Treat Williams was peering through the blinds of his trailer at Columbia Pictures, formerly the old MGM Studios, in Culver City. His face was beaming.
"It's exciting for me being here because I am on the lot where a lot of my heroes did their best work," he said with quiet enthusiasm. "Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant and Buster Keaton were at this studio. We are sitting right here next to one of the sound stages. Who knows whether 'Woman of the Year' was shot here? Or it could have been a Judy Garland musical. It's a wonderful place to be."
It's not a movie, but a TV series that has brought the 39-year-old star of such acclaimed films as "Hair" and "Prince of the City" to the venerable Hollywood studio. Williams is starring in the ABC series "Eddie Dodd," which premiered last week and is replacing "thirtysomething" for a six-week tryout.
"Eddie Dodd" originally was to be called "True Believer," the 1989 film on which it is loosely based. In the movie, James Woods starred as a burned-out attorney, a former idealistic firebrand from the 1960s.
"This series has nothing to do with the film," Williams said, relaxing during his lunch break in his neat-as-a-pin trailer. "The intent is so different. This is not about a guy who is caught up in the '60s and is burned out. This is a completely different character. I think of the film and the series as being two pieces of material from the same source."
The series will focus more on the personal lives of the four people working in Dodd's office. "It's about their humanity first," he said. "There will be many shows that have nothing to do with the courtroom at all. 'True Believer' is a very good film with a wonderful performance from James Woods. It stands on it own, and so does this series."
Williams, who has come across in past interviews as arrogant and cocky, seems to have mellowed. During the hour interview, he was reflective, thoughtful, polite. He loved talking about old movies and meticulously wrote down names of old Spencer Tracy movies he could buy at the video store.
The reason he decided to do "Eddie Dodd" was simple: "I had quite a lot of wanderlust in my 20s and early 30s. It has dissipated over the past few years. I was married two-and-half years ago (to actress Pam Williams) and the (work) separations have been difficult. Traveling was very difficult for me. More and more you go the cheapest place to shoot, like Eastern Europe. (The 1990 TNT drama) 'Max and Helen' was shot in Budapest. It's wonderful at a certain point in your life, but after you are settled, it is uprooting."
Williams also said his feature film career had not been going anywhere. Some of his recent movies, including the comedy "Sweet Lies," went straight to video.
"Something had happened," he said. "I just wasn't doing the features I wanted to do. I was very happy doing cable films--happy with the stuff I had done for HBO, like 'Third-Degree Burn.' Never in my life during the last 15 years did I ever know what I was going to do beyond a certain period. A TV series is very attractive to me right now."
Clyde Phillips, Walter Parkes and Lawrence Lasker, the series' executive producers (Lasker and Parkes also produced "True Believer"), approached Williams about doing the show.
"When we talked about the story ideas, I came to realize that I would be doing, albeit on a very short-term basis, one film in eight days," Williams said. "I would be making one-hour movies that I thought would be a higher quality than the features I had been doing."
"Treat is the only actor we went to with the series," said Phillips, who is also producer of Fox's "Parker Lewis Can't Lose!" (see Cover Story, Page 78). "He has acting credentials that are unsurpassed in TV for his age group. He is the best person to present our show. He is a romantic leading man who is appealing to men and women. There are a lot of courtroom dramas and we needed to make ours unique."
The series has been a "wonderful" experience for Williams, who moved to Los Angeles with his wife for the filming. "I have been happy," he said. "One of the things that is wonderful is that I get to see my wife on weekends. If it goes to a (full) series there will be a continuity to our life."
"He is a wonderful man," Phillips said. "He is the star of the show and the leader in the production. He helps us and is always available."
Last fall, Movieline magazine included Williams in an article about actors who never fulfilled the potential they demonstrated early in their film careers.
"I haven't read the article," Williams said diplomatically. 'It's so funny--those periods when I expected to have my greatest success, it was the most unhappy period of my life. And now the last four years, having my wife--and we have a house in Vermont and have a really complete life--it has been the most productive and interesting. I feel I am getting better as an actor."
And better at doing interviews. "I look at the interviews I had given," Williams said. "I am sitting across from you here and am telling you how I feel, not holding back, trying to sound like I am halfway intelligent and a nice guy like I do with all my interviews and then I read them and the perception of me is different from what I expected it to be. I wondered in the past whether it was me or if people just saw what they chose to see in me."
Williams peered out the blinds again. "I put my money where my mouth is. I have decided to do this series because people are going to be entertained by it. If that isn't the case, than I have failed. It's a lot of responsibility but I'm working hard. As we say back East, the proof will be in the pudding."
"Eddie Dodd" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC.