He spent a decade in uniform as the star of the television series "JAG," then went on to do other projects, but David James Elliott's shore leave from the small screen is over. The 49-year-old actor will star in ABC's "Scoundrels" with Virginia Madsen, premiering 9 p.m. Sunday. And he will take the lead in the Hallmark Channel original movie "Dad's Home," set to air 9 p.m. Saturday. He plays a man who must abruptly face the challenge of balancing work and family. His off-screen life includes an 18-year marriage to fellow Canadian Nanci Chambers, with whom he has two children. They have become U.S. citizens. As for family time, they recently lived with an indigenous tribe in the Amazon.
Have you ever had to make a really difficult career vs. family decision?
No. I made those decisions before my family came. I remember telling my now wife that, "Just so you know and we're up front, my career comes first." But she hung around. Listen, people may disappoint you, but in the end you still have to feed yourself, and if you have a family, you've got to feed them, too.
Do you see your real life role as a father to be one of a provider and protector?
Certainly provider is probably paramount. I provide for them emotionally, physically, mentally. I mean, all those things come in. I'm a very present father. I spend a lot of time with my children. Thankfully, my career has allowed me to do that. I think it's important that you have your career. That's something that's not going to leave me. Marriages, they break up. Not that mine is. Mine's been around for a long time, you know. We've been together over 20 years. In Hollywood that's pretty amazing. It's amazing probably in America. Everything takes work. Everything.
Do you see yourself as a guy defined by his job?
No, not at all. Your job, certainly as an actor, is to hold a mirror up to nature, as Shakespeare said. You can't do that if you're not living a real life. How are you going to represent humanity if you are busy cloistered in some kind of Hollywood silk bubble? It just can't happen, so I don't really hang with a lot of actors. Most of my friends are real working people. I don't get caught up in it. It's a job.
David, how do you deal with the job insecurity, especially having a family?
I never figured that I would ever get married. I might have taken a different path if I thought I had to support a bunch of people. I always thought I'd be taking the George Clooney path of existence. I'm always looking for a revenue stream. I've always invested my money well. I never went out and bought a bunch of flashy [stuff] that I could ill afford, thinking it would never end. I've had it come and go many times. It's a feast or famine business, and I understand that, and I accept it.
So, how did you become so driven?
I don't know, but that interests me a great deal. I'm working on a project now that kind of explores that -- why some people are driven and why some aren't. I have two brothers who weren't really that driven. I wondered, why me and not them. I'm the middle child. I don't know what it is, maybe it's something that's inherent, or maybe it's in everyone and just gets awakened by some moment, some person or something.
Were you torn about becoming a U.S. citizen?
Never. You know what, since I was a child I always felt like I'd landed in the wrong place. I don't know what it was, but I always knew I'd be here and always intended to come here. I jumped at the opportunity when so many around me were hemming and hawing and wishing and thinking and talking about, "Wow, maybe we should go down there." Most of them were so quick to say it was impossible and it can't be done. It certainly can't be done if you think that. When I started in this impossible business, the only way I could be successful was if, (a) I didn't have a backup plan because if I had a backup plan I would more than likely fall back on it. And (b) that I would never give up. I would continue to get up no matter how many times I was knocked down.
Did some of that attitude come from your parents?
I don't know, because my parents, I remember of the three of us, they thought I was the lost cause. I was the guy they were most worried about and wasn't going to amount to anything. I was a dreamer, and I'm the most successful of the three of us.
Because there is a 10-year difference in age between your children, did your parenting style change by the time your son came along?
Oh, yeah! The first kid, you're a wreck. You're afraid everything is going to destroy them, you know? Then when my James came along, it was like, "Ah, sure, go ahead. If he falls he'll be all right."
So I understand you took them to the Amazon jungle recently.
It wasn't something I did without a great deal of thought and reading a lot, but also life is for living. It's a big wide, wild world, you know. So [I thought] let's just go and do it. We'll get our shots and we'll take all the right precautions and just step in. The Amazon always fascinated me, and it's close to my heart in what's happening to it now and all the problems facing the indigenous people of the Amazon. The rainforest is disappearing, and it's very distressing and it provides 20 percent of the world's oxygen. When it's gone more than likely we'll be gone. It will be gone if we don't do something by the end of this century. We'll no longer exist. I am going to talk and scream about it as much as I can and hopefully wake a few more souls. It's a very difficult situation. It's not an easy fix. The Amazon exists in nine separate countries.
Speaking of your children, have you ever found them using your celebrity status for leverage?
Let me see. Not on any horrible level. The Jonas Brothers were playing ... and my daughter said, "See if we can go back stage maybe." I said, "We can't do that." She said, "Just go -- You're a celebrity." Then somebody recognized me and waved me over and let them come back. Beyond that I'm unaware if they are.
Patricia Sheridan: email@example.com or 412-263-2613.