David McCallum became internationally famous in the 1960s for his role as the Russian secret agent Illya Kuryakin in the hit television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. which also earned him two Emmy Award nominations. Born in Scotland to a family of classical musicians, his early years were filled with studying music, military service and working as a young actor in England. Late in life, he repeated his television success by taking on his current role as Medical Examiner Dr. Donald "Duck" Mallard on NCIS, the most popular television series in the world.
STAY THIRSTY: Your debut novel, Once A Crooked Man, has been praised as a comic thriller in the vein of Elmore Leonard and Lawrence Block. What motivated you to write a novel at this time in your life?
DAVID MCCALLUM: Many years ago while reading a Jack Higgins book on audiotape, I had the idea that I too could write. So I came up with the idea of an actor being handed $1,000,000 in a suitcase and began putting the words on the page. My first efforts were pathetic. These pages then went through several iterations and in and out of drawers until three years ago when I finally had the time and inclination to finish it. I was never motivated to write a novel.
STAY THIRSTY: Your American film debut was in a movie about Freud that was directed by John Houston and starred Montgomery Clift and Susannah York. How different was it for you working as an actor in Hollywood vs. working in London?
DAVID MCCALLUM: The director John Huston cast me in Freud with Montgomery Clift. As the same time the UK was drifting into socialism. John was instrumental in my obtaining an agent in Beverly Hills who in turn secured the part of Judas Iscariot with George Stevens in The Greatest Story Ever Told. I left for the United States in 1961.
STAY THIRSTY: Your military service also included time in the Middlesex Regiment and now, with your wife Katherine, you are active with organizations that support the United States Marine Corps. How did your military service help you prepare for your roles in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS? Has it come into play in your work as a novelist?
DAVID MCCALLUM: Back in the fifties, I was commissioned into the British Army and went immediately to C Company of the 3rd Battalion, Gold Coast Regiment which was part of the Royal West African Frontier Force. My military experience stood me in good stead parts in The Great Escape, Mosquito Squadron and the Colditz series on the BBC.
STAY THIRSTY: After nearly a sixty-year career in television and movies, what advice do you have for young actors just starting out in their careers?
DAVID MCCALLUM: In any chosen career you must follow your heart and mind accepting what you need from others when they give encouraging or discouraging advice.
David McCallum is 86 today. Congratulations!