With an acting career that has spanned four decades, and having starred in over 75 films, Treat Williams is well aware that his first role on Broadway was an important one, but back then, the part felt like torture.
“It was 1973, so (during) the first 6 months of my career, and I was understudying all the leads in Grease. And I hated it, “ Williams laughed as he sipped coffee from a local restaurant.
But that role would later solidify his prominence as an actor, and get him back on the stage in a role he wholeheartedly desired.
Williams is part of an ensemble cast in Chesapeake Shores, the most successful series in Hallmark Channel’s history. The show is currently filming its second season in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region. Williams plays Mick O’Brien in the family drama, the father of a high-powered career woman who comes from New York City to her hometown of Chesapeake Shores with her two daughters, and begins to face her past.
The Loathed role
Before auditioning for Broadway in 1973, Williams had been president of the Glee Club in high school, he had taken singing lessons in College, he had done about five Shakespeare plays and six musicals, and he felt ready to start auditioning in New York. He auditioned for a lot of things, he explains, before hearing about Grease. After auditioning, they offered him a role.
“They said, ‘we’re not going to send you on the road, we’re going to keep you here, you’ll be the understudy for all of the male leads in the show’, John Travolta being one of them…Barry Bostwick, Jeff Conaway…” he explains. “So I learned about five roles and that was the beginning.”
He was living with his mother and father in Connecticut at the time, and he remembers having a bit of a fit about the loathed role; throwing his clothes in frustration. His mother asked what was wrong with him, he should consider himself lucky to have a part on Broadway, to which he replied, “I’m not on Broadway, I’m watching people on Broadway!”
After that, he was working on some summer productions, and one of his stage managers asked if he would like to join their production of Grease in Chesapeake, Maryland as the lead, Danny Zuko. Williams was thrilled to finally play the role himself. During the production, the producers of Grease on Broadway came to see William’s performance, and were so impressed they asked if he would like to take on the role in New York.
“So I ended up playing Danny Zuko, the lead in Grease, on Broadway for three years,” Williams says, revealing a moral to the story. “Do what your heart tells you to do. I couldn’t wait to do that part, I didn’t care if I was doing it in a theatre in the round in Maryland, I wanted to do that part, and it turned out that the producers came and saw it, I ended up on Broadway…it’s a great lesson.”
One More Time
A few years later, Williams starred in the iconic musical comedy, Hair. But it wasn’t easy to get the role that launched him into stardom.
“I had to audition for it 12 times,” Williams explains. “It was a tedious and very painful audition process, but I think it was my own self-induced pain, I wanted it so badly, and I had to wait six months to find out…but I also knew I was getting one of the great parts in American musical theatre, I thought, and I still think so.”
Williams had a blast filming Hair, even though he remembers dancing his heart out and constantly hearing the phrase “one more time”.
Some of the other films that stand out to Williams include Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City, and Smooth Talk (with Laura Dern, who is the daughter of Chesapeake Shores co-star Diane Ladd.) That film won the Grand Jury Prize in the Dramatic category at that year’s Sundance Festival. He also remembers The Late Shift fondly, which snagged him an Emmy Award nomination, and the television movie A Streetcar named Desire, for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. He was also very proud of the first two seasons of Everwood.
FLying at High altitudes
Williams says he is really enjoying Chesapeake Shores because it’s affording him to do all the things that he loves. “I love not being number one on the call sheet,” he says. He has been out enjoying the Oasis of Parksville Qualicum Beach, going on numerous hikes, kayaking and hanging out at the airport. Williams has been a pilot for 40 years and is a certified instructor. He says being a pilot is quite the opposite of acting.
“I think that in a business that is so unpredictable, you can think that you did an extraordinarily good job on something, like a performance, and then read a review that says you totally stink. You could fly an airplane from point A to point B and you know whether you did it well or not, it’s absolute.”
But life hasn’t always cruised along at high altitudes. Williams says he and his family got hurt very badly in the financial crisis in the United States a decade ago. He was in the middle of a huge renovation on his house, and the show he was working on got cancelled. He ended up losing his house and he and his family packed up a trailer and moved to Vermont. He started working right away, regained his financial footing, and realized that he had found the ideal place to call home. “Sometimes its hard to get me off my property in Vermont,” he says happily. And this summer he’ll be only a bike ride away from the Theatre he’ll be working at in August.
“I don’t know what the confines for the description of the word happy are, but I do know I can’t wait to get up every morning and do something. To me that’s a pretty good indicator that I enjoy my days.”
A Chapter from Chesapeake
On the set of Chesapeake Shores, Williams is also enjoying himself. He is pleased with his paternal character, a man who has been very successful, who has taken over the business that he was in with his father, and is now trying to heal his broken family. But Mick O’Brien doesn’t have it all figured out, according to Williams.
“What he doesn’t realize is he’s also going to have to change, everyone’s going to have to change,” he explains. There are also some aspects of his character that we can all take a chapter from, he says.
“It’s revealed to him that he’s not done yet, he’s an unfinished person, and I think that’s a great metaphor for all of us, that you really can never stop working on yourself. It’s not like, I’m okay now, I’m all good. It would be a great lesson for Donald Trump to think that way,” he chuckles.
Asked how he thinks the cast and crew would describe him, he replies that he hopes they would say he’s very professional and prepared, but doesn’t take himself too seriously. “And also they would probably also say he does not suffer fools gladly,” he explains. “I do have a side where I want people to be professional around me I expect them to put the same amount of energy into it as I do.”
A small town beach feel
Chesapeake Shores producer Matt Drake would agree that Williams is a professional. “Treat is an absolute professional, a pleasure to work with, his resume speaks for itself, he’s an extremely impressive actor but he also really cares about the show,” he says, during a quick break from filming.
Filming in the Parksville Qualicum Beach region has been very positive, Drake adds. He says the producers wanted a small beach town feel, and were scouting out areas in Victoria. They took a trip up Island one day, at the recommendation of one of his location scouts, and they discovered downtown Qualicum Beach. “We thought, this is it.” The North Island Film Commission has been very helpful, he says, and support from the Town of Qualicum Beach has been great. They’ve also had a great response from local residents. “We try and hire 100 per cent local, last year we had over 650 unique background cast members and this year we have continued to do the same.”
Season Two of Chesapeake Shores airs Aug. 10 on the W Network in Canada, in the United States it will air on the Hallmark Channel on Aug 6. It will also be on Netflix USA, and Drake says they are working to release the show to Netflix Canada. Become a fan of the show on Facebook and watch clips on the Hallmark Channel’s website.