Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Invaders Star Roy Thinnes Chats with Sheldon Wiebe

Flying Saucer Invaders
By Sheldon A. Wiebe
Eclipse Magazine

Roy Thinnes (Crpd) When The Invaders premiered as a mid-season replacement on January 10, 1967, science fiction on television was a pretty grim genre. The heyday of Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits was past and – other than Star Trek – the best the genre had to offer was campy series that played fast and loose with the science because it was “science fiction and you could do what you wanted” [generic quote from producers of every bad television science fiction series ever made]. Like Star Trek’s Gene Roddenberry, the creator of The Invaders wanted to avoid that kind of silliness – as did the show’s producer, the legendary Quinn Martin [The Fugitive]. It was their straightforward, no-nonsense, dramatic approach that convinced Roy Thinnes to take on the role of David Vincent, the architect who saw an alien ship land way too early one morning. Mr. Vincent was kind enough to chat with me about the series and its effect on his life.

I want to thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I’ve been a fan of the series since it first aired in 1967.

Are you dating yourself by telling me that? Because the show hasn’t been shown in this country for a long time.

I’m afraid so. I was a kid when it premiered.

I always have to check to see which group I’m, talking to, because it defines the conversation.

As it happens, our readership is a lot younger, so I’m hoping this interview – and the series – will be a revelation for them.


So, then, if I remember correctly, The Invaders was the only science fiction series that Quinn Martin produced. Would that be correct?

Yes, it was.

Then that, in and of itself, makes it unique.

Yes. And I was surprised that Quinn Martin was even moving into science fiction until we met. He invited me to a writers’ conference – which is something that a lot of producers never do – to have a conversation and ask for input.

His premise was [for the show] to be a study in paranoia – much like David Janssen’s series, The Fugitive.

There are certain things the two shows have in common: the search – Dr. Richard Kimble’s search for the one-armed man [the real killer] and David Vincent’s search for tangible evidence of the invaders’ presence on Earth; the chase –Kimble is being chased by Lt. Philip Gerard, and Vincent is being chased by aliens

Well, Quinn thought this was the perfect premise because it was a different kind of paranoia; a great one, where humanity stood to suffer.

Plus, where Kimble had to deal with one man, Vincent has hordes of aliens after them – and they could be anyone!

Right. He never knew who he was talking to.

And that was apparent right off the bat in the pilot [SPOILER] with Diane Baker’s character.

Actually, we were presuming we were making a pilot, and were out on location when we were told we were making a series and this would be the first episode. ABC had picked it up right away.

I’m sure you must have watched the episodes again. How do you think they hold up?

Being subjective about it, when my oldest daughter first saw on videotape, she said “there’s Chris” – my oldest son. So I said, “No honey. That’s daddy, when he was a young man.”

She looked at me askance and said, “No, that’s Chris.”

So it is very much subjective. I hope the episodes hold up because I that that – especially in the first season – they were very strong stories. And a lot of it was ahead of its time.

I was watching NBC, last night, and they [MBC] took a stronger position on the side of believers that there is something going on out there and it’s inevitable that they’ll have to come around.

In the ‘60s, though, to most journalists it was a lot of hogwash.

That Buck Rogers stuff.”


One of the things about the show that I didn’t realize back then, was that it was shot is a quasi-documentary style – very direct and with that Quinn Martin signature narration. Did that approach make it feel more real when you were doing it?

Well, the whole atmosphere was very serious on the set. The real leader of our unit was director of photography, Andrew Macintyre.

I came into the thing as much of a sceptic as you’d want to meet. I was leery about doing science fiction [because] I was afraid I’d always be labelled a science fiction person.

Andrew, on along ride to location – we usually rode together – told me a lot of stories. He was a World War II bomber pilot and flew a lot of missions over Italy and mid-Europe. He told me, early on, that they were talking from ship to ship about being followed by formations of something they couldn’t identify.

He was raising the hair on my neck, telling me some of these stories!

It turned out that there a number of key people in the crew that were interested in the subject in various ways, and not just on a curiosity level, but… There was man who was working with people who were working on magnetic engines, hoping to find a power source that would provide the kind of speeds that we would need to cross vast areas of the universe.

There were some very interesting people [on the crew].

Many interesting recordings and documents came my way. He seemed to be schooling me on the veracity of the subject – and I soon became a clear believer that something was going on out there.

Did anyone ever talk to you about Project Blue Book?

Of course.

One of the things I found most interesting about that was that of all the UFO sightings they could only explain away 96% of them. There were 4% that could not be explained.

A friend of mine, who is a UFO investigator, that I ran into recently, reminded me that The Vatican, in 1947 – and this was before the Roswell Incident – when asked if there was life out there in the universe… the Pope didn’t say it, by a spokesman for the papacy said that universe must be teeming with life.

Anyone who has seen the film they show at the American Museum of Natural History… it is a film trip into the universe, coming up out of the Milky Way and observing distant galaxies as far away as one can imagine.

Something’s gotta be going on out there! How can we possibly assume that we’re alone here?

Even if life on Earth is an accident, evolution, there are so many planets out there – just in the galaxies we know about – that it wouldn’t make sense if there weren’t any.

Tell me a bit about Larry Cohen, the man who actually created the series. Did he oversee the writers’ room?

I didn’t see a lot of Larry Cohen. He might’ve been around the writers’ room but not to my knowledge.

I got to know Larry very well, long after the show wound up. In fact, I came back from France back in the early eighties, when they celebrated [the show’s] twenty-fifth anniversary in Paris. The Virgin Megastores, which are on some of the most beautiful property in Paris, outside each of them, was a three-storey cutout of David Vincent, running – with a UFO in the background.

I couldn’t believe the popularity of the show there, at the time. So, I had to tell Larry about this.

I said, “Have you been to Paris lately? Now is the time you should be there.”

He was thrilled to hear that. He’s a very productive and creative man. In many cases he’ll write, produce and direct a film. The film The Phone Booth is an idea he developed and got done. He’s maintained a wonderful success in the film community without joining all the desperados.

He’s a rara avis.

Sometimes, when he’s in town doing a seminar, he’ll do a screening of three or four of his pictures and then do a question and answer period. He’s very amusing and very instructive as to how things do get done.

Talk to me about your run on The X-Files. It was fun, even though it came in the series’ declining years. How did that come to be?

It amazed me how it happened. A friend sent me a copy of an interview Chris Carter had done and the question was, “Were you at all influenced by The Invaders? Because the inside story on The X-Files is very similar in some cases.”

Well, he didn’t answer that question, but he did say, “I’d love to have Roy Thinnes on the show.”

So I found a number so I could get in touch with him in his office. I don’t know… I may have scared him. I said, “I’m calling to reassure you that I have all my faculties and I’d love to be on your show.”

And he said, “Great! What kind of role would you like to play?”

And I said, “I’ll wait for you to decide that. You’re a great writer.”

Anyway, about a year later… in fact, David Duchovny had written the story for the two screenplays… and I met David Duchovny at an airport up in Canada, and he asked me to read the script.

Well, you know how many times that’s happened in fifty-five years – someone says you’re perfect, will you read it – so I read it, and it was quite good. I handed it back to him and said, “It’s wonderful”

Three days later, we were on the same airplane, going back to Canada to film.

I guess it’s safe to say that, even though it hasn’t been shown in North America in a very long, The Invaders has kind of watched over you a little bit.

Yes, it has, I’ve had so many beautiful trips to France [because of the show] that O feel like I’ve lived there in a previous life – especially in Provence. [The French] have been very kind to me – and generous, I must add.

There have been a couple of festivals in Monaco that honored The Invaders. For one of them, my oldest son, Christopher, told me, “Dad, you’re living in the wrong country.”

We were sitting with Prince Rainier and Prince Albert, watching footage from The Invaders in a huge banquet hall. It was quite amazing!

I’m glad that The Invaders is available on DVD. I got a review copy and watched it – and I have to say that I think it does hold really well.

Well, good.

Thank you very much for your time. It’s been fun.

Thank you very much. It’s been my pleasure.

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