Paul Le Mat Interview
Paul Le Mat was in town recently.
He was at the Syracuse Nationals in Syracuse, N.Y. greeting fans, signing autographs.
Paul played John Milner in the film American Graffiti, which led to a Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year.
There’s a lot more to the story of Paul Le Mat than just American Graffiti and we set out, to find what that is.
Q – Paul, you were at one time, a boxer. You were the Mickey Rourke or Sylvester Stallone of your time.
A – Yeah. I guess you could say that. I wanted to continue as a fighter. I wanted to be an actor too, and a writer. Boxing I really enjoyed. Then I had injuries to my hands and I couldn’t fight as well, so I just gave it up and kept going as an actor and did movies. I did another Hot Rod movie, ‘Aloha, Bobby And Rose’. I drove a red Camero in that. That was pretty popular. In fact, Ricky who owns the yellow car from ‘American Graffeti’ also owns the red car from ‘Aloha, Bobby And Rose’. Then I met Jonathan Demme, a terrific director and he put me in two of his movies and that was good. ‘Melvin and Howard’ won two Oscars and a lot of critical acclaim. So, it’s been an up and down career. It gives me some interesting material for writing novels though. (Laughs).
Q – You haven’t done anything musically have you?
A – No. I don’t sing very well. And, I don’t play instruments well. No. I haven’t down anything musically.
Q – Back to boxing for just a minute. What was your weight class?
A – I was a Welter-weight. I was a good Welter-weight. I tried to move up to a Junior Middle-weight, but, I didn’t do too well up there. (Laughs).
Q – How many fights did you have?
A – About 15 I would say and also one exhibition. Exhibitions are funny. There supposed to be exhibitions but, you get into it and it’s almost like a real fight.
Q – You studied acting, but do you really need to study acting to be a good actor?
A – It’s not necessary, but, it’s helpful because you can develop your skill. You can practice in class and get advise from the teacher and guidance. The other students can give you some feedback. Yeah, it’s very valuable. I highly recommend it.
Q – Was anyone in your class already in the movies? Did anyone go on to do movies? Was anyone as famous as you?
A – No. No one I can think of. Some of ‘em might have gone onstage and done well there. I don’t know. I came to Hollywood. I did have one teacher who became famous himself. William Hickery. I guess he ended up getting an Oscar nomination. He was a good teacher. He helped me a lot. He taught me a lot of things. That was in New York.
Q – Your acting career started before you went into the service or after you came out?
A – Oh, it didn’t start happening until after I got out.
Q – So, you served in Vietnam?
A – I did, but, briefly. I don’t want to make too much out of that.
Q – What do you think being in Vietnam did for your acting? Did it make you a better actor? Could you draw on certain emotions that maybe somebody who didn’t have that experience couldn’t do?
A – Frankly, I’ve never thought of that. It’s probably true. I just can’t tell you. I don’t know how to answer that. Probably true though.
Q – Did you see combat?
A – Well, I was on seaplanes and we flew some patrols. So, I wasn’t on the ground with the guys that were getting shot at, although we did lose one plane. It wasn’t completely safe, but, it was a lot safer in these seaplanes than it was on the ground, that’s for sure.
Q – Why do you think the “American Graffiti” movie continues to be so popular?
A – From what I can tell from the fans, there’s 3 things: one is the nostalgic feeling that exists in the movie, good times and innocence. That’s something they really relate to. And the second thing is the characters are fun to watch, to be around, the Cindy Williams character, the Ron Howard character, my character, Mackenzie Phillips. They just love those characters. And, the third thing is the music. Of course the cars are the main draw for the car people, but, that’s sort of included in everything. That’s the nostalgic feeling, the old cars are the music.
Q – Was it difficult to get the John Milner role? Did you have a lot of competition?
A – I did have to audition and compete, but, I don’t know how many other people there were. They didn’t tell me. I feel very blessed. God blessed me with that part. I was lucky to get it. It made a big difference in my life. And, it’s still going on. I’m going to a car show (The Syracuse Nationals, Syracuse, N.Y.); I’m gonna meet a bunch of fans. Most movies don’t last like that.
Q – Your character, John Milner really connected with a lot of people. I almost feel like that character should’ve continued on in say a television series.
A – I did have an opportunity to do a series and I said No. Candy Clark told me the same thing. She said No. As you know Cindy Williams went ahead and did a series ‘LaVerne and Shirley’. Ron Howard did a series. I just wasn’t that ambitious. A series is a lot of work, a lot of intense work, continuous intense work and sure you can make money at it and get more popular, but, I just wasn’t ambitious. I just am not. If I was I’d be a bigger star.
Q – Some people who act in movies don’t want to do t.v. work.
A – Well, I preferred the material in movies. Nowadays, there’s almost no differences really, other than the action and violence. There’s no difference between the quality of material on television and in movies. At that time there was a difference. I thought well, I want to do some good movies, do some movies with some good quality stories. I didn’t want to do on a sit-com or a t.v. show that didn’t satisfy me.
Q – When you were making “American Graffiti” did you have any idea that this was going to be something special?
A – I felt strongly it would be successful and popular. I didn’t know it would be this popular. C’mom, it’s a miracle. Movies don’t last like this do they? I can’t think of another one. They’re popular and they get a lot of acclaim, but, this one just keeps going, in the circles I’m in, and the car shows I go to. People watch this movie over and over again. They tell me at the car shows they watch it again and a month later they watch it again. They can’t get enough of it. It’s a blessing like I said.
Q – What have you been working on these days?
A - I did this Science Fiction movie ‘Cyborg Conquest’. It’s about robots. My character built these robots and then they get into a conflict with these biker girls. The biker girls are bad. They shoot guns and they shoot up my robots. I get mad, kidnap a few of ‘em. Then they get their boyfriends to get some more guns. They break into my compound. It’s all an action movie. It was originally called ‘Chrome Angels’. That was the name of the girl biker gang. Then they changed it to ‘Cyborg Conquest’. You can get the DVD by going to the distribution website – www.ethaicd.com
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