Whenever producers want a woman for a chase-me movie, they chase after Linda Hamilton.
Some of the chase-me stories she would prefer not to talk about. Some of them surprised people - including her - by turning out well. And along the way, she picked up a reputation for having a strange taste in leading men.Take, for instance, her "Kong" movie. Doesn't every pretty blond actress do one? Hers was "King Kong Lives," the 1986 flick in which she starred with Brian Kerwin (not to be confused with "King Kong Escapes," the 1968 Japanese production, or with "King Kong vs. Godzilla," the 1963 Japanese-American joint venture, and surely not the 1976 remake of the original, which helped put Jessica Lange on the map).
"You have to have an enormous imagination" to do a film like that, she said. "I worked only with a blue screen," with the King Kong ape figure superimposed later. It may have been the largest blue screen in Hollywood history. "There's a knack you pick up to doing that sort of thing."
Enough about that movie. The less said, the better.
In 1984 there was - don't laugh if you haven't seen it - "The Terminator." "It's some of my proudest work," she said matter-of-factly. A lot of critics agreed. But before most movie-goers saw "Terminator," it was widely dismissed as just another action flick for teens. Even Hamilton laughed at first.
"I thought it was just another chase-me film, of which I've done a number. I wasn't even enthusiastic when Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast," she said.
"But halfway through the film, I thought, `Hmmmmm, we might be doing something good here.' It was the love story of the century."
The same sort of skepticism and outright snickering set in last season when CBS trotted out a new series called "Beauty and the Beast" (Fridays at 7 p.m. on Ch. 5). The show was, well, hard to describe. How about reality-based fantasy? How about laughingstock?
But any giggles stopped soon after the opening credits. The "Beauty and the Beast" pilot was a tremendous piece of television, with imaginative sets, lush photography, soaring music and a premise that became semi-plausible almost immediately. Could there really be a group of social outcasts living beneath the streets of New York? Why not?
Ron Perlman, wearing four hours' worth of makeup, is Vincent, the fierce but gentle feline beast. Linda Hamilton plays the beauty. "My leading men seem to get bigger and hairier all the time," she observed.
She tried to say no to this TV suitor. "I was saying no to television. I wanted to do film and comedy more than anything. When I saw the drawings for Vincent, I knew the producers were serious. My agent took a meeting with them and came out wanting me to do it."
She was sure that doing the pilot would lead to a network series. That was the problem. She had done series TV before ("Secrets of Midland Heights" and "King's Crossing") and was not happy. "There often are cut corners, and networks have such power and fear about doing a series. The rating numbers are what's important, rather than quality. The networks are so interested in repeating what works," with little room given for a series to evolve.
A show as offbeat as "Beauty" needs all the room it can get. This second season - the show opens with fresh episodes next week - Hamilton looks for a bit of a shift in direction.
"The pilot was terrific," she said, "and then you get to the daily heave-ho of living up to the pilot." This season, she said, the show will deal more with life underground and less with the crime plot of the week.
On a recent afternoon Linda Hamilton was torn in several different directions. There was an interview to be done. There were errands to be run. And most importantly, there was a Los Angeles Dodgers playoff game to be watched. A big year for the Dodgers is a big year for Linda Hamilton.
She caught baseball fever from her kid brother as they grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. "His whole life was devoted to baseball, the players, the statistics," said Hamilton, who was born in Salisbury, Md. "The only way to communicate with him was through baseball statistics." (He is now a counselor at a social center for emotionally disturbed people.)
Her father, a doctor, died when Hamilton was 5. Her stepfather is a retired Salisbury police chief. Her mother raised four children - there's an older sister, and Linda has an identical twin. "She's a nurse in New Jersey," said Hamilton. "We've come to resemble each other a lot. We have the same haircut, and we're both slim."
Along with baseball, acting was an early passion. "I worked in children's theater, little theater and assisted the drama teacher during my senior year (in high school)." After two years at Washington College, she moved to New York. "Actually, I followed a boyfriend there."
She took classes at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute and studied with Nicholas Ray. In terms of acting, the young woman who had been a queen in community theater back home "was taken apart and put back together again" in New York. Her professional debut was in the daytime serial "Search for Tomorrow."
If going to New York was a big move, moving to Los Angeles was a tremendous plunge. "It was frightening. The whole family was concerned but supportive. I had little to show for four years in New York. I was still an ingenue."
She borrowed $2,000 from an uncle to finance her westward migration. By the time she got her first acting job, after waiting tables on both coasts, she had $8 left. "It was a guest star role on `Shirley,' the Shirley Jones show. I played the sexy girl in a love triangle with Peter Barton." That was during the 1979-80 TV season.