Interview with Tom Schanely -

Tom Shcanley montage

Hi Tom, I'm sure people will know your face, if not your name. You've been in everything from Fame, to TJ Hooker, US night time soaps such as Dynasty and Melrose Place, and loads of genre faves such as NCIS, Enterprise, JAG, CSI:New Orleans, Criminal Minds and many more. It's the role you played in the first SMDM/BW reunion movie, The Return of The Six Million Dollar Man & Bionic Woman, Michael Austin, Steve Austin's son, way back in 1987, that most people coming here will know you from.

Publicity shot Tom SchanleyCan you give us a little on where you grew up and your background?
I’m from Manchester, Massachusetts, about 30 miles north of Boston. The town was actually the backdrop for the recent film “Manchester-By-The-Sea,” which I guess has a certain amount of irony to it. Not much to tell. Think Norman Rockwell with a PG-13 twist and that was my youth.

How did you get into acting in the first place?
There was a great community theatre summer program in town and I had always been a bit of a performer. The first year I was old enough, I went down to audition... and ...chickened out! The next year I went thru with it, although I did have a motivating factor: My dad. Earlier that year a few of us “damn kids” had gotten into some, shall we say, “shenanigans” that were frowned upon. My dad gave me a choice: On stage for the summer or sequestered in my room! He was and continues to be a wise man.

Was that always your first choice of career?
After that summer, yes.

In the Fame episode you were in, 'The Ballard of Ray Claxton', you had to sing, how was that? Daunting?
Not really. All the singing was pre recorded in a studio. And it was just me, so I wasn’t performing for anyone. Plus you could do as many takes as you needed to get it right. (I needed a few...). On the shoot day they would playback the mixed studio recording and you would sing with it. So essentially, you were lip-syncing.

In character Tom Schanley on setI believe you were producer on the movie The Hard Easy, as well as co wrote the screenplay. It's got some great actors in it such as David Boreanaz, Peter Weller, and Gary Busey, to name a few, can you tell us about how that was being the other side of the camera.
That was interesting to say the least. As a writer you realize how little control you have once the script leaves your hands. It’s tougher than I thought it would be to watch things get changed, especially those things that you think affect the story and the structure in an adverse way. That said, there is nothing quite like seeing something you birthed from an idea make it into the hands of talented actors and into a finished film. It is a long road and I am very appreciative to everyone who helped make it happen.

Actors want to work, full-stop, often no matter the role, but have you a fave genre you've worked in, or would like to work in?
Westerns!.... I could do those for the rest of my life with a smile on my face.

Romantic lead, action-man, character actor, family man, any preference?
Character actor / Action-man. Those characters are just more fun to play.

I absolutely love the showreel, on your site, it's surprising just how diverse your roles have been, and how often I think people have perhaps seen you, but not recognised you as 'that guy' from the first Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman reunion movie... which I guess is a nice lead in to us chatting about that. I know we were both around when the shows first aired, were you a fan or did you remember them being on?
I was a huge fan of Six Million Dollar Man as a kid. Every Sunday night, 8 PM, I was there without fail.

If you were a fan, what was it like being a part of the Bionic family after so many years?
I played it cool on set but I had a pretty big inside grin going on the whole shoot. It was such an iconic show in its day. And it was really fascinating to see the inner mechanics, especially the stunt work. No green screens or harnesses here, kids. Not in the 80s. Just great stunt people using crash pads and gravity! One of the most interesting recurring “gags” they did was the “Bionic leap” from the ground to the top a given building. It seems pretty obvious when you think about it but they would film the stunt person jumping backwards off the building, then reverse the shot for the effect. The tricky part, and why I give these stunt folks a lot of credit, is that the “character” was suppose to be jumping up, so the stuntman had to look up. Therefore they had no way to spot their landing and since they were suppose to be jumping up not falling down they had to keep their body straight as opposed to a stunt-fall where they would flip over and land on their back. Very dangerous! These guys and girls were good!

Tom in The Return of the SMDM & BW, as Steve Austin's son, Michael.

How did the role/casting come about?
An audition. I was one of many. Right place, right time.

You had some great people with you on the movie, aside from the show regulars, such as Martin Landau, William Campbell, and Terry Kiser. How was that as young actor? Any specific scenes with anyone that stand out?
Well, having been a Mission Impossible fan, working with Martin Landau was a treat. He will be missed. A terrific actor and a great guy. And of course, the late Richard Anderson. Oscar Goldman! I didn’t have many scenes with him but I always liked his work and he was nothing but gracious to me during production. “Flights of angles”, Oscar.

You did quite a few things the same year as the Bionic movie, such as Dynasty and The Alamo: Thirteen Days To Glory. How did the Bionic shoot fit around your other work that year?
“6 Million” and “Alamo” were shot in “86” and aired in “87”. They shot quite a few months apart. Dynasty shot and aired in “87”.

Any specific memories from the shoot?
There was one particularly funny moment for me. As I said, these were the “old days” of special effects and to get the slow motion “bionic run”, they would shoot using a high speed camera, shooting 120 frames per second. When you play that back at the normal 24 frames per second it looks like slow motion. Anyway, the problem with that camera was that it was noisy and it took a few seconds to “get up to speed”. So I’m shooting an intense scene with Lee and Lindsey where all hell is breaking loose and after my last line I have to run off, in slow motion, of course. Now, because of the noisy camera they have to wait till I’ve said my last line before they turn it on, and because it takes a few seconds to speed up... I have to “ACT” the slow motion as I start to run! So it’s: INTENSE LINE, INTENSE LINE, and....sloooow mooootion. Couldn’t keep a straight face. It took 45 minutes to get a 5 second shot!

A long time Bionic fan, Tom enjoyed his time working with Lee Majors & Lindsay Wagner.

Fave scene to film?
I really can’t say I have one. I like the scene where I first meet Steve Austin. The scene in the hospital and the one where I start working with Jamie were also great to shoot. The action stuff of course was a blast... Yeah, I liked it all.

Where did you shoot, anywhere nice or just round LA?
All in and around Los Angeles.

It was obviously a TV Movie looking to re-launch the show to a new audience, and I know fans would have liked to have seen Michael Austin come back. Was there any talk of that?
Absolutely. They shot it with the hopes it would re launch the franchise.

Do you still get recognised for the role?
No so much any more.

Tom was 25 when he filmed the Bionic reuinion movie.

I'd be remiss not to ask you the obligatory questions...

Which actor/actress would you most like to work with, living or dead?
That’s a real tough question... Too many.

Favorite director who you've worked with or who you admire, and why.
I did a role in Courage Under Fire directed by Ed Zwick. He was terrific to work with; a great visual director. If you ever saw Legends Of The Fall, you know what I’m talking about; a really stunning film. Ed is also such a talented writer. He’s one I love to work with again.

Fave series you've worked on as a one-off role, for all-round nice atmosphere/nice people (no disrespect to any of the other shows!)
I’ve been fortunate to have mostly good experiences but 2 stand out for the people and the roles I got to play: Fame and Criminal Minds.

Tom Schanley with Roma Downey on the set of "Keeping Up With the Randalls"
Tom Schanley with Roma Downey on the set of "Keeping Up With the Randalls"

To close, tell us who is Tom Schanley, the man, off-screen. What do you like to be doing when you are not working?
I never really know how to answer this question because most actors spend their time “off screen,” looking for the work that will put them back on screen! But I’m a big skier and my wife and I love to travel.

Tom, it's been a pleasure, thanks for taking the time out to chat with us and share some memories of working on the Bionic movie.
It was nice to revisit for me as well. Thanks!!

Tom Schanley

For more information on Tom visit his Official Website and IMDB and be sure to follow him on Twitter @TheTomSchanley on Instagram and on Facebook

Content copyright ©2017,, Universal &
Additonal images copyright A Bionic Podcast (Header compilation) & Bjoern Photography (Tom leather jacket & H&S shot)
Big thanks also to Lisa Davis of Jey Associates for helping liase with Tom to make this interview happen.