do you set aside TV time for you and your family now?
We try. My daughter, when she was younger, was crazy about ‘The X-Files,’ so I’d watch that with her. My oldest son started like ‘South Park’ and ‘Family Guy,’ so we’d watch together so I could spend time with him. And my two younger guys are very into ‘Modern Family’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ so we make sure to sit down together for those.