Richard Burgi, star of the TV series The Sentinel, may not act as
expected from a sex symbol. During the whole interview that we conducted over
the phone, he kept on cooing to his two (and a few months), year old son Jack,
who was sitting on his lap.
The image of the indulgent tender father may not have
been the reason why the visitors at the Internet site of People Magazine
have chosen him as one of the sexiest people in the United States, but in my
opinion this only adds to his wonderful charm.
That's it, girls; in real life Burgi is the perfect
family man and most probably you would be pleased to hear that he is even
married to a Jewish girl who has relatives in Israel, and that his son Jack's
Hebrew name is Chaim Yacov.
An interview by phone with an Israeli journalist
caused some excitement at the home of the star and even more excitement at the
home of the journalist. "I am talking with Israel, honey," Burgi
called out to his wife, Lori Kahn, originally Lori Cohen. "I would really
like to come and visit Israel," he added. "Lori's parents and
brother have been to Israel and we also hope to come. Lori does not quite have
details about her relatives in Israel. She would have to do some research
regarding this matter. I also have a friend whose father is living in a
kibbutz, but I have no idea in which one." At this stage, quite
naturally, right from the editor's desk we turn to the public with the
following fervent request: Anyone who has information about the whereabouts of
the Israeli relatives of Lori and Richard Burgi, is kindly requested to
contact the editor.
Meanwhile, the visit to Israel will have to wait
because of Burgi's career. Burgi, 40, has starred in the TV series The
Sentinel in the leading part of detective Jim Ellison for four seasons.
For those who are not yet hooked on the series, now is the time.
This is the basic story: During his military service,
Ellison was sent on a long secret mission to the jungle in Peru. After his
return, he joined the Cascade police force as a detective. With the help of
anthropologist Blair Sandburg (Garett Maggart), he finds out that his senses
have become extraordinary sharp. These senses have been there from childhood,
but they were dormant until the struggle for survival in jungle made them come
out. Among others things, he can smell and see from a much larger distance
than any regular human being.
Sandburg joins the police force and becomes Ellison's
partner and friend. He moves in with him and they share a loft (Ellison's
loft) as roommates. Besides the fantastic action scenes, their relationship
becomes a crucial part of the series. And the combination of that with the
humour, drama and fiction creates a wonderful series.
By the way, Burgi used to do most of the stunts
himself. But after a few stitches and bruises on his head, he decided that he
should not take too many risks and he became more selective regarding the
stunts he would perform.
In the last episode of the third season his faithful
partner Blair Sandburg was killed by another rising sex bomb, Jeri Ryan,
starring in the science fiction series Star Trek: Voyager.
But at the beginning of the fourth season, which
presently is being aired in the United States and which soon will come to our
country, Sandburg comes back to life.
Sandburg easily could have stayed dead forever. At
the end of the third season, UPN decided to take The Sentinel off the
air. This was a sudden and weird decision, which quite upset Burgi. And as
expected, also the many fans of the series. No one could have foreseen the
amount of protest letters sent by thousands of fans to the network and to the
parent company Paramount Studios.
This resulted to a fourth season with eight episodes.
Presently it is not clear yet if a fifth season will be on the agenda. But we
hope so. "We are still waiting to see if we will go back to work or
not," says Burgi.
Did you feel pressure to prove the management of
the network during the filming of the fourth season that they made a mistake
by taking the series off the screen?
"Absolutely not. I tried, as usual, to do my
work at the best of my abilities. I guess that the production was stressed. I
Does it often happen in American TV that fans
succeed to convince a network station to bring a series back on the screen?
"It may have happened, but not very often. Of
course the pressure of the fans had quite an impact. But I think it was more a
combination of factors: the pressure of the fans and the fact that the network
realized that they are dealing with a good and successful series. The decision
of ending the series was a politically based. And we all know that such
decisions are usually not made with the best intentions."
Could you tell us a few things that will happen in
the fourth season?
"I would not like to spoil the fourth season,
but I can tell you that Sandburg will not stay dead. I will bring him back to
life. The love between us causes a sparkle and he comes back to life,"
The first episode of the fourth season features
Jeri Ryan, who was chosen by the readers of TV Guide as the sexiest
woman on TV. How was it to act with her? You and her, did the screen blow up
with the sexuality?
"It was great. We had a good time. I think that
in a way the situation was embarrassing for both of us, but for her even more.
I did not have to run along the shore in a bikini. I am also not easily
embarrassed. But we helped each other in such moments."
Is the fourth season different from the other
"Not really. Some of the episodes are crazier
and some are more emotional. I believe that we made use of what we already had
in previous seasons and took a step ahead."
In spite of his tough appearance, Ellison is a gentle
person, who does not like to express his emotions. Burgi sounds much more
philosophical and open to emotional depth than the character he plays.
Do you like the character you play, do you like
"Very much. I do not consider him a stranger. As
time went by I have put in his character a part of myself. We all did this
with the characters we played. Jim certainly reflects part of my personality.
I like the fact that he is down to earth, a sour-bitter type of guy, with a
cynical sense of humor, a no-nonsense type of person."
The friendship between Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg
is one of the most important components of the series. Ellison and Sandburg
are certainly one of the most successful partners on TV since... Starsky and
Hutch? Their partnership is based on the fact that they are completely
different types. Sandburg is an intellectual, a philosopher, while Ellison
tries to stay with his feet firmly on the ground and has no patience for
unnecessary talk and thoughts. Sandburg's presence helps him to open up a bit
to his emotions. This relationship is the source of many jokes that at the end
they will find themselves in each other's arms. But in fact, there is no
chance that this will happen. They are far too interested in beautiful women.
And in the fourth year no one will settle down with one woman. Thank god.
By the way, Burgi and Garett Maggart, who plays
Sandburg, are friends outside the set. "Garett and Bruce (Bruce A. Young,
who in the series plays Simon, the commander of their unit- S.S.) are my most
favorite people," he says.
Do you find the time to explore the many Internet
sites of The Sentinel?
"No. This is my wife's department. I have a
computer phobia. I have no idea how to turn on a computer. I would rather read
a book. But I certainly would like to know more about computers. It's an
amazing century we live in."
Burgi inherited his acting talent from his parents,
who managed a community theatre in New Jersey, where he grew up. All his
relatives play instruments. His brother Chuck Burgi is an excellent drummer
and plays in the band of Enrique Iglesias, the son of Julio Iglesias. Also his
other brother, Peter, plays in a local band. Burgi himself is a drummer and
his partner in the series, Maggart, has also a musical background. His sister
is the singer Fiona Apple. "My wife comes also from a family of
musicians," Burgi says. "And the family gatherings always become a
big musical feast. We keep on partying from Christmas until Hanukah," he
What kind of child were you?
"I was a naughty kid. I caused a lot of trouble.
I loved being outdoors. I was crazy about sports and bird watching. My brother
and I had our own detective agency. We were wild, but you should ask my mother
As a boy, were you shy with girls?
"No! Girls were always on my mind since I was 14
and until... (he burst out in laughter) today. But since my marriage I became
Burgi always knew he was going to be an actor, but it
took a while. He worked in various jobs from squash pro to construction. His
first audition did not quite leave him with pleasant memories. "All I
remember is, that I was trembling all over. I was terrified. I think it was an
audition for a part in a soap opera. I did not get it."
Burgi's father died when he was still young. It was a
traumatic experience for him. Burgi said that acting helped him to deal with
this disaster and stabilize his world.
Eventually he got a part in the soap opera The
Guiding Light. Later he appeared in other soap operas like Days of Our
Lives, Another World, and One life To Live. During this time
he also met the woman who became his girlfriend for a long time, the actress
Ann Heche (Psycho, Six Days, Seven Nights), today the girlfriend of
He still has friends from his soap opera period like
Hank Chaney, who plays Ricardo in Sunset Beach, and Kyle Brown, who
plays Sam in One Life To Live.
Burgi does not renounce his days as a soap opera
actor, contrary to other successful actors who have started their career in
"These were wonderful days. They taught me a
lot, mostly how to memorize a lot of text," he said. "I had a few
difficult times then. But this was not because of the genre, but because of
Would you go back and play in a soap opera today?
"No problem whatsoever. This is not beyond my
dignity. It is a job like every other job. You have to bring food on the
table, pay the bills. It's a job."
Besides being in soap operas, Burgi played as a guest
star in series like: Seinfeld, Empty Nest, Who's the Boss, and Anything
but Love. He performed in a police thriller series, One West Waikiki,
together with Cheryl Ladd, and in the theatre in plays like Wedding
Breakfast, and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.
He landed his part in The Sentinel after
performing as a guest star in Viper. (2nd Channel. Tuesday, 6.00 p.m.)
The creators of that series, Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, are also the
creators of The Sentinel, and it's not hard to understand why they
Although the future of The Sentinel is not
clear yet, Burgi does not stay unemployed. Quite recently he played in a TV
movie called I Married a Monster, opposite Susan Walters (Melrose
Burgi did not find it difficult to adjust to the part
of a monster creature from outer space. In a previous interview he said
"Many people have the feeling in some point of their lives that they are
extra-celestial creatures. Mainly when they change jobs or move to another
place. The only thing left is that they feel o.k. in their skin. Many times I
was in a situation in which I did not feel right in my skin. When I did this
part I simply brought this feeling back. Furthermore, I really like satanic
and distorted characters with a dark side."
His free time he spends with Lori, his wife, whom he
married three years ago, and especially with his two year old son, who is
named after the five favorite Jacks of Burgi and his wife: the actor, Jack
Nicholson; the authors, Jack Kerouak and Jack London; the boxer, Jack Johnson;
and Lori's uncle.
What kind of father are you?
"My child is the most important person in my
life. I was present at his birth, which is the most exciting thing I have ever
experienced. I am over sensitive if it concerns Jack. I want to spend as much
time as possible with him. To give him love, stability. When he sits on my lap
or lies on my chest it is the best feeling I have ever had in my life. He also
sleeps with us. He loves sleeping in our bed, but we also love to sleep with
him. We play together, we read and fall asleep. I love being close to him, I
love his smell and he likes to smell me. The three of us have a terrific and
How did you meet your wife?
"She came to live opposite to the place where I
lived on Hollywood Hills. I offered her my dog for protection. I had a
girlfriend then... actually a few girlfriends. She liked one of my friends.
She said he was sweet. We talked a bit, had coffee, dinner, and very soon I
knew that this was it. She invited me to eat something and I already saw the
whole picture in front of my eyes: a home, family."
Was it love at first sight?
"For me it was. Lori needed a bit more
At this stage, Burgi involved his wife Lori in the
conversation. She said that she fell in love with Burgi within seconds, but he
insists that it took him a few weeks of serious courtship. Lori is an actress,
too, but she gave up her acting career after the baby was born and today she
is a yoga teacher - which enables her to find work anywhere, even in
Vancouver, Canada where the series is made. Burgi is also involved in yoga. He
claims that it helped him to overcome the serious back problems he had. It
certainly helps him with surfing, his favorite sport. Burgi is also very
active in environmental activities.
One of the things that bothers Burgi most is the
prejudice against actors. "I hate the opinion people have about actors:
that we are self-centered, annoying and in short a pain in the ass. People
never met you, but they are positive that they know who you are."
And if we discuss the issue of image, Burgi does not
understand how he became a sex symbol.
"What does it mean, a sex symbol? This is one of
the things I was talking about. People build an image around you which is in
no connection with the person you really are."
The concept of a sex symbol does not relate to
your personality, but to the way you look. And what can you do, you simply
"Now I am really excited and flattered," he
laughs, embarrassed. "I guess I rather would be labeled as a sex symbol
than as someone who does not attract anyone."
What do you in fact like about being an actor?
"I like losing the sense of time and place and
to reach other places. To be someone else. One of the things which makes me
feel good about my profession is that I can make people laugh or cry. It is
great that I can help people to release their emotions. Crying is a wonderful
Do you have plans for the future?
"Meanwhile I enjoy the time I have with my wife
Lori and with my son. I am checking out a few projects I would not like to
discuss at this stage. I am not pressed."
And he should not be, he is good and we sure will see
a lot of him in the future. If not in The Sentinel, then in others
shows and movies.
In a past interview Burgi was asked what he would do
if he had the same powers as Jim Ellison. He laughed and said: "I suppose
I would listen to what people say about me and I would certainly be more
successful on the track. But seriously, I think I would have liked to
contribute more to mankind, to do something about the environment."
Reruns of The Sentinel are presently being
broadcast three times a week on the Movie Channel on irregular days. On
Fridays you can watch the series on Channel 3 at 20.30 p.m. Do not forget to
adjust your vcr.
"Jim and Blair have bonded intensely and have become more than just friends," notes Maggart.
"They're more like a guide and his follower and they sometimes interchange these roles. As far
as Captain Banks, he and Blair were adversaries at first. I mean, he really didn't want Blair
around. He's been on the police force for over 20 years and has struggled to build a career for
himself. All of a sudden this little long-haired punk comes along and starts putting in his two
cents about how to catch the bad guys. However, he and Jim have learned to appreciate what Blair
does. They applaud his bravery and the fact that he's not a cop but still sticks his neck out
for what he believes is right.
"I think my character has certainly grown up over the past four seasons, especially having faced
assorted dead bodies, carnage and mayhem," says the actor. "Prior to Blair hooking up with Jim
Ellison he was pretty much, I don't want to say a recluse, but preoccupied with his studies and
kept his head buried in his books. However, being exposed to life on the police force has helped
make him a man. He's gone from being a wide- eyed kid to a sarcastic young man to finally an
adult who's learning how to cope with adversity and whatever else may come his way.
"I couldn't have asked for a better initiation into series television than being a part of The
Sentinel," adds Maggart. "Richard, Bruce and I get along great. There are no egos on the set.
Despite their years in the business I *never* had to hear, 'Oh, here comes the new kid.' Richard
and Bruce are professionals who want to do good work. They're not the types to just show up on
set and say the lines. They're intelligent actors who read the scripts and make suggestions.
We're constantly bouncing ideas off each other and, hopefully, helping make the material even
Another production aspect of the show that gets Maggart's adrenaline pumping is the stunt work.
"I'm a very physical person and I like to try to do as many of my own stunts as possible. Of
course, that doesn't happen very often, but when it does I'm always willing. I remember there
was a scene in one of the second season episodes in which Ellison and Blair were supposed to
jump off a cliff and into the water. Richard and I were begging them to let us do that but it
was just too dangerous. We did, however, get to ride in a boat down the rapids. That was wild!
In one of this season's episodes I jump off a helicopter and land in the water. I mean, it was
only 10 feet or so from the water's surface but it was still cool hanging off the side of the
helicopter and doing the jump."
The Sentinel's third-season finale SENTINEL TOO ended with a dramatic cliffhanger in which
Detective Jim Ellison is desperately trying to resuscitate Blair Sandburg, who has apparently
drowned. The message 'To Be Continued' that came up on the bottom of television screens led
viewers to believe that this unfortunate situation would be resolved next season. However, in a
last minute decision UPN decided to drop the series from its fall 1998 schedule in favour of new
programming. Fans quickly mobilized and flooded the network with letters, phone calls and e-mails.
Their fervent show of support was a key factor in UPN bringing the show back as a mid-season
replacement in January.
"The fan reaction has been tremendous," says Maggart. "Everyone is so complimentary. Parents have
written telling me that their children have become interested in anthropology or rediscovered
their enthusiasm for school because my character proves that you can be an academic and still be
cool. Inner-city kids have also sent me letters saying that they like the way that Blair deals
with anger and doesn't respond to violence with violence. They think it's pretty neat that Blair
always tries to talk his way out of a tricky situation."
Maggart's interest in helping children extends way beyond his portrayal of Blair Sandburg.
Before beginning work on The Sentinel he volunteered as a teacher for a children's acting
class that was run by his manager. "I consider myself more of a guide as opposed to a teacher,"
he says. "I always hated when my acting teachers said, 'That's wrong.' I'd ask, 'What do you mean
wrong?' It's how I feel. How is what I feel wrong? Feelings valid or invalid are still feelings.
There could be better ones, though, and that's what I tried to get across to the kids in the
class. I miss doing that. Every once in a while I'll go sit in on a class but I work so much now
that I haven't been able to do it as often as I'd like."
Surprise, surprise! Blair Sandburg is miraculously brought back to life in the show's fourth
season opener and conclusion to SENTINEL TOO which guest-stars Star Trek: Voyager's Jeri
Ryan as Alex, a female Sentinel. However, his future and that of The Sentinel's depends
on how the series performs during its prime time comeback.
"The last of the eight episodes we did has a pretty interesting ending so that it can close the
series of we aren't picked up again," explains the actor. "It also leaves the door open for a
whole new bunch of adventures. So we'll have to wait and see what happens."
UPN May Sweeps Programming...
The only net that is danger of being canceled itself, UPN has some tricks up its sleeve for
Sweeps. Its latest series, Home Movies, an animated show from the team behind Dr.
Katz, premieres on April 26, a few days before Sweeps begins, and airs throughout May. The
net also uses several specials to help make a mark in the month. WWF Smackdown airs on
April 29, the first day of Sweeps, and features a star-studded group of ladies and men from
wrestling. On May 3, the net's latest entry into the world of reality television comes in the
form of Shocking Police Videos, which offers, as the title implies, wild police videos.
UPN's most interesting special airs on May 18 at 8 p.m. (ET/PT), the night before the premiere
of the new Star Wars flick The Phantom Menace. Thumb Wars is a retelling of the classic
sci-fi flick done with thumbs playing all the parts. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls
writer/director created the spoof.
All of the net's major series have highlights during Sweeps, though without the degree of stunt
casting found on its fellow networks. Moesha's last episodes of the season follow Moesha
(Brandy) as she finishes up high school. On May 11, the show crosses over with Clueless
on prom night, and Detroit Lions' star Johnnie Morton guest stars as Moesha's dream date. All of
Moesha's ex-boyfriends show up for her 18th birthday part on May 18th, and the season finale on
May 25 has Moesha graduating from high school and announcing she doesn't want to attend college.
The midseason show Dilbert has already been picked up for a second season, and gets
additional star power when Jason Alexander lends his voice to Catbert, the evil Human Resources
Director on May 3. The net's top-rated show, Star Trek: Voyager recently featured
Alexander in a guest spot.
Voyager has several strong episodes lined up for the month. On May 5, Kate Mulgrew stars
as an ancestor of her character, Capt. Janeway. The following week has Seven of Nine going back
in time to see what destroyed a starship. John Savage (The Thin Red Line) appears in the
May 26 season finale as a captain of a science vessel. Janeway bonds with the man, only to soon
discover than crew members are disappearing.
Malcolm & Eddie features rapper Coolio on a May 4 episode directed by series star
Malcolm-Jamal Warner. The episode, which has Coolio as a father of three who wants to build a
club with Malcolm and Eddie, is being considered as a pilot for UPN next season. The show's
season finale airs May 25, featuring songs by Warner and En Vogue singer Cindy Herron.
The super cop of The Sentinel needs to work his magic if he hopes to save the show from
being canceled a second time. Robert Vaughn (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) guest stars as an
actor-turned investigator on the May 10 episode, while the finale airs May 24. In it, super-cop
Ellison (Richard Burgi) finds his powers exposed when a paper by Sandburg (Garrett Maggert) is
covered in the press.
7 Days is one of the freshman shows UPN is expected to renew, and it celebrates with an
episode filmed in Las Vegas on May 5. It's May 26 finale is out of the world, as an alien found
in Roswell, N.M. escapes from captivity, and it's up to Parker (Jonathan LaPaglia) to save the
Several other shows have special episodes in the month, including Love Boat: The Next Wave,
which on May 30 features space alien Alf returning to Earth.
The net also has a slew of original movies set for its Thursday Night at the Movies. Primal
Force airs May 6 and stars Ron Perlman (Beauty and the Beast) as a man whose peaceful
existence on a deserted jungle island is disrupted when a plane crashes. He must help the
survivors when the jungle's strange beasts attack.
Greg Evigan, of the net's House Rules, stars in Survivor on May 13. In the film,
Evigan plays the foreman of an oil rig that accidentally releases an alien lifeform when drilling.
The following week, Michael Goorjian (Party of Five) stars in Life in a Day. The
film follows a genetically-created human which lives an entire lifetime over the span of just