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Flounder in Animal House. Dr. Axelrod in St. Elsewhere. Vir Cotto in Babylon 5. A writer. A director. And a really nice guy.

It’s been almost 15 years since I first spoke with Stephen Furst, who just passed away due to complications from diabetes. Right from the moment we started chatting, I found him to be a warm, thoughtful, and candid man who was comfortable talking about both his career and personal struggles, and very committed to being a positive and supportive influence both personally and professionally.

From the vaults, I present to you my chat with Stephen Furst. I hope this conversation gives you a little more insight into a wonderful gent who I’m glad I got the chance to connect with all those years ago…

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ORIGINAL INTRO: Pop Culture fanatics have multiple frames of reference for actor Stephen Furst - he’s either hapless pledge Flounder from Animal House, Londo’s overworked attaché Vir on Babylon 5, or St. Elsewhere’s Dr. Elliot Axelrod.

What you may not know is that he’s also a director and producer. Heck, he’s even an author, with his first book - Confessions of a Diabetic Couch Potato - released from McGraw Hill.

His next directorial project is an independent horror film, The Jester, which is described as “The Night Gallery meets Nightmare on Elm Street.” In addition, he’s also got a pilot in the works at Nickelodeon for a series called “Drake & Josh”.

Warner Home Video is releasing the complete Babylon 5: Season One on DVD this Tuesday, November 5.

KEN PLUME: From the very beginning, if we could - am I correct in my understanding that you were born in Norfolk, Virginia?

STEPHEN FURST: Right.

PLUME: How would you describe your childhood, in talking about what led to an interest in even pursuing acting?

FURST: I had a great childhood, a very close-knit family. We were all overweight, and we had good times eating together, I imagine. When my parents died they both were 47, and they died of complications of different diseases; one being diabetes. I became a diabetic at 17, and went on this road of kind of self-destruction, eating-wise, until I was 40. Then, of course, I lost all this weight. I went from 320 pounds to my current weight of 175 pounds.

PLUME: What was the last straw, as it were, to finally make the decision?

FURST: I call it “hitting bottom”. I was 40 years old and I was put in the hospital because I had a cut on my foot and it got infected, and they were talking about amputating my foot. That was one thing. When they put me on a diet in the hospital, I immediately called out for Chinese take-out, and got caught by the nurse. So they came in and they confiscated my Chinese food, and they also removed my phone from the room, so I couldn’t call out. I was thinking, “God, I really better go on a diet.”

PLUME: Is it something that your family had been trying to push you towards?

FURST: No, no, not at all. They were totally unhealthy.

PLUME: Was it a matter of fixing everything within first, or making it so the environment around you would facilitate fixing everything within?

FURST: No, I did it within.

PLUME: What was the most difficult thing to do in carrying out that decision?

FURST: Well, to fight the addiction I had towards food - my whole life of eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.

PLUME: From a career perspective, had that pigeon-holed you in any way?

FURST: I think so. I also lost the weight between the third and fourth season of Babylon 5. I came in, and the wardrobe was just hanging off of me. I didn’t mention that I’d lost weight to them, so the first couple episodes on year four, you’ll never see my back towards camera, because I was safety pinned together.

PLUME: Was it a shock to the other actors?

FURST: Yeah - it was on the Internet that I had cancer. “Stephen Furst must have cancer, he lost all this weight immediately.”

PLUME: I must admit, it was quite a striking change.

FURST: Yeah, I hardly recognize myself sometimes, even now.

PLUME: Has it been difficult to keep the weight off?

FURST: Yeah, it’s always a battle. Not even to keep the weight off, but just to stay healthy… keep healthy.

PLUME: Is it something that gets easier, or pretty much remains constant?

FURST: It gets easier, because it becomes a lifestyle. I don’t even think about it anymore.

PLUME: Where as before, it was …

FURST: Oh, constantly - well, I mean, I constantly think about food. What I can eat, how I can be full without eating too much. What will fill me up more, you know, pasta or rice? One of those two.

PLUME: I know it’s definitely a battle I can sympathize with. You’ve, I’m sure, become an inspiration to quite a few people.

FURST: Well, I’ve become a representative of the American Diabetes Association, and then I just became national spokesman for the American Heart Association for a campaign called The Heart of Diabetes, which brings the awareness of cardio-vascular disease to diabetics.

PLUME: What does that job entail - mainly going out and speaking?

FURST: Right, speaking across the country. We just had the kick-off campaign in New York City, and we’re going to do about seven other cities around the country.

PLUME: Which type of diabetes was it?

FURST: I have type II.

PLUME: It’s not the weight regulated type is it? It’s not the type that comes on after weight gain?

FURST: It’s the adult onset. Most people with it are overweight.

PLUME: Is it something that as the weight is lost, is mitigated more?

FURST: Yes.

PLUME: Okay. So, being an overweight child, was it just an acting out kind of thing - as far as getting into acting?

FURST: No. You know, it was kind of like - I had an aunt who did a play, and I went to see it. I went, “Boy, she looks like she’s having a lot of fun.” And you always look to be other people, so it was an opportunity to be other people, and not be made fun of, and also get paid in doing it. I remember I made $22 a week doing dinner theater in Norfolk, Virginia. Back then, in the ’70s, that was pretty good for a teenager, for a part-time job.

PLUME: Was it something that you did on school nights, or weekends?

FURST: On school nights and weekends, and that’s why I graduated with a 1.7 grade average.

PLUME: Was that a disappointment in any way to your parents?

FURST: Quite!

PLUME: So it sort of pigeon-holed you into a certain type of future, since I’m assuming a 1.7 rules out anything beyond a community college?

FURST: Yeah, and they would have been thrilled with me playing a doctor on St. Elsewhere, because they always wanted me to be a doctor.

PLUME: It was mainly, what, that your concentration was elsewhere in school that led to the GPA?

FURST: Well, it’s not that I’m stupid, because when I went to college - you know, a state school HAD to take me - so I went to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. Once I was taking theater classes, I was making straight A’s.

PLUME: So it was just a matter of being able to devote yourself to that.

FURST: Right, everybody has their forte - like, my son quit college and is making more money than me now.

PLUME: Is this Nathan?

FURST: Yes.

PLUME: The composer, right?

FURST: Yes.

PLUME: I was actually looking at his credits - I was surprised all the places where I’d heard his stuff and not even realized it.

FURST: Yeah.

PLUME: I have quite a few composer friends, so I know what that type of lifestyle is like.

FURST: Yeah, he just did the Walter Matthau Tribute. I don’t know if that’s on his credits yet or not.

PLUME: No, I didn’t see it on there yet.

FURST: Yeah, he did that. He’s doing a Nickelodeon movie. I don’t know if that’s on there yet.

PLUME: Is that Maniac McGee? Saw that on there. I know a lot of that stuff, depending on which type of work you’re doing, some of it doesn’t even show up in your credit if it’s additional music.

FURST: Yeah, he did a bunch of work before this, without getting credit. You know, it’s composed by somebody else, but he did ghost writing.

PLUME: I’ve seen plenty of that kind of stuff happen. When you were in college, your main focus was the theater program?

FURST: Yes, theater arts. I didn’t get a Bachelor’s degree - I got a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, which means I didn’t have to take humanities, math, and stuff like that. I think I had to take Art History, which I failed a few times.

PLUME: Just from lack of interest?

FURST: Just lack of interest! Get me to the movies, you know?

PLUME: Well, theater arts, from what I’ve known of people who I’ve spoken to who’ve gone through theater arts programs in college, it seems they try and push people more to the technical side of the theater arts.

FURST: Yeah, there were two divisions. There were the techies, and then there were actors.

PLUME: How did they set you up for a future outside the college?

FURST: They don’t. What can you do with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts? Nothing.

PLUME: And who cares?

FURST: Yeah, right. God, you can’t do anything with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts.

PLUME: I’m sure Hollywood casting directors don’t look at that and say, “Oh, we must hire him - he’s got a degree and they don’t!”

FURST: Right - or, “He went to Carnegie Mellon, so we gotta hire him!”

PLUME: So, transitioning out of college, what were the prospects that you had at that time? Was it an, “I’m going to go West,” kind of thing?

FURST: Well, I had a choice of New York or Los Angeles. ” Let’s see, where would I rather starve? I would rather starve in L.A.” I figured if I got a theater job, you know, what would that pay? And if I got a TV job, that would pay ten times as much.

PLUME: So it was basic economics.

FURST: Right. What I did was, I got married, and that financed my trip out to L.A. We used the wedding money to get out to L.A. and my Honeymoon was driving a U-Haul truck cross country with my Gremlin X

PLUME: You can actually haul a U-Haul with a Gremlin?

FURST: No, no it was a U-Haul truck …

PLUME: Oh, okay, so it was towed behind.

FURST: Yeah, I towed the car behind the truck. A yellow and black Gremlin X - I had the sporty version of the Gremlin.

PLUME: With the racing stripes?

FURST: Yes, I had racing stripes on a Gremlin. That’s like having racing stripes on a Ford Escort.

PLUME: Yes, it’s quite an oxymoron.

FURST: Right, right. So, you know, moved out to L.A. and didn’t know a soul. I had a plan, an action board kind of thing. First of all, find a place to live, because I was living in the Hi-Ho Motel in Studio City.

PLUME: How would you describe that atmosphere?

FURST: Oh my god - we were the only room that wasn’t rented out by the hour. So, that shows you about that. Then, we finally found an apartment in Hollywood. At first they say, “Well, what do you do for a living?” because they always have these credit checks. I’d say, “I’m out here to be an actor,” and I never got the apartment. I thought it was, like, novel to be out here trying to pursue acting, a great thing to do. But then I realized I was going to have to lie, and I told them I was setting up a business that was already on the East coast, so I used my father-in-law’s business which was a collection agency, and said we’re setting up West coast offices.

PLUME: So something that would be a valid …

FURST: Right, a valid career, like collecting bad checks from people.

PLUME: Definitely more legitimate than acting.

FURST: Right, absolutely. That’s how I got the apartment - I lied. Then the next thing was to get some sort of income coming in. I got a job delivering pizzas.

PLUME: In the Gremlin?

FURST: In the Gremlin, that’s how it worked. Did that, and about nine months later, I was getting very discouraged … first of all, I couldn’t get an agent. Then I called Screen Actors Guild and said “I’ve been turned down by every agent,” and they said “Well, try the new ones.” I said “How do I know the new ones?” They said “Well, I’ll send you a list.” They gave me a list of ten brand new agencies. I was turned down by eight out of the ten - two of them said that they would sign me. One was called the Gla-more Agency. This woman looked like Tina Turner. This is a true story, I swear on my life - she asked me to take off my watch and ring, and put it in the middle of her desk, and she was going to do an aura reading on it. And so I decided to sign with the other agency.

PLUME: Probably a good call…

FURST: Yeah. So I was getting discouraged - I went out on auditions and not getting them and stuff like that. I had enrolled in real estate school. I was going to sort of start moving in another direction, because I had been here nine months, and nothing had happened.

PLUME: Had you made any connections in those nine months?

FURST: No, not really - just auditioning and not getting it. I bought the real estate book… it was $60. And then I got Animal House.

PLUME: How was that process?

FURST: Well, I just had an audition, and I had six auditions in one period of three months. I’d go in, and they’d say, “You’ve got a call back.” I’d go in again, and then I wouldn’t hear anything for three weeks … You know, I had the corner on the market of curly-haired fat guys, I thought. So I’d go in, and there’d be like, fifty guys in there that looked exactly like me. Then I’d get a callback, and I’d go “Great! This is wonderful!” And I’d open the door and there’d be fifty new guys that looked exactly like me. So there’s never a shortage of any type in Hollywood. Between the fifth and six auditions, I hadn’t heard anything - I hadn’t heard anything - and I thought I didn’t get it. I’d gotten so close, and I didn’t get it. So I went and enrolled in real estate school. I went, I enrolled, I bought the book, and before the first classes, I had the audition. It was the weekend … I auditioned on a Friday. You always go in, and you hand the script back after you read. I went to hand the script back, and the guy said, “Keep it.” I said, “Did I get the part?” He said, “No, I can’t say that yet, but just keep it.” So I was very excited, but I had to wait the whole weekend. I think the classes were supposed to start that Wednesday, and on Monday I got the call that I had gotten one of the leads in Animal House. I tried to get my money back for the book, and they wouldn’t give it to me. They said, “Sell it as a used book.”

PLUME: What was your big celebratory moment when you got the news?

FURST: What else - I ate.

PLUME: Went out to dinner?

FURST: Yeah - because the other thing that happened to me was, I did get another job before Animal House and I made a bunch of long distance calls to my family. I got this national commercial from Marx Toys. This is also a very true story - after I made all these calls, I got a call a couple days later saying that they’d decided to go a different way, and I’d lost the commercial. I said, “Well, what other way did they go?” And this is the god’s honest truth - they decided to use a chimpanzee instead of an actor. They had a new plan, and thought “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a chimpanzee?”

PLUME: It’s got to be a bit demoralizing to be edged out by a chimp.

FURST: Oh, I know, I couldn’t believe it. So, I had to call my family back and say that I got replaced by a chimp.

PLUME: Another whole slew of long distance calls.

FURST: Oh, I know, and money was very tight back then.

PLUME: When you finally got the part, what was the wait time before it actually started shooting?

FURST: It was about a month. So, even though I had the lead in a movie at Universal - not knowing that this was going to be a hit, but just a lead in a movie at Universal - I still had to deliver pizzas. I would tell my friends, “Hey, I got the lead in a movie!” and they’d go, “Yeah, why are you delivering pizzas then?” So I delivered pizzas up until three days before I left. That was my celebratory thing - taking three days off from delivering pizzas.

PLUME: Just relaxing and preparing?

FURST: Yeah, just packing, getting things done, stuff like that.

PLUME: Your wife was supportive the entire time - stood behind you the entire time?

FURST: What’s to stand behind when you’re starting to be successful? It’d be different if you say …

PLUME: Well, I meant the nine months previous to that, when things were tough. Was there any time she said maybe you should look in another direction?

FURST: You know, I don’t remember, to tell you the truth. It was so long ago.

PLUME: But you kept pressing forward, so most likely she was standing behind you….

FURST: Okay…

PLUME: Or you were just stubborn.

FURST: Yeah, I was stubborn.

PLUME: So, this being your first major gig, what was it like actually showing up for that first day of shooting? There was rehearsal time, wasn’t there?

FURST: Yeah, that was up there.

PLUME: The rehearsal was, what - they put you guys up basically in a dormitory, didn’t they?

FURST: No, it was a hotel, but it was like way out in the middle of nowhere, off the highway. It was the Road Way Inn, in Eugene, Oregon. They put us up there, which was a great thing to do, because we just got to be really close in a short period of time. There really wasn’t rehearsal - I think we read through the script a couple of times, but we just hung out together for a week.

PLUME: Basically just bonding time.

FURST: Right.

PLUME: They had separated you guys from the other actors that were playing the opposing fraternity, didn’t they?

FURST: No, we were in the same hotel. They chose to separate themselves.

PLUME: Ah, I was under the impression that it was …

FURST: Especially the guy Neidermeyer, the guy who played Neidermeyer, he really didn’t want to talk to us. But I was very good friends with Kevin Bacon, who was on the opposing team, so to speak.

PLUME: You’re very similar in age at that time, weren’t you?

FURST: He’s younger than me. He was, like, 19.

PLUME: Was there anyone that you bonded to the closest, out of the group?

FURST: Well, Kevin.

PLUME: Other than the person who played Neidermeyer, anyone that you really didn’t associate with or was difficult to associate with?

FURST: I was kind of like Flounder, and I think that got on people’s nerves. Some people, this was their second or third job, and they were very happy to be there, they loved it - but I was like, “Oh, isn’t this great? Let’s work some more!” That kind of thing. I think I got on people’s nerves. I think it was Kevin’s first job, so I think that’s why I’d cling to him a lot.

PLUME: You shared the same issues.

FURST: Yeah, right. You had Tim Matheson who was a veteran. Thomas Hulce had done a couple of movies, you know, everyone else had done a couple of movies, and it was my first job. Kind of like, what’s a mark? They’d go, “Hit your mark,” and I’d go, “What’s a mark?” You know, that kind of thing.

PLUME: Was Belushi there for that week beforehand?

FURST: Oh, yeah. He was great. We had a big dinner, and I remember there were two chairs left at this big dinner table - one next to Belushi, and one way at the end, where nobody really was. And of course, I’m heading - I don’t want to sit next to the star of the movie, you know. So I was walking towards the end of the table, and he came and grabbed me, and said, “Come on, sit next to me.” He was just really nice.

PLUME: What were the main difficulties in shooting the film?

FURST: That it rained almost every day, and that at first Universal wasn’t really behind it, and then when they started to see the dailies they realized that they had a hit on their hands and it got a lot easier … getting the equipment that we needed, that John Landis needed.

PLUME: So before that, it was dealing with delays or having to deal with compromises?

FURST: Well, yeah, they said they didn’t want to send up a crane, it was too expensive. Once they started to see dailies, the crane was up in the next couple days.

PLUME: How long was the shoot on that?

FURST: It was six weeks.

PLUME: Was it an insane shoot, or was it controlled insanity?

FURST: It was controlled, I would say. You know, the thing is, in order to make it seem insane, I think it has to be controlled. There was very little adlibbing.

PLUME: Oh, really? I’m actually surprised by that.

FURST: Yeah, a lot of people are. I mean, we read through the script during that rehearsal time, and if we had any notes or anything, the writers were there. They played a couple of parts in the movie. The only writer that wasn’t there was Harold Ramis.

PLUME: He was off doing, what, SCTV at that time?

FURST: You know, I really don’t know. I just knew he wasn’t there. Doug Kenney was there, and Chris Miller. There were three writers on Animal House, and two of them were there and played small parts in the movie.

PLUME: Right. So basically, it was just a note-taking process after a read through.

FURST: Once we had the script, there was very little adlib. I know I only adlibbed one line in the entire movie, and that’s when we were chased out of the black bar. I think it was Tom who shouted, “Hey, we gotta get out of here, we gotta get out of here,”… something like that. He’d just adlibbed something. He ran out, and I said this line… if you can to hear it, because it’s very light, but some people come up to me and they go, “My favorite line is when you come out of the bar and say, ‘A negro stoled our dates’ .”

PLUME: It’s actually quite clear on the DVD.

FURST: Oh, it is? They may have remastered it or something, punched that line up. So that was my only adlib, that I can recall.

PLUME: And it’s a gem. Was there any star system on the set during that? By that point, well not as huge as he would get afterwards, but Belushi was riding high on SNL…

FURST: He was clearly the star of the movie, but for instance, we all were at the Road Way Inn. He had two rooms that were adjoining. We all had just a regular room, and he had two rooms that were adjoining and he could open up and have like a two room thing. Then, after the first week, he moved to a house. They rented him a house. So he had an entire house. And you know, he was flying back and forth between New York and Eugene, Oregon. He’d be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday in Eugene, and then he’d do Thursday, Friday and Saturday in New York, rehearsing and shooting Saturday Night Live. So he was doing three and three.

PLUME: But there was no resentment among the cast about that?

FURST: Oh, no, no, no. None at all … he was clearly the star of the movie, and this was an ensemble cast.

PLUME: But there were no huge displays of ego.

FURST: Oh, no, not at all. The only problem of course, I guess - it was publicized that he had a drug problem.

PLUME: Was that evident?

FURST: You know, to me it wasn’t, but I was pretty much like Flounder, and naïve. There’s no reports where there was a fist fight between he and Landis because he wouldn’t come to the set, or something like that.

PLUME: But it’s something that was so blatant to you, that …

FURST: Not to me …

PLUME: Or that you could see was disrupting anything?

FURST: I knew there was cocaine on the set, it was openly being consumed.

PLUME: I heard there was just about everything on the set, if somebody wanted it.

FURST: Yeah.

PLUME: I guess at that time, the bottom line was if the film got finished, it didn’t really matter what happened behind the scenes.

FURST: I don’t think Landis was into drugs at all. Never has been, I don’t think.

PLUME: Yeah, he always struck me as a button-up kind of guy.

FURST: Right. I didn’t go into drugs, so I guess the people that they knew dealt with drugs, were not going to be in the private parties.

PLUME: Right. But as far as you could tell, it really didn’t affect filming?

FURST: No, no.

PLUME: Was there any real disappointment you have for something that you didn’t do or wasn’t accomplished during that shoot, or was it generally on the whole a very positive experience?

FURST: Oh my gosh, it was so positive, it was like my childhood fantasy. I was living my fantasy - to star in a movie, and, my god, Donald Sutherland? I remember coming to the set, even when I wasn’t needed, just to watch him shoot his scenes. To even actually be in a scene with Donald Sutherland, even though I didn’t have any lines, you know?

PLUME: I can’t even imagine that.

FURST: Oh, man, he was the star to me, because I didn’t really know who Belushi was. I wasn’t a watcher of Saturday Night Live.

PLUME: Well, I guess it would have competed with your job at the time, considering you were delivering on Saturday Nights, one would assume.

FURST: That’s true. Right, exactly. But, I mean, I did see him, and I said, “Oh that’s the fat guy that dressed up as a bumble bee, isn’t it?”

PLUME: But you definitely weren’t not tuned in fully, as a regular viewer.

FURST: No. And then that week that we had beforehand, when we walked around the university to look at the set and look at the rooms that we were going to shoot in, I would be walking with Belushi and other people - the college kids would go nuts. I went, “My God, he’s so popular!” I had no idea that he was that popular.

PLUME: Do you think you would have been less comfortable around him had you been a fan of the show or knew how big a star he was?

FURST: Oh, I was a huge fan of Thomas Hulce. He played Pinto.

PLUME: Right. Did that affect you any?

FURST: Well, it was just the initial thing and then you know, once again Universal not wanting to spend a lot of money, we all didn’t have our own dressing rooms. We were paired up, and I was paired up with Thomas Hulce. I said, “Oh my god, the guy from Equus?” You know, about a year earlier, myself and a friend - while going to school in Virginia - went to New York to see some shows, and one of the shows was Equus. Here I was a year ago, wanting to be an actor so badly and watching Equus and being blown away by that, and then a year later starring in a movie with that guy on the stage. That was so wonderful.

PLUME: I can’t imagine that kind of experience.

FURST: Oh, man. The other thing that happened was - you know, I was a big Bette Midler fan in college and we went to the Los Angeles Airport. Peter Riegert was there, and then I got on a plane with Peter Riegert, and I said to him, “You know what, it’s funny when you got dropped off - the woman who dropped you off looked exactly like Bette Midler. Then I saw it was you, and I realized it couldn’t have been her.” He said, “No, that was Bette, she’s my girlfriend.” I went “oh my god” - it was another Flounder moment. Then she came up to visit on the set, and they wanted to go out to dinner and they didn’t have a car and I happened to rent a car that week for something … I thought, “Oh my god, I’m lending Bette Midler my car!” Then, once again - even at the premiere in New York - they didn’t give us each a limousine, we were paired up, and I was paired up with Peter Riegert. So here I was riding in a limousine with me, Peter Riegert, and Bette Midler.

PLUME: What was the conversation like that night?

FURST: Oh wow, I tried not to drool over myself! After the party - we left the party early - and she took me out to dinner. Here I was, being taken out to dinner by Bette Midler. I mean, my god, no drug in the world can equal that! Starring in a movie with people, and Better Midler and you know, Donald Sutherland.

PLUME: At what point did you realize it was all worth it? Putting up with that nine months of struggling.

FURST: Oh, immediately. Immediately when they told me I had the job.

PLUME: Transitioning out… when filming was over, what was it like, since the film hadn’t hit yet? What was it like going to auditions after that? Was it back to the grind?

FURST: No, there was a buzz in Hollywood about the movie - “there’s a new movie coming out and we hear it’s good.” There was a Hollywood buzz about it, so even though I still had to audition, it was so much easier to get into the audition and people treated me differently.

PLUME: Just being associated with the film?

FURST: Right - “Oh, he’s starring in that new movie from Universal coming out in about four, five months,” you know. I got another film right away, actually. It was called Take Down.

PLUME: What was American Raspberry, also known as Prime Time? It shows as a 1977 date for you.

FURST: You know, I don’t even remember that.

PLUME: It lists you as a gin player.

FURST: Oh, you know what, I was an extra. That was before Animal House. I consider Animal House my very first job.

PLUME: It was the one that made a difference…

FURST: Yeah. I think I was supposed to be listed as “fat gin player”. I remember they wanted a fat guy, playing gin in that movie.

PLUME: I’ve never even heard of the film.

FURST: Nah, I didn’t think it was ever released.

PLUME: How long after Animal House was Take Down?

FURST: You know, I don’t recall. I think it started shooting in January. We finished Animal House in, I think October. Then a month later I auditioned for it, and then I met with the director. I don’t think I read for it, I just met with the director, and I got it. In between films I took a trip back East to Virginia. I remember having that film to come back to, which always feels good - to go on vacation when you know you have a movie to come back to.

PLUME: Animal House still hadn’t hit theaters by that time, had it?

FURST: No. It wasn’t until the following year.

PLUME: How would you describe that period of not being recognized by the public and then being instantly recognized.

FURST: WOW! Is the word - it’s like what I worked my whole life for, and when it happened it was kind of scary.

PLUME: What was the scariest moment?

FURST: I just remember one distinct time. I was on location somewhere, and my wife came to visit and we had a baby, a newborn. We went to see a film at one of these newfangled things called a Cineplex … We got out of the movie, and I don’t even remember what we saw, but another movie was Animal House, and it let out. There I was in the lobby, you know - people avoid that.

PLUME: Did it scare your wife at all?

FURST: Yeah, she got really, very upset because she had the baby with her. She got really upset … that was probably like the one and only time I was, like, mobbed.

PLUME: How do you cope with something like that?

FURST: I didn’t know, I didn’t know how to. I try to be as quiet as possible. When people saw Animal House, they thought that, “Oh, he must be a rowdy guy. He must be a rowdy Delta.” And I’m kind of not. I’m kind of shy in real life. So I didn’t know what to do … that was the worst single time. I was much more recognizable between that, and when St. Elsewhere was on the air, I couldn’t go anywhere.

PLUME: But it was a different kind of crowd.

FURST: Different kind of crowd, but they were close enough together where - “That’s the guy from Animal House and St. Elsewhere.”

PLUME: Which is ironic, because the people that really enjoyed St. Elsewhere were probably the slightly older version of the people that loved Animal House.

FURST: Well … by that time - that was ‘78, and St. Elsewhere was ‘84 - was that 6 years?

PLUME: So basically, that probably was the same generation.

FURST: Yeah, these people were in med school.

PLUME: What lead to the decision to do Delta House?

FURST: Money. It’s funny, because I had an offer from every network - from ABC, CBS and NBC. NBC was Brothers and Sisters, CBS had a show called Co-ed Fever which lasted I think a record one episode, and their lead in was the Super Bowl, and Delta House was on ABC. Since it was the same producers as Animal House, I chose the ABC show.

PLUME: Go with the proven commodity?

FURST: Right. I think Brothers and Sisters lasted six episodes, Co-ed Fever lasted one, and Delta House lasted thirteen.

PLUME: Who else reprised their roles?

FURST: Bruce McGill, who played D-Day, Jamie Widdoes who played Hoover, and John Vernon playing the dean.

PLUME: I remember seeing a couple of episodes of it.

FURST: Yeah, I think that’s about it. But of course … I think it was the first job for Michelle Pfeiffer.

PLUME: Oh, I forgot about that. What were the biggest comparisons you made to the feeling of doing the film, and then basically reprising the role as a TV character? I mean, it was basically your first TV work, wasn’t it?

FURST: Yeah, but it was horrible - it was a horrible experience, other than the money. There wasn’t one fat joke in Animal House, but basically every week all Delta House was, was a series of fat jokes about me, and it was just terrible, terrible writing.

PLUME: I remember it being a very awkward affair, just to watch it, the reruns that I caught a few years ago.

FURST: Yeah, it’s rubble. It was not a good series.

PLUME: Were you crossing your fingers, hoping another project would come up?

FURST: Yeah, probably that.

PLUME: What is it like to be locked in, contractually, to something like that? I’m assuming that they nailed you down for at least a season.

FURST: Basically, it’s a seven year contract for a series, back then. I think it’s now five years. It’s hard to remember. I just remember I loved working so much, but I did not enjoy that experience, when I look back on it now. Probably at the time I was thinking, “Boy this is great, I’m working!”

PLUME: But it’s a point in your life when you probably wouldn’t have turned down a job.

FURST: Right, exactly. You know, I’ve been doing this now for 25 years, but very rarely have I been in a position where I’ve had multiple offers. It’s always like going back and getting a job. I’ve always been really lucky that I’ve had a string of jobs. But … that one time when I had an offer from every network was basically the only time. It’s not like I am Michelle Pfeiffer or Kevin Bacon where it’s, you know, “What project will I do next? Which one will I choose?” It’s like, “Which one will choose me?” and I’m being very honest about it, really. I know it’s not cool to say that in Hollywood, but I don’t care anymore.

PLUME: And frankly, you have a body of work that a lot of actors would be very envious of.

FURST: Yes, some, and some would say, “Oh god, what happened to Furst? We don’t see him anymore.”

PLUME: Well, those are obviously the people that haven’t watched TV in the past 15 years.

FURST: You know what, I’m directing now, that’s why the public will go, “What ever happened to Stephen Furst?” He’s directing now, that’s why.

PLUME: I was actually very surprised when I heard that, that you were directing. I was asking somebody who’s a television critic in Kansas City who works with us, and he said, “Oh, you know, he’s a director.” I said, “No, I didn’t know that.” It’s surprising, because … it’s not something that is readily disseminated to the public, when people move to directing.

FURST: Right. Now how did you decide to do an interview with me? How did you pick me out of millions of people?

PLUME: Other than being a fan for years, and remember watching St. Elsewhere when I was a kid? You returned my call - that was a big plus…

FURST: I’m really good at returning calls. That’s one of my pet peeves in Hollywood.

PLUME: You wouldn’t believe the frustration that I’ve suffered doing this … I don’t care if people call back and say, “No,” I would just love the courtesy of a call back. So many people just ignore you.

FURST: I know, that’s my pet peeve in Hollywood, and that’s why I try to be different, and … I’ve got to tell you, I do Sci-Fi conventions, too. I have this reputation of being Mr. Nice Guy, and I kind of like that reputation. I’m so different than a lot of the other actors. Especially that hate doing the conventions, you know? Like Galaxy Quest? Most of them are like Alan Rickman in Galaxy Quest. They hate the fans, you know, because the fans are quite silly sometimes, and they lack social skills, the Sci-Fi fans, a lot of them. They don’t know when to stop talking, they don’t know that they’re getting too close and invading your personal space.

PLUME: Right. I guess, they’re pretty much like - to draw another comparison - to Flounder.

FURST: Exactly.

PLUME: They’re very introverted …

FURST: Right, they’re social outcasts, basically. A lot of them - I’m not going to say all of them, but a lot of them are.

PLUME: I guess that’s just the only outlet they have.

FURST: That’s right.

PLUME: And the feedback they’re giving is basically adoration. So it’s surprising that so many people are turned off by that.

FURST: That’s another fascinating world that you could do an interview on. How some of these actors, I’ve got to tell you … they get really big in the Sci-Fi little ponds. When they’re in the hotel, doing the conventions, they are super stars. They are the John Lennon, Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, you know. They don’t allow pictures to be taken with them. There’s one Sci-Fi star that requires an armed guard. Once they leave that hotel and they’re at the airport, they’re like every other schlub, standing in line.

PLUME: I guess that’s them acting out what they’ve always wanted, to be that kind of star that can demand an entourage or that “keep away” mentality.

FURST: I just don’t understand it. That isn’t me.

PLUME: It’s surprising, I mean, I would have to ask you as a side tangent, have you ever had that discussion with someone who’s gone through it all before, like Walter Koenig?

FURST: Yes - I had that conversation with him yesterday. Because there was a Star Trek actor that was at the convention who was the “headliner” you know, and someone went up to him and said, “Hi, I work with your son and I did a charity dinner for you about ten years ago, and do you mind if my friend gets a picture with you?” And he goes, “No, no photographs.” It was that kind of thing - it was a just outrageous thing.

PLUME: I can’t imagine that - I mean, there aren’t any people like that amongst the B5 actors, are there?

FURST: No, not at all. They’re really very much known to be the best convention actors.
They’re all very open and accessible.

PLUME: Just watching the bloopers, since it reveals a little bit more of behind the scenes, you all struck me as very genial people.

FURST: Yeah, I think we are. There was a couple of actors, especially - you know, I directed some episodes of Babylon 5.

PLUME: Right - three episodes, or two?

FURST: Three episodes of Babylon 5, and two episodes of Crusade, which is the spin off. There were a couple of actors … who were a little bit more difficult to work with. But, you know, for the most part, they were all the same …

PLUME: When you say some were “difficult”, just …

FURST: Temperamental.

PLUME: From a professional nature but were fine off camera kind of thing?

FURST: Usually the ones that are temperamental on camera are not fine off camera. You know, the personality doesn’t stop when the camera stops. I also have a degree in marriage, family and child counseling - I’m a therapist.

PLUME: So it’s something that you’re able to identify in people.

FURST: Yeah. I can’t practice, I’m not a licensed therapist, but it has really helped me deal with not only actors, but crew members - you know, how I deal with them. I think I can get more out of a crew than someone who doesn’t have that kind of skill.

PLUME: I’m willing to make the assumption that it’s not through yelling.

FURST: No. Not yelling.

PLUME: How many directors have you run across where that’s their way of dealing with everything?

FURST: Yelling? A few, and sometimes they don’t even need to yell, but they can make you feel really small and make you resent them and the production.

PLUME: Just from the kind of atmosphere that creates?

FURST: Right, the director creates the atmospheres - that’s perfect. Yes, you’re absolutely right, he sets the tone for the way the set is run.

PLUME: So when you go in as a director, what things are you able to do right off the bat that will set a tone for how you’re going to work and how you like the set to work?

FURST: It’s an expression, and one time I printed up buttons, and the buttons said, “It’s only a movie.” Also, my company is called Curmudgeon Films, and my logo says, “Why grow up when you can make movies?” I always keep it a fun thing to do. We’re not solving world peace here. We’re not trying to create world peace, we’re trying to make a movie and have fun. Now, I don’t lose any professionalism, but you know, it is a way of working - we’re not doing War and Peace, we’re not trying to discover a cure for cancer.

PLUME: What do you think about the type of directors or producers who somehow feel that keeping a lot of tension on the set benefits the project?

FURST: I don’t know - do people think that actually benefits a project?

PLUME: I’ve run across people that do believe that it’s a benefit to a project, just keeping a level of tension on the set.

FURST: Well I think they’re totally misguided, then. I always thought people do it because they don’t know any better, but to purposely keep the set tense? I can’t even imagine. Because you know, when we shoot, it’s usually 12 to 14 hours a day - how could you keep that up?

PLUME: Without people exploding …

FURST: Yeah.

PLUME: I would think that having people exploding or having meltdowns actually slows the project down more than having a happy set.

FURST: Absolutely.

PLUME: In directing, what has been your most positive experience so far? Which project?

FURST: Well … that’s hard to say. I did a kid’s film, and that was pretty positive, because there was enough money to make the film good. Then I would say Babylon 5 was very good, because I had really good actors - and, once again, it wasn’t a money skimping thing. Because I’ve done some films that are like real low budget, you know, when you have to shoot it in 18 days or something like that and you’re always having to cut corners, not only financially but creatively.

PLUME: How do you prevent that kind of pressure on you from bleeding out onto the cast and the crew? When you’re talking about setting a tone…

FURST: That’s a good question - sometimes it does. It does, sometimes. I’m thinking of one instance where I directed a Western, and I was losing the light and we couldn’t go back to this location the next day and I kind of got frustrated, but that’s just human nature. But you try to keep it as light as possible.

PLUME: When something like that does happen, is it how you deal with the cast and crew after the outburst that also mitigates it?

FURST: Yes. You do what I did the next day - you go in and apologize to the army you yelled at.

PLUME: So that kind of tension doesn’t stay.

FURST: Yes, and just say, “You know I really don’t have any excuses for my behavior other than the obvious - that I was under pressure because the light was being lost - but there was no excuse at all to yell and get upset at you. I really apologize, and I hope that won’t affect our future for the rest of the movie.” And most of the time they’ll say, “Nah, don’t worry about it.” Most people are really good.

PLUME: And I’m sure that most people aren’t used to getting the apology after the fact.

FURST: No, especially, you know, if it’s a big time director or something, and they don’t think they deserve it. They deserve it, you know?

PLUME: Instead of someone just running roughshod and saying “If you can’t cope with it, get out of the kitchen…”

FURST: Right.

PLUME: Backtracking a bit, back to Delta House … When Delta House ended, I’m assuming that’s like getting a pardon from the Governor…

FURST: It wasn’t that bad. If I have to think back on it, I probably was sad that it ended, because it was a steady paycheck. The thing I hate most about show business is hunting for the job. That’s what I hate. The work, I love.

PLUME: It’s just the uncertainty …

FURST: It’s the hunting of the job, so when you can get a job that’s prestigious, like a St. Elsewhere - you never want it to end. Even though there were people in the cast that definitely wanted it to end.

PLUME: Really? Just because they felt their futures …

FURST: Well, they were already starting to become stars, and it was costing them money and prestige.

PLUME: The series being a different animal than a film, I’m assuming you were filming those 13 episodes for at least 6 months …

FURST: Well, no, it’s like one episode a week.

PLUME: But, technically you were under contract from …

FURST: Well, I was under contract for seven years.

PLUME: But as far as a season runs, you would have started filming in August. And you don’t find out you don’t get the back nine until December…

FURST: Right. Something like that.

PLUME: How does it feel when you’re dumped out of a series like that, and have to go back to beating the pavement - were you already having other projects lined up?

FURST: No, probably not, as I can recall. You can’t get too upset about it, you know. You enter the business knowing that’s what it’s like… the insecurities.

PLUME: Does it get easier as time goes by?

FURST: No, I don’t think so. I think it gets harder.

PLUME: As the responsibilities of life increase?

FURST: Well, that and also once you reach a certain age … once you start hitting those late 30’s and 40’s, the jobs are scarcer at that age.

PLUME: It’s harder to what, muster the motivation to beat the pavement continuously?

FURST: Yeah … I know a lot of actors my age resent it. You know, that - “I’ve starred in two or three series, and they’re making me read …” “They’re making you read for a Diagnosis Murder?” - That kind of thing.

PLUME: As an actor, I guess eventually if you want to work as - I don’t like to say ‘journeyman actor’ - but as a full-time actor, as opposed to a star, I’m trying to come up with a different term …

FURST: What I used to call it was a utility actor. You know, on a baseball team, you have the star first baseman, and the star pitcher and stuff. Then you have the guys who can play any positions.

PLUME: At any time.

FURST: Yeah, they’re called the utility guys. I was a utility actor. I was never a big star, I was a minor star.

PLUME: So as a utility actor, I guess you have to have some kind of mechanism for dampening down your ego.

FURST: It’s what they used to call it in school - “he’s a character actor, he’s not a leading man.” So you play all these supporting parts … like I said, I never had like two or three jobs to choose from. It was always I’d finish one job. I had the three offers from the networks, and the only other time I had all these offers was in ‘88. I finished St. Elsewhere, and I had auditioned for a pilot, and got that. Then I was starring in a movie with Michael Keaton. I had three jobs right in a row.

PLUME: That was what - Dream Team?

FURST: I did The Dream Team, and I did a series called Have Faith on ABC, and I had finished St. Elsewhere. And then you know what, another time I was doing three jobs. I was doing Babylon 5, I was doing a show for Fox called Misery Loves Company, and I was doing a Canadian Showtime series for Howie Mandel called Sunny Skies, which only ran 13 episodes.

I almost died of exhaustion, because I was flying to Canada and back and running from Sun Valley, where we shot Babylon 5, to Disney Studios to do Misery Loves Company … so that was pretty hectic.

PLUME: But I’m assuming you would much rather be exhausted than bored.

FURST: Oh, absolutely. I hate these actors who say, “Oh, I can’t take it anymore!”

PLUME: They wouldn’t be saying that if they were out of work for six months.

FURST: Right, exactly. Then, you hear people complaining about, “Oh, so many people want my autograph.” Okay, would you rather be able to walk down the street and nobody knows you?

PLUME: And nobody cares.

FURST: And nobody cares, right.

PLUME: It’s amazing sometimes, when you think about the actors that resent the people that made them able to sustain a career or get a steady paycheck.

FURST: The other thing that gets me on the Sci-Fi conventions is, occasionally, I get to hear the other actors talk, and some of them get up there and pontificate like crazy about their craft and their art. You’re in a rubber mask, screaming at a blue screen like it’s chasing you. Come on, please, get real. Save your poetry readings for the Renaissance Fairs or something. I’m very cynical about being overly artistic.

PLUME: It’s also ironic that these people that so hate these conventions feel the need to go to them.

FURST: Well, because of the money.

PLUME: If they were such a big star, who detests that fandom and doesn’t need them, they wouldn’t be at those conventions.

FURST: No, but I mean, you’ll see a lot of people do it, because it pays good money.

PLUME: What was the worst action that you’ve seen by one of these people towards a fan - not naming any names, of course. Or is it just an overall?

FURST: It’s just an overall attitude … I don’t follow Sci-Fi, so there’s one guy … he just has a reputation of being so mean and cruel to the fans. Like Alan Rickman was in Galaxy Quest. And I don’t know why - of course he does them, because he makes $25,000 for the weekend.

PLUME: How does he treat the other actors that are appearing with him at the convention, like you?

FURST: Doesn’t say a word to me.

PLUME: So, basically, he’s the type that’s just in there, and then get me the hell out.

FURST: Yeah, he won’t take pictures with the fans. A lot of fans will come up and they’ll sign the picture for them, but, you know, they have rules like, “I don’t personalize the autograph, so I won’t say ‘To Jeff’ or ‘To Mary’”, “I won’t pose for pictures, you can’t take pictures of me”, “I will only sign for one hour, I don’t care if somebody’s left in line” - they’ve been sitting in line, kids have been waiting in line for an hour, and their hour’s up, and they get up and leave. You know, stuff like that.

PLUME: You know, I’ve never understood that type of person, really. What’s another hour? Just sit there and make sure everyone goes away satisfied. They gave you your career.

FURST: Yeah, I won’t let anybody leave - I won’t leave with anyone wanting an autograph, not getting one.

PLUME: It’s amazing to think that some of these people will do that. But, you just got to think, in the big karma wheel, eventually it will all come around.

FURST: Right. I mean, Shatner has that reputation, you know. I can’t confirm it or anything, but he has that reputation of just being a jerk to everybody.

PLUME: I read a lot of that it basically just urban myth, to some extent.

FURST: Yeah, maybe it is.

PLUME: Of course, you don’t get urban myths starting unless there’s some kernel of truth.

FURST: Yeah, I don’t know. I just know all the other Star Trek actors hate him.

PLUME: I know Walter has a lot of problems with him, doesn’t he?

FURST: Yes, and I have a lot of problems with Nichelle Nichols. She’s this prima donna who thinks she’s the first lady of Sci-Fi, or whatever she thinks she is …

PLUME: Have you worked with her in the past?

FURST: I did a tour with her, it was called the Fab Four, and it was four original Star Trek people and me, the one Babylon 5 representative. It was called the Fab Four, and I always made a joke that I was the ‘Mediocre One’.

PLUME: Oh nonsense! Was there any in-fighting among those four that were touring?

FURST: Oh my god, tons.

PLUME: So in other words, it was exactly like Galaxy Quest…

FURST: Exactly - it was like, who was going to be at this dinner thing at night? And she would always be late, because she would want to make an entrance … She always doesn’t want to be recognized, but she makes a spectacle of herself in public.

PLUME: I love those types.

FURST: Yeah, she goes, “I can’t have any fans noticing me,” and then be very loud, very flamboyant in public. She’s just a fool. … I did the whole tour with them, twelve cities … I just stayed away from them, there was so much in-fighting between the four - one didn’t want to go on stage with the other one, and the other one was taking up too much time answering a question - so, eventually, they put them on separately. They used to go on all four together.

PLUME: There’s no equivalent of that in the B5 cast, right?

FURST: No. None whatsoever.

PLUME: Would it surprise you if that ever happened with the B5 cast?

FURST: Oh, I can’t even imagine it. All of us did a convention in England together. In England, we were like Star Trek. We were like the Beatles, you know? 5,000 people… screaming fans…. and we just thought it was a hoot. We would go on during other people’s talks, and the crowd would go crazy. We’d just walk onstage and joke with them - it was all just a big, fun party.

PLUME: And then you look at the Trek people.

FURST: Oh, it’s, “I’m not going on before they go on; I want to be the last one introduced.” That kind of thing. I have this whole new attitude in life, that life’s too short - I’m so non-confrontational. I pick and choose my battles, believe me, and I don’t have that many I pick.

PLUME: Generally it’s just not worth it, right?

FURST: No, it’s not.

PLUME: After Delta House ended, I guess it was a series of small parts in films after that, before St. Elsewhere came along? Scavenger Hunt?

FURST: Yeah, I did that. That was a movie that starred a lot of stars. Richard Mulligan, Richard Benjamin, Cloris Leachman, Robert Morley - all these famous people. It was interesting. There’s a kook - Cloris Leachman. She was pretty much a kook.

PLUME: Really? How would you define kook?

FURST: Well, a kook as in, part of the plot was all these people went on a scavenger hunt, and they win all these millions of dollars - like that movie that came out called Rat Race. What happened was, one of the items they had to get was the fattest person. It was me, Stuart Pankin, and this other woman … and Stuart used his own weight, and I was actually supposed to be the fattest person. They padded the woman lightly, and they padded me really heavy. Even though I was about 280, they made me look to be like 400 pounds. We break for lunch and we’re sitting down eating lunch and Cloris Leachman asked Stuart Pankin and I - because we became really good friends, Stuart and I, and we still remain very good friends today - and she asked both of us to move and sit at another table, because she didn’t like eating across from fat people. That’s the god’s honest truth.

PLUME: That’s an interesting personality.

FURST: So she asked us to move.

PLUME: I can’t imagine that type of person - I guess you encounter all types. What’s after that - Swim Team?

FURST: Swim Team … I have one other least favorite job. It was a low budget film that was terrible, and I never should have done it.

PLUME: For which reason?

FURST: It was just a bad, B movie.

PLUME: The kind that affects careers?

FURST: Yeah - like a Beach Blanket Bingo type movie.

PLUME: In 1979.

FURST: Yeah.

PLUME: So it was poorly timed, along with just everything else.

FURST: It was just horrible.

PLUME: Midnight Madness…

FURST: That was a fun movie. It was with Michael J. Fox, David Naughton from American Werewolf in London, and Eddie Deezen. It was a hard shoot, because we started at 6:00 at night, until 6:00 in the morning, so it was a night shoot. There’s an interesting incident - here I was doing a movie for Disney, an ultimate family studio. Well, I had an 11 month old son, and on the Father’s Day in 1979 - that was Sunday, and we were supposed to start rehearsals for the movie on Monday. Well, we had an accident with our son, at 11 months old… the composer. We had relatives over for Father’s Day, and to make a long story short, we found our son in the swimming pool - unconscious in the swimming pool. He was in the hospital, in a coma, so I called Disney and I said, “I can’t come to work, I’m going to have to miss the rehearsal week, for as many days as I need to.” They said, okay. He came out of the coma about three days later. I went to work, but I got my first paycheck, and they had docked me three days of pay. The pay for rehearsal week was scale, so you’re talking about, at the time, maybe $250 a day - so they docked me like $750 for the three days, and I was thinking… it wasn’t really the money, but the fact that they knew the reason why I was missing the rehearsal was a family emergency. I just thought that was interesting.

PLUME: Well, that’s Disney in a nutshell.

FURST: Well, Disney had a real bad reputation at that time. That was before Michael Eisner.

PLUME: Yeah, that was during the decline.

FURST: Right, I think it was Roy Disney …

PLUME: Yeah, that was back when the family was running it … No, no, I think it was somebody else was running the board. It was Roy that brought in Eisner, to try to take the company back. That was when the business men were really running Disney into the ground.

FURST: Right, you know, it was a big thing.

PLUME: That explains why you did the Disneyland 25th Anniversary Special.

FURST: Yeah, I did that because they gave me free tickets to Disneyland.

PLUME: Next is Getting Wasted…

FURST: Getting Wasted - that was with Brian Kerwin. That’s where I met Jamie Lee Curtis for the first time. She was dating somebody on that set, I don’t know who it was. My wife came to visit on the set that day, and she went into labor. So, I quickly went to the director and I said I’ve got to do all my scenes now, because I’ve got to leave. They were very accommodating. And while my wife was in, like, the dressing room, the green room, Jamie Lee Curtis was massaging my wife’s back while my wife was waiting for me to finish my scenes and take her to the hospital. But that’s my first memory of Jamie, of being very sweet.

PLUME: Definitely. The Unseen…

FURST: The Unseen. I just did Chiller Theater last January … it’s a Sci-Fi Horror convention in New York. Someone came up to me, because it’s such an obscure movie, and somebody came up to me and they gave me one of the original movie posters. I framed it, and it’s in my office, which I’m staring at right now.

Boy, that was an interesting experience. It was a horror picture, and it was about five hours of make-up, so my call was at four in the morning to be on set at nine. It starred Sydney Lassick, who I love - he played Cheswick, the guy who screamed for his cigarettes in The Cuckoo’s Nest - and Barbara Bach, who was dating Ringo at the time, but he never came to the set. We wanted him to come to the set, to visit Barbara. I played this, like, Down’s Syndrome kid, locked in the basement. I ran around the basement in a big diaper.

PLUME: That’s got to be a memorable film.

FURST: Oh my god, it was - my joke is, it was called the unseen because it was unseen. But it became like a little cult film. I had this, for a while … in Washington State it was called the Stephen Furst Fan Club, and it was basically based on The Unseen. It was almost like a Rocky Horror Picture Show, they knew all my lines - not lines, because I never said any lines, just grunted. They took pictures and sent it to me, and it was based out of this pub or something, and they did chicken eating contests, because this guy would eat chicken in the basement. He had this teddy bear - they called it the teddy bear toss. My character’s name was Junior - they had Junior games. It was this whole big thing, and they were really serious about it. They begged me, begged me, to come to their little bar in Washington … I never did go, but boy, that was interesting.

PLUME: Somewhere, some small club was disappointed.

FURST: Oh god … they sent me pictures of people dressed like me. They had a contest. You know, who could look as much like me as possible. It’s very funny, because I looked quite outrageous in that film.

PLUME: Your first big brush with small-cult fandom.

FURST: Oh my gosh, it was crazy.

PLUME: Silent Rage…

FURST: Oh, with Chuck Norris.

PLUME: Oh, that’s right, I forgot that was a Chuck Norris.

FURST: Yeah, that was interesting.

PLUME: What lead to that? How would you describe your role?

FURST: I was the Barney Fife of this movie. He was the sheriff, I was his sidekick. Didn’t have to audition, was offered the part. It was Columbia, bigger movie, and I had a good time. It was very, very hot - we shot in Texas.

PLUME: Was it good working with Chuck?

FURST: He’s a nice guy, a very nice guy.

PLUME: That was after he’d hit big, wasn’t it - or was it right before?

FURST: No, he was big. He was pretty well known. We’d go out to dinner and especially these little old boys in Texas would try to challenge him to fight … and he’d always walk away. I met Ron Silver, who’s a very good actor - he was in that.

PLUME: Well, then you did another National Lampoon movie.

FURST: Yeah, I did that one in ‘82, and that’s when I had found out Belushi died, when I was on the set.

PLUME: Really? So you were doing a National Lampoon film … was it with people that had worked on Animal House?

FURST: Same producers as Animal House. I didn’t know about it until the security guards said, “Hey, that’s terrible about Belushi.” I said, “What happened?” “He died.” “I didn’t know - oh my god.” I had talked to John about six months before, he called my house at like three in morning. I answered the phone and said, “Hello?” and I was sleeping. He said, “Hey, it’s Belushi - what’d you call me for?” I said, “John, you just called me.” “Ohhh, shit, oh yeah, okay - bye.” That was it, that was the last time I spoke to him.

PLUME: What were you thinking at the time you got the call?

FURST: I knew he was out of his mind, stoned, or something.

PLUME: Had you heard, in the past, he had been on …

FURST: Oh, yeah, yeah. It was well known then.

PLUME: So it was not truly a surprise when you’d heard he had died…

FURST: No.

PLUME: And what was the feeling like on the set after the news disseminated?

FURST: Well, I was the only one on the set that knew him, really, the only one from Animal House - myself and (producer) Matty Simmons. We kind of consoled each other. I was really upset, because I got somewhat close to John. We would talk every now and then.

PLUME: And that was when things started to hit the wall with the drug culture in Hollywood, wasn’t it?

FURST: Yeah, I mean that was the late ’70s, you know … it was really hip.

PLUME: And the ’80s was when the big shake up started to occur, right?

FURST: Yeah, you know, it was not as cool anymore.

PLUME: I think that’s where it got to a point where it was messing up more pictures than it was helping.

FURST: Right, right. I was told that the studio supplied John with drugs … they just burned it into the prop budget. The actual studio supplied it.

PLUME: To, I’m sure, Landis’s consternation, from all the stories I’ve heard of what Landis had to deal with.

FURST: Yeah, absolutely.

PLUME: Now, at that point, you had never been a drug user, right?

FURST: No.

PLUME: Was it something that had been offered to you at any point, or a path you could have taken?

FURST: Well, I tried it. I think I did it a couple times on Animal House.

PLUME: Just because it was a social thing to do?

FURST: It was a social thing to do, it was so accepted. It was such a different culture there. I tried it, and I hated it. Just hated it - it just made me really hyper. And the third time I was offered it, I said, “You know what? I can live without this.”

PLUME: Well, it’s a shame when you think back on what happened to Belushi, and how much it was facilitated by the outside. I guess it all comes down to - we talked in the beginning about personal addictions. And being able to cope with yourself. Ah well. After Class Reunion, I guess then came St. Elsewhere…

FURST: Yeah. My agent called and said there’s a part on St. Elsewhere, and she said it’s only five lines. And I said, “You know what, I’m not working, and it’s a prestigious show, so I’ll do it.” She said, “No, no, no, they want you to read for it.” I said, “They want me to read for five lines? No, I’m not going to read for five lines.” She said, “You know, this is a prestigious show, and you never know.” So I said okay, and then when I got the part - I did the one scene and I drove home. By the time I drove home, there was a phone message on my machine to call my agent. She said, “They added another scene for you.” Wow, it turned into a nice - I got an extra day’s pay. So I went back and did the second scene. About three weeks later, they asked me to do another small part as the same character. And then about six weeks later after that, they added him into another part, and it’s like a big part. It’s during the filming of that third episode, they came down and they said, “Would you mind signing a five year contract and becoming a regular?” I said, “Oh my god, of course not!” It was probably one of my favorite jobs that I’ve ever had.

PLUME: What added to the enjoyment of it?

FURST: I just loved being associated with a hit show, that was also - well, it really wasn’t a hit show, it always struggled in the ratings - but just a show that was…

PLUME: Well respected?

FURST: Well respected. You were up there - L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere. Every time the Emmys came, it was always L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues, and St. Elsewhere.

PLUME: And a wonderful ensemble cast.

FURST: The only insecure thing was, I always came home thinking, “I’ll never be as good as these actors I’m working with.” Each one was better than the next one, you know? There wasn’t one weak link in the entire cast, I feel.

PLUME: I’m trying to remember all the cast … William Daniels…

FURST: William Daniels, Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood, David Morris - all different. The only actor I didn’t like working with was Ed Flanders - wonderful actor, but major alcohol problem, which eventually contributed to his suicide.

PLUME: Was it anything that slowed up production, or made it difficult?

FURST: Yeah, it did slow production.

PLUME: The type that would not make it to the set, or the type that would make it to the set and slow things down?

FURST: The type to make it to the set that was drunk. Or make it to the set and they’d have to call the producers down, because he’d refuse to do a line or something like that. He was an angry drunk. You know how some drunks are nice? Some drunks are silly? He was an angry drunk.

PLUME: So I guess it was a short straw when someone had to work with him.

FURST: I always hated when I saw that I had to work with him.

PLUME: How would he lash out?

FURST: It was totally outrageous. We were doing a photo shoot one time, at NBC. You know, I was kind of new on the show. You could either say, “Hi, Ed, how you doing?” He’d go, “Hey, Buddy, what’s going on?” or you could go, “Hi, Ed, how you doing?” and he’d go, “Shut the fuck up and leave me alone.” You never knew.

PLUME: So, completely bi-polar surprise, every time.

FURST: Yes, you never knew what you were walking into.

PLUME: That’s got to make it like walking on eggshells when you work with somebody like that.

FURST: Absolutely. But, then you have wonderful people, like Norman Lloyd. My best thing was if I was working with Norman Lloyd and William Daniels, and we’d be sitting in our chairs waiting to go on … I felt like a kid in a candy store. I would listen to their stories - you know, working with Dustin Hoffman, or Norman Lloyd was a producer with Alfred Hitchcock for the TV show. He starred in Saboteur, the Hitchcock movie. I was in seventh heaven.

PLUME: Like a fly on the wall.

FURST: Oh my god, I would shut up and just listen, just listen. I just adored doing that show.

PLUME: How would you compare working with that cast to working with the B5 cast, as far as the dynamics?

FURST: It depends on who you’re talking about on the B5 cast … there’s no older person that I would listen to stories, but let me work with Andreas Katsulas or Peter Jurasik, and I was in seventh heaven. Two of the finest actors that I’ve ever worked with. Right up there with much more famous people, like a Denzel Washington.

PLUME: Which at that time, he wasn’t ‘DENZEL WASHINGTON’, he was actor Denzel Washington.

FURST: Well, you know, he started to become very famous, and he was one of the actors who was so happy to see St. Elsewhere go, because it was costing him money. He had done Soldier’s Story, he had just gotten Glory.

PLUME: So he was ready to make his move.

FURST: Oh, yeah.

PLUME: What would you say if you were to pick an episode… I’ll ask a TV Guide question about St. Elsewhere - pick an episode you think best represented the show to you, personally… even if you can recall just a certain scene that you did.

FURST: Well, the whole - it was more than one episode. This whole storyline going on with Mrs. Hufnagel was just classic. People would come up to me… there was a scene where she was dating this guy - I think it was a comic named Murray, or something - and he dies, and I have to tell her. All this funny stuff they gave me all the time, and here I was having to tell this woman, who my character was deathly afraid of, that her boyfriend died, and I was the doctor trying to save his life - because she’d always blamed me for everything. It was really, I mean it, to work with actresses like Florence Halop - after that, she was a regular on Night Court. I don’t have the words for it. It’s like Christmas morning, you know? There’s nothing better than working with an actor who is so good that it just moves you. It’s easy to act… it’s hard to act with somebody who’s not good…. but to act with somebody who’s just incredibly good? Man, that’s a piece of cake.

PLUME: And do you think that elevates your own performance?

FURST: Oh, to me it did. You hear these stories about people who don’t want to act with anyone who’s better, because it makes them look worse. That’s why I loved doing St. Elsewhere so much - everybody was better than me. I was the weakest link.

PLUME: So you think they were the carrots on the top of the stepladder that kept you climbing?

FURST: Absolutely, absolutely. To do a scene with David Morse - My God, so underplayed.

PLUME: And so underrated.

FURST: So underplayed and underrated. I had a scene one time, the most amazing scene. When I read it, I was going, “Why the hell is this in the script?” It was myself, and Ed Flanders, and Norman Lloyd, and we’re in the elevator. We decide to try on each others glasses - just a silly scene. A lot of times people say to me, “I love that scene when you guys were in the elevator, and just like kids you decide to try on each others’ glasses.” It was just an amazing scene. My god, look at the writing on St. Elsewhere - unbelievable writing.

PLUME: One of the reasons why people still remember the show.

FURST: Oh, absolutely. I just got an Entertainment Tonight letter, and they’re doing this whole thing - they’re featuring shows that have made an impact on America. Previous shows have included Cheers, Family Ties, All in the Family, M.A.S.H, and Moonlighting, and they’re doing one on St. Elsewhere, too.

PLUME: It’s good to be remembered.

FURST: Oh yeah, it’s great. You know, I’ve got Animal House, and I’ve got St. Elsewhere and I really am thankful. You know, I don’t take anything for granted. I take no job for granted. I even have things like The Day After, that really made a huge impact on people.

PLUME: I remember being terrified by that as a kid.

FURST: It scared people to death. I got to work with an actor named John Lithgow. I had never heard of him. I had seen him in World According to Garp. I thought he was kooky in World According to Garp, but really good. Probably one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with, and to this day - I saw him about six months ago - remains as nice.

PLUME: Which is quite an accomplishment, in an industry that pushes people down the path of feeling superior over other people.

FURST: Totally. Yeah, it’s a weird business.

PLUME: Has there been discussion… Have you guys ever thought about escaping the snow globe and doing a St. Elsewhere TV movie?

FURST: You know, there was a long time ago, but everyone is so off doing other things. One of the producers is doing Dark Angel, the other one is so highly successful - in Homicide, and he’s doing Oz.

PLUME: Is it something that you would be up for, or are you the type that believes it was a great thing and let’s not muck it up?

FURST: In a minute. I’d be the first one there with the pom-poms cheerleading for it, “Let’s do it! Let’s do it!” As a matter of fact, there was some kind of benefit last year and it was in Tom Fontana’s home - University of Syracuse, maybe? I don’t know. It was a reunion, a panel discussion reunion, and I wasn’t able to go. I had a job. I was very disappointed.

PLUME: You should’ve sent them a cardboard cutout of you.

FURST: Yeah. I remember us doing the Donahue show, and I really liked the Donahue show, you know, the predecessor of Oprah and all that stuff. I was really disappointed when Phil Donahue came backstage and said, “I’m glad we have you guys on, but you know what would be even better, if, like, during the show you guys could get into an argument of something.” I was thinking, “Oh my god! It’s ruining my image of the show.” You know, because I always thought he was so regal and everything.

PLUME: Look how that has played out since, when it comes to talk shows.

FURST: Oh, I know.

PLUME: Now, I think it’s automatically an assumption that the argument is going to happen.

FURST: Exactly. But St. Elsewhere was probably - other than of course, Animal House being my first job and being so successful - I just enjoyed the hell out of St. Elsewhere. You know, I hated when I didn’t have to go to work.

PLUME: Just because you were wondering what you were missing?

FURST: Just, I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there.

PLUME: How difficult is it to leave something like that behind?

FURST: I was fortunate that when it was over, that was one of my busiest years as an actor - because I think if I left it and I was unemployed, it would have been really hard.

PLUME: Luckily, it was a show that was able to run its natural course and have closure.

FURST: Right, right.

PLUME: So it wasn’t a precipitous “coming back from Christmas break and you haven’t been picked up” kind of thing… or having to wonder between seasons if you’ll be coming back…

FURST: We actually did, though. Every season we never knew whether we were going to be picked up. I’ve actually never been on a show where it was so successful, even Babylon 5 …

PLUME: Well, that was always a - I mean, the whole thing with the finale being filmed in the fourth season, right?

FURST: Yeah, because we never knew we were going to be picked up. I’ve never been on a show like an ER.

PLUME: Where it was a foregone conclusion?

FURST: Yes, that you’re going to get two seasons at a time - never had that luxury … a super hit show.

PLUME: And if you were on one?

FURST: I’d love it! I’d just love it. I’d love to be on a Friends, or another drama show like Law and Order or The Practice. I’d love to do that.

PLUME: Which do you prefer at this point - the acting or directing?

FURST: You know, every time I say directing, and I do a small part, I get bitten by the bug again. It’s much easier to act. Love directing - I’m just thinking, “Why can’t I do both?” I just did a part for Touchstone in a movie, and I think it was an homage to Animal House kind of thing, called Sorority Boys. It’s like a cross between Animal House and Some Like it Hot. It was fun, but that long amount of hours waiting in your trailer - I wasn’t a fan of that.

PLUME: But at least you know that, while you’re waiting, you’re being paid.

FURST: Yes. Yes, that’s right, that’s true. But I’d much rather direct, I think. If someone gave me a plum role on a drama series, like a West Wing or, like I said, The Practice - you know, I don’t watch these shows, I just know that they’re good. I’m addicted to real television. You know - reality television.

PLUME: Oh, so you’re a Survivor fan?

FURST: No, I actually don’t watch that.

PLUME: Are you a Cars Attack People With Dogs kind of person?

FURST: I’m everything from the prestigious - well, I could lie to you and say, “I only watch PBS.” I watch a hell of a lot of Discovery, and I watch Animal Planet, and then on the other end of the spectrum, I’m addicted to a show called Blind Date. Yeah, I love that, and if I happen to be home … I won’t watch Jerry Springer, but I love the court TV shows, like People’s Court, Judge Joe Brown. Love Judge Judy.

PLUME: So your night consists of Judge Judy, Crocodile Hunter …

FURST: Yes, love Steve Irwin. They were doing a show on Steve Irwin the other day, about he and his wife going on vacation and everything, and his wife, Terri, owns the restaurant that we all hung in during Animal House, Morenos Mexican Restaurant. And I didn’t know that until about a week ago, when I saw the interview. They said, “Oh yeah, and they own a restaurant up in Eugene, called Morenos.” I went, oh my god, I had the T-shirt up until about a year ago, an old worn-out T-shirt with holes in that said Morenos Restaurant, because we used to hang out there.

PLUME: Actually, I didn’t start watching Crocodile Hunter until I got a review copy of the DVD they put out. It’s fascinating, because it starts out with a biography about him … his parents talk about him, and how he was as a kid.

FURST: Oh, I’d love to know about him … he’s outrageously crazy. So that’s what I watch. I don’t watch any of those that I should, I know I should.

PLUME: Yeah, you need to be boned up on it when you get that job.

FURST: I know.

PLUME: They’re going to say, “So, what did you think of last week’s episode?”

FURST: Yeah, yeah.

PLUME: You also have had the lucky ability to basically play in all three genres on TV, too. You’ve done comedy, you’ve done drama, and you’ve done Sci-Fi.

FURST: Yeah, that’s true.

PLUME: Which do you prefer?

FURST: You know, I really have no a preference, because I really don’t approach Sci-Fi any different than anything else. Even though I was playing an alien, I made him as human as possible, with human emotions and everything. As a director, I’m not real favorable of Sci-Fi - there’s just so much technical stuff like blue screen and stuff like that. I love human drama, human comedy. I prefer one camera shows as opposed to three camera shows, or four camera shows.

PLUME: Which are few and far between.

FURST: One camera shows are the dramas, the multi-camera shows … they’re okay, but I’m not a huge fan of sitcoms. I don’t watch sitcoms, but if I’m on an airplane - which I find myself quite a lot lately - they’ll show an episode of something. I’ve become a fan - I don’t watch it - of Everybody Loves Raymond. I like that, and for the first time a few days ago, I saw an episode of Spin City - the one with Michael J. Fox in it, not with Charlie Sheen. It was screamingly funny - it was very funny. Richard Kind and Michael J. Fox and Barry Bostwick - boy was that funny.

PLUME: Unfortunately, the tone of the show changed when Charlie Sheen came on.

FURST: Oh, it has? I haven’t seen it.

PLUME: It’s not as well written, in my opinion, as in the Michael J. Fox years.

FURST: Well, this was so funny, and I’ve got to tell you, Michael is also one of the nicest people that I’ve ever worked with.

PLUME: He strikes me as that kind of person.

FURST: Absolutely just a wonderful, wonderful person - unaffected. I remember going up to him - because I worked with him before he was famous - and then I went up to him, probably mid-80s, I was doing something for St. Elsewhere and he was doing something … I said, “Hi Michael.” And he said, “Hey, how’s it going?” I said, “Fine - I want to know one thing,” because this was during the Back to the Future stuff - I said, “What does it feel like?” He said, “It feels great.” He liked being famous.

PLUME: The people that like being famous but don’t let their ego take over are the best to deal with.

FURST: Right, and he didn’t at all.

PLUME: I have to ask, I was just thinking about this…since you were both doing MTM shows at the time - you were doing St. Elsewhere and he doing Hill Street Blues - did you ever run across Peter Jurasik at the time?

FURST: Yes, I met him. We were doing something in Minnesota called the Fire and Ice Festival. I met him for the first time and immediately liked him, but we didn’t stay in touch. But then we knew of each other.

PLUME: That’s just ironic that you would both be working on MTM shows at the same time.

FURST: Right, right.

PLUME: After St. Elsewhere, you mentioned that was one of the busiest years.

FURST: I went to do the Michael Keaton movie (The Dream Team).

PLUME: There was quite a nice cast on that, if I remember correctly.

FURST: It was beautiful - Christopher Lloyd and Peter Boyle. They were great.

PLUME: Which is probably one of the reasons that you like Everybody Loves Raymond.

FURST: Oh, because of Peter. Yeah, and I worked with Doris Roberts, too. I worked with a bunch of stars on a show called Faerie Tale Theatre. I did Three Little Pigs, and it was myself as a pig. Billy Crystal is probably the funniest person off camera as well as on camera that I’ve ever worked with - kept me laughing from the moment I got to work until we left. Myself, Billy Crystal and Fred Willard as three pigs, and the big bad wolf was Jeff Goldblum. Mama pig was Doris Roberts, and the sexpot pig was Valerie Perrine.

PLUME: Was the Faerie Tale Theatre the Shelly Duvall thing?

FURST: Yes.

PLUME: So that was ‘88, when St. Elsewhere went off the air … so after Dream Team?

FURST: Then I did Have Faith - I think that lasted seven episodes. The producer was John Ritter.

PLUME: How was working on that?

FURST: Well, that was interesting, playing a priest. Being Jewish and playing a priest. I worked with a wonderful, wonderful comedy director … Nome Pitlick. He directed Barney Miller.

PLUME: He has quite a- Hogan’s Heroes, I Dream of Jeannie, Gomer Pyle, Mannix - wow.

FURST: He was so wonderful, so funny. He was terrific.

PLUME: Was he another type of person that would talk about all the stuff he had worked on?

FURST: Not so much. He was one of those people, kind of like me, who are less into the “let’s analyze this artistically”. “You know what’s funny? Punch up the third syllable in the third line, and you’ve got it then.” He was just a New York guy. He just understood comedy.

PLUME: And was to the point, as opposed to pontificating?

FURST: Yeah … He knew what was funny.

PLUME: How much of what he did affected your directing style?

FURST: Well, I’ve never directed a sitcom. I’m more that type of director. For the actor’s benefit, I will do that kind of artistic round-about way to get what I want. But after a while, especially doing these low budget pictures, I’ll say to the actor, “Listen, do you mind if I give you a line reading?” Some actors will say, “I really don’t want you to give me a line reading.” So then I have to think of ways to get them to work the way I want them to. Most actors will say, “Sure, go ahead, give me a line reading. I don’t care.”

PLUME: What type of actor usually says, “Don’t give me a line reading”? Is that an ego thing?

FURST: The ones that are so artistic, you know.

PLUME: They prefer to find the moment themselves?

FURST: Yeah, find the moment themselves, and they’re not any better. They’re not any better than the other ones that say, “Sure, give me a line reading. I don’t care.” They’re not any better than them, they just have to do it a different way. It doesn’t make them a better actor.

PLUME: I’m assuming that you prefer the straight-to-the-point type, as opposed to methods.

FURST: Right, exactly …

PLUME: So at that point, your next big film work would be - Magic Kid?

FURST: I did a bunch of guest stars, those were kind of fun. Doctor, Doctor, with that crazy guy, Matt Frewer - he was impossible to work with, because I never knew what line he was going to say. Did Davis Rules with Jonathan Winters and Randy Quaid, and Diagnosis Murder, and Murder She Wrote, and CHIPS, and Jeffersons… Night Court - tons of that kind of stuff.

PLUME: Was Murder She Wrote the first contact you had, or exposure, to J. Michael Straczynski?

FURST: No, I didn’t even know him then. I didn’t even meet him … I had never met Joe before.

PLUME: He seems to have kept mental notes of people that worked on shows he was working on. People like Wayne Alexander.

FURST: No, I didn’t know him then…

PLUME: So, the next thing after Magic Kid, I guess would be B5.

FURST: I did Magic Kid, and then it was quite successful for HBO - video cassette sales. Then they wanted to do a sequel, and at this time I wanted to direct and nobody would let me direct. I said, “No, I’m not going to do the sequel, I just don’t want to do the same part.” They said, “What if we let you direct?” I said, “Okay!” So I wrote and directed that, and starred in it.

PLUME: From what I’ve been told, it’s actually far superior than the original.

FURST: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. It’s like Karate Kid. It’s just a very wholesome type picture.

PLUME: What was the biggest learning curve on that?

FURST: Oh gosh, making all these mistakes as a director, and then trying to fix them. That’s my film school.

PLUME: Just on the job training?

FURST: Yeah, I was given what - six, seven hundred thousand dollars to direct a movie.

PLUME: I’m assuming that it was so low budget that they let you make mistakes and learn your way through it.

FURST: Yeah. I mean, it was fun. A lot of hard work, but I just loved it. I was bitten by the bug, and I just wanted to direct ever since.

PLUME: So after Magic Kid would be what, B5?

FURST: I know there’s a lot in between there, I just don’t remember.

PLUME: B5 shows as ‘94.

FURST: Then, I must have done Magic Kid in ‘94, right before it … I did another movie, Little Bigfoot. Then I did Goldilocks and the Three Bears. You know, I haven’t done a big movie probably since Dream Team. Where I have the lead, I mean. I went into television, and doing guest shots and trying to direct. And now I’m producing and directing.

PLUME: Well, you had a pretty substantial role on B5 that kept you rather busy for quite a while. And you weren’t part of the pilot, right?

FURST: No, didn’t do the pilot, and it was weird because I really wasn’t into science fiction. So I got this audition for something called Babylon 5 and I went in to the audition, and there’s like ten guys in the room, and they all have their hair up like in a fan. I’m thinking, “What the hell is going on?” And so I walked into the room and I said, “You know, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know about the hair thing, and of course I would have done it …” Making excuses. They looked at each other and said, “Oh my god, it’s Vir.” So I only had to read like one scene, and they said, “We want you to do our show.”

PLUME: Can’t beat an audition like that.

FURST: I came in, and I was Vir, you know? Without even knowing the character. I remember somebody else who auditioned for it. He had a series, probably, it might have been when I used to watch sitcoms - his name was Bill Kirchenbauer. He had a show on that Friday night line up that ABC had, TGI Fridays, with Perfect Strangers, and Full House - it was one of those family shows, and it was just a horrible, horrible show. He was auditioning against me. I did a pilot for Bob Einstein. Do you remember Blye and Einstein? They did the Smothers Brothers Show. I think Allan Blye does something on HBO. It was called Bizarre, and when I did the pilot, it starred Richard Dawson - the guy from Family Feud. They were best friends with Steve Martin, so Steve Martin came in to do a guest star. It was so interesting to work with Steve Martin. It was almost like a sketch comedy show. But it was interesting to work with Allan Blye and Bob Einstein.

PLUME: I can imagine. And Steve Martin.

FURST: And Steve Martin - my god, yeah. And you know, in ‘96 there was the comedy festival in Aspen, Colorado that they have every year, and they were honoring Steve Martin and the cast of Animal House. So then once again I got to meet him. Man, we were treated like royalty. It was so cool, and there was this barbecue up at Jon Peter’s ranch, up in Aspen. That was so cool to be there with Steve Martin …

PLUME: Nice to be back with the cast again?

FURST: Oh, yeah, and the cast. Jon Lovitz was there. The other big thing that was turning everybody’s heads at the time in ‘96 was Bob Shapiro was there, the O.J. Simpson lawyer. The other interesting thing was the company that I did Magic Kid for, they liked me a lot and they said they had a really good relationship with O.J. Simpson. They asked me to write a movie for myself and O.J. to star in. So, of course, they did like low-budget things, and I did like the Lethal Weapon formula - well, black cop and Jewish cop. It was a thing about a black, no-nonsense cop and I was the Jewish cop psychologist. And we’re paired up together and, of course, we’ve got to solve crimes together - and, you know, zaniness ensues. It was called Smith and Wessonstein. I wrote this thing, and they were going to do it with myself and O.J. Simpson - and of course the murders happened.

PLUME: That would have been an interesting project.

FURST: Yeah, it would have been. I was looking forward to it, actually.

PLUME: Going in to B5, as your first Sci-Fi - and with a cast that at that point, only half of them had worked in the pilot since they did a lot of recasting - what was it like entering into that situation?

FURST: It wasn’t too difficult.

PLUME: Were tensions high at the beginning of the series?

FURST: I didn’t notice it. I just had a good time. It was always a laid-back cast. The big guy, who was originally the lead in it … He was not laid-back. Very tense, very nervous; had a personal dialogue coach with him at all times. Once he was out and Bruce was in, another kind of Jerry Doyle type guy, a lot of fun.

PLUME: Well, to make it easier, instead of hopping around … I thought the best way to do it was I’ll go through and just run down the cast, and you can just say whatever you’d like about them.

FURST: Okay.

PLUME: I’ll just go by the list here. First of all, Michael O’Hare - anything else besides being tense?

FURST: Just a real strange guy, kind of quiet. I think very insecure.

PLUME: Was there a feeling that he wasn’t meshing well with the rest of the cast?

FURST: Yes.

PLUME: Bruce (Boxleitner)?

FURST: Great guy - just great, good old John Wayne. He is John Wayne reincarnated. Just a good old guy … lot of gusto, lot of star charisma… just loved him, just loved him.

PLUME: Claudia (Christian)?

FURST: Claudia - hate to meet her in a dark alley.

PLUME: For what reason?

FURST: She’s a tough girl. Just loved her though. Absolutely one of the best actresses I’ve ever worked with. Do Sci-Fi conventions with her, and have done some theater pieces with her at the Sci-Fi conventions - just clearly a very wonderful actress. She’s in Clean and Sober, with Michael Keaton.

PLUME: Were you disappointed when she left the show?

FURST: Yeah, I was. I was.

PLUME: Jerry (Doyle).

FURST: Jerry is just a wild guy. I remember - he tells this story all the time. He was just unbelievably in awe of me. I caught him on his cell phone, behind a corner of his trailer, saying, “I can’t believe it, I’m acting with fucking Flounder.” And I turned the corner and I waved to him, and he was like really embarrassed. He just loved Animal House, and he couldn’t believe that he was acting with me.

PLUME: Well that was his first real acting job, wasn’t it?

FURST: Yeah, I think he was like a stockbroker or something.

PLUME: And decided to do like a complete change of life, from what I hear.

FURST: Yeah, now he’s like, running for congress all the time.

PLUME: All the time. 2002, he’ll try again. Mira (Furlan)?

FURST: Mira - hard to get close to.

PLUME: Was that just a cultural difference, though?

FURST: I think the cultural difference.. just never became real good friends with her. She’s not somebody I’d go out and party with.

PLUME: She doesn’t strike me as the party type.

FURST: No, she’s not. Maybe the cultural difference… Her husband is like mister friendly. I used to play poker with him. What’s interesting about them, is - I don’t remember which one’s which - but one of them is Croatian, and the other one’s Serbian.

PLUME: That’s quite a mixed couple, for the current political climate.

FURST: Yeah. That’s interesting. He’s Mister Happy, always has a perpetual smile on his face.

PLUME: Richard (Biggs).

FURST: Richard Biggs - wonderful actor, funny. He’s one of those guys that you can go up and say to him, when you’re directing, “Punch up the third line.” - “Okay!” No nonsense, just tell me what to do, I’ll do it, and I’ll do it good.

PLUME: Bill Mumy.

FURST: Bill Mumy - there’s your guy, the kind of aerial guy. Very artistic and let’s see what our motivation is. Wonderful musician. Went to his house one time - he has an amazing collection of everything. And they’re all on display, like toy figures. Then you go in another room, and he must have 1,000 Pez dispensers, all on display, perfectly displayed. His house is lined with guitars for display. He and Bruce would go at it politically, because he’s ultra-liberal, and Bruce is ultra-conservative. So we had to keep those two apart.

PLUME: How many people would abstain from the political conversations?

FURST: I was one of them. I was definitely one of them. I remember we went out to dinner one time in England. It was this whole thing about vegetarianism and hunting came up, and Bill was furious and Bruce was furious. Oh my god, it was like so tense at the table! It was the only time it was tense, ever. Oh god, that was so weird. But I tell you, Billy tells the funniest story of him working with Hitchcock. Hitchcock threatened, because Billy was a kid, he was like six or seven, and Hitchcock wanted him to stay on his mark - Billy tells this story so much better than me. But, Hitchcock came up to him … basically tells him if he moves off his mark again he’s going to nail his feet to the floor and watch the blood ooze from his shoes. That’s what Hitchcock tells this seven year old child. Billy does it very funny, because he does a great impersonation of Hitchcock.

PLUME: Wow. And people say that Hitchcock wasn’t an actors’ director. How much of the bond that was created on the show, showing the two of you together, rubbed of at all between the two of you?

FURST: I wasn’t really close with Billy. The people I was closest to was Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas. To me, Andreas and Peter were probably, technically, the best actors on the show.

PLUME: As far as the “craft” thing?

FURST: The craft. They can do anything.

PLUME: And proved it over five years.

FURST: Absolutely. Can you imagine how hard it is to act, under all that rubber that Andreas had to do?

PLUME: And to show the range that he did.

FURST: Oh my god, I had a scene with him one time in an elevator, where his race was being killed off. He takes a knife, and I think he’s going to stab me, and then he cuts his own hand. He lets each blood drip out, and he keeps saying, “Dead,” for each drop of blood. We did the scene, and curtain, and he just goes and sits down and has a cigarette, and I’m like going “oh my god!” I was so totally affected by it, I start crying. It’s no big deal to him - he just went down and had a cigarette.

PLUME: Well, talking about Andreas, I’ve heard many people say that he tended to remain in character while in the make-up. Is that true?

FURST: No, I don’t think so.

PLUME: So, it’s another one of those urban legends?

FURST: Yeah.

PLUME: You enjoyed all the scenes that you had with him?

FURST: Oh my gosh … I wish I’d had more scenes with him. But I mean, there wasn’t anybody I really did not like working with. I had a great scene with Claudia, I just loved it. It was so much fun.

PLUME: The next person listed would be Tracy (Scoggins).

FURST: I don’t know Tracy that much. I directed her, and she’s another one I wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. She’s very physically fit and very intimidating.

PLUME: Patricia Tallman.

FURST: You know, just America’s Sweetheart. She’s very sweet and kind and nice, and always doing something for a cause, you know. Every time she came towards me, I went, “Oh God, what am I doing to have to contribute to now?” That kind of thing.

PLUME: She was walking around with the petitions?

FURST: Yeah, petitions or you know, help the homeless, help the animals.

PLUME: I can imagine how she clashed with Bruce and Jerry, then.

FURST: Oh god, they’d say, “Get the hell out of here.”

PLUME: So what, was it her and Bill teaming up?

FURST: No, it was just her, always doing something. Just a very, very sweet person.

PLUME: Jeff Conaway.

FURST: Can I say, “No comment?”

PLUME: If you would prefer.

FURST: Yeah - my mother said if you can’t say something nice about somebody…

PLUME: Not a single nice thing?

FURST: He has good hair. His wife is very sweet.

PLUME: At least you’re trying.

FURST: Just somebody I would not want to work with again.

PLUME: Well, I saved the biggest one for last.

FURST: Peter?

PLUME: Yes.

FURST: Well, I would work with Peter in every single job … he did Baby Huey for me. Just, probably one of the most genuinely nicest persons I’ve ever met. I’ve actually thought maybe there was something wrong with him, because he’s too nice. The love of his life is his adopted child, and he’s given up the whole life of Hollywood for this kid …

PLUME: Just a well-founded priority, I guess.

FURST: Absolutely - moved away from Hollywood. He just got tired of the rat race of L.A., you know. He’s one of those sufferers of the age thing. You can’t find a better actor. But he says, “I go in a room, and there’s twelve actors auditioning for, let’s say, Murder She Wrote, and any one of us can do it, so we’re all going out after this part for what? $5,000.”

PLUME: I must say, from the B5 that I’ve watched and all that I remember from Hill Street Blues - a truly stunning actor.

FURST: Wait, and then he did a series with Dennis Franz, Beverly Hills Buntz.

PLUME: Which I have very few memories of.

FURST: I don’t think I’ve seen it, either. He was one of the Bochco Boys, basically. He did Bay City Blues. I met him, Peter, and I met Dennis Franz … because I’m trying to get to direct on NYPD Blue and one of my friends from St. Elsewhere is one of the producers, Mark Tinker. Dennis also still remains to be … and he’s superbly famous right now - probably one of the nicest people, ever … so you can - you don’t have to be Craig Nelson, you know what I’m saying?

PLUME: You think it’s just the kind of person that is comfortable with themselves? They’re not trying to prove anything, so they’re the ones that are the most mellow?

FURST: I guess. Craig Nelson… I was apprenticing as a director on Coach, and they had to clear the set, he was so angry about something. Just an angry person.

PLUME: I can’t imagine that kind of working environment.

FURST: No, because you live a privileged life, as a famous actor, and why do that?

PLUME: I was talking to Dave Thomas about that, the problems with Grace Under Fire. And that was a show with kids, and to have that kind of stuff going on all the time … Basically he said, the sad thing is you just see it as a job and a paycheck, that’s the only reason you go.

FURST: I don’t know, we lived such privileged lives, and why screw it up, you know?

PLUME: Well, Peter surprises me every episode I see. What an amazing amount of range.

FURST: What an amazing thing, you know? I gave him a small part in this Baby Huey thing. He plays a dad, you know these little league dads that get so into the game they start screaming? We shot it, and it was probably 115 degrees, and every take was to the fullest amount of energy. He had to be screaming and running across the field. I use his scene on my director’s reel, I’ve got to tell you, because he is just so darn good.

PLUME: And the rapport that the two of you have…

FURST: Oh my god, the chemistry. I tell you one thing - we throw some directors crazy, because we can not stop laughing.

PLUME: Which the blooper reels shows.

FURST: I don’t even know what blooper reel it is, but we had to do something with singing a Centauri opera - this made up opera. We were screaming with laughter, just screaming. Peter and I would just scream with laughter.

PLUME: Just amazing performances.

FURST: Yes, it is great. There’s nobody left, I don’t think, is there?

PLUME: No… Well, we can talk about Joe.

FURST: Joe is very nice, I enjoyed him. He’s quiet. Hard to get close to.

PLUME: As a director of B5, how controlling was he from your point of view, in what you were trying to do as a director of an episode?

FURST: He really never - he never interfered. He liked what I was doing, I think, or else he would have interfered.

PLUME: Do you see any instances where he would interfere with directors?

FURST: No, not that I know … one time as an actor, I was strictly an actor … Most of the time we were in agreement about the actors and stuff. He never came to me and said, “Why did you shoot it this way?”

PLUME: Then I guess the bottom line was that he could always shape it in editing how he wanted it.

FURST: Yeah, he could. We’d get the first cut. The directors get the first cut.

PLUME: Did you ever notice anything that was different?

FURST: Slightly, and it was usually mainly for time.

PLUME: So it wasn’t something where, oh, he used some other take …

FURST: No, because before we shoot the show - one of the last days - we have something called a tone meeting. It’s just the director and Joe. We’d go through each scene, and go, “Is there any special tone you want on this? Do you want her hair pulled back? Do you think she’s more formal…” If I had any questions or he had anything he had in his head as a writer … that’s when it’s discussed. There’s no question. And if I had a question on the set, he’s right there. I’d call him and say, “Is it okay if she changes this line?”

PLUME: I’m assuming if he did notice anything, he’d walk over and talk to you, as well.

FURST: Yes. He didn’t like his lines changed without him knowing about it.

PLUME: Were there any actors who had a tendency to improvise, or wanted to?

FURST: No, we all pretty much stuck to the script.

PLUME: Well, I guess it was a surprise when you guys came back for that final season, for five. You had filmed the finale of the show at the end of the fourth season, so I’m assuming at the end of the fourth season there was even more of a question.

FURST: Yeah, and then we found out we got picked up, and it was all planned. If we don’t get picked up, we’ll use that, and if we do get picked up, we’ll save it … it was the same thing as every season.

PLUME: And you also starred in two of the TV films, or was it just one?

FURST: You know, I don’t remember.

PLUME: It was Third Space, wasn’t it?

FURST: I don’t remember the titles, the only titles I remember are the ones that I directed. I don’t remember the titles of any other show. I know the one that I had a really big part in, called “Sic Transit Vir”, it was like a take-off on Schindler’s List.

PLUME: Excellent episode, by the way. When B5 ended, was there any statement that the door was left open to you reprising the role?

FURST: No. There was always talk about a feature film and maybe occasionally TV movies, and I know in the Ranger series Andreas is the only one so far reprising a role.

PLUME: And you’d have no problems with reprising it?

FURST: Would I? No, I loved that role. I’d love to direct, if it goes to series.

PLUME: What was your definition - personally - of the character Vir?

FURST: He felt he was the conscience of his boss. He was very loyal to Londo, and he was the Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder.

PLUME: Pointing out where he was perhaps straying?

FURST: Oh yeah, or where his ego got in the way, and his lust for power.

PLUME: Which eventually he got in ways unexpected.

FURST: Right. I also thought one of the best actors on the show was a guy who just did five episodes. His name was Bob Krimmer - or Wortham Krimmer, he goes by - and he played that character called Cartagia…

PLUME: Yes, the mad emperor.

FURST: Right. What a wonderful - it’s kind of like Joaquin Phoenix in the Gladiator.

PLUME: In intensity.

FURST: Oh yeah, he’s such a good actor. My god, he’s just such a wonderful actor.

PLUME: I’m trying to remember all those scenes now. That was the assassination…

FURST: I stabbed him by accident. So I became like the hero.

PLUME: What a wonderful look on your face when you did.

FURST: Shock - utter shock.

PLUME: And completely ironic, since you had just been talking about assassinating … the shock of something happening when it’s unexpected, even though it’s fully expected.

FURST: Right, exactly.

PLUME: Around the time of B5 was when you started doing voice over work, right?

FURST: Yeah, for a good part of it.

PLUME: Was that something that fell into your lap, or something you pursued?

FURST: Something I pursued. It’s really hard to break into. It really is.

PLUME: How long had you been trying?

FURST: I had a couple little things. I did a couple episodes of Freakazoid!, which was Steven Spielberg’s cartoon. I played Fan Boy, which was ironic, because he’s a crazed science fiction fan. He bothers like, Mark Hamill and George Takei and people like that in the cartoons. So I did that, and then, it’s interesting, I auditioned for Toy Story, and I got the part. Then I worked one day and I was replaced, basically. You can’t really take it personally, because sometimes the voice just doesn’t match the character. I was replaced by Jim Varney. I was Slinky Dog. And ironically, it turns out, I do the series, Buzz Lightyear.

PLUME: Which is based on Toy Story. How these things come around…

FURST: Yeah. But, you know, I play one of the leads on Buzz Lightyear, and I did the whole movie, and then I did Little Mermaid Part II.

PLUME: The direct-to-video?

FURST: Yeah, I did that. My office looks like a kid’s place, because I have all my toys around that I’ve done.

PLUME: How does it feel to look around and see toys of characters that you’ve brought to life?

FURST: It’s amazing. When I just said that, I turned my chair around … I’m looking at all these toys that I have. It’s so cool to go to the store and say, “Do you have Baby Hathi?” Because I was in Jungle Cubs, too … Here I am in show business for 25 years, and I guess one of the biggest thrills I had in my life was just about six months ago, and I became a Happy Meal. It was so cool to go McDonald’s and buy myself. That was really cool to me.

PLUME: And you know that somewhere, Bill Mumy has a room of Stephen Furst toys, all perfectly displayed.

FURST: That’s right, perfectly displayed. It’s so cool, you know. I look around the room and just like everybody I guess - ego - but there’s a lot of things of things that I’ve done. I have an ad … Academy Time … the studio took out an ad for me for best supporting actor. I got that framed. I got a picture of me and Johnny Carson, when I did the Carson show. The most recent one I have is - you know I’m a news junkie, I love news and stuff, I did Good Morning America … I got this nice picture of me and Diane Sawyer. I just love that stuff.

PLUME: Yeah, but really, how can you consider mementos ego? You look at those things and you remember things about them - it’s not you crowing over your achievements.

FURST: Right. I mean, the rest of my house has nothing to do with show business - just my little office. It’s just my office. It just shows things that I’ve accomplished and other things that I’m proud of.

PLUME: I wouldn’t consider that ego.

FURST: Then on this one wall, it’s all just drawings of cartoon characters that I’ve played - either cells or one of the artist’s drawings, or something like that.

PLUME: How does it feel that in twenty years some college student is going to remember that cool cartoon character that he loved as a kid?

FURST: Right! The other thing I think is funny that I talk about is, even though I’ve lost all this weight, I always seem to be playing fat cartoon characters. Fan Boy is fat, Hathi the elephant is fat, the guy from Little Mermaid is fat, and so is the guy from Buzz Lightyear. They’re all overweight characters.

PLUME: Everyone identifies, I guess, with the Flounder character.

FURST: Yeah, I guess. It’s so weird.

PLUME: That’s the way Hollywood works.

FURST: Yes, I’m typecast as cartoon characters.

PLUME: They take a freeze frame of you and that’s it for the rest of your career.

FURST: What’s interesting is when you’re doing things like Buzz Lightyear and Mermaid, they videotape you doing the voices in the room. Then they draw the character doing some of your expressions.

PLUME: How disconcerting is that?

FURST: Not at all. You don’t even notice the camera at all. They don’t move around - it’s just a stationary camera.

PLUME: Right, I meant seeing the characters, the nuances appearing in …

FURST: A little bit is, I mean if you notice on Aladdin, that genie looks a lot like Robin Williams.

PLUME: I can’t imagine, being in three series that have fans around the world, and then also being cartoon characters.

FURST: Yeah, it’s kind of cool.

PLUME: So how many generations of fans do you think you have?

FURST: I don’t know, because Animal House gets new generations. It’s kind of like Rocky Horror Picture Show or the Brady Bunch, you know? They have generations that happen each time.

PLUME: They need to revive St. Elsewhere somewhere.

FURST: Yeah, that would be nice.

PLUME: I’m actually surprised that’s not in rotation somewhere. And then B5 I guess plays endlessly on the Sci-Fi Channel.

FURST: St. Elsewhere is on Bravo.

PLUME: Oh is it? Did they pick that up? Another reason why I regret not having Bravo.

FURST: Yeah. That, and they also play it on TV Land.

PLUME: I think it was edited, if I remember correctly, on TV Land.

FURST: Oh it was?

PLUME: Yeah, they edit all their shows. Where does your passion lie right now? When you’re pursuing something, do you pursue directing above acting?

FURST: Yes, definitely. I’m not a big time director. I would love to do a movie that gets a theatrical release. I basically have directed movies that people have given to me to direct and … they don’t start out with a wonderful script, you know, and I try to make the best movie that I possibly can. My biggest dream is to direct something that I’m super-passionate about. That I think is some wonderful piece, a wonderful story. It doesn’t have to be The Piano or The English Patient - it doesn’t have to be that. Just give me something that tells a wonderful story, that’s well written, give me some actors, and I can make magic out of it.

PLUME: Do you prefer that it’s something you wrote, or shepherded, as well?

FURST: Oh no, not writing, because I’m really not that great of a writer. I read scripts constantly from aspiring writers, because my company can’t afford to option well-known writers. And I get these little gems that I would love to see be made. I have about four movies in development now, in different stages of being financed. Which of them gets the financing first is the one I’ll do.

PLUME: Starting out 25 years ago, did you ever think you’d be saying the phrase, “I have four films in development”?

FURST: No, because I never thought I would direct. I always wanted to be an actor. And development’s that buzz word. Development means you’ve got a script maybe anywhere from being almost financed, like some of my pictures to, “Hey, I’ve got a script in an envelope that I’m halfway through.”

PLUME: Some people just start development from a cocktail napkin.

FURST: Yeah, exactly. Development sometimes is a word people use when they’re unemployed, “I’ve got several things in development.” But you know, by talking to me, I don’t really put on any airs. If I’m unemployed, I’m unemployed. I’m making more money now as a speaker than I am directing - a speaker for Sci-Fi conventions, but mainly for the health.

PLUME: Does that allow you to be more leisurely and bide your time with the directing gigs?

FURST: Absolutely, absolutely.

PLUME: And in the long run, I guess it’s better to be able to pick and choose quality projects than it is to churn out stuff that you’d regret or wouldn’t get you other work.

FURST: Unfortunately, I would still be at the point as a director now, if somebody gave me a mediocre script, I would probably still direct it. I think it’s still film school, like it was before.

PLUME: And it’s far better to experiment on something small.

FURST: Yeah, until my baby comes. And I think it eventually will. Because if I didn’t think it would, I would’ve quit. But you know, I’ve become a spokesman for American Diabetes Association. I produced a tape - I produced, wrote, directed, and starred in a tape along with Stuart Pankin last year.

PLUME: Is this D4G?

FURST: Yeah.

PLUME: Now what exactly is that? I’ve read up on it, but …

FURST: I did a speech for American Diabetes about a year and a half ago, and I made it funny. Everybody was talking about diabetes and what a serious disease it is, and how horrible it is. I went and I just told this like, life story about how I hit bottom. The speech is called Hitting Bottom, basically, and it’s very funny. I did this speech in Texas, and I got paid for it. Then I got an email, like a week later, “Will you write a book for us?” I said, “Well, you know, I’m really not a writer. I’m flattered that you want me to write a book for you.” They said, “Well, nobody’s ever made diabetes funny before …guys don’t take care of themselves as well as women do, we want you to do a book about guys with diabetes. Your life story, how you dealt with it, and how you ignored it.” I said, “You know what? I’m not a writer, I’m a filmmaker. Why don’t we make a movie?” Six weeks later we had written the script and we were in production. And I did this movie, and it’s basically like Saturday Night Live. It’s a take-off on all these famous films, and it’s basically my life story. Stuart Pankin plays me, before I lost weight. I said, “What better way to tell my story than through the movies?” So we did spin-offs on about thirty different movies really fast - like Austin Powers, and Sixth Sense, and American Beauty, and Psycho, and Jaws. It was wonderful. We had a six day shoot - I can work really fast - and Stuart played a lot of different characters… and he was hysterical, absolutely hysterical.

PLUME: And the response was good?

FURST: Oh, response has been phenomenal. People Magazine did a huge article on me. Inside Edition and Extra and I’m going to do, like I told you, E.T. and Good Morning, America… all this kind of stuff.

PLUME: How is the tape available?

FURST: It’s on Amazon.com, or through the American Diabetes website. Then, from the People Magazine article, I just became the National Spokesman for the American Heart Association, for a campaign they’re doing called The Heart of Diabetes - for the awareness between diabetic people and cardiovascular disease, which is the number one leading cause of death among Type II diabetics.

PLUME: Did you ever think that you would be a spokesperson?

FURST: Never thought the cause would lead to financial gain, never was it intended.

PLUME: As a side note, a lot of over-weight actors feel that if they lose the weight, they’re not going to get the work. That they’ve been typecast as a certain type of an actor and that’s what people want to hire. Did that thought ever cross your mind, or was it a matter of, “I need to get healthy for me”?

FURST: At the time, I was 40 years old when I decided to turn my life around, and I wanted to live longer so I could do other things. If I had to give up acting, I did. I just didn’t want to see myself in a wheelchair, blind, on oxygen, with one foot. I wouldn’t be able to act anyway.

PLUME: Or, I guess, leave your sons and wife potentially without a father and husband.

FURST: Right, or become a burden on them, health-wise. So, it’s kind of like a second career. I’m still directing, I’m still doing a little bit of acting, but it’s definitely a second career speaking about health issues and being obese. I find it very rewarding, because a lot of people come up to me at these Sci-Fi conventions and say, “You’re such an inspiration to me, I really need to lose weight.” Or, “I saw you at the convention in Chicago, and I’ve lost 40 pounds since then.” That kind of thing …

I’m totally different than I was when I was your age. When I was your age, I was, like, “make as much money as possible and become as famous as you possibly can”, you know? Now it’s, like, life’s too short. I want to wake up every day and try to enjoy myself, every day. I’m so much more relaxed than I ever was in my life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, probably. Nothing’s perfect, though. Things can always get better.

PLUME: There’d be no reason to get up in the morning if things were perfect

FURST: Right. Every day, I just try to have a great day.

PLUME: And it certainly seems like your future is bright.

FURST: Yeah, you know, some days it seems bright - and other days, like I said, I’m not perfect.

PLUME: Well, you have more opportunities ahead of you now then you did when you first started.

FURST: I’ve got to say, it’s a very, very frustrating business. There are people much younger than me who are so much more successful than me. Or people who decide to become a director, and they’ll do a $7,000 El Mariachi … and then become Robert Rodriguez, a nine picture deal. From doing a $7,000 movie, you know?

PLUME: And frankly, as far as determination goes, you staying nine months at the beginning of your career put you at the top of a lot of other actors at that point.

FURST: People say, “Well, that’s nothing - I’ve been here 10 years trying to make it as an actor,” that kind of thing.

PLUME: But there are guys that hit their stride in their 40’s …

FURST: That’s true - Carroll O’Conner, who just passed on. He became famous when he was fifty-something… really famous, with Archie Bunker.

PLUME: It’s just amazing when people say, “Where have you been all this time?” to these actors who have been cranking away for all that time, and just stuck it through.

FURST: Who knows - three, four years from now I may get on a sitcom and become flavor of the month.

PLUME: Or you may direct a big budget feature and be the guy with the nine picture deal.

FURST: That’s my biggest dream right now - that one of these little independents that I do hits, and I become the flavor of the month. I become the Quentin Tarantino. I become the Robert Rodriguez.

PLUME: Well, then I can turn around, and I can say - “That’s the guy who used to take my calls”…

FURST: And you know what? If I was Quentin Tarantino tomorrow and you called, I would still return your phone calls. Or I’d have somebody do it for me!

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