Directing <I>Mickey</I>: Wilson eyes summer crowds

Hugh Wilson apologizes for being late for his interview. The phone rang– his buddy John Grisham was calling from somewhere out of the country where he'd gone bonefishing. Naturally, he had to take the call.

Mickey, the Little League story that Grisham wrote and Wilson directed in 2001, has finally hit the theaters. When it failed to find a distributor, the two decided to release the movie themselves.

"Mickey's doing good, but not doing as well as I thought," says Wilson. While attendance in big cities like Atlanta is disappointing, it's performing well in Little Rock. "It could be that baseball is a small-town sport," muses the director, who hopes that summer vacation will draw the crowds.

The director of Blast from the Past, First Wives Club, and Guarding Tess dodged a career as a lawyer to go into advertising: "I like television commercials like the Alka Seltzer one in the '60s," he says.

He moved to New York and then Atlanta, and gradually started directing commercials for himself.

His first job in television was as a writer for the '70s classic, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Wilson also worked on shows with other television icons such as Tony Randall, who died last week, and Bob Newhart. His big break came in creating a television classic of his own, WKRP in Cincinnati, and its spinoff, Frank's Place.

The first movie Wilson directed– Police Academy in 1984– became a different sort of classic, and it contained the first of a series of cameos that he does in his movies.

"An actor had passed out drunk," he recalls. Wilson took his part, and began a trend. (He plays the IRS guy in Mickey.) Even with his success as a writer and director, for his four kids, "If I'm in it, they're impressed."

Wilson has no regrets about his move from Los Angeles and its proximity to the industry. "I've been out of L.A. for quite a while," he says. "I'm 60. Usually you're washed up there at 30. I'm retired but available."

Being available means he's looking at another indie film that he hopes will be shot in Virginia. This one is about the Randolph family and a murder, and has characters like John Marshall, and of course, Thomas Jefferson.

"I showed it to Sissy, and she liked it," he says, mentioning another Hollywood expat, Sissy Spacek, who settled in Albemarle, as did WKRP alum Tim Reid.

Does anyone ever mention Wilson's gap-toothed resemblance to David Letterman? He laughs as he recalls how a friend of his was on Letterman's show and told the host that he looked like Wilson. According to Wilson, Letterman replied, "I know Hugh Wilson, and I'm so much better looking."

Age: 60

What brought you here? Looking to get back on the East Coast, in the South, not too far from NYC. Knew this area was beautiful. Wife is a horsewoman. Four young kids.

What's worst about living here? When we had a farm: deer season

Favorite hangout? My house

Most overrated virtue? Helping others, since it implies that people need your wonderful help

What would people be surprised to know about you? I have a poor singing voice.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would be braver.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? I have far-flung interests.

What do people find most annoying about you? I'm not much fun to argue with.

Whom do you admire? Winston Churchill

Favorite book? Currently: Paul Johnson's A History of the American People

 What subject causes you to rant? Politics

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Technological and scientific advancement

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? The crybabies

What do you drive? 2000 Audi station wagon

What's in your car CD player right now? Orbison. Puccini.

What's your next journey? We're going to the beach this summer.

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? It's good that my children never know.

What do you regret? Not working harder. Not taking lucky opportunities more seriously.

Favorite comfort food? Grilled cheese sandwich

What's always in your refrigerator? Everything known to man. My wife is a gourmet cook.

Must-see TV? Frontline

Favorite cartoon? Beavis and Butthead

Describe a perfect day. Getting all your stuff done as promised

Walter Mitty fantasy? Time travel back to the day Jesus died

Who'd play you in the movie? I think I could do it if it was a small part and the director wasn't an idiot.

Most embarrassing moment? Being called upon to read aloud in class and thereby revealing a serious learning disability

Best advice you ever got? It was per show business: "Nobody knows."

Favorite bumper sticker? I'm not sure I like bumper stickers. But I do have a favorite vanity license plate. I once saw a drop-dead young blond driving her Porsche onto the UCLA campus. Her plate said: "Like no."

Hugh Wilson