Beyond being an acclaimed actress with a plethora of television and film credits who won three Emmys and was nominated for a Golden Globe, Barbara Bain has had the unusual distinction of starring in two successful television shows titled with semi-colons, Mission: Impossible and Space: 1999. They were an espionage thriller and sci-fi series, respectively, that left an indelible impression on many viewers who grew up in the late Sixties through the Seventies. Both shows were epic in scale, presented technology that was ahead of its time (or in a few cases was secretly in use) and featured characters that skirted violence whenever possible in order to escape their dilemmas and survive their ordeals. And both series are remembered fondly enough to have warranted repeated home video reissues over the years.
When I heard that Ms. Bain would attending the 50th Annual Monte-Carlo Television Festival last June, I made sure to schedule an interview. (I admit I’m a bit late in posting it, but by its nature it is what we call an “evergreen” piece in publishing.) Sitting with three other foreign press members, A.D.D. had all of 12 minutes to chat with the veteran actress. We made every second count. She was a pleasure to speak with, and she was pleased that her work on the two aforementioned series had such longevity, something she had not expected.
Are you here in Monte-Carlo to promote the Mission: Impossible DVDs?
No, I’m not here to promote Mission: Impossible, however everybody seems to want to talk about it. When somebody asked me earlier why I’m here at this festival, I said, “I don’t know, but they asked me,” and it has to do with Mission primarily because it was so well received and so well thought of. As well as the space show I did.
I had an Eagle spaceship toy as a kid, then sold it at a garage sale when I was older. Looking back on it now, that was a stupid thing to do.
Aww…what did you do with your lunch box?
Alas, I never had one. Now as I recall, the producers of Space: 1999 were very concerned about scientific accuracy in the stories.
We had some very good science fiction people as advisors who knew what they were talking about. For instance, they knew that sound up there wouldn’t travel, and it would just be quiet up there. But then we wouldn’t have a series, so we couldn’t do that. There were various considerations that had to be made, but they were based on what is, or what was, known at the time. For all I know now it’s out of date. I don’t really know.
While it is retro-futurist now, do you look back and think about some of the show’s technological innovations and how many of those actually came true?
We made up a scanning device for Dr. Russell. Someone would simply be lying on the floor half dead, and I would [scan them] with this funny little thing that was a prop. I could read all his vital signs. They can pretty much do that [with a medical device] nowadays. There were times that we were playing with props that didn’t read anything — I just had a bunch of dialogue to say after. We had the Commlock. All of those things were on the verge of happening anyway. Now we’re way past it. When we made it, 1999 seemed so far away.
From what I recall of Mission: Impossible, there wasn’t that much gunplay.
We had no gunplay.
It was very reminiscent of The Avengers in that regard.
We did not kill anybody. We got them to kill themselves. That was the finesse of the writing. The writing was about mind games. It was us getting them to do themselves in as we left, and they never even knew we were there. It was very neat in that regard. It was [creator] Bruce Geller’s concept. We never fired a gun and never had a weapon.
Your secret agent team, the IMF, dealt with nemeses in some vague countries as well.
[They were] all vague countries.
“I spent many years [after Mission: Impossible] with people from various agencies of the world coming up to me and saying, ‘How’d you know about that submarine?'”
How do you feel about the evolution of a show like Mission: Impossible into something like 24, not to mention the trilogy of movies inspired by your original series?
First of all, when we did Mission it was almost considered a fantasy. People thought it was all kind of fun that we hijacked an airplane… Not so fun. We made a false city. People thought they were going through a city that wasn’t there. There were a lot of things like that that ended up actually being done. But it was told to me — I have no idea because I did not write the scripts — that someone who was involved with it, not Bruce, had some kind of connection to some folks in Washington and was finding out things that were going on. Although I repeat, it was seen as a fantasy at the time. Everybody watched and thought, “Oh, what fun!” It wasn’t really understood. If you think of it today, you know more than you did then about what’s going on in the world. I spent many years afterwards with people from various agencies of the world coming up to me and saying, “How’d you know about that submarine?” I said, “Because the writers wrote a submarine. I didn’t know anything about the submarine.” I was approached in a lot of funny countries, in a lot of funny places, by people who knew about the real ones. I had a script, that’s all I knew. Maybe that’s why some of it stayed so pertinent for so long.
Do you sometimes watch reruns of your shows? How do you feel when you watch them?
I don’t watch them. I have them all in some drawer somewhere. I’m very much [involved] with what I’m doing now. I’ve done theater and films. I have a film coming out now. I don’t watch them. I don’t think I’m supposed to. I watched them at the time. I don’t see films more than once. I will go to the theater and see the same thing a couple of times at least, but a film I never see more than once. It’s the same, but with theater I’m going to see something that is going to have a mistake or this or that, so I’ll see a little difference. I like all that. I’m rather limited is what I’m telling you. I can’t see a film over and over again. I don’t know how to do that. What it boils down to is I have no patience.
What do you watch on TV?
I was talking to the boys from NCIS [here at the festival] because I love that cast. I watch The Mentalist and sometimes watch Cold Case, and the rest of the time Nova to find out why we are a planet. I still love Nova. No matter how many times they explain it to me, I don’t get it. But I’m into trying to get it still. [laughs] So I keep watching all of those shows. There are some wondrous things on television, just wondrous. They had a special on Buddha. I’m not joining up, but I was interested in seeing it.
It sounds like you have a very curious mind and like to explore different things.
Your daughter Juliet [Landau] is a successful actress who has appeared, among other things, on Buffy and Angel and in the films Ed Wood and the remake of The Toolbox Murders. What do you think about her career?
I think it’s wonderful. She wants it, she’s very good at it, so she should do it. She’s very gifted.
Is it strange to watch her in different roles?
No, it’s not exactly strange. I’ve seen her in the theater, and we’ve been on stage together. We did a play in Los Angeles together. It was gorgeous because I was in the wings and could watch her, and she could be in the wings and watch me. I handed her a handkerchief at the end of her big crying scene. I’ve never been nervous about her because she knows what she’s doing, so I’m very calm when I watch her and very excited to see what she’s doing. I don’t take pride because it doesn’t seem like anything that I did. It seems more exquisite pleasure, but not pride. I didn’t do anything, she did it. In kindergarten she said she wanted to be a singer/dancer/actress. She does sing and did dance. She didn’t mess around. She went right after what she was going to do.
Do you think it’s genetic?
I don’t know. How would I know that? My parents didn’t do this. I think music is. I actually think music has a gene somewhere. People have it or don’t; it’s handed down. I don’t know about acting.
Since the days of Mission: Impossible and Space: 1999, some people think you’re still married to Martin Landau.
Many people think so. You know what’s good about that? It wasn’t so messy in the press. A lot of people still come up and ask me for him, and I say we’re not together. “You’re not? Oh, I’m so sorry!” Don’t worry. I don’t mind that you don’t know because it was very hard to do. There was very little press on it. That was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do, to keep it out of the press. There was one article on it, so either you saw that one or you didn’t.
You have movie or two coming up, don’t you?
I do have a movie coming out. Nothing Special will be released shortly.
What’s your role like?
It’s a good one, or I wouldn’t do it. My role is an exceedingly successful woman who runs a company and has a lot of moments alone where you see who she really is. You see the public person and the private person.
And it’s grounded on earth.
It’s grounded on earth. It’s grounded in our time, and it’s a very, very good script. It’s a really nice picture that just played in Toronto at some festivals, so it’ll be out soon.