HOTSEAT-<i>M*A*S*H</i> man: Just call him Mike
Hollywood is full of people who've squandered their talent and name recognition to become tabloid fodder. Mike Farrell took another path.
Way before the beloved television series M*A*S*H ended its 11-season run with the most-watched final episode ever on February 28, 1983, Farrell, who played B.J. Hunnicut, already was using his fame to promote human rights issues. He put his celebrity up against former Miss America/orange juice queen Anita Bryant, who ignited a homophobic campaign in Florida in 1977 that spread across the country.
Farrell comes to Charlottesville for the Virginia Festival of the Book, and at his March 29 appearance at the Paramount he's ready to wing it and talk about what the audience wants to hear. He's learned from promoting his 2007 book, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist, "Some are there because of M*A*S*H, some for other things," referring to his myriad roles in activism. "I try to keep it fluid."
And no, he's not sick of being asked about M*A*S*H or about Alan Alda, even though "I'm well past the 2,000th time" on Alda, he says. More than 25 years after the show ended, Farrell sounds profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to be on what some consider the best TV show ever.
In his book, he describes how he learned at an early age that "Those with power are often cruel to those without. I hated that more than anything, but had no idea what to do about it...."
As a young adult, he also learned a lesson he's carried through life: "Everyone deserves what everyone wants: love, attention, and respect."
Those two lessons have taken him all over the world to genocidal hot spots, where he lends his voice to bring awareness to the horrors man inflicts upon his fellows. His fight against the death penalty has taken him to more prisons and more death rows than any other actor, particularly one who's never been arrested.
Not surprisingly, his opposition has brought him to Virginia many times.
"Virginia is a killing state," says Farrell in a phone interview. He still hopes that his friend, Joe Giarratano, who narrowly escaped execution and whom Farrell believes was the victim of a false confession in 1979, may one day be released. (After the book fest, he's going to see Giarratano.)
Farrell has protested injustice since the 1960s. Does he ever despair that the world is not a better place? "The nature of the optimist is to find hope," he replies. "I see strong evidence of the rise of the human rights movement around the world. I see a rise in the United States about the inappropriateness of the death penalty."
It hasn't been all activism following M*A*S*H. Farrell appeared in the series Providence for five years, and more recently the post-M*A*S*H generation may have seen him in Desperate Housewives, playing the manipulative father of the man Eva Longoria married. That role is unlikely to continue because, Farrell points out, the husband dies.
His production company tried to get the story of his friend, physician Patch Adams, made. The resulting film starring Robin Williams made a bundle, but Farrell has some choice words about its director, Tom Shadyac, who rendered Charlottesville star struck in 2006 while he was here filming the most expensive comedy ever, Evan Almighty. Farrell knew the real Patch Adams, and was furious about the buffoonish, critically panned comedy Shadyac made in 1998 coming off the success of Ace Ventura and Liar, Liar.
"I consider him a much over-rated talent," says Farrell. "I'm still angry. He treated us shabbily." And according to Farrell, while the movie grossed over $400 million, not a cent went toward the free hospital that was the real Patch Adams's dream. (Charlottesville, however, is getting a multi-purpose community center from Shadyac.)
In the presidential election arena, Farrell supported John Edwards until he dropped out of the race. Now he favors Barack Obama, but he's not out campaigning for him.
"No one has asked me," says Farrell. And with Farrell, people in need have learned over the years, all you have to do is ask.
What do you like best about Charlottesville? My friend Marie Deans
Least? Lovely place. What's not to like?
Favorite hangout here? Don't have one. Is there a natural food restaurant?
Most overrated virtue? Mine or yours?
People would be surprised to know about you: Many things
What would you change about yourself? I'd probably sleep more.
Proudest accomplishment? My children. Next is being part of saving Joe Giarratano's life.
People find most annoying about you: Ask them.
Whom do you admire? Many people. Marie and Joe, mentioned about, people with compassion, survivors who understand, Jimmy Carter, Joan Baez, Caesar Chavez, Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, Maxine Waters... see, you've gotten me started.
Favorite book? Too many. I'm reading about 10 books now. The one I'm just finishing that has infuriated me is The Innocent Man by your neighbor, John Grisham.
Subject that causes you to rant? The death penalty, mindless authoritarianism, bigotry
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Riding my motorcycle to the Arctic Circle
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Visiting death row
What do you drive? '92 Toyota pickup and an '06 BMW Adventure
In your car CD player right now: My car doesn't have a CD player.
Next journey? Motorcycle trip around the world
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Having the audacity to disagree with popular opinion
Regret: The loss of good friends
Favorite comfort food: Veggie burger
Always in your refrigerator: Natural food
Must-see TV: I don't watch it.
Describe a perfect day. Swimming, reading, taking a ride, then dinner with my wife and kids
Walter Mitty fantasy: Motorcycle ride around the world
Who'd play you in the movie? Me
Most embarrassing moment? Too many
Best advice you ever got? Love.
Favorite bumper sticker? When Jesus said "Love your enemies," I think he probably meant "Don't kill them."