John Diehl’s career in the movie business has spanned over 30 years. He has appeared in such classic films as “Stripes” and played the Hawaiian shirt clad Larry Zito on the hit television series “Miami Vice”. Movie Mikes caught up with John to talk about some of his classic roles as well as some of his current projects.
Adam Lawton: Can you tell us about how you got involved with “Stripes”? and what it was like being a part of such a great cast?
John Diehl: I was just starting out in the business and at the time I was working on a Sam Sheppard play which called for me to have a shaved head. I went to the audition with my head being shaved already and I remember nodding back and forth with Ivan Reitman. A short time later I was delivering furniture when I got a message from my agent telling me that I got the part. As far as the cast goes I never really watched TV so I no idea who anyone was. I think this helped because I didn’t have any trepidation about anything. It wasn’t until afterwards that I found out how great everyone was. My scenes with John Candy were all improv. They really liked mine and John’s characters together. It was great because I got to take that character and make him my own. I understood that character. Ivan was too busy arguing with Bill to worry about me (Laughs) so it was a great experience.
AL: You also had a part in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” can you tell us about that and what it was like working with Chevy Chase?
JD: I still lament the fact that sometime after we finished shooting I was having dinner with Harold Ramis and I asked him if we could add in one tiny part. I wanted the part of my scene with Mickey Jones where Mickey shows Clark his badge and states “I am the Sheriff” I wish I had just said “And I’m the Deputy”. I felt so bad that I didn’t come up with that sooner. I kept asking to get that put in but it never happened. Chevy is a very reserved guy and I remember we had a picture taken of us along with
some American Indians on set. For some reason he thought that I wanted a picture taken with him. Sadly the picture got left on top of an old soda machine and I always think about that. Years later I’m walking through LAX and there is all of this commotion going on. All I see is this big guy with grey hair and a bunch of reporters. It was Chevy and he recognized me right away which was really cool that he remembered me.
AL: What was it like working with Harold Ramis both as an actor and a director?
JD: Harold was really easy going. When he was directing he had a lot more stuff going on than when he was just acting. I don’t think he was smiling as much when he was directing. (Laughs) Overall both experiences were good.
AL: Can you tell us about your work on “Miami Vice”?
JD: There are a few stories that I guess kind of come together as to how I got that part. I remember going on an audition for the show which I think Michael Mann was at. I was wearing this long leather coat because I had to leave my play rehearsal to make it to the audition which really annoyed me. I just went into the audition kind of pissed off which I thought could be a good thing. One other thing that I think was part of me getting the role was I had done a small short called “Leon’s Case”. There was an article about the film that stated Brandon Tartikoff who was the head of NBC at the time saw me in that film and wanted me for “Miami Vice”. That show turned into something we never expected. It had created a lot of buzz but then slowed a little after the first few episodes but after that it really took off. Even though I got myself out of the show after about 3 seasons a move I don’t regret. Working on that show was a great experience and I got some great work from that show.
AL: What made you want to leave the show?
JD: I was miserable. I lived in New York at the time but spent 9 months of the year shooting in Miami. I didn’t mind going back and forth as I was single at the time. We weren’t making a ton of money on the show but it was more than I had ever made. I think it was just really depression that got the best of me. After the first season we were told that they were going to include more of us in the show but, I would show up to work and spend at times 12 hours in my 5 by 5 Honey Wagon just waiting to be called for my scene. There were times where I would show up and the scene would never end up even being shot. There was just a lot of stuff like that going on.
AL: Do you have a project that sticks out for you as a favorite?
JD: Right now I would have to say “Land of Plenty”. I played the male lead role with Michelle Williams. The film never really came out distribution wise but I still really enjoyed the process. I also enjoyed my theater work with Sam Sheppard where I got to work with some really amazing people. “End Game” which I did with John Larroquette was another great experience.
AL: Do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
JD: I like doing independent movies lately. The money usually isn’t as good but the parts are really great! I did one called “Natural Selection” which won everything at this year’s South by South West Festival. The film is going on to some other festivals so I have some reserved hopes for that. I also am in talks to do a horror film in Montreal. One other thing I just finished up was with Bruce Campbell for a “Burn Notice” TV movie which aired recently.