Interview: John O’Hurley of “Swing Away”

Posted on April 9, 2017 at 8:00 am

John O’Hurley may be best known for playing a fictionalized version of the founder of the J. Peterman catalogue on “Seinfeld.” In his new film “Swing Away,” he also plays something of a fictionalized version of a real-life character. In an interview, he told me that when they were filming in 2014, he had no idea that the real estate mogul he based his brash, bombastic golf resort developer character on would be elected President before the film was released. We also talked about the fun of filming in Greece and why golf reveals character.

The film is about a Greek-American professional golfer (Shannen Elizabeth) who flees to her grandparents in Rhodes after a televised meltdown in an important golf tournament. It is a sweet, funny, story with a little romance and some spectacular scenery. One of the highlights is a golf match in Rhodes with an obnoxious American developer, played by O’Hurley.

The audience at the screening we attended was almost entirely Greek-American and they were thrilled to see the beautiful location footage.

It does speak to something that I found out about this film. The Greek people are the proudest people I have ever met and they support Greek culture in any way that they possibly can. They are proud to be Greek when they get up at six in the morning and they are proud to be Greek when they go to bed at 4 am.

It is clear you are real-life golfer.

Yes, I am a golfer. I have been a golfer my whole life. It’s always been the game that I played and I played it competitively in high school and then acting was my love so it has always been kind of an avocation for me.

They say that golf is more revealing of a person’s integrity and character than any other game. Do you think that is right?

Absolutely. You spend four hours with somebody on a golf course and you will learn pretty much everything you need to know about them. It’s a game with personal responsibility. The ball isn’t moving when you go to hit it, so therefore everything you do from the first tee shot to the ball is all up to you. It’s all within your wheelhouse; you can’t blame anyone or anything else for it.

Is it true that, at least a year before he declared his candidacy for the Presidency, you based your performance on Donald Trump?

That’s exactly what I was going for. It really had to be that kind of overwhelmly myopic American businessman capitalist coming in to take over what his vision of the development would be, culture be damned. We’ve seen examples of that all over the world and Donald certainly has made several forays overseas in the British Isles and met with quite a bit if resistance over there, so he has been through it, absolutely.

Is it fun to play a guy who is really over-the-top?

Oh, absolutely and I had a chance really to sculpt his character from the ground up. I make no apologies for the jackass that he is. And I think he has to be unredeemable in order to make this film work; I don’t think he can be somebody who is redemptive. The rest of the film is redemptive but he has to be irretrievable.

Very little of my character was scripted. A lot of it was just improvisational because I understand the mentality of this character very well. So in many cases I had the borderlines of what we wanted to say, and they let me flower things up. Most of what you see on screen is just me rambling.

It is so beautiful there. Did you get to enjoy yourself in Greece? Try any special Greek delicacies?

As it turned out I only had about two weeks free from other commitments that I could spend there so they basically had to stack all of my scenes including the big golf match kind of back to back to back. So I didn’t really have a day off, I kind of just continually shot. But in the evenings we went out to eat and I enjoyed them all and I think I had them all. I think I gained 15 pounds and I look at the film and I also thought it was kind of appropriate that the character looked a little self-indulgent. So, I definitely put on pounds while I was there. Because we were shooting so much outdoors we were limited by the last light and from there we would go right to dinner and we would eat and dance every night. They celebrate outdoors and eat outdoors and dance outdoors and it was fabulous every night.

What do you think people should talk about after they see the movie? What is the lesson of the movie?

I think it’s a movie about redemption, that all things are remediable. I like the idea her going back to her homeland to rediscover the whole passion of why she became involved with golf. It was a sense of rebirth for her and seeing through the eyes of this little 10-year-old girl and mentoring her and just gave her that sense of renewal that she needed to go back and take the game at a different level.

And what’s the best advice you ever got about acting?

Acting is reacting. Before I go on stage and before I do a film I always say, a prayer: “God, let me be surprised.” And that’s all it is so that way I’m calm and I’m out there looking for the next moment to happen. I know what I’m going to say but I shouldn’t know how I’m going to say it yet. I’m just waiting and ready for the moment to inspire me.

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