Richard Hatch wants you to go climb a tree.
During our chat, it was one of many things I learned about the actor, best known as Apollo on classic science fiction series Battlestar Galactica. His idea of exercise isn’t a standard gym trip. Indeed, a non-traditional way of thinking defines this California native’s dynamic approach to living.
His television break came on ABC’s All My Children. Viewers not only saw an impressive acting range, but heard his musical talent, stemming from early nurturing of classical piano at the tender age of eight. In fact, Hatch’s musicianship was so well received, MGM Records came calling and he nearly signed a deal. Now his son continues the legacy as songwriter and musician in his own right.
Many boast of being inspirational or motivational. Any actor worth their salt can inspire us to at least believe a character their portraying. With Richard Hatch, the motivational part is no empty boast. While chatting, I couldn’t help reminisce about myself growing up watching him as star traveling Apollo and the wholly satisfying achievement of scaling trees as a boy.
Early TV Roles: Listening To Yoda
Friend, Elliot Mintz, described as a “Yoda” like guy in a little cabin in the mountains urged Hatch to study acting. Mintz went on to be spokesman for stars like John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Paris Hilton. Hatch also studied ballet, loving its grace, and social benefits. “I loved ballet, in fact all the girls I dated were ballerinas.”
After his stint on All My Children, he won a coveted spot on hit detective show Streets Of San Francisco starring Karl Malden. Co-star Michael Douglas was leaving, so Hatch was brought on as Malden’s new partner. He relates how tough Hollywood is on even still relatively young actors. “When I got the role I was at a point in time when people said to me, ‘If you don’t make it soon, you know you’ll be too old.’ Up to then, I was on the soaps for a few years and had done lots of guest work on shows. I actually turned down a few series roles because they weren’t right for me.”
The financial rewards changed his life. “It was a big shift for me. I was a struggling actor, living up in Beverly Glen, close to Westwood. I’m in a hovel with about five people, half falling down hill because of termites. It was a house with rotating people, so basically no money… broke every year I borrowed money from my Mother to pay my income tax. Anyway I get this role and go from a little hovel to a mansion in Pacific Heights with a driver making more money than I’d ever seen in my life.”
Although thrilled to win the role, the prospect of replacing Michael Douglas was daunting, “They had such a great relationship. I had watched the show and my girlfriend was in love with Michael Douglas and actually was depressed I was replacing him! The first few shows, I was absolutely terrified of failing. How could I live up to the partnership they had? That coupled with moving from daytime soaps was difficult. In fact, I got a pinched nerve, which caused more pain than anything in my life. I really don’t know how I got through that period. Michael Douglas, who had yet to leave, took me to lunch and reached out to me. He was so kind and friendly. He really helped me over the hump. Then my friend Don Johnson, before Miami Vice, guested on the show it helped me not be afraid of failing or not living up to other’s expectations.”
Before Dancing With The Stars There Was Circus Of The Stars
Hatch fondly recalls participation in one of TV’s first celebrity reality shows. Before Joey Fatone or Marie Osmond danced into our hearts, there was Battle of the Network Stars – a track and field mini Olympics pitting stars against one another. “All those actors were either athletes or ex-athletes. You better believe they were highly competitive and didn’t want to lose! I’m telling you it was a big deal to us! I remember a final event – the tug of war. And I was the guy at the end of the rope, I had that rope over my shoulders. We pulled for an hour until we were dying! We were dying in pain! I got rope burns all over my neck and shoulders that scabbed up, I looked like a walking nightmare. No frackin way! We had to win! It was kick-ass amazing. We had a great time and I did it for four years. Then came Circus of The Stars. Brooke Shields joined up. We practiced at a friend’s house out in the Valley who has a high wire all set-up where stunt guys train. He used to be a professional catcher at the circus. We’d hang out to the wee hours for practice… such camaraderie. “
Hatch took it so seriously, he recalls when none other than legendary Howard Cosell did color commentary on a football catch that meant so much. “Here’s I am playing football, with five cameras capturing it in slow mo and I do this phenomenal catch of the century. Howard Cosell watches and the guy throws the ball way to the right, which is like impossible to get. I remember sprinting across the field, diving into the air with no hope of getting the ball. Next thing I know the ball is in my fingertips, all caught on five cameras. It’s not the NFL, but for me it was a highlight of my life. I had people come up to me years later, it gave them chills up their spine. I got those same chills… a moment you cherish forever.”
Classic Battlestar Galactica & Beyond
After the mega success of Star Wars in 1977, ABC wanted a TV series to capture sci-fi fans. Charges of Glen Larson’s Battlestar Galactica being a rip-off of Star Wars never stuck, as all who’ve seen even a few episodes clearly see similarities are strictly cosmetic.
Hatch as Apollo in classic BSG and Tom Zarek in Sci-Fi’s re-imagination is the only cast member to bridge the generations. He’s proud of both and won’t play a game of which show is better or more worthy of audience attention. “When fans of original BSG won’t watch the new one, I don’t understand it. They’re losing out on a wonderful different version of something they may love.”
As to creator Glen Larson’s support of classic Battlestar Galactica, Hatch offers this, “I think of all shows Glenn did and Glenn is a showman, like Barnum & Bailey, an entertainer with a great sense of humor. He was very successful with about 5 shows on the air at one time. Glenn wove philosophy into it, and his Mormon sensibility, so I think there was a closeness to BSG he may not have had with the other shows.”
The success wasn’t unnoticed by Fox or creator George Lucas who felt so threatened by the hit show, they filed a lawsuit. Hatch marvels at the absurdity, “While inspired by Star Wars, we had a totally different story. Can you believe our laser pistols… we could only show a laser light up and what was hit, but not a laser going through the air because of Star Wars. And that’s silly! Nobody owns space! God knows really why it was done, but the truth was Star War’s success opened a door for us, yet the back story behind our series was powerful. You know it wasn’t a superficial piece of crap thrown on to exploit Star Wars. It was well thought out and interesting. Ideas of Mayans and Egyptians as the forefathers of our race resonated with the audience deeply both old and young and the whole family could watch the show.”
Classic BSG lasted only one year. “Problems were lead time to do quality episodes all the way through and budget. Special FX then were slow and very expensive, unlike now.” Still, the media splash was undeniable and Hatch recalls the thunder when the show hit. “We were rated 5 opening night with over 65 million people watching on ABC the highest rated network with 7 of out of the top 10 shows. We were on covers of every major magazine. I really don’t think there’s been a show since that’s had that kind of coverage, yet from almost the moment it hit instead of increasing budget, they scaled back. Glenn Larsen pleaded for a year to get things in order, but ABC refused.”
Though Hatch tried hard to revive BSG with original cast, the ultimate incarnation lay with Sci-Fi channel, who opted for a re-imagination and casting new actors to assume classic roles. It’s a credit to Hatch’s flexibility that he was asked to come on board as Tom Zarek, a manipulative politician, whose motives are always one step away from being known.
He sees the new version thusly, “Most series re-imagined especially sci-fi ones fail because they change too much or reinvent things, in this case they hired a visionary producer in Ron Moore to walk a fine line and he produced something truly entertaining and substantive. I really feel they (the producers) pulled off a miracle and now to be a part of the new show, to meet these actors who are passionate about their characters and passionate about the show is satisfying. “
What about cast mates from original BSG who can’t accept the new version? Hatch is diplomatic. “Did I get resentment from some? Yes. In Dirk Benedict’s case, I can understand how he felt when they changed Starbuck into a female role, but you know what, who else could do a male Starbuck as good as Dirk? I actually think it’s a compliment to Dirk they switched genders.”
Motivational Speaking, Thumb Wrestling & Tree Climbing
After cancellation of Battlestar Galactica, Hatch continued working on hit shows like Fantasy Island and Dynasty, then found outlet for his communication skills in another arena. Hatch’s visibility, life experience and verbal eloquence led him to appear at speaking engagements the world over. Corporate bootcamps are now treated to his kind of personal motivation and goal attainment mastery .
As a former athlete and still highly physically competitive, Hatch feels the best corporate bootcamp or motivational seminars aren’t static sit downs, but should be a mixture of physical and intellectual. “I combine that with artistic creative things as well. Workshops combining both physical and the artistic are perfect, the most effective”
Hatch does fan cruises, fun getaways for fans. On the trips, Hatch doesn’t make a mandatory appearance only to hide away in his cabin. In fact you can “wrestle” with him. “I mix with guests and genuinely love getting to know them. I’m a competitive guy and love thumb wrestling. Nobody has beaten me yet, though many still try. I’ll thumb wrestle anyone anywhere!”
As hinted at before, his notion of working out isn’t a stair master or tread mill. “I get bored going to a gym for an hour a day. I work out constantly… always moving and jumping around. I play basketball. I climb trees everywhere I go. Everyone who knows me knows I search for a limb and I get pissed off when they cut off these lower limbs. I look for a tree limb so I can hang onto to do pull-ups on. Hardest thing for me is sitting in a chair, sitting hour upon hour, indoors, when it’s beautiful outdoors is very hard for me.”
Richard Hatch’s organic approach to life makes me want to go find that tree with a lower limb. It helps put us in touch with a more creative and playful side. For that alone, Richard Hatch clearly is a special kind of performer and teacher who encourages us to think differently about much in our lives.