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Scott Baio became a teen idol starring as Chachi Arcola on Happy Days from 1977-1984 and he worked pretty consistently until a few years ago, most recently as star and producer of See Dad Run on Nick at Nite. He’s actively involved in the Bailey Baio Angel Foundation, which he founded with his wife after their baby daughter falsely tested positive for a rare metabolic disorder in 2007. Nowadays, it’s politics he’s best known for, given his passionate support for Donald Trump and a speech he gave on behalf of the GOP presidential candidate at the recent Republican National Convention. Baio spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about being a conservative in famously liberal Hollywood.
Donald Trump has had some gaffes recently, like insulting the Khan family. Do you think they are actual gaffes or media hype?
Well, let’s put that up against someone who should be indicted, according to James Comey, the FBI director. It’s amazing. I mean, I don’t know where you stand politically — you work for The Hollywood Reporter so I’m sure you lean left. But it’s incredible to me that she lied about people dying in Benghazi, and she is still lying about her emails, and Donald Trump says something about this couple and it’s taken completely out of context. I was around for Romney and I thought that was bad, but this is insane. I don’t know who the Clintons made a deal with, but the media is, so bad. How do you fight that?
So you’re still enthusiastically endorsing Trump?
Yeah. I still think he’s going to win. I know he’s way ahead with Independents. I think the silent majority is about done with this crap.
What crap are you referring to?
The world is on fire. Nothing in this country is going in the right direction. They say Trump’s temperament is bad, and my response is, “Well, let’s see. Obamacare is a disaster. Immigration is a complete mess. People are coming here illegally from Muslim countries that want to kill us, the economy’s in the toilet and 95 million people are out of work. ISIS is cutting the heads off of people but Hillary and Obama’s temperament is great, so I’m happy about that.” You need to write sarcasm next to the sentence.
Did you hear flack from people in Hollywood after your speech at the GOP convention?
I’m assuming it’s only the people who agree with me, but I heard, “Hey, great job. Thank you for saying what we’re thinking.” I had a woman grab me today — I was playing golf with my daughter — she grabbed my hand hard, and she said, “Thank you for what you said at the convention. Thank you.”
Do you think your appearance at the GOP convention hurt your prospects for getting more jobs?
I’ll give you a very simple answer: I don’t care. I genuinely, in my heart, do not care if I ever work again. I don’t care. I’m comfortable and I’ve got a great life, but If I don’t have a country that is recognizable to me, I’ve got nothing.
Why is it that you don’t care if you ever act again? Do you not enjoy acting?
I put it in the prism of my country and my daughter. So, if I can do things for my country, that help my country become what it was — and I don’t want to hear about racism from people — but what it was in terms of freedom. The rule of law means something; the Constitution means something; judges reading the Constitution and not legislating from the bench. If I can do anything to help that, then I’ll sacrifice my career.
Do you think you sacrificed your career?
I don’t know. I’m in the process right now of developing two things, so I don’t know.
What are the two things?
I can’t tell you, and I hate saying that because actors are like, “Oh, I got this new role,” and this and that, but I do. Normally, I’d just say I’m doing nothing, but I actually have two things I’m working on and, honest to God, people don’t believe me. I genuinely do not care. If I can get my country back to where I think it can be and my career suffers, I win.
What do you recommend less established conservative actors do? Keep quiet about their politics or jump right in as you have?
That’s their choice. For me, it just got so sickening. I know Antonio Sabato is getting beat up a little bit, and I’m getting beat up a bit. Jon Voight’s a big conservative and he’s working.
How are you getting beat up?
Mainly on Twitter, and the media. And again, these people think it bothers me. It doesn’t bother me. It’s laughable.
That is pretty remarkable that you feel that way, no?
Listen, Paul, I don’t know where you’re from, but I’m from Brooklyn, and at a certain point you know who you are. And I always used to marvel at my dad because nothing fazed him, and I realized at one point, he just knows who he is. So when I know who I am, you can’t insult me and you can’t diminish me — you can’t do anything to me because I don’t care. It just doesn’t hit me.
When did you become politically involved, and a conservative?
Oh, I’ve been a conservative my whole life. I campaigned for Ronald Reagan.
How did your Happy Days colleagues react to that?
I don’t think anybody said anything to me. I think our country was in a different place back then, much less polarized. The Democrats back then weren’t Socialists or Communists. I think they’ve gone so far left that now it’s become more polarized. Back then, I was a Republican conservative, they were Democrats, but they weren’t crazy liberals. They were just, “Oh, you can raise taxes a little bit.” Now, if Donald Trump says the sky is blue, they say, “How dare he! He’s racist!”
What do you tell your conservative friends who are Never Trumpers?
I say, “You better welcome judges that’ll take away the Second Amendment.” And my friends are like, “The Senate will stand.” I say, “The Senate won’t stand up for anything. Neither will the House. They never do. Paul Ryan is a waste of time and space. So is Mitch McConnell. So you can say hello to having your guns taken away, say hello to having your freedoms taken away, say hello to much higher taxes.” Hillary Clinton just said she was going to raise taxes on the middle class and the crowd cheered. That’s how crazy it’s become. So I say to my Never Trumpers: “Good luck, brother. Good luck in your Communist world.”
Why do you think Hollywood is so supportive of Democrats and there’s so few who support Republicans?
Here’s my theory, and I figured this out maybe six months ago, so it’s taken me 55 years: There are two kinds of actors, those who are very serious about their craft and they feel for the character, they feel for the downtrodden, they empathize. And then there are actors who do it for a living, like me and others, who just see it as a business. It’s not all-consuming. So the first actor deals with emotion, and that’s what Democrats deal with — emotion.
What do you mean?
There’s no fixing anything. It’s just, “Oh, I feel so bad for the poor,” whereas a conservative actor says, “So you feel bad for the poor? Let’s fix it. Let’s get them a job.” And if you say that, you’re racist. I don’t think liberals want to fix anything; they just want to keep throwing money at problems. And I think that’s the difference. Like Leo DiCaprio and them guys, they’re all emotional about the Earth. Global warming is a bunch of BS, and he’s like, “Oh, the Earth and the polar bears.” I’m like, “They’re fine, man.” I’ve been hearing this for 40 years. Ted Danson told me the oceans were going to be dead in 10 years in 1980. It’s 2016 and the oceans are doing pretty good. They rely on the fact that people don’t remember anything.
Do you ever debate this stuff with liberal actors?
I do, but they get into emotional conversations and I think, “I can’t,” and I walk away because it’s too frustrating.
Some people think there is a kind of unofficial blacklist against conservatives. What do you think?
I don’t know. I’ve worked up until two years ago, Paul, so I don’t know. I was on a series on Nick at Nite for three years and I was a big conservative then.
How do you respond to people who dismiss you as some star from the 1970s whose political opinion is irrelevant now?
Why should you listen to anybody? What has Bruce Springsteen done lately? Any good albums? What has Eva Longoria done lately? Does she have a big hit TV show? What has America Ferrera done lately? I think people should do their own research, and if you don’t care about my opinion, turn the channel.
How did it even come about that you got invited to speak that Republican National Convention?
I met Donald Trump in New York by complete happenstance a couple of months ago, and then he was at an event here at someone’s house in Los Angeles. He just finished speaking to about 200 people and he was about 10 feet from me, and as he was walking off, I said, “Mr. Trump.” And he said, “Scott Baio. How you doing? Did you want to speak?” And I said, “Here?” He goes, “No, no. At the convention. Kid, listen. You’ve been so good to me. You’ve been so loyal and you’ve been saying such great stuff about me. I want to say thank you.” And I sat there like, jaw on the floor, and I didn’t know what to say to him. And he said, “You know what, come in the house and let’s talk,” so I grabbed my wife and we went in the house. … This was on the Thursday before the convention started. I wrote my speech in church and handed it into them on Sunday and they OK’d it.
So you wrote your own speech, in church, while the preacher gave you dirty looks?
It’s funny. I talked to him afterwards and told him what happened and he said, “I completely understand.” My daughter was with me and I kept stealing her pencil and writing my speech.
For those who didn’t hear you speak, what did you focus on, and why?
What it means to be an American, because we’re letting in so many people to our country and so many people don’t know what it means. It doesn’t mean getting free stuff. That’s what people think it means. All I see is Mexicans because I live in L.A. and they come here — illegally or legally — and they’re running away from something, but by voting for Democrats they’re turning this country into the country they’re running away from, and that’s the part that baffles me. So, I wanted to make clear that being an American means certain things. It means rule of law, working hard and succeeding and failing. All that stuff that everybody has done for 240 years.
Do you see your Happy Days co-stars ever?
I see Don Most a little bit. We play golf. That’s about it.
How about Erin Moran? When’s the last time you’ve seen her?
A long time ago, thank God. She’s got her own problems that I don’t want to deal with. I saw Henry Winkler the other day.
Did you talk politics with him?
I did not.
So, do you think Happy Days really “jumped the shark?” And do you ever consider how iconic that phrase has become due to that show?
It’s a great expression, and it seems to apply, but I did the show, so I couldn’t be objective about it.
I was a connoisseur of the show, and I actually thought it improved when they started focusing on your character in the latter years.
Oh. Well, thank you. I really appreciate that. It’s very nice. I don’t think about it. I just did what I did, then went home.
It made you a teen idol. What was that like? Could you leave the house without being mobbed?
It was fantastic. Sometimes I could. It was a different time. There wasn’t all this media. A couple of photographers would follow me around, yeah, it was exciting, and it was scary, and it was weird. But once you get used to it, it’s kind of a cool thing. But then you realize that it’s all fake and that it doesn’t last forever, and you have to put it into perspective.
Was it depressing when Happy Days ended?
Honestly, Paul, right after Happy Days I did Charles in Charge and then another series. I never stopped working, literally, up until two years ago. So I never had the chance to go, “Oh, my god. My career!” If I wasn’t acting, I was directing. When I was done directing, I was back to acting. So I’ve been a very, very lucky guy in a rough business.
Anything we haven’t touched on?
My golf game is crap right now.
What is your handicap?
I don’t even know. My game is completely off the rails. So I’m very upset about it. My kid is 8 years old and she plays better golf than me. She has a better swing than me.
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