Michael Cole talks about the show, his hometown of Madison Wisconsin and the awful Mod Squad movie
The Mod Squad originally aired from 1968 to 1973, so it was a little before my time, and I had to do a little research on Michael Cole before this interview. I found out he was born in Madison Wisconsin, which is only a few hours from where I live in Minnesota currently. When I told him where I lived, he told me he had cousins that still lived there. Small world, indeed. When we did get down to business, Michael had plenty to say about the show, his overnight rise to fame when the show first aired, and and this The Mod Squad: The First Season, Vol. 1 DVD that hits the stores on December 18, and many other things.
The Mod Squad was quite the popular show when it originally aired. Why do you think it's taken so long to come to DVD?
Michael Cole: You know, I have no idea. I really don't. Maybe Aaron (Spelling) was hiding it. It was his favorite show. I really have no idea, I think it's a mystery. See, the timing was everything in The Mod Squad, the time it was on. And also the relationships between myself, and Clarence (Williams III) and Peggy (Lipton) and Tige (Andrews). Now, there's some similar things going on. We've got a war, and some of the things we did then, would've never been done at that time. Now, they kind of just throw them around. For example, we did a show about abortion. Back then, that's 30 some years ago. We did a show about anti-semitism. Nobody ever really knew what the hell that was, in Wisconsin anyway (Laughs). We did a show about child abuse, and that's a huge thing now with children being taken and etc. We had the Vietnam War and racism, like what Dr. King was fighting. There was a lot of things that were happening, sociologically, back then that's happening now. I really don't know, but maybe they thought that now this finally fit.
I read that initially when you were told what the premise was, you weren't...
Michael Cole: Yeah, I got a little angry. I didn't get angry as much as, "Oh, bullshit."
Yeah, apparently that was part of what Aaron Spelling liked about you and what landed you the role.
Michael Cole: Here's what it was. I walk in the office and, I had only been on one show, or something like that. I just got this agent and he was bald and these little beads of perspiration were forming on his head, because he was getting so nervous. I had my James Dean/Brando thing going and he explains what the show was about. I said, "Oh, bullshit. This sounds stupid, I hope the thing never gets on the air." (Laughs) Now there's sweat down his sideburns and his temples. I said, 'If you want me to do the show, I'll be a bad guy. Give me a motorcycle or something.' Aaron was a real little guy, but his eyes got really big when he got excited. As his eyes got bigger, and I kept yelling, I thought security was gonna come in and get me out of there. Then he jumps up from behind his desk and say, 'That's exactly what I want! Exactly what I'm looking for for Pete Cochrane.' That's how I got the job. The stars must have been lined up right, because I thought Aaron was going to call security and get me the hell out of there. I think, when you really mean something - now that applies for most people who really know what they're doing like Aaron did - if you're not afraid to say something, if it's coming from your bottom belly, they know where you're coming from. They can either work with you, and know they can work with you, or they can get someone where they don't know where he or she is coming from. Trust your instincts, and chances are you'll be right.
You essentially became an overnight star with The Mod Squad. How did you deal with that sudden burst of fame when the series first aired?
Michael Cole: That's tough stuff. That's tough stuff. The first PR tour we went on, the lady that went with us said, 'Your lives are never gonna be the same." I had no idea what that meant. Clarence came from Broadway and he was a big star on Broadway, and Peggy knew everyone in the world from Dean Martin to Sinatra to Quincy to whoever. 'Your lives are never gonna be the same." And they weren't. It took me a long time to catch up with that. I was walking down the street with a friend - I had to walk to work during the pilot. Anyway, we walk by this car lot and there was this beautiful little Porsche. I said 'Wow that's nice.' We get about a block and the guy stops me and says, 'Michael, you can buy that car.' I thought, 'Oh my God, maybe I can.' I end up talking to my business manager and I would up driving a little Porsche, a SKE, out of nowhere. I was laying out beside the freeway before that. I was extremely lucky. I always try to give back, with acting, to the fans - actually, I never called them fans, it's always been friends. If you work as hard, as an actor, as you should by all the gifts you're given, you'll be all right, because you're saying thanks to the friends, all the time.
The show dealt with a lot of issues that other network shows wouldn't deal with. Was there a lot of negative press toward the show as well?
Michael Cole: Yeah. Racism. We got a lot of hate mail. Clarence and I were very very close and we got a lot of hate mail. Oh, here's one. Here's one that happened. Tige (Andrews), who plays the captain, got shot and Clarence and I were going to take the bullet out, which was by his heart. Clarence has got this knife and he's carving really in, trying to get the bullet. These were all really tight close-ups. Some sweat was going into Clarence's eyes, and I reached in with a rag and wiped the sweat off his brow. Holy cow, did I get mail. Did I get mail for mopping a black man's brow.
Michael Cole: Yeah. But I also knew at the same time, that we were on the right track.
The Woody seemed to be quite a unique aspect of your show. Can you tell us why that vehicle was chosen for you guys?
Michael Cole: Well, you have to keep in mind we were undercover and, going to all the places we went to, that car fit in perfect. But we had to start changing in the last 3-4 years, because it started to look stupid when the old Woody was catching Ferari's (Laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah. Logical. So what were your thoughts on the 1999 film remake of The Mod Squad?
Michael Cole: Oh, it was awful. It was awful, and it had some wonderful actors in it.
I would have to agree.
Michael Cole: Oh man, no, it was awful. Peggy and I went to the screening of it, the premiere. Aaron was right behind us, a bunch of guys from ABC and Aaron's company. Peg is sitting there and all of the sudden she says, 'Mick, what the hell is this about?' so everybody could hear. (Laughs) I couldn't answer her. What I took away was, they tried to make it too real, and you can't do that. Giovanni Ribisi is an incredible actor. Omar Epps is wonderful and Claire Danes is wonderful, so it certainly wasn't anything to do with the actors. They tried to do two things. They tried to make it as close as they could get to the original, and they tried to contemporize it. It's two totally different things.
Finally, I read your bio and you've had quite a turbulent past. It seems your story could be a book or a movie as well. Have you ever considered that before?
Michael Cole: Yes I have, actually. I've been asked quite a few times, but it's not quite there yet. It's not quite time to do it. I told some people at this big publishing place that I can't write a book right now because there's too much that could be turned into evidence. (Laughs) There's too many people around yet.
(Laughs) So, wait until some people are out of the picture first?
Michael Cole: Well, we'll have to see what happens. (Laughs)
So do you ever come back and visit Madison, where you grew up, these days?
Michael Cole: Yes, as a matter of fact. It's on the east side of Madison, off by Oscar Meyer and stuff like that. The neighborhood was bars, churches, bowling alleys, bars, a couple of stores to buy a pair of jeans...
Michael Cole: (Laughs)
I know Madison fairly well.
Michael Cole: I bet you've been in a lot of them.
Oh, I've been down there for Halloween. It's quite a place.
Michael Cole: You know what's neat to me? The University of Wisconsin is one of the premier academic schools in the country. But they're also one of the hugest, by far, party schools in the country. I like the idea that we've got a lot of drunk geniuses walking around. (Laughs).
(Laughs) Oh wow. Well that's about all I have for you. I really thank you for your time.
Michael Cole: Hey, it was really nice talking to you.
It was really nice talking to you too, Michael
The Mod Squad: The First Season, Vol. 1 will be available on December 18.