In an illustrious fifty-year career, American actor David Hedison starred in 1958 horror classic The Fly, Irwin Allen’s cult ’60s TV show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and as James Bond’s ally Felix Leiter in Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill.
Other roles have included appearances in Charlie’s Angels, The A-Team, Knight Rider, The Colbys and Wonder Woman.
As the James Bond franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, CultBox caught up with 85-year-old David to discuss his work…
Were you aware of legendary sci-fi producer Irwin Allen’s work prior to starring in The Lost World?
“Yes, he had an office on the Fox lot and had done several films before he hired me for this, none of which I had ever seen.”
What was Jill St. John (who went on to play Bond girl Tiffany Case in Diamonds are Forever) like to work with on the film?
“Lovely woman with, as I remember, a very high IQ. One smart lady. And fun!”
Was The Lost World your first experience of working with those kinds of special effects, working with effects where you cannot see what you are reacting to, with dinosaur mattes, etc?
“It’s easier with another actor, as they give back to you, but as an actor I find a way to make the situation become all too real to me. As if my life depended on it.”
What initially attracted you to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea?
“Nothing! I didn’t want to do that kind of series. Finally, Irwin said he had hired Richard Basehart. I had always admired Richard’s acting and I had a change of heart. I sincerely believed we could make these characters believable to the public. And believe me – between the two of us – we worked very hard to do that.”
Were you contacted by the Irwin Allen casting directors regarding the original 1961 Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea movie?
“Yes. Irwin wanted me. Badly. But having worked with Irwin on The Lost World I felt it was too much of the same thing. So I passed.”
What are your memories of when you first stepped onto the Seaview set? Was it as impressive as it appears on screen?
“They were great sets. Very well done. I wasn’t in awe, but I could appreciate the hard work that went into making them.”
Richard Basehart is highly regarded as an actor. What did you learn about acting from him? Did you develop a rapport with him very quickly and did you both have a similar sense of humour?
“Nothing distracted Richard. When the director called action, he always delivered. Personality wise, we were opposites, I was more gregarious and outgoing, he was more introspective and introverted. But we got along, because we shared the same passion for acting.
“Yes, we liked each other right away and we did have a similar sense of humor but when he was working, Richard had great concentration.”
Did the actors on Voyage socialise off-set at all?
“Not very much. Bob Dowdell was my neighbor, I got him the role of Chip Morton. Paul Trinka worked hard and was a good addition to the cast and a fine actor, as was everyone else in the cast.”
The death of Henry Kulky was a very sad event in the first year of Voyage and must have come as a great shock to everyone on set. What memories can you share of the kind of man he was?
“Henry had a great heart and was a good friend – and the role of the Chief fit him like a glove. After Henry passed on, Terry Becker took on the role and he was perfect. A solid performer.”
What was it like filming the frequent rolling scenes on the Seaview set? It must have been very difficult to coordinate a large cast rolling to the same side in synchronization. Did these scenes take several takes?
“No, we learned how to do it. There was a guy on set with a metal pail and a hammer. When he hit the pail the first time we all lurched to the right. On the second hit we’d fall to the left as the camera tilted to the right. A hammer and an old tin pail. Can you imagine!”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the James Bond movies. When you shot Live and Let Die nearly 40 years ago did you imagine the series would still be going in 2012?
“No. A couple of times when they were fighting over who had the rights to it, I though it was dead. Thank God it survived!”
How would you compare your own experiences of Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton’s portrayals of Bond?
“They were two different actors with two different approaches to the role. I thought they made good choices in how they chose to interpret the character. They were true to themselves and it infused their characterizations.
“Roger had a marvelous sense of humor and was a great story (and joke) teller. I enjoyed working with Timothy as well. He took his role very seriously and was, like Roger, a joy to work with.”
What are your favourite memories from the filming of Live and Let Die and Licence to Kill?
“I had some of the best memories of my life working on those two Bond films, and the producers always treated me very well on both Bond films. First class all the way. I enjoyed filming in New Orleans, New York, Key West and Mexico.”
Do you have a personal favourite Bond movie?
“From Russia With Love. Lotte Lenya [who played Rosa Klebb] cracked me up.”
Have you enjoyed Jeffrey Wright’s portrayal of Felix Leiter in the two most recent Bond movies?
“Jeffrey Wright is a brilliant actor and I really admired his performance in Angels in America on Broadway and in so many other films. He does fine work in the Bond films – but was never given enough to do in them to show off his remarkable talent as an actor.”
Will you be watching Skyfall when it’s released later this year?
Which of your many roles are you most often recognised for today?
“I have three things I’m known for: Crane in Voyage, Andre in The Fly (1958) and as Felix in my two Bond films. I’ve done many other guests shots that people remember, but these get mentioned to me the most.”
Thanks for your time, David!
“Happy to do it. Come see me and get my autograph at the Memorabilia show the weekend of November 23rd at the NEC in Birmingham. All my personal appearances in the US and UK can be found on my website.”
Watch the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea trailer…
What’s your favourite role of David’s? Let us know below…