Lindsay Wagner - The Doctor is In

Lindsay Wagner has been in the entertainment industry for almost forty years. She is probably best known for her role as Jaime Sommers in The Six Million Dollar Man and then of course The Bionic Woman. She has also appeared in numerous other television shows and worked alongside Sylvester Stallone in the movie Nighthawks.

This Tuesday, August 17th, Wagner will guest star on Warehouse 13 as Dr. Vanessa Calder, the in-house warehouse doctor who treats not only the warehouse team but also the secretive group known as The Regents.

Lindsay Wagner talked to media journalists, including Sci-Fi Vision and Media Blvd, about her upcoming appearance on Warehouse 13.

Question> How much of a Rudy Wells [The Six Million Dollar Man; The Bionic Woman] was it a draw from when playing Dr. Calder?

Lindsay Wagner> It never entered my mind, to be honest with you. Rudy Wells was more of a physical, technical doctor and Dr. Calder is being based around what’s happening today and what is generally referred to as the Energy Psychology or the Energy Medicine - I should say Energy Medicine field. It’s working with the energy system directly to heal the physical instead of focusing so much on trying to fix the physical only.

It’s becoming more and more clear to not only people who have been talking about this for years with the necessary engagement of body, mind, and sprit to heal - or some people would refer to the spirit part as the energy of the human body to heal anything, physical or emotional. And to truly heal it. I mean, we can shift and change a demonstration by way physical intervention, but if there is not some kind of a shift on the energetic field and the physiological views of the person, either about themselves or the outside world, then either that will come back - that condition will come back or it won’t be a complete healing and something else will manifest as disease, or some problem with the body.

So, that’s the type of doctor that Dr. Calder is, as well as being fully trained in doing what’s necessary on the physical. But, she would always start working with the least invasive processes first, if it was appropriate.

Question> Given your own personal journey in life, what type of spiritual connection do you have with Jamie Sommers [The Bionic Woman] today?

Lindsay Wagner> Well, given that Jamie Sommers was something that was created from my imagination in collaboration with several other people, she has been a part of my journey of my learning. That experience of playing her and having an outlet through story to express a lot of the views that I have about life or human condition and points of view, one of the things that’s been impactful to me over the recent years has been the responses that I have gotten from people who are now grown up.

Who are the kids and the families that I was basically expressing myself to back then. Using story as a medium to express some things as best we could through stories when we had a very specific formula mandate to follow you know, which was kind of an action show, a lot of bionics. And at that day and age it was the cold war, and therefore we had you know, a specific enemy. So, trying to make things metaphoric and talk about human beings and human condition was a big challenge that we all took on as the producers, writers, and myself constantly pushing them to increase that.

So as the audience have gotten older and the kids now have families of their own and are adults and professionals and are giving me feedback, it’s been very nurturing to me to have people feedback to me things that we worked very hard to put in our stories that not many people were noticing at the time. But today, we hear that they really got it as kids, and it really impacted them and the way that they think today.

That’s been very meaningful to me and very encouraging that the media - when people really choose to make it something more than just for financial gain or just to you know, have a job. When you put your heart and soul into it as an expression and are always looking for new ways of things that you could put in creatively, not to the detriment of entertainment, but creatively. To use it as a way to share with people what’s helped you, and therefore maybe it’ll help them. It’s always been my belief that that’s true.

And so to have that fed back to me that all these years later, in just story after story of what some of those things meant to people, just really tickles me and encourages me to not give up on that. When sometimes, you look around and you think, “Oh, my gosh. What is this medium coming to?” It’s not the medium you know; it’s about what people put into it, and I know that and we all know that. But sometimes, we get discouraged when we see so much negativity being put out to this new generation - to the kids today.

Question> I was wondering how it came to be that you began working for Warehouse 13?

Lindsay Wagner> They just called my agent. They said they had a role and would I be interested in and willing to play it. And quite honestly, I’ve been so busy. I do workshops and retreats all over the world now with - it’s called Quiet the Mind and Open the Heart, which is helping people with some of the things and the techniques and the concepts that have helped me in my life. I share that very directly now through these workshops and retreats.

And so, I had never even seen the show. I hardly have time to see anything. But so I watched it really quick on the web, and I found it to be just a really fun concept. Very creative. And, the visuals - the way it’s shot and the chemistry of the actors just really impressed me. It’s really fun. And in its own way, very current and very today, but it felt a lot to me like The Bionic Woman in that - which is what attracted me to want to take the part and do a little cameo, which of course now is kind of turning into somewhat of a recurring warehouse doctor.

But, in that - it’s got a exciting and kind of sensationalistic parts to it, but it’s not so gory and violent, and you know there’s moments where it gets violent, but it’s not something that I would not want my kids to watch. And, there’s a whole lot of stuff on TV today that I would not want my kids to watch if they were little. I have no control over them today, of course. But, it’s something that could be fun for kids after a certain age of course to start watching, because there are a few scary things in there. But, it’s something that a family can enjoy and talk about, and kind of stretches your imagination.

Question> Have you had a most memorable moment from your time appearing on Warehouse 13?

Lindsay Wagner> Well, I think what tickled me the most right off the bat was when I got to the set, when I got to Canada, and got my rewrites for the next day. They’d rewritten a little bit of my script. And the writer had gone on to my web site from my workshops at and looked at the kind of work that I was doing, and he pulled from one of the techniques that I teach. He pulled that and put that into Dr. Calder’s treatment on her first appearance, and then allowed me to elaborate on it to kind of get it more specific and correct as far as you know, how to do it.

It’s very subtle you know what we’re doing. It’s just part of what I do when I’m talking to the character and treating them. But, it was really impressive to me that they took the time and effort to want to put something new into it, and something that was really directly related to the work that I’m doing. That just was really impressive to me.

Question> You talked about the charactering recurring. Is that something that’s definitely going to happen? Have they kind of talked to you about coming back throughout the season and maybe long-term with the character?

Lindsay Wagner> There have been no real long-term conversations, but I have done a second episode now, and that’ll be on towards the end of the season…And you know, they said, “Well, we’ll see you later” when I left, so I don’t know what that means.

Question> You’re defiantly an iconic figure. I mean, your character on [The] Bionic Woman , 30-some years ago, was definitely a sci-fi icon. But, you've done so many great movies since then, so many wonderful dramatic characters, and so much work with your workshops. And you know, your community service and everything else. Is it ever frustrating to you to still be associated and to I guess get questions about that character from so early in your career?

Lindsay Wagner> Not at all. Not at all. I know some actors feel that way, but for me, we put so much of our heart and soul into that and trying to make it something meaningful, that to me it just says it worked. It doesn’t say to me that I’m stuck in that image, because I went on to do you know, 40 television movies, and series, and features, and you know mini-series; all kinds of things, playing all kinds of different characters.

So, the show was never a hindrance for me. And that series, that experience, that character was so much learning for me about the industry, about how to work with story and how to put things in it, which then gave me the experience to be able to do with the television movies that I did, which were - so many of them were that I chose or developed to talk about human issues that I wanted to talk about through story.

I was well prepared to do it, so I consider that whole thing to have been a gift to my life. And, I love it when people share with me that it was for them as well. That makes me very happy.

Question> In one of the episodes of [The] Bionic Woman, or it might have been the first time on The Six Million Dollar Man, the character thing - I think it was at a beauty pageant or something like that, and I think the song was Feelings, or something along those lines. I was wondering, was that really you singing? Was that your real voice, or did you ever...

Lindsay Wagner> The other one was The Road to Nashville, where I played Doc Severinsen and I sang a country song in there, yes. That was not easy. You know, our schedule was so difficult. It was nothing for us to work 16 hours a day, you know, sometimes 18. It was such an intense schedule, because we were doing - even though today people giggle about what was high-tech then. I mean, we were the cutting edge of technology for action stuff.

But because of that, and because television in general was not used to that at all, they had booked us to film in the same number of days they filmed their, you know, Marcus Welbys and their lawyer shows where everybody just stands around and talks to each other and they got a couple cameras and a few actors, and that’s it. You move on to the next scene, and the next scene, and the next scene. We had to go all over the city and to new locations, because it was outside. How can you do action inside all the time? You can’t.

So, we were outside a lot and so we had to go a lot of places. We also had stunts and special effects, and break-away parts and things like that take time to film. Because also in all of the bionic jumps and some of the other types of actions, I had to do the beginning of it, my stunt woman had to come in and then - we didn’t have two units in those days.

They just had - the first unit would shoot everything, so we’d have to stop and then we’d have to bring in the stunt people, and we’d have to set that stunt up and then do the stunt, and then in that same location, still - I’d then do the ending of it.

Because depending on how her body fell, for example, I kind of had to match that body language in my landing, or in my take off, or you know. So, it was so much more work than the other shows; only they still had us to film it all in six days, just like they did the other hour shows. So it was a brutal schedule…

It was that it was hard to run into the studio in the middle of all that… But yes, that’s how it applies. It was because that’s the way it was making that show. And so, to pop out of there and pop into a recording studio for some of that, or right in the middle of all that - being completely tired and everything - and record a song on the stage while we were filming, which was how we did the country-western one, instead of kind of resting up for your recording session, you know, what I mean.

It was very difficult to do those. So, I was not super happy with the way Feelings came out, but I was happy at least that we got through it at a pretty decent level of output. There we go. That’s what it all had to do with.

Question> You've obviously done a lot of science fiction in the past. Can you talk more about how it’s changed in terms of the acting and production from back then? Because obviously, like you said, the technology is different and updated.

Lindsay Wagner> One is that they have two units. The second unit does the stunt work and they’ve gotten very good at having the second unit director and the first unit director being in sync with each other so that they can set it up and work together so that the interfacing of the acting, with the way the stunts came off becomes seamless. And, that’s a lot of credit to the second unit directors whose job it is to help make that happen.

To be honest with you, I haven’t done a lot of action stuff or sci-fi stuff. And the particular things that I’ve been doing on Warehouse [13] haven’t put me in the position to be able to experience some of that. Although my son, Dorian Kingi, who does a lot of stunt work, he’s involved in a lot of that. And so, he talks to me about what they’re doing. You know, what the various movies that he’s worked on.

He was the stunt double for the Silver Surfer and lots of other movies. So, he’s very tall and slender, so they like his body type for a lot of these things. Even creatures and things like that that they do CGI over. And, he’s presently working on the Green Lantern, which I’m not allowed to talk about much, because you know movies are becoming very hush-hush these days about all their techniques and stuff.

But, I don’t think I’m the best person to talk about the hows, because I haven’t had that much direct contact with it. But it has changed significantly, because we had blue screen - what we used to call blue screen; I guess its green screen today - back then where you could put in a background that you weren’t in and do some acting in front of that.

But I know that goes on a lot today, which is even more demanding than normal acting, because you don’t have the stimulus around you. You have to use your imagination even more and make it real for yourself so that you'll be real as an actor. You have to dig much deeper. As an actor I can say that, having done some blue screen in the past and knowing how much actors have to do that today…And, I really honor the actors that come up with a good performance in that process.

Question> What do you find the most challenging about any role? This role or any role what do you find the hardest?

Lindsay Wagner> I don’t quite know how to answer that, because for me finding the character isn’t usually hard. I think that the working conditions for me are what I find difficult a lot of the times, which has to do with the kind of inhumane hours - the schedule that the movie business, television business, all of it tend to work in. It makes it difficult to give your best when you’re exhausted...

But that’s for me the most difficult thing. And, how I’ve learned many different ways, and actually some of the stuff that I talk about in my workshops and in retreats just has to do with kind survival skills.

I’d learned to meditate before, and I was a meditator before I started acting, but once I did I was really glad that I was, because that’s one of the ways that I learned to help myself rejuvenate myself. Kind of relax my mind and allow myself to release this stress of the set and the pace, and the emotional roller coaster, especially when you do drama.

I was often doing heavy drama stuff, which is very taxing on your system. Because as an actor when you are playing something painful, you’re there. You’re experiencing it, and that’s stressful to your body. You may be calling it make believe, but when you’re doing it, you’re feeling it.

And when you feel it, your body doesn’t know the difference between the reality of your life and the fantasy that you’re engaging in. And so, it’s stressful on your body, your immune system, and your mind, because you’re focusing on it.

I mean today, it’s a very common conversation for people to talk about setting your intentions, create your life. What you focus on has to do with how your health is and what you bring to you in the future. I’m sure that’s all familiar conversations to you. Even Time Magazine writes about stuff like that today. It’s very normal conversation.

And so when you think about the amount of time that somebody who’s making a dramatic film or a film where they’re going through hell every day, they’re spending that many hours of their day experiencing that negativity...

It’s bad enough in our everyday lives to try and keep ourselves positive, but now somebody’s - you know, you’re getting paid to stay negative for this month, or for this whole you know, three months of this feature, or for whatever. Or stay angry or really have to develop a lot of discipline in your mind to bring yourself back in order to stay healthy, emotionally and physically as an actor.

Question> Of all the TV movies that you made, is there one where the role or message especially touched you or was important to you?

Lindsay Wagner> That is a little hard for me to answer, because different ones meant different things to me. And there were a handful - I mean obviously Shattered Dreams, about domestic violence, about a woman transcending her circumstances in domestic violence was one of them. I was in the third year of a three year public education campaign on domestic violence, and that was one of the projects that we undertook during that time period.

So that one was very important to me, because it was important to me that a story be done that showed more than just the problem. That kind of at least addressed a little bit what goes on so that when people experience the film...either people who were involved in that problem or type of problem in their life, or people who were families or friends of that, there was more of an understanding about the inner-workings of that, rather than just looking at the sensational story about a family experiencing violence. And that there is an evolution that can happen to transcend that syndrome in one’s life.

When during those years when I was working with Johnson & Johnson on the campaign, it became for the first time really talked about in the media. And people were letting it be okay that we as a culture and a society start talking about it and looking it. Because prior to that, it was kind of like not our family. It’s not our business.

And yet, we have this attitude that what goes on inside my car is your business. You tell me I have to put a seatbelt on myself and my child. You tell me I can’t have my child in the front seat, da-da-da.’s not your business if I or my children are being beat up in the house next door to you. It’s a strange schism in our culture about that in my mind. So, I was very happy to be involved in that campaign.

And towards the end of it we were looking for a film to make, and I wanted to make a story about, not somebody just kind of surviving it, but really thriving and moving on, and showing people that there is a way. But, it’s through going in and looking at oneself and how I am somehow keeping myself trapped in this syndrome.

And, they had just made The Burning Bed, and Farrah did an amazing job...but, it was frustrating to me that they chose this story where the answer was kill the SOB, you know. That was the only answer. It’s like, no. You know, what good is that story other than to make people feel more helpless? You know what I’m saying?

If you’re going to dabble with a subject matter, a real important human subject matter, to me I wanted to do a story where we were looking for one that would portray not just the problem, but an arch of evolution, and the story of someone who actually did transcend her circumstance. And so I wanted to do a true story, not a dramatized one. Not that that couldn’t be also wonderful and helpful, but I wanted people to be able to relate to the fact that this was a person, a real person just like us, who went through this arc and actually grew through this. And so, that one had a lot of meaning to me.

Question> Of the episodes that you have watched on the show, was there any artifact in particular that kind of caught your eye? And the way they kind of like to rewrite history, did you find that appealing at all?

Lindsay Wagner> I didn’t find rewriting history appealing. I do know that there are certain things, and unless one did their own deep research you may not know which ones are and which ones aren’t, but the show, they’ve done a lot of research, and some of the things that sound like they’re rewriting history are actually facts that they dug up about history.

And I find that exciting, just as in The Bionic Woman, when you have a sci-fi genre, you know you can say things that are not common knowledge, or that may be very true to you, and you may be even able to prove it, but it’s still not publicly accepted.

But you can talk about them because if people can’t deal with that, they just write it off that it’s sci-fi, not real; it’s fantasy. And so I find that appealing, because that type of show has the ability to talk about things that, just as we back in The Bionic Woman, one of my favorite episodes, not because maybe it’s the best episode we ever filmed as far as cinematically or anything like that’s concerned, but because it was an important issue that I wanted to cover in our show, which was mind over matter. Again, which is commonplace conversation today, using your mind to create your life differently to bring about health. To get rid of a disease.

You know, we have such amazing human potential. And so we did a show called The Feedback, and I had been bringing a lot of research in from people from our culture who had been researching India and Tibet, certain Yogi’s and Monks who had the ability to control their body with their mind far beyond anything we ever dream that we could do. People piercing themselves without bleeding.

Tibetan Monks having certain practices that they would do as kind of a final exam if you will in one of the stages of their learning in the monastery, and that would be to go out into the snow with a wet blanket wrapped around them with very little clothes on at all and have that, and their job was to do this internal practice that they do which heats up their body, keeps them warm sitting in the snow with a wet blanket around them, and actually drying the - not only warming up that frozen - blanket that freezes instantly because it’s so cold, but then drying the blanket with your own body heat.

Those things were very real to me because at a very young age, I had ulcers. And they got so bad at one point that UCLA wanted to operate. And some people helped me, a doctor and a minister, who were both what I would call holistic in their own ways, worked together to help me learn to work with my mind to heal my body without the surgery. So, that was very real to me because I had experienced it personally.

And so I always wanted to do a story about that and tell the kids and the people in the world that there’s a lot of things that we don’t know that...we aren’t learning in our everyday lives that would be really beneficial to us if we were to learn. So, that type of a show is always appealing to me, because we did a story like that. So, they’re doing some things like that, and they’re talking about things. And, I think it gets people’s minds going about what may or may not have been written properly in the history books or in the media.

Question> You were describing your character as the in-house doctor for the Warehouse 13, as a doctor who heals with the natural energy field of the human body. Is that akin to the Chinese concept of Chi? And, what does that tell us about the mysterious regents around the Warehouse?

Lindsay Wagner> Yes, of course it’s working with the Chi. It’s working with the life force. The life force knows exactly what it takes to keep any particular living organism - any organism alive. Anything in manifestation for that matter. Even a rock is a manifestation of some sort, and you know in physics and quantum physics, they know a rock is not even - not dead. It’s a very slow moving energy form compared to a human being or an animal or a plant.

But so one of the techniques that I teach in my workshops is based on acupuncture, and it is in fact what I do in the show...the technique that I’ve used thus far in the show. And of course, that is based on the meridians - the electrical meridian system of the body and how the Chi flows. And keeping it flowing freely, therein the body demonstrating its intended expression, which is a human being in a healthy state. Releasing the blockages in the energy field so that the Chi can continue to flow properly and be accessed properly to increase it if one was to want to do that, or direct it in a certain way are the techniques that I use, or that I’m using in the Warehouse.

And the regents - obviously, if they understand that there is power in the universe that can be captured, utilized - it’s the whole premise of the show. That we need to be careful with that, because we think we’re very advanced as a species, but if you look at what we do, unwittingly as well as intentionally sometimes with power, it’s kind of like how evolved are we really? Sometimes when you look around...

So, I think that it says volumes about their understanding of - that the power of the universe can be harnessed certain ways in certain things, and certainly in people and through people.

But I think that they also through some of the stories that I’ve seen - I haven’t seen all the episodes - but with some of them, they’re starting to show the interconnectedness between the human expression - the human being - the human body and the powers and the interfacing, if you will.

Question> Would you ever consider starring in or creating your own web series that only went on the Internet or started up on the Internet?

Lindsay Wagner> Yes. I’ve thought about a lot of different things. I’ve thought about doing a seminar - adapting my seminar somehow to do it on the web as well as - I have. I just think it’s very exciting what all the potential in the web, in the way that you’re referring to it. It’s very exciting. I just haven’t gotten very far with that at this point, other then ruminating some things.

Question> Lee Majors is slated to do a comedy with Syfy. Is that something that you would like to do? Move into more comedy roles, or is drama really where your heart is?

Lindsay Wagner> No. I would like to. I always have wanted to. It’s funny. I did The Bionic Woman, which of course had a lot of humor in it, and that was really a function of a lot of the ad-libbing and the things that I did in it. And then, Kenny Johnson, the creator/producer, he’s a very funny guy also. And, he loved that I wanted to skew that show that direction, and our humor happened to work really well together. So, it evolved even more so with the two of us kind of pushing the envelope in The Bionic Woman.

But then, there were stories that I really wanted to do...a lot of the things that I made right after The Bionic Woman that needed to be done as dramas. So, that’s some of the first stuff that I did. And in that - after doing that, it was just because I was the person at that who could get a show put on television...that never before would have TV kind of touch the subject matter.

They wouldn’t do stories about child abuse, domestic violence, revisionist history, you know all the types of movies that I wanted to do stories about usually only were done in the feature business. And I had such a huge visibility because of [The] Bionic Woman that I could get those kinds of films made. So other film makers were coming to me and showing me these great things, and I did that. And in a way, the industry stopped relating to me as somebody who could do comedy.

And if anything became a problem for me, like in reference to one of the earlier questions - because sometimes people feel that doing a series held them back from being able to do the things they wanted to do, it was more that I ended up doing too many dramatic films and people in the industry stopped relating to me as having a sense of humor or being able to play comedy.

My comedy is different than a lot of people’s. I think it’s more dry and you know, a more sophisticated comedy, but it then became more difficult for me in the industry to have people take a chance on me as far as, “Well, can’t you - well, go back and watch The Bionic Woman.” “Well, that was a long time ago.” It’s like they think I lost my sense of humor?...That’s kind of been my journey with comedy, and I would love to do a comedy. Yes, I would.

It would obviously have to be the right kind, because we all have - you know, in our comedic actors - comedic style is very subjective to their personality. And so you know, someone has to know how to write for me properly, but that’s totally doable.

Question> I’ve seen the episode, and Dr. Calder and Artie scenes are very sweet and they’re really nice. And, I was wondering how it was working with Saul [Rubinek] and if you guys did any ad-libbing or anything? And, how that whole thing went.

Lindsay Wagner> I’m trying to remember about ad-libbing. Kind of. You know, the feeling that - the scene on the couch, without blowing it for everybody who hasn’t seen it, was certainly scripted, but in the playing of it, it got a little ad-libbed and loosed - you know, loosened it up. And, he is great. He is just - he’s wonderful. I mean, he’s obviously very talented and professional; he’s a very professional actor. He’s very serious. He takes it very seriously.

Even when he’s doing comedy, you know, his mind is looking not only at the dialog, but also at the impact on the story. He’s a very well rounded performer, because he also can think like a director. He can also think like a writer. And I thoroughly enjoyed working with him, and he’s really nice.

Question> I wanted to ask you about one of your film roles actually. I seem to recall seeing you in a movie - I think it was back in 1980 called Nighthawks where you actually acted alongside Sylvester Stallone in one of his earliest roles. And I’m just wondering what was that experience like for you? What was he like to work with?

Lindsay Wagner> He was really incredible. That film - I mean, history has shown that he’s so talented in so many different ways. He had made Rocky obviously before that. But, it was just incredible. We had - they had some difficulties. Whatever they were, I wasn’t privy to the inside information about it. We started with one director, and all of the sudden there was some problems, and he ended up having to take over the film and he ended up directing it.

So just spontaneously, he just jumped into that role, and after then directed. And, it was incredible watching him and his multi-talented self whip that film into shape. It was quite - it was educational in some ways. But, just kind of awe inspiring watching him work on so many levels at one time. That’s not easy. Not many actors can do that.

Originally published here at Sci-Fi Vision on 15 August 2010, and at Media Blvd. on 16 August 2010.

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