Trail Tales Cast Interview with Frederick Coffin


My Questions and Comments in Gold
Mr. Coffin in WHITE!

Through hook and crook I was able to wrangle some time off from work to do this interview. Mr. Coffin has a wonderfully distinctive voice that has a rich rumble that is likely to send shivers through anyone hearing it. Talk about distinguished!

Right away he mentioned Cliff DeYoung who played Evan Crandal, Emma's wayward husband.

I knew Cliff from back in the New York Public Theater, where we started out together, a hundred years ago [laughter] He's a great guy, we've done some work since, including Andersonville for John Frankenheimer and some really good projects. Anyway..

I loved doing The Young Riders. I really of the reasons I loved doing it... there was a certain articulation.. diction of thought.. that a lot of people write off these times, the 1800s, the West, as being sloppy, you know. Being kind of 'grunt city' a 'shoot-em up' drink a lot of 'sarsaparilla.'

And this guy was not that at all, [Sutro] was extremely articulate man. I had a feeling that he had crossed paths with many educated people, so I liked the way he phrased things. I like the way he talked.

Do you remember anything about the Casting Process?

When I went to the interview I had time to sit down in a room and look at the script and I believe that I had seen the script before that even. So, I had time to look at it... I believe it was directed by Jerry London {check on this} If it was Jerry London it was the beginning of a relationship that I had with him for a number of shows. [Whoever it was] he and I immediately 'rang the bell' in terms of this diction of thoughts and speech and I really felt good about that. One of the things you hope for, especially having done a lot of classical theater (Shakespeare in the Park, in New York and two years in the Classic Repertory Company in Detroit).. it was a [connection] I didn't expect [to make]. In this business you have a lot of people that don't know what they're doing. They don't recognize good diction or speech. They're working professionals and that's fine.. I'm not going to demand they give me four or five strong quotes from Richard the Third to prove their mettle. It's a different ball game. In this particular case, I do remember this connection being made, so I was not at all surprised a day or two later to find out that I had gotten the part. It's gratifying when something like that happens.

The audition was in Los Angeles. About a week later I flew out to Tucson and we did it.

*Mr Coffin and I have both been teachers*

Teaching is so rewarding when it's working. It's very hard to make it work too. I worked with a group of reform school kids out in Maryland one summer, teaching them theater and  directing them in a production. I'll tell you something, when that thing was mounted, I thought "There is a God!" You know? It does work. Just a wonderful thing.

*It turns out that we have a mutual friend here in Hawaii in the theater... it truly is a small world, he had also journeyed to Hawaii to appear in 'Jake and the Fatman'*

We got on the subject of Period Shows and Mr. Coffin told me how blessed he had been to work with one of the greatest theater companies in the country, the Producing Artists in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Starting in the fall they would out five or six plays and take them to New York and put them out on Broadway. The list of actors was *very* impressive and their abilities were incredible. It was a company of actors that understood that the character, the movement was dictating by the clothing.

I got very close to an English actor years ago, named Allan Howard, who was with the Royal Shakespeare Company and I went to visit and I was over there looking at all the great English Theater, especially the Restoration. He said an incredible thing: "Restoration is about cruelty... social cruelty." People behave in certain ways that they are also immune to the feels of others, but that's what it was.

What was your First Impression of the Set?

It was fairly disorganized. It was brand new.. a new series and they tend to be [like that]. I believe, the day that I arrived, Josh's Brolin's father had been in an airplane collision or crash. Everyone was, certainly Josh, and a lot of others were upset... Every single time that I've done one of these shows, I make sure that I'm very very very prepared, and nothing is going to throw me. Ready for any possible change of venue, lines, dialog... ready to improvise in a second... you just have to. I had ridden horses all my life, [my family] owned two horses when we lived in Ohio. My twin brother and I had a horse that we fought over left and right. Who gets to ride today.. or half a day.. and I always loved westerns.

Were there times that you had to use that skill and change things in a moment?

Yeah, I remember collections of horses, there was a moment when we had to meet.. the bad guys.. before we descended on the house.. that's always difficult, to get the horses and the people together and organized... in a series you don't have a lot of time... even in Tucson... where you have a lot of local talent and they are very eager to do anything they can to make it work. They're not worried about overtime and anything like that. They want to work, be apart of it.. be on camera as much as they can.. and I understand that. 

Who did you spend the most time with on set?

I really liked Cliff deYoung and... there's a moment.. well a bunch of moments on a set.. even with a character you're really prepared for... if you're listening and watching, you'll find things to do.. that you didn't plan on doing... if you're really open, the freer you are, you'll discover those. For Andersonville, in the stockade for the soldiers, I was so well prepared that things just developed left and right... I don't know how many times those moments took place in the Young Riders, but I know that I felt comfortable and that's the key.

I remember that there were a number of times when the filming pushed back the break times.. the meals... and that makes it difficult to work.

I remember Melissa Leo on the show.. She and I had done, along with Timothy Hutton, Stockard Channing, and Bill Hurt had gone to Yugoslavia to do a film, a couple of years before the Young Riders, called Time of Destiny, which was an interesting idea. Going to Yugoslavia was very interesting. Melissa Leo and I didn't have much of a storyline together,  so we didn't spend much time together, but I remember that she had some kind of  quirky vocal warm up.

Did you sit down to watch the episode when it aired?

Oh yeah... yeah... for a few years I used a clip of it on my audition tape. I really liked it. It was the scene where the bad guys meet to figure out where everything had gone. "Mr. Comstock, why don't you check it out..." and I loved that scene.. about 20 seconds long.. loved the language.. until about six years later... and I thought I should take it out since I had done too many other things since. I always liked it a lot.

More Pictures from the Episode

Sneaking into Emma's house, Sutro showed his 'military strategy' that Teaspoon admired.

But it was Sam Cain that put an end to the well spoken outlaw.

Thanks and big ol' WAVE of thanks... hoping that Mr. Coffin gets out to visit Hawaii soon... and while he's here visiting with Bill, I hope he'll stop in and say hello!  -  Raye