Bill Mumy's "Actor in Space" Hat Is Back On
Bill Mumy often wears what he likes to refer to as his “Actor in Space” hat. It’s an apt description because he’s most famous for his roles as Will Robinson in Lost in Space and Lennier on Babylon 5. Of course, he’s also beloved for his appearances, as a child actor, on The Twilight Zone and many other shows, for co-creating the series Space Cases (with Peter David) and for co-writing and performing the cult song “Fish Heads” with Robert Haimer as part of their group, Barnes and Barnes. Mumy – who in 1990 collaborated with Peter David on a trio of DC Star Trek comics -- long wanted to guest star on a Star Trek series, but insisted on playing a human. His tenacity paid off in 1998 when he portrayed the doomed Kellin in the powerful seventh-season Deep Space Nine episode, “The Siege of AR-558.” StarTrek.com caught up with Mumy for an extensive interview in which he filled us in on current events, including an upcoming appearance at the Hollywood Show, and recounted his Trek experiences. Here’s what he had to say:
Let's start with the present. What's life like for you these days?
MUMY: Life is good. I'm busy working in multiple arenas. Right now I'm back wearing the "Actor in Space" hat. I'm co-starring in Space Command: Redemption, Marc Zicree's ambitious multi-generational sci-fi epic. I'm working with Mira Furlan from Babylon 5, so that's a treat for me. Also working with Bob Picardo from Trek. He's great and funny and we get along really well. Doug Jones from Falling Skies is also in the cast and he's very talented and nice. It's a good group, cast and crew and it's fun to be working in an arena I enjoy and am well known for. I play a "Steve Jobs" type of character, a billionaire inventor who creates synthetic workers. Bob and I and Mira and Doug just shot a 9-page master together the other day. That's a rare event. So far, so good.
What else are you working on at the moment?
MUMY: Musically, I've just finished the seventh video from my recently released solo CD, "Illuminations" on GRA. I'm proud of that album and the videos reach a lot more people than hitting the road and playing funky gigs. I'm also working on a brand new group project that just spontaneously fell together at Christmas. I'm very excited about it. I'm writing and recording with Vicki Peterson from the Bangles, John Cowsill from the Beach Boys and, of course, the Cowsills, and Rick the bass player Rosas, from the Buffalo Springfield and Neil Young. We're collaborating on an album's worth of original songs and hope to get out and play some gigs. We're working around John's Beach Boys tours, so it's somewhat start and stop and start again... but I can't tell you how happy I am about this project. I'm loving it. They're great people and great musicians and singers and we're clicking really well. Like you hope a real band will.
You’ve also written eight issues of a new comic book for Bluewater Comics, The Curse of the Mumy...
MUMY: That's a crack-up and has been a hoot. Check that out. I continue to produce The Real Good Radio Hour every week on www.ksav.org. I've done that for a few years now. Just for fun, but I think it's a real good hour of music. And I've been doing animation voiceover work on a couple of series. I'm on Bravest Warriors on the Cartoon Hangover Network, working on that series with my daughter Liliana, who is the star of that show, and I've done a couple of Transformers: Rescuebots recently. Always fun to do animation. Plus, I enjoy spending time at home with my wife Eileen and our four dogs and just hanging out when I can. Both our children live in Los Angeles. Our son Seth is in law school and Liliana is a working actress, and I like to relax and spend time with them.
Also, Angela Cartwright and I are wrapping up a fantasy novel that we've been working on for quite a while. I hope to see that released this year. Robert Haimer, my partner in Barnes & Barnes, and I have been talking about potentially making some new demented music together as well. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one, but it'll probably happen one of these years again.
You're of course very associated with the sci-fi thanks to The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space and Babylon 5. How on your radar years ago was the original Star Trek and the assorted other Trek series?
MUMY: I lived down the block from Bill Shatner in Cheviot Hills as a kid when I was doing Lost in Space and he was doing Trek, and I used to see Leonard Nimoy at the beach in those days. I always liked Trek. I thought it was silly when I was a kid when people were either into Lost in Space or Trek, like you had to pick one over the other. I thought that was stupid. Like Gunsmoke versus Bonanza or whatever. They were always different in tone. Lost in Space was about a family. Star Trek was a military show. They both got really stupid once in a while, though. I loved Next Generation. That was a great series. I dug Voyager, too. The Trek franchise has done amazing.
Our understanding is that you wanted to be on Trek and Trek wanted you, but you didn't want to play an alien. First, is that an accurate description of the situation. Assuming it is, what went into your decision to hold out for the chance to play a human?
MUMY: Yep. That's totally true. After five years and five seasons of playing Lennier on Babylon 5 and gluing foam rubber to my face every day, I was not into doing that again. I didn't want to work in film and TV for 50 years and be thought of as: "Bill Mumy, you know, he plays aliens now." I definitely said "no thanks" to a couple offers of good guest shot parts on Trek that were non-human roles.
You got your chance with Kellin on DS9. Was that an offer or an audition?
MUMY: It was an offer. From Ira Behr. I was flattered and said "Sure" as soon as he called and said it was a human Starfleet officer.
What intrigued you most about the character and his arc within the episode?
MUMY: Well, besides that fact that he was a human... It was a real treat to wear the Starfleet wardrobe, and play a character embroiled in a war. It was a fairly dark, dramatic script. I'm glad I did it.
What do you recall of the shoot itself?
MUMY: Everything. Very long hours. The crew was running on fumes. I probably had five forced calls on that episode, and we'd never had even one on the entire five years of B5. A day on DS9 was a long one. They all treated me really great. But, I was blown away at how you couldn't vary from the printed script, not even a "well..." or one syllable... It was like Shakespeare! If you varied at all, they had to get approval from a committee. That was a bit weird. But like I said, everyone was really nice to me.
How satisfied were you with the character's demise?
MUMY: Dying in Nicole deBoer's arms? That was fine by me. Of course, it would have been sweet if he'd stuck around for several more episodes, but dying heroically on TV is cool by me. I'll tell you a funny story about that... When we were shooting my death scene, Ira Behr was on the stage. Once it was in the can, he announced very loudly to the entire crew, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Star Trek just killed Will Robinson!"
Beyond acting in Star Trek, you've written Star Trek comics. How did you enjoy those experiences, including working with Peter David, and what do you hope you added to the Trek universe with your stories?
MUMY: The three issues of the classic Trek comic book Peter and I wrote for DC was one of our first collaborations. Peter and I went on to create and write two seasons of Space Cases for Nickelodeon together, as well as many other projects for comic books, short stories, animation and films. Peter's a great guy and super-prolific. I love working with him. We bounce ideas off each other with ease and tag team on them well, I think. At that time, he and I were driving up to my house in Los Angeles together from the San Diego Comic Con and we plotted that Trek story out together in my car. It was meant to be "Star Trek meets Lost in Space." Fans have always wanted to see something like that, so we gave it to them. Of course, with licensing restrictions and all we had to make it not so on the nose and obvious, but it was still pretty obvious. I came up with "The Worthy" name instead of using the Robinsons’ names. I still like that name for a group... I may use it again one day! It was fun to do and it led to many more projects with Peter, which is a good thing. Jerome Moore supplied some fantastic cover art for those three books.
Aside from The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Lost in Space, you earned your share of pop culture icon status with both Space Cases and "Fish Heads." How long/strange/diverse and fun a ride has this been for you, your very varied and unique career?
MUMY: Don't forget two episodes of Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters, Batman: the Animated Series, Ren & Stimpy, Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Ultra Man, The Flash, three episodes of Superboy, Roswell Conspiracies, Space Ghost, 13 episodes hosting Inside Space... I can't even think of ‘em all right now! Yeah, that comic book universe, it's a fun place for me to be. It was watching George Reeves as Superman when I was 3 and 4 years old, along with Guy Williams as Zorro that inspired me to "get inside the TV" and drive my parents crazy to make that happen in the first place... So, it's still an arena I enjoy working in. Anyway, my long/strange/diverse and fun life has just felt normal to me. I started working when I was five and here I am, still doing it today on Space Command. Still playing a Spaceman! Feels normal.
You've also got the distinction of seemingly being one of the future child stars to grow up into a normal adult. Do you take a certain pride in that? Did you get lucky? Did you have a good support system around you? Was it part you, yourself, who didn't let yourself go off the tracks? A combination?
MUMY: That's a hard question. I know a LOT of child stars who turned out great and never had any major "issues" or run-ins with the law. Lots of 'em. It's just not something that sells magazines or makes headlines when people stay out of trouble, you know? Angela and Veronica Cartwright, Barry and Stanley Livingston, Tony Dow, Johnny Crawford, Jon Provost, Don Grady, Tim Considine, Mike McGreevey, Kurt Russell, Ron and Clint Howard, Jodie Foster, the Waltons kids... I could go on... None of them ever went down the drain. So, yes... I had a good support system. My parents never let me get big-headed or treated me like I was special. Neither did my friends growing up, who were used to me coming and going in and out of school or the neighborhood when I was on locations...
And also, yes... I was lucky. We've all done stupid things. Especially in our youth. I certainly could've gotten in trouble or been busted for some dumb stuff I did at one time or another... I've been adventurous and cautious at the same time. I've lived a pretty much non-compromising artistic life. I can't complain about many of the choices I've made. But do I take pride in not being a hot mess? No. I don't think anyone should.
When you walk down the street and people recognize you, what are the shows/movies they want to discuss with you? Likewise, when you do an autograph show like the Hollywood Show, which you’ll be at April 11-13, and you have all your photos out, which are the ones you find yourself signing most frequently?
MUMY: Hmmm. I mostly get recognized for Lost in Space and the Anthony Fremont character from The Twilight Zone. People say "Danger! Danger! Will Robinson!" or "Don't wish me into the cornfield!" and stuff like that. But, a lot of the time I get surprised and someone will say; "Man, I loved Bless the Beasts and Children!" or, "I just watched you on Perry Mason!" Or The Fugitive or Dear Brigitte or whatever. I've worked on over 400 TV shows and 20 some films. There's a lot of stuff in the catalogue and a lot of different hats that I've worn... actor, musician, writer, voiceovers...and sometimes the ones you don't think about often are the ones that have resonated with certain people. All I know is: I'm married to a wonderful woman, my kids who are adults now are good people, I still have the same friends I had 50 years ago and I get to do what makes me happy. It's a good life.