By Jan Lopreste
the beginning of Highlander - The Series,
Season Two, the audience was introduced to a new character names Joe
Dawson. What started out as a
contract to do four episodes soon turned into a part that would bring Jim
Byrnes into our hearts and our homes for the remainder of the run. My
conversation with Jim Byrnes was like sitting down in a warm, comfortable
chair ~ familiar and real. With
this interview I would like to bring you into that chair with me! Talking
with Jim is not at all what
some people would think talking to a "star" might be like. That
is because Jim Byrnes is a very real person and not at all assuming of his
stardom or the fame that Highlander has brought to his life. He's still just the "same old Joe."
How did he land the part of Joe Dawson?
Well, to answer that question, let's back up a bit further and find
out how he got started in the business to begin with!
know, it goes so far back!" Jim
laughs. "I decided
really as a kid all my life that's what I really wanted to do.
In high school I really got serious about theatre and every summer
I did professional workshops. Went to NY every year to see all the shows
on Broadway, all that stuff, and I majored in Theatre at Boston
University. And then, of
course, the draft came along and I kind of got sidetracked a little
bit." He served several years in Vietnam. "And then, at the end of all that I ended up having this
car accident where I lost my legs." he says quietly. That accident
happened in 1972. Jim rarely
mentions it. He continues,
"It was quite a long time......that's when I really started making my
living, although I'd played music all my life, never really made a living
at it, but then I started making my living as a musician.
But I kept getting out and going to auditions, trying to keep my ~
you know, every now and then I'd get involved with a play or something,
and finally Wiseguy came along."
Jim played the character of "Lifeguard" in that series,
and it was just the beginning of a long list of credits.
how did the part on Highlander land in your lap?"
my agent got a call who said that these guys start shooting in about 4
days and they are interested in seeing you.
I guess they had seen Wiseguy and
stuff and knew me from that. A
lot of it was just the fact that I was in town.
They had originally thought that the part was going to be a British
guy named Ian Dawson and they had offered it to a couple of pretty well
known British actors and it was actually only for a guarantee of 4
episodes. So anyway, they had
turned it down or whatever, and they (the production company) were kind of
under the gun, I guess...they were going to camera in a few days.
I happened to be in town and he said well, the producer would like
to meet you. I went down and
I had some drinks with Bill Panzer and I was shooting a couple of days
a mention of Highlander can now be made
without thinking of the wisecracking, head-strong, loyal friend to
Duncan MacLeod that was Joe Dawson, or the man who made the character his
own. Jim acknowledges that
when you play a character for that long, you do make "him" your
own, and bring bits and pieces of yourself to the role.
much are you and Dawson actually alike?"
obviously there's a lot of things that are alike, although there's things
that are different, too." Jim states.
Then, laughing, "I'm not quite as quick to pull a gun out of
my coat!" He's referring
to the 4th Season episode of "Something Wicked" when Dawson
shoots MacLeod to keep the "Evil Duncan" from taking Richie's
(almost) never interfere?" I
quip, quoting the Watcher's Creed.
right!" Jim laughs.
He goes on to say more of how the role came to be.
"It's just a matter of taking the whole thing and it was not
just my decision all of a sudden, you know when they shot some episodes
and everybody had been in town and I said ‘Well, come on out and see the
band' and everybody came out and then they realized that I could really
you decided to role that into the story line and the character of
and then somebody ~ whether it was Bill or David or whatever ~ it was kind
of like ‘Well, let's try this' and so my 2nd season (the show's 3rd
season) Joe decided to get out of the book business and back into what he
really loved, which was the bar business and it kind of, it gave everyone
a, you know Joe's was a nice focal point to get the story told and get
things done and it was a nice set where you could come in and make things
happen, take the storyline from here to there and people felt comfortable
did become a pivotal place in the show, so much so that a recent book
release was named "Weekend at Joe's" - a compilation of writings
by cast and crew in which Jim has a haunting entry called "Letters
I ask what his favorite episode of Highlander was he groans, then laughs,
"Oooooh, you know that's impossible!!" I sympathize, but won't let him off the hook.
He obviously enjoyed any episodes where a bit of Joe's life could
be revealed and "Glory Days" comes to my mind - where Joe's old
girlfriend came to town and we find out that he was once a football star.
"Well, there was that one, but
before it was the one where the kid played me in Vietnam, (Brothers In
Arms) and, of course, the episode with Marcia was great and I really liked
all the stuff that we did at the end of 5 and the beginning of 6 (the
Archangel Trilogy) because I really got a chance to really do something
"do something" he did. In
that story arc, Dawson is tempted by the demon Ahriman, who wants him to
sell out MacLeod. In
exchange, he is offered the return of his legs and the chance to walk and
run again. This is an idea
that came to David Abramowitz, head writer, but he was hesitant to do it,
thinking it might be a little *too* real for Jim and hit a bit too close
to home. He brought the idea
to Jim, and after much consideration, it was decided to go with the story. Jim pulled on very real emotions to give one of the most
memorable and powerful performances in his run of the role.
was some very powerful, powerful acting." I say, admiringly.
and that's what you want to do it for.
So many times, because of the nature of the show or the nature of
the part I ended up just doing sort of the exposition or being the
expository paragraph and so when I actually got to do something more than
expose the story it was good."
a bit of a good-natured side line, I asked Jim a question that my son Nick
wanted me to ask. Originally,
I was not going to include the exchange in this piece, but Jim gave such a
great answer, with such insight as to who Joe Dawson really was, that I
felt compelled to include it here.
now, in "Something Wicked" and "Deliverance" when
Duncan took that evil quickening, this question is from our roving Jr.
reporter. Nicholas would like
to know how did it make Joe Dawson feel to see his friend turn evil like
that?" I ask.
obviously it was tough. I
mean, anybody who's your friend, when you see changes in people that are
not, that you don't think are positive, and it's someone that you care so
much about it goes to the, you really have to do some soul-searching and
it was a tough time. But, you
realize that something's gotta be done and you also realize that there's a
reason for this beyond your own personal involvement, that there's gotta
be some deeper reason and you try to find that and see what you can do
about it." This is, perhaps, a bit of Jim's personal philosophy of life,
the chemistry between Joe and Duncan obviously came across very clear on
the screen, and you have to believe in some way that there's that same
chemistry between Jim and Adrian."
was part of the thing when I got involved with the show, they had a cast
and a crew that had been together for a year and I kind of came in as the
new guy and that's a little bit of a daunting project, but we got on right
away. Just because, I mean,
at first, it's just a matter of, when you go on set and see somebody who's
serious about their work, who takes care of business and so you start out
and hope you'll have some respect for one another's craft, right?
And then, out of there, either a personal relationship grows or it
doesn't and we got along and that was part of the deal when I came in, I
was just gonna do 4 shows and 'whatever' was gonna happen. But everybody,
cast and crew, we all got along. It
was more than just a professional 'roll 'em and cut' sort of thing and
beyond ~ in the times other than that ~ there was a relationship that
formed, too, and it was a good one. A
conversation turns at this point to Endgame, and how Jim first saw the
finished product. We had
gotten a tip that he had seen the film with Adrian and Elizabeth.
"How did that go?" I
it was fun! It was
completely, just a few days before, Adrian had phoned and said he was
thinking of coming to see a friend of his up here (in Vancouver) and would
I be interested, so he was comin' on up and it was a lot of fun.
And it just so happened that Elizabeth was here too and it just
happened to be completely by chance that everybody was in town at the same
that's fun though." I
boy." He laughs
heartily. Why do I get the
feeling that "fun" doesn't begin to describe that evening?
I mean, imagine that trio walking into a movie theatre, ordering
tickets and going and sitting down with the general public!
And knowing how Adrian and Elizabeth act like a couple of little
kids whenever they're together, it must have been a riot!
Jim, diplomatically, does not comment further!
did you think of it?" I
you know, a couple of the scenes that we did, you know, stuff gets cut.
It's sort of like an amusement park ride!"
He laughs. I agree
wholeheartedly, also laughing. "Which
is what it's supposed to be. I
think we were able to, on the show ~ on the series ~ delve more into
character and motivation and stuff, whereas this, because the powers that
be wanted it to be an action piece...."
He trails off.
and furious and down your throat?"
it's definitely fast and furious." chuckling again.
we were definitely encouraging people to see it more than once because the
first time you're holding your breath."
you're right and I'll probably go back now and see it again cause it's
sort of like getting on the roller coaster and it has that same sort of
effect. I mean, 85
minutes. It goes by pretty
we talked the other day you mentioned that you had some new music projects
in the works with Tim Hearsey (one of his band members) and something with
Don Paonessa? Tell me a
little more about that."
it's gonna be pretty much just all acoustics ~ just a couple of guitars ~
and while I don't know
exactly what it's going to grow in to be, it's something that we've
started working on. We're
working on the material and we're kind of shooting when we're sitting in
the living room or in the studio trying to, you know, from the idea of a
song until we're actually gonna perform it somewhere."
neat! Kind of like "the
process" of a song?"
right, exactly. We're gonna
shoot a lot of the creative process and just have the camera rolling while
we sit around and do things and then at some point we'll put on a concert
somewhere and do all the stuff and shoot all that and see how it all comes
wonderful!" This would
sell, wouldn't it? I know I
would buy one!
I am pretty excited about it." And
I know all of Jim's fans will be excited and happy that there is more music in the future for us to enjoy!
hear that you work with something called the Variety Club Telethon?
What is that all about?"
do Variety both here and in St. Louis every year, and it's just ~ you know
what the Variety Club is, it raises money for children with disabilities ~
and I generally do, there's here that I do every year and I've been doing
for God-knows how many years. It's
20 years or whatever, and then there's the one in St Louis as well.
Depending on scheduling, I get over to Suskatchewan sometimes and
I've done Winnepeg and I've gone down to Toronto and even done one in Los
Angeles. Variety is a great
organization and it raises money for children with disabilities, and it's
as simple as that. Generally,
it consists of probably singing a couple of songs, and doing some on-air
hosting, that's generally what I end up doing."
one of our members, Lois Grubb, said that she and a group of her friends
really had a great time when they came out to St. Louis last year. She
mentioned that you performed at a club?"
generally every year I tie it in to, when I go down to St. Louis I've got
friends who own clubs and we put together a little, in fact this last year
we had Lou Rawles was also in town doing something and so we borrowed
Lou's bass player and drummer and (Mike) Kalange was with me so we went
down to my buddie's club on the river and did the Lou Rawles rythym
section and me and mike and it's fun.
We do something like that every year."
you had an opportunity, and you do, to say anything at all to your fans,
what would you like to say to them?"
just really give them my thanks for their support adn their love and I
appreciate it. We've tried to
do a good job on our end, and everybody sure has supported us. Gotta give 'em a bow for that, and thanks for the
is a good choice of words, here, because I am sure we all feel the same
way about Jim. Thanks for the
blessing, sir. You have
touched our lives in wonderful ways and we thank you.
When next we meet, remind me that I owe you "a cold one".