It’s been 20 years since Scott Bakula was last nominated for an Emmy, for his role as time-traveling quantum physicist Sam Beckett in the much-beloved NBC drama “Quantum Leap.” He certainly wasn’t expecting the surprise call he received Thursday morning, telling him he’d earned a nod for his supporting role in “Behind the Candelabra.”
Bakula was up early to take his youngest son to intensive ballet camp when he got a call from his publicist. “He said, ‘Congratulations.’ And I said, ‘For what?’ He said, ‘You got nominated.’ I said, “You mean the movie got nominated?’ He said, ‘No, you got nominated.’ And I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ So I was shocked,” said the actor, 58 (no, really).
In HBO’s Liberace biopic, Bakula plays Bob Black, the man who introduces Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) to the world-famous pianist. The role required Bakula to sport not just a bushy mustache and shaggy hairdo but also numerous period-authentic, skintight get-ups.
“The laughter started at the first costume fitting. That’s all I can tell you. And it basically never stopped,” he said.
Though filming the project was “a blast,” one particular challenge was the opening scene, in which he and Damon’s character pick each other up in a sweaty disco. It wasn’t in the script, but director Steven Soderbergh felt they needed to show that Scott “wasn’t just this perfectly innocent naïve kid,” Bakula said. Without pages to work from, Damon and his co-star mostly improvised.
“It was hard for Matt and I to even speak to each other we were laughing so much," Bakula said.
Bakula is nominated, along with co-stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, in the movie, which bagged a total of 15 nominations. Not bad for a project that almost didn’t see the light of day. “Behind the Candelabra” landed at the premium network after having been turned down by virtually every major studio in Hollywood.
It’s the most notable entry in an Emmys season full of film-world refugees, including David Mamet and Kevin Spacey. But Bakula, known mostly for his TV work, doesn’t think of it that way.
“For actors, we always feel like there shouldn’t be any divide for anybody," he said. "The industry is the one that kind of creates the idea that if you’re such-and-such an actor, you can’t be on the big screen,” he said, acknowledging that the current TV renaissance has given performers like him greater “avenues of expression.”
“When I was on ‘Men of a Certain Age,’ we were getting to do this great character work you don’t get to do elsewhere. The movies are about big tent pole movies and big action and effects,” he said.
Bakula is a fan of “True Blood” and “The Newsroom” but admits it’s hard to find shows he’s able to watch with the whole family, the way that millions did with “Quantum Leap” during its run in the late ‘80s and ‘90s.
“Sunday night was such a big night for television when I was growing up -- you know, ‘The Wonderful World of Disney.’ Those shows don’t exist, and those moments don’t exist. Someone’s always got their phone out,” he said. “Even thematically, the great joy of ‘Quantum’ was that it was entertainment first and foremost, but you got a certain kind of feeling from watching the show. It was hopeful, it was positive, and most of the time Sam did some nice things for people. We all know the world can use more of that.”
As for the ever-present talk of a “Quantum Leap” revival, Bakula isn’t holding his breath.
“That’s been going on since we went off the air," he said. "I know it wouldn’t include me, so I don’t really think about it. But I love the show. I love what it’s represented.”
The actor will star in the upcoming musical “Basmati Blues” (yes, he sings), but otherwise his dance card is open.
“It’s nice to get a nomination when you’re unemployed,” he said.