WAGGENER: You got any regrets?

About what?

WAGGENER: Certain women.

WAGGENER: "They're jailbait!"

GARDNER: "So were we, once."

WAGGENER: "Quick son, we need you to be an apostrophe!"


An interview by Stephen Pitalo.
Sam has recently appeared on Broadway in an adaptation of Hitchcock's The 39 Steps.

The 39th Steps is an amazing show. It looks like hard work but a lot of fun.

It is. It is light years away from Fandango in time and style. It's great fun.

You were nominated for a Tony 2002, but this seems like, I don't know, more fun?

It's all fun. I wouldn't have been doing it all this time if it weren't fun. It's all a good time.

On the other end of the spectrum is Gossip Girl (Robards plays a key character's drug-addicted father). Did you have any idea this would take off when you did the first show?

No, but it seemed to have all the key elements. Probably a month or two later, when we were shooting a scene on the street and there were hundreds of girls across the street screaming, taking pictures and texting, I turned to Chace Crawford who plays my son and I said, "Get ready for a ride." By them, you could see where it was headed.

You've worked with so many directors such as Steven Spielberg, Clint Eastwood, Brian DePalma, Robert Altman, Paul Mazursky --- Kevin Reynolds!

Yes, Fandango's Kevin Reynolds!

What comes to mind when someone brings up the movie?

First of all, talk about something that you didn't expect to have legs. We were all just down in West Texas. I loved the script and I loved the people in it. Certainly, part of what I remember is the way Chuck was discovered. We were headed to a restaurant, and Reynolds stops at a 7-Eleven, goes in, comes running out and says "You guys go ahead....I think I may have found Dorman!" That was pretty funny.

We had been in Austin for a few weeks. They had been auditioning and not really finding the right guy. I'm not privy to what was going on behind the scenes, but I believe Kevin Reynolds was concerned that they hadn't found the right person. The probably had a solid second choice, but luckily Chuck was there and was perfect.

How did the role come to you?

I auditioned for it about 53 times. Not 53, but a bunch. The usual thing: you go in, you read, you go in again, you read again, they want you to do it again on tape. Big old bulky VHS camera. That was the first time I met Suzy Amis, and also auditioning was a young Kevin Spacey, as I recall. But I remember that when I first met Suzy, I was blown away. We had a small conversation, and I was just blown away.
(Sam and Suzy Amis later were married.)

Did that ever come up again with Kevin on American Beauty?

I've seen Kevin a bunch of times, but that didn't really come up (laughs).

Chuck wanted to know if you remember riding around outside of El Paso during a lightning storm, where you and Kevin Reynolds were actually riding on top of the van.

I do remember that.

Not the smartest thing to do in a lightning storm, Sam.

Well, what are you gonna do? I was 20 years old, full of beans.

But it's not like you didn't shoot a scene with you standing on top of a speeding car anyway.

The van was a little sketchier because it was night, and it was one of those Econoline vans so we were hanging onto some piece of flange or something. That road was a little twisty I was feeling no pain, but I wasn't too aware of where we were. Luckily enough, Kevin Reynolds was using his brains for both of us, and eventually he said,"hey maybe we should do something else"

You know, Kevin had a very particular way he wanted to shoot this film. He and Kevin Costner had been friends before the film, so they had a shorthand in their communications that Judd Nelson and I did not have with him, so we were a little confused by some of the shots he was attempting. In those days, it was a lot of shoot the master, then do coverage, then do a two-shot type stuff. And Kevin had a different language in film. That took a bit of getting used to, but once we did, it was great fun.

Coming up on the 25th anniversary, would you be interested in doing something Fandango oriented?

Yes, sure! That's two years away, but I'd love to head back down to Austin. I do have a special place --- I still have people say "Hey, you were Waggener!" and I think, wow, how did they see that movie? I went and saw it when it was released in New York. It played in two theaters for about two weeks. And that was the first film under Amblin', which was Spielberg's shingle. I'm glad it's had legs, as they say.

Was the Texas shoot out of your comfort zone, having been a New York-L.A. actor?

It wasn't that at all. I had a great time.

When's the last time you spoke to any of the other cast members, outside of Suzy?

I saw Judd Nelson a few years ago in some restaurant, and it had been years. I saw Costner not too long ago too. Glenn Headley and I worked together a few years ago on a live version of "On Golden Pond." So that was sort of funny. I've been wanting to call Kevin Reynolds. It's been ages.

Anything from the experience that you go back to? Something you take from it that you use?

Two things, actually. First, I remember there was a scene in there where Marvin MacIntyre flys in and we pick up Suzy, and in the scene we run to each other and we do this hug and this twirl, and I remember at the time that I really wanted to kiss her because I was really attracted to her. I didn't actually go with my instinct. What I learned was to yes, GO WITH YOUR INSTINCT. Secondly, when we get to Dom and I break down, I wasn't actually able to get to where I wanted to get to emotionally, so I sort of faked it. On stage, you can sometimes get away with that, but in film you can't, and I had just put too much pressure on myself. Somewhere in the middle of those two is where I want to be: going with my instinct, but not putting too much pressure on myself.

Any last thoughts on the Fandango experience?

Obviously, for me, it's a different experience. It's a coming of age film, but personally, I fell in love with a beautiful woman and together we had this beautiful child, and I'm really grateful for that.

You know about the Ultimate Fandango?

I check the site! It's interesting to me... oh, did I mention that I saw the Marfa Lights?

What are the Marfa Lights?

We were on our way back from the Evans Ranch, where they shot "Giant," and it's early in the morning before the sun came up. I was up front with the driver, and I saw two giant lights, and I thought they might have been two lights from the set or something, and he said, "No way, man, those are the Marfa Lights." And he told me what they were. They don't know what they are. It's this phenomenon in west Texas where there are two enormous lights in the sky. They don't know what they are. But I saw them!

Interviewer Stephen Pitalo is a filmmaker and writer living in New York.