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Dirk Benedict on... Columbo

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Dirk Benedict is perhaps best known for playing Face in the hit TV show The A Team which has been remade into a film due for release this Summer. He is soon to be seen on stage in Salford at the Lowry in Middleground Theatre's Columbo: Prescription Murder. Here, he talks about the play, his TV roles and reality television.

Your most recent appearance on UK television screens was as a contestant in
Celebrity Big Brother back in 2007. How did you find the overall Big Brother experience?
I am on record as saying that “reality TV” is proof that just when you think what passes as “entertainment” can’t sink any lower....it does. Given this, it was stunning that I was asked to participate in CBB. I figured God, in His Wisdom, was giving me an opportunity to deal with one of my few prejudices. Saying “yes” turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my professional life. I am by nature a recluse. Little did I know that this was the perfect personality type for a show like CBB. Yes it was being on camera 24/7, but the actual experience was one of total isolation. Deprivation. This was not difficult for me at all. At the end of the show I felt like I’d just been to a Monastery for 28 days. The food for me was a non issue because I had all the rice and beans I needed and that is what I eat in my life on the outside. No TV, or radio...my idea of heaven. I missed my piano, but the time away from my daily tinkling of ivories only made the return to it more sweet.  I lost weight. Gained perspective on what is really important in life. Made a few friends. Met a bunch of wild and interesting personalities. And best of all, had a generous supply of my favourite cigar. Montecritsto No.2.  All truth, according to George B. Shaw, is buried in paradox, and for me, my experience in CBB proved that old Georgie is right. What should have been painful, embarrassing, superficial and shallow, turned out to be illuminating, edifying and at the end of the day, a Spiritual journey. Oh, and I even made a few quid.

You’re probably best known for playing the role of Lieutenant Templeton ‘Faceman’ Peck in the highly successful 1980s series – The A Team.  Rumour has it you are making a cameo in the remake scheduled for release later this year. Do you think the cast line up will live up to the original? 
I have completed my “cameo” in the upcoming A Team feature film. I met and worked with Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley. If they, their personality, talent and character are any indication of what the film will be, then I believe it will be a smashing success. I am honoured to pass the torch to Bradley Cooper. I only wish they would have let me play his “Dad”. I think I would make a brilliant “Face Sr.”

You are playing Columbo in Prescription Murder, a role made famous by the legendary Peter Falk. What attracted you to the part?
In a word...cigars. One of the great cigar smokers of TV history. (Along with Starbuck!) I’m not sure if I’m joking or not. It is a very well written play, without which fact, I would not have said yes. Furthermore,  the dishevelled,  stumbling, seemingly confused and distracted Lt. Columbo is much closer to my own personality than either of the characters for which I am known for....Lt. Starbuck; Lt. Templeton Peck AKA Faceman. I do wonder that I can’t seem to rise above the rank of Lieutenant. You’d think by now, I would be a General or at least Lt. Colonel.  I have now had two of my TV characters re-created by other actors; so it is nice that I get to have my turn doing the same with the role Peter Falk created. Tough Gumshoes to fill but I will give it my bumbling best.

How does life on tour compare with life on set?
Life on tour is more similar to “real” life than is being on the set of a film or TV show. Doing live theatre is very much like life. It only happens once. You are dependent on, not only other actors, but the audience. Audiences very much impact a live performance. On stage you must trust those you are performing with, you succeed or fail depending on that trust. As in life, you can’t do it alone. In film, it is much more just you and a camera. Solo. There is no audience. No immediate feedback. Acting in film is to acting on stage what masturbation is to love making.
On tour you are also constantly moving from town to town. Constant change. This appeals to my vagabond nature. Change is the one constant in life and I think doing a play on tour is very much about change. Different towns, audiences, theatres. It keeps one on one’s toes. Just as in life, change, whether self-inflicted or forced on us, gives us opportunity for growth and self-awareness.  I am very excited to do this play for people all over United Kingdom. Variety is truly my favourite condiment in life. There are many ex-girlfriends that will confirm this.

If you were not acting, what do you think you would be doing?
There is no question that what I would be doing had I not become an actor, is writing. I have long felt that I was really meant to be a “writer”. My earliest instincts were to write. Never to perform.  I don’t really have the performers DNA, have never dreamt of acting; but always, always dreamed of writing. Books, plays, screenplays, poetry, songs. All of which I have done, by the way, but alas my acting career was too successful and got in the way. My plan is for Lt. Columbo to be my Swan Song as an actor; and devote whatever time I have left on this planet to expressing myself with words.

What has been your career highlight?
Playing Lt. Columbo. Whatever moment of my life I am in, is the “best” moment of my life. Playing Hamlet Off-Broadway in ’87 was, is, for me, the most fulfilling experience I’ve had as an actor and the only part that I ever really felt perfectly ‘right’ for. If you’ve read my second autobiography, “And Then We Went Fishing”, you understand.

What is next for Mr Dirk Benedict?
What is next? Oh, I am too life-experienced to believe I have any control over that. I have a great home in Montana; enjoy very much my life and am completely devoted to staying involved in my son’s lives, Roland (19) and George(21). I have raised them as a single Dad. (My proudest achievement, thanks for asking.) I am hoping they can join me on this tour for a little while. Life is much more joyous and interesting when they are around.

Columbo is at the Lowry from 7 -12 June. For more information, please visit the Lowry website.


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