`Tour of Duty’ actor Stephen Caffrey is ready to `die’ on TV

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
January 23, 1989

Actor Stephen Caffrey was born in Cleveland, attended high school in five different states and now divides his time between Los Angeles and New York. But ask him where home is, and he’ll say Chicago.

“My father was in a business that moved him around a lot, and as a result I was often uprooted,” Caffrey said. “The longest I’ve ever been in one place was the eight years I spent in Chicago. It’s hard to describe what bouncing around from place to place is like to people who haven’t experienced it. But eventually you end up just grabbing hold of home, and for me that’s Chicago.”

Caffrey, 27, co-stars as Lt. Myron Goldman in “Tour of Duty.” The CBS series follows the lives of an Army platoon during the Vietnam War. Now airing at 7 p.m. Tuesdays on WBBM-Channel 2, the struggling series barely survived its first season.

Taking its cue from the success of ABC’s “China Beach,” which centers on the women who served in Vietnam, this season’s “Tour” spends less time on the battlefield and focuses more on the grunts’ personal lives.

“I don’t know that Americans want Vietnam in their living rooms again, but they’ve certainly taken an interest in the personal end of it,” said Caffrey, phoning from his Los Angeles apartment. “Last year, our show was mainly about the mission and its men. The veterans who wrote letters to us encouraged us and said we did a good job of portraying how it was. We’re hoping to keep that reality on the show, even with the show’s change in direction.”

Like “Wiseguy,” “Tour of Duty” gained favorable recognition for bringing reality to its programs and by not allowing everyone to live happily ever after. Cast members were “killed off” throughout last season. Though Caffrey gets second billing to star Terence Knox and seems an unlikely candidate for a body bag, he said he wouldn’t object if the producers decided his character was doomed.

“I have no fears about Goldman getting knocked off if it’s for the betterment of the show,” Caffrey said. “I put in a year already, so I’ll just move on and do another part on something else. That’s what actors do. I’m not enamored of the glamor or security of having a spot on a sure thing. My upbringing instilled hard work in me, and I’m not afraid of fighting for my living.”

The fifth of seven children, Caffrey moved to Chicago with his family 10 years ago. They lived in Wrigleyville, and Caffrey spent as much time as he could watching Cubs games from the tiny balcony his family shared with neighbors.

“Since most of us kids were born in different places and we felt allegiances to different teams, it was wild in our family when it came to sports,” he said, laughing. “But it’s much worse having to put up with local L.A. fans here. When you’re a Bears fan, you’re open game for everybody because they’re waiting for your team to fall. My real team, though, is the Cubs.  I’m a diehard fan, and I feel for them when they lose.”

Caffrey’s fans may remember him for his work on the daytime drama “All My Children.” As troublemaker Andrew Cortlandt, Caffrey earned a Daytime Emmy Award nomination as best juvenile actor, although he was in his 20s.

“Acting on a soap is definitely a great learning experience, but it also can be an end to itself,” Caffrey said. “Going into it, I thought of it as a segue into other things. But this business isn’t always just and fair. So if you can make some money doing something you like while you’re earning money and studying, that’s great.

“My whole perception of soaps changed after doing one. They’re not Chekhov, but they’re wonderful ways to constantly test your improvisational skills. You’re basically working with fairly pedestrian dialogue, and you end up repeating the same scene over and over in various episodes. The stories move along about the same pace as Congress. So you try to do things to spice up your part. But it’s silly to assume that stuff doesn’t happen on nighttime TV, because it does. It’s the same shtick except it’s visually more exciting  on evening programs. There are pros and cons of any job.”

Shooting “Tour of Duty” is physically draining. Even with the battle scenes toned down, the actors have to strap on 60 pounds of Army gear for many shots. Caffrey hails from a long line of Army and Navy men and heard firsthand war stories from relatives.

But he said he still cannot imagine what it was really like to be a 19-year-old thrust into war.

“Acting the part of a soldier is tiring. Living it seems impossible,” he said. “There have been a few moments where we were filming in the choppers, flying into the landing zone. You see the gunfire coming out of the weeds at you, and you get this incredible adrenaline rush.  And all I can guess is that magnifying that feeling a thousand times over, plus being scared out of your mother-loving mind, might be what the feeling was like for the soldiers in Vietnam. It’s frightening.”

Some of the lighter moments on the series involve the men’s romantic pursuits.  This season Caffrey’s love interest is Kim Delaney, another “All My Children” alumna. While Caffrey said he enjoys doing the “nooky scenes” with Delaney, his heart belongs to actress Tia Carrere. They met last year when Carrere guest-starred as a Vietnamese woman.

“I’m really dating a picture,” Caffrey said of their relationship. “She lives in L.A. I live in New York. Last year the show was shot in Hawaii, so our phone bills were outrageous. This season the show’s filmed in L.A., but she’s in the Philippines making a movie. Before that she was making a TV pilot in Florida. I was hoping to take her to Chicago for Christmas, but our schedules conflicted.  It’s hard.”

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