Joe Lando and Pilar Clark on the set of “Perfectly Prudence” near Grand Rapids, MI.
He may be best known for his buckskin breeches and brooding, long-maned mountain man character on Emmy award-winning series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, but there’s much more to Joe Lando than the brawny bearded fellow that shared our living rooms from 1993-1998.
The outdoorsy dad (kids Jack, Christian, Kate and William range from 12 to 3 years old), dedicated husband and former Chicagoan shared memories from the Dr. Quinn set, swapped parenting stories and gave me the inside scoop on his upcoming projects in a delightful interview that was as comfortable and down-to-earth as talking to an old friend.
Catch all five seasons of the critically acclaimed Dr. Quinn series – not to mention the hilarious promos starring Lando – on GMC, airing continuously on weeknights through Labor Day weekend when the sixth season will premiere.The episodes will air in order of original broadcast, which marks the first time in over a decade that viewers will be able to view every season in order.
You were once known for your luxurious locks. Do you still get questions from fans about cutting it or are they over it now?
It’s been 12 years. The people that were fans of the show and liked Sully are not over it.
I’ll do a public appearance and they’ll show up and they look at the pictures and they look at me and they’re like, ‘What happened to your hair?’ And I’m like… 10,000 what happened to your hair questions later, I cut it.
I grew it for that part. I had the intention of playing this character with a certain look and having long hair and thinking if the show goes for six or seven years then when I leave I’ll want to change my look completely to something else. It was what I thought was a good plan as an actor. And in some ways that worked out great and in other ways it didn’t. People wanted me to cut my hair while I was working on the show to do other things but I’d always have to get around it since first and foremost I was obligated to Dr. Quinn. Anything outside of that had to come second. So I always had to find a way to fit the hair into the story. You can’t play a banker and have long hair and have it work. So I was a bad guy, or some white trash dude with a mullet. So it would work out.
At least you didn’t have to shave for seven years.
It was great! I’m not a big fan of shaving. So every couple of days I would trim it down to that three to four day look and in the winter, the crew guys would start growing beards, because at night it was cold where we were, so I would always grow one and that’s how I could tell when I watch the show now, if my beard is a really thick beard-beard, like a few days growth…
Like a lumberjack beard?
Yeah! The lumberjack look. Little things like that are what I track time with because the shows all blend together after so many episodes, and after all those years, it’s like one long Dr. Quinn episode when you try to look back and remember.
You’re the first person I’ve talked to who has used their facial hair as a means to measure the chronological progression of their acting career.
Ha! And by my hair cut itself. They had me cut my hair shorter in the second year and it was a really bad idea. That’s how I know it’s the second year about mid way through the season. By the end it was, ‘Whatever you want to do.’
Embrace your inner frontiersman and grow that hair!
I forgot so many things were going on during that last year. I haven’t seen the show in 10 years, and I just watched it recently and it was very tumultuous, more than I remember. There were a lot of changes going on. People were mad. People were fighting and the townspeople were really starting to turn on each other and I think it was reflective of what was going on at the network with the state of the show and whether or not we were going to stay on or if CBS was changing the lineup at the time. Television was changing.
I’ve been watching the promos for Dr. Quinn on GMC and they’re absolutely hilarious! Do you find yourself poking fun at your character a lot?
Truthfully, I haven’t had that many opportunities to make fun of Sully. No one’s really found me that funny. But it’s fun to do it now. GMC came up with a great ad campaign. My kids were entertained by it and my wife got a kick out of it. Honestly, I was worried going there beforehand because I didn’t really know what the concept was going to be and how they wanted to go, and sometimes people have these ideas that they think are brilliant and they’re really kind of cheesy. I was afraid I’d show up there and have to put a wig on. I had no idea and was thinking that would be the worst case scenario, and it was completely opposite. It was great and I had a lot of fun doing it.
You’ve been described as this hunky, smoldering mountain man. Is that really you? Well, the first part maybe. But are you as outdoorsy in real life as your character was on Dr. Quinn?
I would say pretty much so. My family and I like to spend our time outdoors, in the woods. We just came back from a family vacation. We drove up to Vancouver. We were so fortunate, too, with the weather. I lived up there for two years when I had a series called Higher Ground and spent a lot of time up there working on other projects. The weather is often really tough in as much as sometimes it can rain for two weeks straight and you don’t get a break. You learn to deal with it, but here at my house [in LA] it was foggy the whole summer. Every day was just grey, no sun, and kind of cool. So we go all the way up to Vancouver where it’s rainy and usually kind of cool and it was a heat wave. Gorgeous. So pretty.
We spent every day outside – 15-20 mile bike rides all around town to hiking by the dam. We had so much fun going to the old neighborhood where we used to live outside of Vancouver and showing the kids that. There’s a little beach area that my son Jack used to play in when he was little and now William was playing there. It was just neat. We saw a lot of animals on the way back. We saw a grey whale. It was flying out of the water while we were driving down the coast. I had just stopped to make a call to my agent, because my kids were being too loud in the car for me to hear anything.
I know what that’s like!
So we pull over to the side of the road, in the classic, ‘I’m going stop this car moment,’ and my wife just said to look at the scenery. So we get out and walk up a little hill and there’s this gorgeous coast of Oregon in front of us. Beautiful sunshine, a little bay, a couple fishing boats out there, and as I’m talking to my agent, this whale comes flying out of the water from his head to his tail. Three times, four times. The kids and I are all freaking out. I had to call my agent back and it was incredible. We couldn’t believe our luck. We drove down right to the water and he was swimming about 20 yards in front of us. I’ve never seen a whale like that and I don’t think too many people stumble upon a beautiful animal like that in the water. Just to be looking at this beautiful coast and seeing this whale not that far away, we could see the barnacles when it came up. He was just playing on his own in this kelp bed. It was just such a perfect thing.
I’m not a camper anymore, on the ground anymore, or under the sky kind of guy though. I used to be when I was younger. But I actually have to take my son camping with their grandfather in the next week or two – I’ve been promising them – and I’m not looking forward to sleeping on the ground. I need a little pad. It hurts my tender back.
It’s funny how when you’re a parent, things start getting old and creaky fast.
Since we got back we’ve been at the beach non-stop.
Ah yes, the perfect way to tire those kiddos out.
I just installed this outdoor shower. We pull up, shower them off, which tires them out a little bit more, feed them, sit them on the couch for a half an hour and then they start getting sleepy. And you don’t feel like you’ve done anything bad because they’ve been outdoors having fun.
It’s one of those tricks parents keep hidden up their sleeves.
So what do you miss most about Chicago?
I love Chicago. My kids love Chicago. They really love the people and family feeling we have when we go back there. I have my sister and her kids and their friends, and my family’s just been there for three generations now so they’re deeply entrenched in Chicago. It’s like, ‘You’re going down to a game? Let me get you parking. I know somebody who knows somebody with parking.’
My wife and I laugh when we’re there. You get something done because you know somebody who knows somebody who stopped by and said hello to someone or other and it’s just different than our life here in CA. So I miss the people. That’s the biggest thing. The second thing is that I love taking the train from where my sister lives in Wheaton to downtown with the kids and exploring the city.
We’re practically neighbors then. I live in Lisle.
I know Lisle! We go to Wheaton and Naperville a lot.
Do people recognize you?
Yes and no. People will look at me and think they know me from someplace else. From work or school or something. It happens, but not as much anymore. And probably, too, I’m not that aware of it. Doesn’t cross my mind much anymore. It’s in the past.
If you’re not getting mobbed, you can enjoy more of your off time, too.
Oh yeah. Before, I was too famous for my taste, and that wasn’t even a big deal, it was still because of my long hair and it was such a popular show at the time. Anywhere I went fans either thought I was Lorenzo Lamas or Andre Agassi or they knew I was Sully from Dr. Quinn. But it was a big show and I was easily recognized then, but not so much now and I prefer it that way. It makes me uncomfortable with my kids.
Do you feel extra protective of your kids with fans around?
Yeah, because how do they perceive it? Is this someone special? For what reason? Why? It’s happened before with the kids when they were much younger. It’s a little unsettling when you start to think about it. I’m sure they’re nice, harmless people but they’re strangers showing up at my doorstep. I don’t do that to people. I wouldn’t show up at your house unless I was calling. It’s just different. I like my quiet life. I like it this way. I like to work a lot and I like to keep it quiet, and so far, I’ve been fortunate in my career to have both.
So you’re pretty grounded.
I think it’s that Midwestern upbringing. That kind of sensibility. Go Bears!
What projects do you have on tap?
It’s actually been kind of busy lately. I just finished a short film called Spotlight and it’s gritty and cool, and then I’ve got a project coming up with Jane Seymour called Dear Prudence for the Hallmark Channel. The character that she plays is like a Martha Stewart type, and I’m playing the ex-love and will possibly cause her some problems. Hijinks ensue, they fall back in love… so anyway it’s going to be a fun project with Jane and myself and Jane’s daughter, Katie, and we’re going back to the Midwest, filming in Michigan in September.
After that, I’ll be working with my buddy William Shockley [and fellow Dr. Quinn alum] on a movie that he just sold. We’ll be working in Arizona. Then we’ll be into the holidays and Christmas and before you know it, this year is done.
Convonista says: Joe and I chatted in August of this year (this interview was originally released that same month), and then again in October, when I visited the Perfectly Prudence (formerly called Dear Prudence) set near Grand Rapids, MI. Stay tuned for another interview with Joe in 2011.
"Perfectly Prudence" will premiere on the Hallmark Channel at 9 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2011.