Michael Lohr Interviews Robert Trebor
If youâ€™re not sure who Robert Trebor is, then shame on you. His most notable role was the lovable merchant Salmoneus on the hit television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, among many other successful projects.
Bob surprised me when he emailed me and said that he liked the interview I did with Bruce Campbell and wondered if I would be interested in interviewing him. What is the street slang Iâ€™m looking for here, â€œhells yeah!â€? Hercules and Xena are two of my all time favorite television shows, next to Stargate SG-1. But what really surprised me when I began to do research for this interview was the extent of Mr. Treborâ€™s acting career. I honestly had no idea the amount of work Bob has done over the years. You may have also seen his face in any number of diverse movies and television shows over the years such as Gorp and Hercules and the Lost Kingdom to Universal Soldier and Wedding Daze.
Born and raised as Robert Schenkman, in the Philadelphia section known as the Great Northeast, by his early teenage years Bob began taking acting classes and getting involved in local theatre groups. He showed almost prodigy-like aptitude for film making by winning several Kodak short film awards. Bob then went on to win an award from his local Philadelphia ABC and PBS affiliates for a short black and white movie titled Communicate!? He also won several Scholastic writer awards for his film and theatre reviews. He then went off to the windy city of Chicago, actually the northern suburb of Evanston and received a degree in theatre arts from the prestigious Northwestern University, before heading to New York City to establish himself in the world of show business.
Oh yeah, and if you hadnâ€™t noticed, Bobâ€™s stage name, â€œTreborâ€? is a palindrome. Its Robert backwards. Now on with the show.
Michael Lohr – ML: One of the things that stuck me while doing research for this interview is the amount of television work that youâ€™ve done; everything from Tales From The Crypt and Baywatch to Murphy Brown and Miami Vice. What television show was your favorite to work for (Hercules/Xena doesnâ€™t count)?
Robert Trebor – RT: My breakthrough role was The Son of Sam in the TV movie Out Of The Darkness playing opposite Martin Sheen. He was absolutely wonderful to work with; his performance makes mine look even better. In terms of a series, I was cast as a Russian pathologist in the original pilot Missing Persons for CBS. My character kept putting Vicks vapor rub up his nose to avoid the stench of the cadavers. It was a lot of fun, and I was directed by Mario Van Peebles. Unfortunately all the actors, the director, and the producer were replaced by CBS before the show went to air, and the series only lasted one season.
ML: Along with Bruce Campbellâ€™s Autolycus, Kevin Smithâ€™s Ares and Ted Ramiâ€™s Joxer, your character â€œSalmoneusâ€? was one of the more popular semi-regular characters on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Are you surprised at the continued popularity and fan devotion for both shows, so many years after they ceased production?
RT: Well, Iâ€™m more delighted than surprised. We all put out a very good product, and Iâ€™m pleased that our talents and energies continue to be appreciated by viewers both new and old.
ML: What was some of the most bizarre occurrences that happened while shooting Hercules and Xena?
RT: That live rat being dumped on my head, several times during the Hercules episode Mummy Dearest comes to mind. He was declawed so he didnâ€™t have anything to grip with and kept sliding off my head before I could brush him off as directed. On the other hand, after the shot wrapped there were cross-hatched marks on my scalp. So I guess there were some claws after all.
ML: You spoke about the time on Hercules when you and Bruce Campbell did a scene where you both dressed up as Playboy Bunnies and did a striptease. How in the world did that idea come about?
RT: Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote the script Men in Pink as a tribute to the great film comedy, Some Like It Hot, where Bruce would play the Tony Curtis part and I would play the Jack Lemmon part. In the movie Tony and Jack are on the lam from gangsters and have to join an all-girl jazz band to escape. Bob and Alex wanted to up the ante by having us join an all-girl dance troop and have us do a striptease because, letâ€™s face it, the movie was made in the 50â€™s and this was the 90â€™s. Also TV writers are cooped up in a little room for days on end and sometimes like to ventilate their twisted fantasy life on hapless actors. Bruce and I had to get the full body shave twice during shooting so we would look smooth and girlish during the strip and our famous bubble bath scene.
ML: Any other interesting stories about Bruce Campbell, or Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo for that matter, that you could tell? You all seemed to get along so peachy.
RT: Well I plan to keep most of the juicy stuff for my tell-all bio that will come out one day. Iâ€™ll tell you something more about Bruce in Men In Pink. The striptease took all day to shoot and we had a choreographer rehearsing us ahead of time. Now I had acted in several stage musicals including Strike Up The Band opposite Bill Irwin (wonderful physical comedian who taught me some tricks during the show) and How To Succeed in Business playing the part of Finch, and I was used to taking choreography. I donâ€™t think Bruce had that previous experience, and during the dance rehearsals for â€œMenâ€? he was soooooo diligent. He took written notes and drew diagrams from the choreographer. I think he was very nervous about it. I just took the steps and went over the physical line and rhythm of what was proposed without excruciating about it too much. The feather fans that Bruce and I used to cover each other up as more clothing came off were very heavy. THAT took a lot of rehearsal so we could make the twirling look smooth and effortless. I think we both had wrist and arm massages at the end of the day.
ML: You have attended many Hercules and Xena conventions over the years and met many fans. What has been some of the most bizarre fan interaction that you yourself or one of the cast members ever encountered? I remember several years ago Ozzy Osbourne was signing autographs for his new CD release in Dallas, Texas and a fan somehow smuggled a severed cowâ€™s head into the record store and sat the rotting thing down on the table in front of him.
RT: Gee, you love to hear about the bizarre stuff, donâ€™t youâ€¦..I could talk about the time the half-naked Amazon squad covered themselves in whipped cream and Nutella and offered themselves for dessert in the game room of an unnamed Midwestern fantasy convention, but I gotta keep that stuff for my own book. I still love the question put to me by a little girl about Cory Everson as Atalanta. She asked, â€œDoes she wear any underwearâ€¦it looks like she doesnâ€™t.â€? I asked her, â€œHow old are you honey?â€? She said, â€œEight.â€? I replied, â€œWell there are certain things a gentleman doesnâ€™t discuss, and in about ten years youâ€™ll appreciate that.â€?
ML: Do you miss New Zealand?
RT: Yes, very muchâ€¦and if there are any Kiwi Con organizers reading this, Iâ€™d love to be a guest-of-honor at your event.
ML: You played Marx Brothers expert Marty Walker in the Rob Zombie movie, The Devilâ€™s Rejects. What was that experience like? I think Iâ€™ve seen Rob in concert in one form or another at least eight times, though thereâ€™s a couple Ozzfests in the late 90s that I am not that sure about, damn JÃ¤germeister.
RT: It was a great experience! Rob is very down-to-earth and workmanlike on the set. Nothing like his onstage persona at all. He loves working with actors and gives room for creative collaboration which I love. As for the mentions in his DVD commentary about me, I came up with a lot of unscripted lines and he left them in the finished film. Bill Forsythe was terrific; we had both worked with the great John Frankenheimer earlier in our careers, and Bill particularly enjoyed my work in 52 Pickup and we traded stories about the classic director.
ML: On the diametrically opposite side of the musical spectrum you recently did a movie, Raise Your Voice with teen pop chanteuse Hillary Duff. How was that experience?
RT: This whole interview is going to sound like a lovefest but she was charming and lovely to work with. She came into my makeup trailer to introduce herself to me before our first sceneâ€¦.very friendly and not diva-like at all. I also improvised the line â€œAir goes in, diaphragm goes outâ€¦is okay to look fat!â€? and she had no problem with it. In fact she said to me, â€œThatâ€™s what my singing teacher used to say!â€? As a teen star youâ€™d think she might be sensitive about weight issues, but she allowed the line to stay in the film cause she knew it was true. A class act!
ML: Youâ€™ve done a large amount of stage acting over the years, what was your most enjoyable performance thus far? Do you miss those days performing at the American Music Theatre Festival in Philadelphia?
RT: Wow, thatâ€™s hard to quantify. Iâ€™ve worked on stage for more than 30 years! I loved the aforementioned Strike Up The Band at the Walnut St Theatre in Philadelphia. I originated roles in several Shel Silverstein productions in New York. The Crate, Sardine, and Wild Life with WH Macy and Julie Hagerty standout as distinct pleasures. And I loved Awake and Sing at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre working with Juliet Landau of Buffy fame. Most recently I starred with Charlotte Rae and Antonio Fargas in Driving Miss Daisy in Kentucky. They were great to work with, the play was wonderful, the theatre and its staff in Lexington were terrific and professional. The producer of record on the other hand was a smooth talking crook who actually stole and extorted money from me, so it taints the experience somewhat.
Strike Up The Band was the inaugural production of the American Music Theatre Festival in 1984. It was directed by Frank Corsaro who directed the original Night of the Iguana and Hatful of Rain on Broadway. Bill Irwin was simply wonderful to play opposite. I guess the festival is now called the Harold Prince Music Theatre, and if Marjorie Samoff gets a chance to read this, Iâ€™d love to be called back to work there.
ML: You worked with legendary director Woody Allen in The Purple Rose of Cairo. Is he as eccentric as is rumored?
RT: Heâ€™s very quiet on the set, says almost nothing. He also cast me in a part in Radio Days, but the entire sequence in which I appeared was cut ( I was a comedy writer for a standup who was â€œbombingâ€? on air the night Pearl Harbor was attacked. I guess Woody thought it was too on the nose.) He wrote me a note ahead of the release of Radio Days saying that I was cut, but not because of my talent, and he asked me not to take it too hard and jump off a building or anything like that. I thought that was rather sweet and considerate of him.
ML: You also acted in the Oliver Stone movie, Talk Radio. What was it like to work with such a controversial director?
RT: Oliver is a very intense, driven director and he knows how to goad great performances from his actors. His latest film World Trade Center has extremely positive buzz about it, and he deserves it. It probably will be nominated for several Oscars. You read it here first. Iâ€™d love to work with him again.
ML: I heard youâ€™re a pinball machine fanatic. Whatâ€™s the rarest pinball machine that you have? I only own one and itâ€™s a vintage, mint condition Kiss â€œDestroyerâ€? era model.
RT: I donâ€™t own any! Iâ€™m still waiting for a fan to give me one as a present. If I were Lucy, or Renee, or Hudson Iâ€™d be having pinball machines coming out of my ears. But as a character actor????? Nooooooooooo! Iâ€™d love one from the 60â€™s Moulin Rouge or Goldmineâ€¦.or one of the Playboy machines would be nice.
ML: You mentioned earlier that you played serial killer David â€œSon of Samâ€? Berkowitz in the movie Out of the Darkness. I know you did plenty of research for the role. Did you have any problems with portraying such a character? Iâ€™ve heard some actors say that after they finish shooting a movie where they portray such an intense, dark person that it takes a while to disconnect from the character. Almost like the persona haunts them for a time afterward.
RT: As I was shooting the film during the day, I was acting in a zany comedy at night, Shel Silversteinâ€™s The Crateâ€¦.so I had to technically shift out of the psycho persona FAST, every night. I had a deal with the film company that they had to break me every day so I could get to the theatre an hour before showtime so I could cool down and fill up with fun. Normal call time for a theatre performance is a half hour. In fact, the last sequence of the film, where Iâ€™m in the back seat of a car talking with Martin Sheen about my hair style was a practical shot. They were actually driving me to the theatre during the shooting so I could make my hour call!
ML: How did the Dear Salmoneus book project come about? Did you find the writing process frustrating?
RT: Challenging. I forced myself to sit at a desk for at least 2 hours a day for six months to come up with something each dayâ€¦.even if I eventually threw the material out. Certain arcs of the humorous letters and answers came easilyâ€¦.others I had to sit and stare at a blank sheet of paper for awhile before something creative came out. I will have copies of my book to sell in Burbank by the way at the Creation 2007 Xena Convention. Every true fan should own two copies. The 10th Anniversary Edition will be available!
ML: What is the latest news on your movie My Bonny Lies Over The Ocean?
RT: Even more challenging. Still trying to find the financing. Itâ€™s a very dark, intense piece about infanticide inspired by a true story. Producers are attracted to it by its artistic meritâ€¦.but they know itâ€™s gonna be a hard sell.
ML: What other projects are you currently working on? And please donâ€™t tell me you are working with former Senator Tom Delay on his biography, Goat Shucking The American Taxpayer.
RT: Hey, if Delay has some money to invest in My Bonny that isnâ€™t directly tied to the Indian Casino scams stuff he allegedly pulled, anythingâ€™s possible. Iâ€™m working on something different for the Convention Cabaret show in January (hush hush), Iâ€™m getting material together to write a play and Iâ€™m auditioning for several TV series. Iâ€™m also trying to get new representation, but thatâ€™s another story.
Thank you Bob for taking the time to be interviewed and no, contrary to popular belief, no â€œBruce Campbellsâ€? were harmed while making this interview. So pay no attention to those nasty rumors running rampant on various blogs.
Also, I want to thank Rob Zombie for having the vision to cast Bob in The Devilâ€™s Rejects. He is one of the most talented character actors available today. I think he would have been excellent in the Harry Potter films or the movie adaptation of Douglas Adamsâ€™ Hitchhikerâ€™s Guide To The Galaxy, or just about any other project for that matter.
To learn more about Robert Trebor and his distinguished career please go to his Official Website.
When next we meet up with Bob weâ€™ll be trolling the moshpit at the annual Xena convention blasting Lucy Lawless lookalikes with Cheese Wiz-filled supersoakers and screaming at the top of our lungs, â€œgrease â€˜er up and pull the trigger jigger!â€? ï?Š
Michael Lohr is a professional journalist, whiskey connoisseur, music critic, treasure hunter and adventurer. Go here to find out more at MichaelLohr.com