It's been a long time since Patrick Swayze has done anything major for television.
Not since 1985's "North and South," in fact.
But the star of "Dirty Dancing" and "Ghost" is coming back to take on an entirely different sort of role in Hallmark Channel's lavish adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines," premiering Saturday.
The story pits Allan Quatermain (Swayze) against the dangers of the African wild as he goes on a commissioned hunt for a well-to-do woman's father, who has disappeared during a search for the legendary lost mines of King Solomon.
To those who know Swayze only from his more "sensitive" films, "King Solomon's Mines" is a jarring shift. But Swayze swiftly insists that the Quatermain character is as close to the real Patrick as we've ever seen on-screen.
"I feel it's completely and totally who I am," he says. All the horseback riding and most of the stunts Swayze easily handled himself. "For me, doing Quatermain was like coming home. ... I live this kind of life. I live on a horse [ranch] in the mountains. I raise Egyptian Arabian horses and cattle in the timber farm; I'm a wildlife [preservationist]; I'm a battler of poachers. It was quite interesting for me."
The film, shot on location in South Africa, is beautiful to look at, alive with arresting landscapes and exotic animal life.
Getting away from Western comforts was crucial to the 52-year-old actor, but not the best part of the adventure. "The people really affected me. How simple and honest things could be," he says. "We kind of get ruined in the Western world of thinking that the brass ring is what's important, when it's very simple things in life that are important -- like hanging on to faith and hope."
Africa may have felt like home for Swayze, but lately he's been getting back to his own roots. He's managing the upcoming release of "One Last Dance," a film that put him and his wife, Lisa Niemi, back on their feet. "One Last Dance" is based on a play they wrote together 18 years ago, and represents "a bigger level of dance" than he's ever done, he says. "I had to turn back into a contemporary, classical ballet dancer again."
Swayze has come a long way since his "Dirty Dancing" days, and even though he appeared in the recent "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," he still regrets that a proper sequel was never developed. "I turned down 'Dirty Dancing II' a bunch of times. I mean, to tell you honestly, it will always be a disappointment to me that we didn't come up with the right venue. But it still didn't stop me from being supportive of the concept."
For now, Swayze has his hands full. Between managing the release of "One Last Dance" and getting reacquainted with his musical side, he's working on a documentary series inspired by his time in the African bush.
"Out of this experience was born an idea for a global conservation documentary series that is turning huge. I've got some of the leading paleoanthropological scientists in the world coming on my team, and award-winning wildlife documentarians."
Asked what he does in his spare time, Swayze says he doesn't allow himself any. "Playing this game of rancher and wildlife conservationist, and musician and actor, director and producer," he muses. "I feel like I wasted time with stardom back in the '80s. ... Now I want it all. I want to do as much as I can."
Karl J. Paloucek writes for Tribune Media Services.
"King Solomon's Mines" airs Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m. on the Hallmark Channel and is rated TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).