"The Hologram Interviews:
Quantum Leap's Al"
by Edward Murphy
Starburst, November 1994
As amoral Admiral Al Calavicci, Sam Beckett's holographic partner in Quantum Leap, Dean Stockwell spent five years traveling through time without ever leaving the project's 'imaging chamber'.
It's those manic eyebrows which have possibly made Dean Stockwell's face so memorable over the past 40 years. But although the actor performed some of the most vivid portrayals on film, it was his role as the craggy-faced sidekick to the time-traveling Sam Beckett in TV's Quantum Leap which brought him to his biggest audiences.
The series came to an end earlier this year, with Stockwell appearing in all five seasons as the loud-mouthed, streetwise hologram Admiral Al Calavicci who accompanied the young hero through a number of adventures in Time. Stockwell's reputation as a maverick, always off-the-wall and totally irreverent, gave the show that little edge – as the audience became privy to Al's fetish for womanizing, boozing and general philandering.
Each week he would appear in some of the most outrageous fashions (yellow glow-in-the-dark pants with a splattered guts shirt) and spouting his own unique brand of macho deadpan humor ("I played a game of poker with this girl once," Al told Beckett in one episode. "She won hands down. She had a pair, and what a pair they were!")
OUT OF TIME
"I have a particular fondness for Admiral Al Calavicci," says Stockwell with a devilment reminiscent of his screen alter ego. "I'm sad that I won't be playing him again this year. We all had a swell time doing the show, and it's difficult to say who is really gonna miss the show the most. I guess people say that actors take a little bit of the part away with them, but if I really was as streetwise and cocky as Al, I'd probably have been a bigger star."
It has been over a year since Stockwell put the final episode in the can, the 95th adventure in which Sam travels physically through time and finds himself in Al's Place, a bar in a Pennsylvanian coal mining town on the moment of his birth. The actor is fairly satisfied with the conclusion of the series, which rounded off a few unanswered questions but still keeps the quantum chamber open for more new exploits.
"Yeah, I guess the show had to end sometime," Stockwell continues. "I think that was the most difficult thing for the writers to contend with. The word 'end.' You know, one of the biggest attractions of a show like Quantum Leap is the element of mystery throughout the storylines. So I would imagine they would have weighed up the benefits of keeping the mystery intact or infuriating the fans by doing something totally ludicrous.
"I was fairly happy with the conclusion. It was a real neat little story, possibly one of the best of the season and certainly the right one to go out with. I've spoken to a lot of fans about the show, and they're fairly mixed. But I don't think we could have done it any other way. The other option was just to end it on a story, and keep the fans hanging until the day the series is revived."
Stockwell raises an enquiring eyebrow when I ask whether the series is really finished. The actor has always conveyed a particular fondness for the series which plucked him from his comfortable reputation as a cult movie actor and kept him glued to the role for four years. Are the characters simply taking a little sojourn from the screen?
"Who knows what the plans of Donald [P. Bellisario, the show's creator and producer] and the network are?" Stockwell replies coolly. "But I'm going on to do other things and so is Scott [Bakula]. I reckon we would all jump at a revival, but right now, it would possibly have to be a couple of years down the line. But the official line is that Sam has made his last Leap, and it's up to the viewers' imagination to work out the rest."
Over a long career the 56-year-old actor has turned his hand to a string of vivid portrayals such as a young boy whose hair turns bright green (in The Boy With Green Hair, the 1948 film in which he made his film debut at the age of 12), the first real Lovecraftian anti-hero (in The Dunwich Horror) and the groveling dandy who mimes outrageously to the music and lyrics of Candy Colored Clown (in David Lynch's Blue Velvet).
Stockwell admits he was initially attracted to Quantum Leap because it was one of "the straightest" roles he'd been offered in years.
"I've never actually consciously chosen anything which is bizarre," the actor admits. "I don't think that you can be so definitive. But I also think I've tended to choose roles which have bizarre touches and because the characters are so well defined. I knew when I read the original script for Quantum Leap that Al had a mysterious background of his own, which I really wanted to pursue.
"And sure, when the writers got down to filming the story, when the audience gets to delve into Al's marriage, that was pretty poignant stuff. It's then that all those bizarre little characteristics have some sort of meaning. I truly enjoy developing that kind of thing."
Of course, Quantum Leap was far removed from the bizarre depravities of Blue Velvet, which gave Stockwell something of a reputation with modern audiences. Stockwell had gone through a lull in Hollywood until David Lynch's dark Fantasy turned him into a cult favorite. By the time that Stockwell was sent the script for the Quantum Leap pilot, he was at an all-time peak in popularity.
But he admits that if the script had come along in the early Eighties he would probably have turned it away because the actor felt that American television was, simply, "appalling."
NEW WAVE TV
"Television got a lot better in America at the time of Quantum Leap," Stockwell recalls. "We had Thirtysomething and St. Elsewhere. We had a new series of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We had lots of stuff. There was once a time, I can remember, when ideas which couldn't be budgeted for film were rehashed over a weekend and shoved on the small screen. The result was a lot of trash. Nowadays, there's so much more planning. There's good quality television these days and the technology they are using is amazing.
"I think they've realized, too, that you can't make Star Wars or Raiders Of the Lost Ark on the small screen. Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine are very, very high profile but they are still small screen. I think that Quantum Leap never tried to be too big for its boots. The writers were more interested in the characters rather than the effects. That is why it worked."
FINAL SEASON AND BEYOND
The last season, nevertheless, received a great deal of criticism from the fans for the manner in which the writers broke the rules. Plot details, such as Sam Beckett's sudden ability to 'leap' outside his lifetime ("The Leap Between the States", in which Sam appears in the body of a relative during the American Civil War, mounting the case for the prosecution). Stockwell remains a firm defender of the season.
"You can't quibble on such matters, he says, seriously. "It's all academic now. I'm no scientist but I'm sure there was a lot of room for blips in the Leap process. The Civil War episode had some great production values. It was a great story. We both had a great time doing it. Who can argue with the spirit of the series?"
Stockwell hasn't heard the rumors of the big-screen adventure ("We have to get in the queue behind the Star Trek's, The Fugitive's, and The Maverick," he laughs), but welcomes the possibilities of a one-off special, possibly for Christmas. "I think they could write a great Christmas special in the vein of Frank Capra. I don't know about how viable the prospect would be, but it would certainly get my support."
Stockwell raises those manic eyebrows again and paves the way for the line you see coming a mile away. "As a matter of fact, I would 'Leap' to it in a second."