FROM SUPERHERO TO SUPPORTING HERO

By Cora Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 18:48:00 09/09/2008


MANILA, Philippines—More than a decade after he made his mark as Col. Steve Austin in the hit series “The Six Million Dollar Man,” Lee Majors is still in the thick of the action.

He may no longer be running at full speed, but the ’70s pop icon who portrayed the role of an ex-astronaut with bionic limbs has his hands full on made-for-TV movies, cameo TV appearances and TV commercials.

Lately, fans have seen him mimic the opening of his ’80s TV series “Fall Guy” in a TV commercial, play that Minute-Man part in season four of the hit dramedy “Weeds” and portray God on the season premiere of “According to Jim.”

Another one of his more recent ventures is “Ben 10: Race Against Time,” a live-action movie based on the prime time animated TV series, where he plays doting Grandpa Max to two 10-year-olds who are on a mission to save the world from destruction.

‘Major’ role

Shifting from superhero to supporting hero isn’t at all that bad, Majors—Harvey Lee Yeary in real life—told the Inquirer in a recent phone interview arranged by Cartoon Network. “I would say it’s the third lead,” Majors said of his grandfather role, which he nonetheless considers “major,” as he lends support to lead characters Ben Tennyson (Graham Phillips of “Evan Almighty”) and Gwen Tennyson (Haley Ramm).

Majors recalled having seen Ben Tennyson in Graham Phillips way before the boy was cast for the role. “I was watching ‘Evan Almighty’ with my wife when one of the kids in the movie—Steve Carell’s middle son—particularly caught my attention,” said Majors. “I thought he looked like a good choice to play Ben. He was very appealing.” A month later, Majors was surprised to find out that the role was given to the same boy.

Fast-paced and kid-friendly, “Ben 10”—all action, comedy, sci-fi and thriller in one—is directed by Majors’ director friend, Alex Winter, and produced by Cartoon Network. It had a December 2005 pilot episode in the US and premiered on the kids’ channel in the Philippines in October 2006, with the first episode showing Ben Tennyson, his cousin Gwen and their grandfather Max on a summer camping trip.

The excitement heightens when, into the woods, Ben stumbles upon an alien pod on the ground and finds a watch-like device called Omnitrix inside. The Omnitrix attaches permanently to the wrist and gives Ben the ability to morph into 10 different alien life forms, each with its own unique powers.

Majors, who is coming to Manila this week to promote the movie, admits not being a fan of the animated series, claiming he is “too old to be watching cartoons.” But he checked it out when shooting was about to begin and found it “rather cute.” In fact, he said he felt like “doing a Sean Connery in ‘Indiana Jones’ to two 10-year-old kids.”

In the movie, Majors plays a former member of a secret organization called The Plumbers, which handles extraterrestrial, paranormal situations ordinary people can’t handle. He uses his familiarity with aliens to guard and protect his grandkids through their adventures in fighting evil.

“I’m not really into aliens or UFOs or things of that nature,” he replied, when asked on his personal take on extraterrestrials and the paranormal. “I was basically grounded in the shows that I’ve done. I didn’t do so much science fiction ... and as a kid, we had bad guys and good guys and we had cartoons.”

What makes “Ben 10” different, according to the actor, is that both animated series and live-action movie do not contain sinister combat violence, unlike most children’s programs.

The actor, who professes to have a soft spot for children, has four kids from two of his marriages—Lee II, Nikki, Dane and Trey. He was married four times, the most famous of which was to actress Farrah Fawcett, herself a ’70s icon who starred in the top-rated series “Charlie’s Angels.” He is now married to actress Faith Noelle Cross.

Good face

Majors is happy to note that he has lent a good face to Grandpa Max, as he is now recognized by kids as young as 5. “I was on a cruise about a month ago when a kid about 5 years old came to me and said, ‘Mr. Majors, can I have your autograph?’ I looked at him and said, ‘How do you know me?’ He said, ‘You’re Grandpa Max.’ At that point, the kid held up his wrist to show his Omnitrix and said, ‘‘‘Ben 10’ was the greatest movie ever made for a 5-year-old.”

“I’ve done a lot of action films but this one is almost action all the way through,” Majors says of “Ben 10,” which is being aired in 160 countries, and is set to be aired in the Philippines on Sept. 26, 8 p.m. on Cartoon Network. “If you like aliens, the good guys against the bad guys, then it’s your kind of movie. Kids are gonna love it.”

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