Mike Farrell on taking a stand

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: So how old are you during the Vietnam War?

MIKE FARRELL, ACTOR AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Depending on when you count the Vietnam War starting—say ’65, I’d have been 26. You know, there are a number of things. First of all, let me back up. I said I was in the middle of all those revolutionary—. I didn’t mean to suggest that I was—

JAY: Che Guevara.

FARRELL: —a leader of them. I was a frightened, scared kid trying to figure it all out and being swept along. In ’63, when John Kennedy was killed, I was a 24-year-old ex-Marine. Lee Harvey Oswald was a 24-year-old ex-Marine. That struck something in me. Like so many people, I watched Lee Harvey Oswald be mowed down by Jack Ruby in front of the entire Dallas police force, and I thought, something doesn’t square here for me. And one of the things it began to do for me was raise the question about the media. You know, why am I being told that everything’s going to be fine? Why am I being told that this guy that for the last three years the media’s been letting me know is a jug-eared hick is suddenly the statesman who’s going to resolve all the problems of the United States in the world today and be the exactly perfect person to lead us out of this trauma? I just began to think: why aren’t we being led to understand what’s going on and make our own, come to our own conclusions, rather than having [inaudible]?

JAY: So a little less than ten years earlier, you’re in the Marines, and you believe you’re fighting for democracy, America, the beacon on the hill, Kennedy’s speeches. And it’s interesting. Obama’s inauguration speech is coming up. And his speech in Berlin was a little reminiscent of Kennedy’s speeches—America, the defender of world freedom and democracy. So in the Vietnam War, are you still believing that the Vietnam War was about the fight for freedom and democracy?

FARRELL: I remember having a discussion with some friends of mine, when Castro took over in Cuba, whether or not we should go back in to fight the commies. And five years later, with the help of a friend, I was reading some stuff about Vietnam that began to question whether anything made sense there, whether anything that we were being told was true, whether we belonged there, so that this metamorphosis, you know, was happening, this change was taking place. And I kept having these moments, these eye-opening moments where, oh my God, you know, things aren’t exactly what I was told they were.

JAY: And how did this affect the search for Mike Farrell? What’s this interaction between realization about the world and the search you told us you were on about yourself?

FARRELL: Yeah, it was all sort of a difficult kind of pastiche. I was sort of finding things and sticking them on and saying, "Okay, that’s not how I feel anymore. This is how I feel now," because I was still at the effect of the whole frightened-kid syndrome when I was a child. And I came to a—longer story than you want to hear, but got married in 1963. Twenty-four years old. Three years later, the marriage broke up, and I was wrecked, because it was part of the construct of everything that I had been led to believe was going to make me a human being, make me a man. And when that went away, you know, I’d been in the Marines, I’d done all this stuff. When the marriage fell apart, I fell apart with it. I was just an emotional wreck. And some friends directed me to a place that was a halfway house. They said, "This place is a good place you should go, and it’ll help you." And at that time I was so screwed up, anything would have—. You know. So I went to this place, and it was a halfway house run by reforming drug addicts and alcoholics and people with sexual difficulties and people with all kinds of problems. And these were the people, as I have said any number of times since, my father would have dismissed as social detritus, you know? And I became part of this group, part of this organization, and spent a year of my life sort of relearning who I was as a result of the process that they put me through, took me through, and it was, to overuse the word, revolutionary. Suddenly there was this aha! moment, when I realized that there was a human being here, had basic value, thought so little of himself that he was willing to question anything, everything about himself, doubt everything, devalue anything, and suddenly there was a whole new way to look at things. These people, they had this fundamental premise that I will swear by for the rest of my life. All any human being wants, they say, are three things: love and attention and respect. And in the search for those, if you don’t get them as a child, in the search for them, people become kind of human pretzels, trying to figure out how they can accommodate circumstances in order to get some vestige of those things, which is what I had been doing. And in the space of the time I was with these people, these junkies and whores and thieves and people out of prisons and people out of mental institutions, I discovered what it meant to be a human being.

JAY: That reminds me of—I think it’s Heraclitus has this line—in fact, they once asked Karl Marx his favorite quotation, and it was from Heraclitus. It was: nothing human is alien to me. And it seems like maybe that’s part of the lesson from that period.

FARRELL: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And you come out of that, you know, with this understanding that we’re all together in this thing, we’re all basically the same, we’re all trying to find some happy resolution, some way to get along in this world. And, I will say, that premise, this love, attention, and respect concept—.

JAY: But that could lead you to a kind of more Christian—what should I say? There’s many things you could call Christian, but what I mean by that is more missionary, do good. But you became more and more political as you got older, and part of politics, as I understand your politics, is that you do start to recognize there are people and forces out there—maybe they’re looking for love and respect in strange places, but, you know, if you can run a tobacco company and not only know that all your consumers are probably going to die of your product, but you even let your kids smoke, we’re dealing with a different kind of psychology.

FARRELL: Absolutely.

JAY: But in the realization of that, when does that start to hit you, that there’s people in power here that don’t think or feel like most people do?

FARRELL: I think it’s all part of the same process, the same sort of germination of all of these ideas as they come together, all of these feelings, all of these experiences. You begin to understand that so many people are lying to themselves, so many people are building their lives on lies, self-defeating, self-hating lies, but because they’ve been told that the pursuit of wealth or the pursuit of success or the pursuit of something is what’s going to make them whole. So, for me, it’s really always been a question of trying to figure out how to do the right thing.

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