'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Robert Vaughn ('Gold Star')

The 83-year-old Oscar nominee and Emmy winner on Natalie Wood and Paul Newman's influence on his career, the unexpected success of the original 'The Magnificent Seven' ("We thought, 'This picture's gonna be the bomb of all time'"), his pursuit of a Ph.D while starring on 'The Man From U.N.C.L.E.' and returning to the big screen in Victoria Negri's feature debut.
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Robert Vaughn

"Like most actors, I just go home and wait for the phone to ring," says Robert Vaughn, the legendary Oscar-nominated film actor and Emmy-winning television actor, as we sit down at his home in Connecticut to record an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. "And it's been ringing for a long time."

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Vaughn's big-screen career began 60 years ago with a small part in Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments. He has since received an Oscar nomination, for 1959's The Young Philadelphians. He has starred in an iconic film, 1960's The Magnificent Seven (he's the last of the seven still standing), as well as numerous other classics including 1968's Bullitt, 1974's The Towering Inferno and 1981's S.O.B.. And he conquered the small screen, as well, most famously as the Bond-esque Napoleon Solo on NBC's smash-hit The Man From U.N.C.L.E. from 1964-68, but also as Nixon chief-of-staff H.R. Haldeman, en route to an Emmy, in the 1977 ABC miniseries Washington: Behind Closed Doors.

Now, at 83, Vaughn is about to be seen giving one of his most complex performances yet. In Gold Star, the feature debut of writer-director-actress Victoria Negri, which will screen on the opening night of the Buffalo International Film Festival on Oct. 7, he plays Negri's much older father who, when she was in high school, suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair-bound and unable to speak. Vaughn, who shot the film over 10 days, says he found the challenge "compelling." (THR is exclusively debuting the film's trailer at the bottom of this post.)

Over the course of our conversation, Vaughn reflects on his entire life and career, including what prompted his move to Los Angeles in 1951; why he says Natalie Wood, a fellow teenager who became one of his first friends out West, "changed my life in many ways"; how he wound up under contract to Burt Lancaster's production company; why he initially was supposed to appear in 1957's The Sweet Smell of Success, but did not; and how a kind gesture by Paul Newman helped him to land The Young Philadelphians, his first A-picture, which led to John Sturges casting him in The Magnificent Seven.

Of that film, in which he got his college pal Charles Bronson cast, he recalls, "We thought, 'This picture's gonna be the bomb of all time.' Well, not only was it a great success at the box office and continues to be, but after Casablanca, it's the most-often-shown motion picture on American television." Why? "It's a good yarn, well told, with a lot of sexy young guys." (Perhaps that's why it was just remade, with a cast including Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt.) That's not to say the location shoot in Mexico was entirely fun: Steve McQueen was "paranoid" about being upstaged by Yul Brynner and, Vaughn recalls with a laugh, "We pretty much were on the pot [due to food poisoning] when we weren't drinking margaritas and smoking pot."

Unlike many stars, Vaughn's interests always have extended beyond Hollywood. Indeed, at the height of his Man From U.N.C.L.E. stardom, he became an outspoken activist against the Vietnam War, campaigned aggressively for his friend Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign and enrolled in a USC Ph.D program. (His doctoral dissertation, about the impact of the Hollywood blacklist on the New York theater, is referenced admiringly by scholars to this day.) However, his first love remains acting, as it has been since he was just a boy. And, as he puts it, "I hope that phone keeps ringing."

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