With a cool mix of sex appeal and tough-guy bravado, Robert Conrad is the quintessential TV hunk. From his early days sporting swim trunks on Hawaiian Eye to his macho military commander on Baa Baa Black Sheep, the actor has created the kind of characters that men want to hang with and women want a romp with. Conrad sealed his TV-icon legacy as sly spy James West on the The Wild Wild West, a hip adventure series that had everything needed for a swinging '60s hit girls, gadgets and demented dwarfs. Conrad sat with TVGuide.com to talk about The Wild Wild West: The Complete First Season (out this week on DVD), his friendship with Elvis and why Will Smith should never have tried to go West.
TVGuide.com: Well, The Wild Wild West is finally here on DVD.
Robert Conrad: I'm very excited, I hope this does well. I get asked daily about the show. Last night a guy caught me in the john at a restaurant and said he grew up watching it. Then he asked if any other celebrities were dining in the place. [Laughs] Guys always ask, "Did you really do your own stunts?" I say, "Douglas Fairbanks, Robert Conrad and Jackie Chan we all did our own stunts. You can take that to the bank, pal." Women usually just ask about the pants I wore.
TVGuide.com: Those were tight pants.
Conrad: I don't think so; I thought they fit perfectly. When they ripped mounting a horse, I'd just stay on the horse. The pants were always the same color as the saddle black.
TVGuide.com: People loved the chemistry between you and costar Ross Martin. What was he like?
Conrad: On the set he was a total professional and loved to play all those characters. He took the acting very seriously. Off the set he was a pain in the ass, always worried about the size of his dressing room, or why I was making $500 more a week. But we had a great friendship, and he's a real loss in my life. He passed away playing tennis when he was 61 years old, very young by today's standards.
TVGuide.com: You were also friends with Elvis during the West years.
Conrad: He was big fan of The Wild Wild West. He use to do some of my moves in his performances at the Las Vegas Hilton. You know, I met Elvis on a football field. He and his guys would play touch football, brutal touch football, in Beverly Hills. Elvis was hard to hit, because he could move, but when you hit him he always took it like a man.
TVGuide.com: What did you think of the Wild West movie remake starring Will Smith?
Conrad: I never saw it. I went to Paris with my daughter when it opened. The reviews were fun to read no one said they liked it. [Director-producer] Barry Sonnenfeld should take full credit for that flop, because how could you screw up such great material? I would not want anyone to think that that movie is my work, but in a bizarre way it helps the original series and what we did.
TVGuide.com: Did anyone ever want to knock a battery off your shoulder, like in those Duracell commercials you did?
Conrad: I only had two guys ask. One was drunk and he wouldn't do it. The other guy said he was just kidding; I told him I wasn't. I have a reputation of being a bit arrogant, but it's actually just confidence.
TVGuide.com: You were also known for your confidence on ABC's Battle of the Network Stars competitions.
Conrad: Yeah, people still ask me about my [relay] race [face-off] with Gabe Kaplan (Welcome Back, Kotter). Some people think it was rehearsed, but do you think I'd let Gabe Kaplan beat me? Get a life actors don't like to get beat at anything.
TVGuide.com: What was it like to star in the 1982 TV-movie Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy?
Conrad: He's a tough SOB, and he's real; I'd want him in a foxhole with me. Gordon was on the set, and there's a scene where I have to eat a rat. We had Gordon wrangle the rat for us. I get a little squeamish around rats.
TVGuide.com: You're also known as a tough SOB. Ever done anything you regretted?
Conrad: Uh, well I almost got arrested for hitting a guy in New York City. He was beating his dog in the park, so I gave him a good one on the jaw and asked him how he liked it.
TVGuide.com: Ever said anything you regretted?
Conrad: Yeah, most of what I say. [Laughs] I'm always thinking to myself, "I probably should have kept my mouth shut."