John Schneider still looks as though he could “yee-haw” if he needed to, but these days “The Dukes of Hazzard” good ol’ boy is more content playing the dad.
Between forkfuls of risotto at a restaurant near the suburban home where he and wife Elly raise three children, the actor, who played Bo Duke in the CBS series that ran from 1979 to ’85, works the word “family” into many aspects of his conversation.
Schneider now plays Jonathan Kent, adoptive father to an adolescent Superman in the WB’s “Smallville” (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Eastern).
“We know what made him strong, this is about what made him noble. Excellent parents are part of that,” Schneider says, contemplating the influences that created the “do-the-right-thing” Superman.
Shaking things up with a new miniseriesIn “10.5,” an NBC miniseries airing May 2-3 (9 p.m. ET) about a cataclysmic earthquake, Schneider’s also plays a parent, although initially not a very responsible one.
He’s the ex-husband of the governor of California, and as the massive quake hits, he’s driving their disgruntled daughter to a camping trip.
“There are any number of reasons you can use to justify being an irresponsible parent, but they really don’t work in the long run,” he says. “This guy finds out sooner rather than later what his responsibilities are, and that’s good. I’m certain there will be someone who is watching this somewhere who is on that walk himself. So I do try to foster the importance of parenting through the roles I take.”
“He identifies himself as a family man. That’s who he is,” says Gary Pearl, co-executive producer of “10.5,” remarking on the apt casting.
The four-hour drama intertwines the professional and personal dilemmas of multiple characters caught up in the seismic crisis, among them Kim Delaney as quake expert Samantha Hill and Beau Bridges as President Paul Hollister.
Schneider was expert behind the wheel of the General Lee, the souped-up car of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” so it’s no surprise that in this miniseries, he did his own stunt work for a harrowing sequence where his vehicle sinks into the earth.
“They had to keep dumping sand on these conveyor belts that would push the sand toward the car as somehow other sand was pulled out from underneath it. So it was really sinking and I was really in it and Kaley (Cuoco, who plays his daughter) was really in it,” he explained. “Sand weighs tons. I guess it could have gone awry.”
An eye on the director's chairSchneider, who recently completed directing an episode of “Smallville,” was very impressed by “10.5” director John Lafia’s ability to capture both the spectacle and the intimacy of this production.
“I wondered, ‘What is this man doing?”’ Schneider recalled. “The camera placement was odd, the movement the camera was doing was very strange ... my directorial sense would say, ‘No, no, no. How can that be?’ ... But the result is wonderful. John manages to give the appearance that the camera just happened to be lucky enough to be there to capture it on film, as though it’s happening right now.”
Schneider believes the sense of immediacy is so intense that perhaps a disclaimer that it’s “only a movie” might be appropriate. He thinks audiences might mistake it for a report on a real earthquake, panicking like radio listeners did in 1938 when Orson Welles aired “The War of the Worlds.”
His boyish good looks still intact, it’s taken a while for the 44-year-old actor to seem old enough for these dad roles. But he believes there’s a reason for that.
“Had I looked old enough to play fathers when dad was the buffoon, I wouldn’t have been the right guy for the job,” he says of TV’s evolving father image. “But I think viewers look at the fathers I play now and think ‘I knew he’d be a good father because he was raised by Denver Pyle’ — Uncle Jesse (Duke) in TV Land logic. And there’s a lot of truth to that.”