Tim Matheson’s career is built on a foundation of coincidences and a medical line.
The 74-year-old actor, known for his roles in “Animal House”, “The West Wing”, “Heart of Dixie” and Netflix’s “Virgin River” enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1968. That same year, his movie Yours, Mine and Ours, starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, was released. At the end of the film, his character, Mike Beardsley, leaves his family to join the Marine Corps.
“The day I was going to film a physical in the movie, I think for the design I was called to go to my physical concept as well,” Matheson said. “We had to reschedule the shooting.”
He finished his military service as a Lance Corporal, but was given the opportunity to attend Officer Candidates School. He turned it down to focus his attention back on acting — the only career he ever wanted to pursue.
“But I have to say that the Marine Corps camp was one of the most dramatic events of my life,” he said, “because the point is to teach you that you can do a lot more than you think you can. You can do much, much more, and it will get you in shape.”
The experience, he said, was “shocking and enlightening.”
“I was a Hollywood kid,” Matheson said. “We belonged to the lower middle class, but I didn’t smoke or run.”
He didn’t train much, but he was in good shape.
“I was a squad leader in a boot camp because I didn’t mind taking charge of a situation. And I thought maybe they would have it easier on me if I was a squad leader,” he said with a laugh.
Tim Matheson as ‘Hollywood Marine’
While serving at the US Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Los Angeles at Chavez Ravine, Matheson tried to keep his acting career quiet.
“[My best friend Mike Stokey Jr.] always joked about Hollywood Marines and Elvis Presley enlisted in the military,” Matheson said. “So I didn’t want to be called a Hollywood Marine. I went to boot camp and made sure I didn’t say anything about it.”
In an ironic twist, Matheson once marched past the base theater where his first movie, Divorce American Style, was screened. But because his role as Mark Harmon was small, no one was the wiser.
Finally, a friend who served in the 4th Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California, let him out — much to the fuss of the future star of “Animal House.”
“I found out that the 4th Marine Division, which was stationed at Camp Pendleton, was massively relocated and sent to Vietnam,” Matheson said. “So they basically mobilized the whole base and sent them over, office workers and stuff… but he ruined my cover.”
In 1969, Matheson starred in “How to Commit Marriage” alongside Jackie Gleason and Jane Wyman, the former wife of Ronald Reagan. After recently leaving the Marines, his hair was short, prompting him to don a wig for the movie “spoof on hippies.”
Then the reverse happened.
“[To] playing counter-culture hippies, I let my hair grow out and put on a short-haired wig when I went to my backup unit,” Matheson said. “That worked for a while. And then one time, I think after about two and a half years, I forgot how it came out. My burlap was offended by the fact that I wore a short-haired wig and didn’t follow the short, short hair to the letter.”
In response, Matheson said he told his missus that he was “the exception that proves the rule” because he needed the long hair for his civilian career.
Time for a change
Early in his career, Matheson was cast in “The Virginian,” a western, and continued to play roles in the genre — including “Bonanza” and “The Quest” — for about seven years.
“I was ready for a change,” he said. “Westerns were on the wane. … So I took improv classes and then I saw the script for ‘Animal House’, and I had never really done a comedy before. Luckily I got to audition with Peter Riegert, an improv actor … We met easily. We both got the roles and now a new part of my career began.”
Matheson learned that every five to seven years it was time to change things up to avoid getting bored or calling.
“So westerns, then it was comedy, then I went to TV movies, then started directing TV movies and then directing comedy TV movies and pilots,” he said. “So naturally there were some sort of forks in the way.”
Starting over in the ‘Heart of Dixie’
One of those splits came when Matheson’s career was in a directorial phase, during which he acquired the US “Covert Affairs” and “The Good Guys” among others. The schedule, he said, took him away from his family more than acting.
“It was just so grueling, and there was a natural shift because my marriage ended and all my kids went to school. I’d lived in Santa Barbara for 20 years. … I moved back to LA and was just starting over,” he said. . “One of my first auditions I had was ‘Hart of Dixie.'”
While he wasn’t originally a regular on the CW show starring Rachel Bilson, his character Dr. Brick Breeland ‘central to the story’. He was later added to the billed cast, directing two episodes a year.
“It kind of grabbed me and took me along,” Matheson said. “I was on a show that was very popular, and it lasted four years…but I didn’t want to direct anymore.”
Since 2019, he has played Vernon “Doc” Mullins in the Netflix adaptation of Robyn Carr’s novel series “Virgin River”.
“This last kind of stage was more focused on just acting,” he said. “It’s a rebirth for me.”
“Virgin River” was Matheson’s first streaming show and sent him into a new market with a new broadcasting platform.
“When the second season fell in the middle of COVID, we were in Vancouver shooting the third season,” Matheson said. “Our show was the number one show in most cities around the world in the United States and Canada… and we were all together as a cast and crew. It was really great for us to experience [the news] like that.”
Gaining traction during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Matheson said “Virgin River” was a “comfortable place” for viewers.
“I think it was also a heartwarming show, a safe place during COVID for people to escape to,” he said.
The Doctor role is also a regular for Matheson, whose characters in “The Quest,” “Animal House,” “Hart of Dixie” and now “Virgin River” are either in the medical field or leaning that way in the loop. from the movie .
“[Doc] is the voice of reason and counselor helping people,” Matheson said. “It’s a wonderful world to be in [and play] a character who cares about people and wants to help them.”
Season four of “Virgin River” will premiere on Netflix on July 20.
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