James Darren may prefer being on stage to acting in movies but that isn’t stopping him from raising the bar on the latter in his latest film, “Lucky.”
In fact, in some scenes in this movie to be released next month, you’ll find him IN the bar as he portrays Paulie, “a putatively reformed ne’ew-do-well,” as Variety terms his character in this story based on the life of 90-year-old character actor Harry Dean Stanton. Most impressively, after his playing Moondoggie in the 50’s and 60’s “Gidget” movies, a cop on the TV series “T,J, Hooker,” and hologram singer Vic Fontaine in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” among many other roles, Variety proclaims that Darren “gives what is arguably the finest film performance of his career as Paulie” and “If the right people see ‘Lucky,’ it could do for Darren what ;Jackie Brown’ did for Robert Forster.” Still, Darren would rather be singing – which he will be doing at the South Point this coming weekend, August 25 & 26.
“I love the South Point,” he exclaims, saying that he performs 15-18 concerts a year across the country and will also be performing in London and Germany this year. “I have such fun with a live audience – it’s the highlight of my life. It’s torture preparing for it and getting myself in shape. I work out my voice every day. When you get older, you have to sing every day and if I miss a week, it’s torture getting back.
“I do vocal exercises for 30 minutes then I practice my show for two hours,” he continues. “If your voice gets tired, you should quit and try again a couple of hours later. You have to keep in shape physically, too, and I walk three miles on the treadmill every day. To be able to sing is one of the greatest gifts in the world. It’s a great joy to be able to create a mood. There is too much down time in acting. You leave your house at 4 a.m., get home at 10 p.m.; you’re on the set 11 hours a day and you work an hour. “
As for “Lucky,” Darren reveals that the role came along by chance just as the Vic Fontaine role came about in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,’” He had met Ira Behr, the executive producer of the Star Trek vehicle, at a function and Behr thought that Darren be perfect for the role. But the actor turned it down three times because he didn’t want to play a holographic singer, eventually taking it on. Behr is also the producer of “Lucky” and some months back, as a mechanic was loading Darren’s Porsche onto a flatbed on Mullholland Drive, Behr drove by. He stopped to talk and told Darren that he wanted him for the tole of Paulie but Darren told him that he didn’t want to work as an actor anymore.
“Knowing in a heartbeat that I was right for the role, Ira set up a meeting between myself and the director, John Carroll Lynch, and I even told John that I’d rather be sitting by my pool on my chaise lounge enjoying a coke,” Darren smiles. “But Ira called him and told him to give me a shot. Ira also wrote all my lines. Then, after I took the role and we were shooting for three weeks, I was told that it was the best scene in the film thus far. It is a night scene on a street corner with Harry Dean Stanton.”
Although he admits that at one time he loved acting, today there has to be something in the role that makes it real for him. Being Italian and from Philadelphia, playing Paulie hit the mark. Still, as an actor with an ego as all actors have, Darren admits that he doesn’t like to see himself on screen because he may see an expression on his face that is good for the character but not good for him personally. He says that when that happens, he wants to alter it and then it becomes taboo for future work and he’ll be afraid to do it again.
Darren acknowledges that he may go to the “Lucky” premiere in L.A. and walk out in front and then go out the back door before the movie begins, noting that as long as the movie is good, that’s he cares about. And while he may not do any more movies, he does enjoy his hobby – being behind a camera, as in photography shooting portraits of children and old people. Darren, by the way, has spent a lot of time behind a different kind of camera as a noted director for such TV shows as “Walker Texas Ranger,” “Hunter,” Raven,” “Werewolf” and more.
No doubt multi-talented James Darren knows what it means to be “lucky” himself.