Scottish actor Kevin McKidd is no stranger to time travel. He was 8 years old when he thrust himself into the future at first sight of the film, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
McKidd remembers, “I went to see that movie with my dad, and it just hit me with such an emotional level, that movie as a kid ... I think that was a big light bulb moment in my head. I didn’t know – I’m from the wrong side of the tracks as far as that goes and nobody from Elgin has been an actor ... that was the beginning, all I thought then was, `I want to be that kid who made friends with an alien.’ That was the beginning of the journey, and I never strayed from that.”
McKidd visited the `30s for “Delovely,” fought in the Crusades in “Kingdom of Heaven” and served as the powerful Roman solider, Vorenus, in HBO’s “Rome.”
So it’s not surprising to find McKidd starring as a San Francisco reporter who finds himself transported to alternate times in NBC’s new “Journeyman,” premiering Sept. 24. In fact, McKidd says he relates to “Journeyman” and how decisions can send tremors through the future.
He was newly married and could not find an acting job. “I was working at this building site and the boss said, `I could train you up and you could get this skilled job doing this thing called diamond cutting.’ In buildings, which are made of huge slabs of concrete, you have these diamond cutting machines, which drill huge holes in the concrete through all the utility pipes and wires and stuff. He said, `If you stick in with me for six months you’ll be a fully trained diamond cutter, making $40,000 a year guaranteed.’
“I went home and was lying in bed that night. It was a real fork in the road. I was going to go and take the apprenticeship and my agent phoned - she hadn’t phoned me in a month. And she said, `You have an audition tomorrow morning.’ ... I thought, `I’ve got to choose now.’”
He chose the audition and, though he didn’t get the role, he never veered again.
McKidd was in Romania, trussed up in Elizabethan finery, playing Mary Queen of Scots’ lover when he first heard producers were scouting the area for making “Rome.” They’d not even begun casting, but a friend of his put together a short reel of McKidd’s Elizabethan performance and he approached the producers about a role in the miniseries.
The rest, as time travelers say, is history. “As soon as `Rome’ finished - because the show did really well - there was a lot of what they call `heat’ on me to do pilots,” says McKidd, seated in a booth in hotel bar here.
“I was supposed to do something in Europe, a biopic on Dylan Thomas. It didn’t happen. I said, `I’m busy doing this stuff, thank you very much.’” Producers insisted he read some of the pilots. “They were all good scripts but they were sort of generic cop dramas ... I said, `I can’t see myself doing this especially after something like “Rome.”` When I read `Journeyman’ I really liked it. I thought it was different and interesting and really imaginative and cleverly written. That’s all you can go by. If you go to the writing hopefully you won’t lose your integrity because you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
McKidd’s dad was a plumber, his mom a secretary at a hotel. Both his grandfather and great grandfather were farmers. Without really realizing it, his grandfather on his mother’s side inspired him to act.
“He was called Geordie. He was a farmer and loved to drink whisky and wore a cloth cap and was a hero. He had hands like shovels and could tell amazing stories. We used to go to the local pub in Elgin and listen to his songs. He knew all these northeast ballads and would sing these to the whole pub when he’d had a few whiskies. And you could hear a pin drop in these pubs. He had this magnetism. One moment he’d have the whole place laughing their heads off by some little anecdote he could breathe life into, and the next he’d tell some story about hardships - they had really hard lives, these guys.
“He told one story where it was so cold, he had to milk the cows at four in the morning, and his boots were frozen to the ground. Because there was no heat in the house he had to put his feet into his boots and wait until his feet thawed his boots so he could go to work. He’d have people crying. When he passed away I think that’s when I really became a man, I think. I knew I had to carry on for him because he was a brilliant actor.”
The father of a son, 7 and a daughter, 5, McKidd fell for his wife, Jane, at first sight. “I met her at a Christmas party. I was doing a show with Diana Rigg in the West End and Toby Stephens. I didn’t even want to go because they were all snooty English, posh actors. I didn’t like them very much. I liked Toby and Diana, but it was too West-Endy for me. I went and met this girl there who I’d seen earlier. She worked in the box office at the theater across the road. I met this girl, and got to talk to her. I had one Coca-Cola ... It sounds so corny - my wife would kill me if she knew I told you - but I knew right then I was going to marry her. I literally walked on air back to my car. I remember it was a cold, crisp winter’s night in King’s Cross. Two weeks later I asked her to marry me. She didn’t hesitate.”
Kelsey Grammer is back on the telly Sept. 19 co-starring with Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) as a newscaster on “Back to You,” airing on Fox. Grammer says he isn’t worried about playing a reporter. “I like to think that, based upon my knowledge of most television news casting now, it has nothing do with the news anyway. So I’m very happy to just be another performer pretending to be a performer.”
James Woods, who’s so good on CBS’ “Shark,” has been good in almost everything he’s done. Woods says it was John Travolta who shared some lasting insight on the field of acting. “I was doing the movie, `The General’s Daughter,’ with John Travolta. We were having the greatest time. We had known each other socially in New York and I had done the first episode of `Welcome Back, Kotter’ or something, and we were working and I said, `John, why are we having such a good time?’ And he said something that I have never forgotten and I’ve tried to use ever since. He said, `You know, we have a kind of tacit understanding or agreement to cooperate rather than compete.’ He said, `Actors always do one or the other. And it’s never spoken out loud, but invariably they either cooperate or compete. And when they compete everybody is miserable, and when they cooperate everyone’s happy, and it’s much better work.’”
In case you missed the first season of “Shark,” it’s due on DVD Oct. 2.
// Channel Surfing
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