Larry Weidel: I have a very exciting guest with me this afternoon. We have the first member of the Serial Winner Hall of Fame—Robert “RJ” Wagner. Welcome, RJ!
Robert “RJ” Wagner: Oh, thanks so much, Larry. It’s such a pleasure to talk with you—you know, you’re such a positive man. Your energy, affection, and your feelings about people are so wonderful.
LW: Well, thank you. You know, that’s what they say about you, RJ.
I’d like to talk to you about professionalism. You know the thing is, to be a serial winner, you have to be consistent. I’ve got a friend of mine who always uses this phrase, general consistency wins every time.
You talk a lot about professionalism and maintaining simple things like being on time, showing up, knowing your lines.
But when you’ve got an operation, you’ve got a project going with lots of different people. There are lots of opportunities.
You know, things are happening that have never happened before and will probably never happen again. And a lot of times these things are disruptive and there’s a lot riding on people delivering you know, whatever it is—you know, everybody performing to pull this magic off.
I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of blowups on the set and the people that produce consistent success—from the producers, to the directors, to the actors—they’ve got a thing they call emotional intelligence.
In other words, they’re able to think on their feet, able to control themselves, able to keep from exploding during tough times able to kind of come up with a quick solution to stay on track.
Talk about some of your experiences with that and things you’ve learned from being in those pressure-filled situations.
RJ: Well, I’ve seen some that have happened—actually quite a few—but usually with professional people, they’ve got most of those things already set.
They know their character, they know their lines, they’re there on time—sometimes you find that people have emotional problems that they bring along with them. That can be very disturbing to other people.To be a serial winner, you have to be consistent. Click To Tweet
If they’re not prepared or haven’t had the right professionalism to set themselves up, to walk into a situation, if something happens, they’re not going to collapse because that’s not the action.
The action, the professionalism, is to make the moment happen.
So, you usually try to find people around that are there to help you and help the project.
Like for instance, with “Hart to Hart,” you know, Stephanie Powers is very professional, unbelievable, on time.
Also, Lionel Stander, who had so much experience in movies. I mean, my God, he did so many pictures, and he was so solid.
He never blew a line with me. He always came prepared. He knew what he was doing. We all knew what we were doing, but we wanted the people that were watching it to enjoy it.
If you don’t have professionals around you, Larry, you’re in a lot of trouble. You know that.
LW: That’s gotta be at every level—the caterer, the lighting guy—everybody has to pull their weight. Everybody is like a chain, every link is important.
I’ve always felt like the difference between an amateur and a professional is that professionals know what to do, when to do it and how to do it.
Then they do it—whether they feel like it or not—they do it at a high level.
RJ: I think that’s absolutely correct. I agree with that. That whole form of energy is absolutely right. That’s where it is.
LW: The smart thing about that, RJ, is the fact people who have that in their minds are going to be realizing that, regardless of how this job, this project, this movie, the show goes, when it’s over, people are going to remember whether it was a success or not.
They’re going to remember me, and they’re going to remember how well I performed.
They will remember how it felt working with me, and that’s going to impact whether or not I get another call when the next thing comes around.
People that are sloppy usually have to be unbelievably brilliant—I think you talk about Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe and some of these other leading actresses.
If you’re not going to be professional, on time, show up, and learn your lines, you better knock it out of the park when you show up.
Most of us don’t have that going for us. So we better place our bets on hard work. Don’t you think?
RJ: Well, yeah, the preparation is always so important—I believe that totally.
That’s the way I was brought up. I was brought up, you know, that the script was the most important thing. Then everyone has to pull the train—you know, nobody pulls the train alone, believe me.Nobody pulls the train alone. Everyone has to pull their own weight. Click To Tweet
In our profession, you could need a lot of help—from a lot of people—to make it all happen.
I realized that, when I first got out at the studio, I realized how professionals were—the electricians were in the grips and the Dolly grips and those people.
I mean, if the man doesn’t move the camera at the right time, it doesn’t make any difference what you do.
LW: Yeah—or if the lighting is bad. The person who controls things on the set is, I guess the director and everyone has this just like every CEO has their own style.
Every coach has their own style.
I’m sure every director has their own style.
The proof is the result, and they have their own way in their head—set the rhythm, pull people together, put out a great product.
How widely varied have you seen the approaches that different directors have taken to get the job done?
It’s still come up with a great end result.
RJ: Well, you know, that’s an interesting question.
The directors, they do set the mode and mood and the timing and the rhythm, all the things that you said—that all comes from them. If something goes wrong, they always turn to the director.
What do we do? How do we do this? What if you don’t have the extras? If you don’t have the background action coming in at the same time during a sequence that you’ve just rehearsed, it just doesn’t work.
Everybody has to be together.
A show that I watch a lot is “Frasier.” I think the episodes are maybe 26 or 27 minutes long, and they get a beginning, a middle, and an end every time and satisfy the characters. It’s the same thing with “NCIS,” the characters are always satisfied.
The main action of them is for their people, for the characters and that’s something that’s so very, very important.
Everybody has to do their own thing, believe it, and be responsible for it.
That’s what is so exciting about the business. That’s why I said to you before—when it works, it’s magic.