Acting in the post-World War II drama Homefront comes easy for Kyle Chandler.Chandler, who plays injured Cleveland Indians outfielder Jeff Metcalf, spent his childhood acting out John Wayne's war films on his family's 21-acre Georgia farm."Where we lived, we didn't get cable or anything. We got three channels, and (Ted Turner's) station on UHF. He played movies over and over," Chandler recalls."I pretty much grew up out in my pasture and in the woods, living out those characters. If it was a war, I'd be running through the creek. The Sands of Iwo Jima. Everything that John Wayne ever did."Another child molded by TV."There were no kids who lived nearby, so I think that had a great deal of influence."Like those old John Wayne movies, Homefront finds itself in a life-or-death battle. Renewal for the series, endorsed by the Viewers for Quality Television, depends on spring ratings at 10 p.m. Tuesdays opposite a CBS movie and Dateline NBC.Last week Homefront scored a major victory, finishing second ahead of NBC's troubled news magazine. Homefront earned an 11 rating and 19% audience share - compared to a 13% share at 9 p.m. Thursdays last fall and a 16% share for its first two Tuesday broadcasts.Homefront has developed a core of viewers who appreciate its strong cast, surprising plot twists (a newspaper writer's murder is the latest), humor and history.Creators Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick, former Knots Landing producers, this spring are exploring the birth of suburbia and advent of television in suburban Cleveland in 1948. (If ABC renews Homefront, the series will include Cleveland's 1948 World Series victory in the fall.)Next month Al Kahn (John Slattery) is accused of being a Communist sympathizer, and Italian war widow Gina Sloan (Giuliana Santini) has flashbacks about her Auschwitz concentration camp stay.Chandler, his baseball career in doubt due to a knee injury, continues his verbal sparring with former girlfriend Ginger (Tammy Lauren). The season ends with their wedding - not bad for a romance that wasn't projected to last more than three episodes last spring."Lynn and Bernie write by the seat of their pants pretty much. When they see things that are working pretty well on the screen, that's the avenue they go," Chandler says.Chandler, 27, arrived on the Homefront set with previous war experience. He was drafted by TV's two Vietnam War shows, as a recurring character on CBS' Tour of Duty and a guest shot on ABC's China Beach.He also had extensive college theater experience and a love for the game of baseball.The Buffalo native grew up an Atlanta Braves fan, suffering through a pennant drought in the 1970s and '80s not unlike that of Cleveland fans. Two consecutive National League championships have eased the pain, however."The Braves are my team. I've stuck around for a long time, and now that they're on top, they've got to be my team, don't they?"Atlanta has appeared in two consecutive World Series. Chandler hopes he's playing in a Homefront World Series in October, too.
A true romanticPlaying a '40s-era leading man just comes naturally for Homefront's Kyle ChandlerGlenn Esterly, TV Guide (Canada), November 28, 1992When Homefront (ABC) co-creator and executive producer Lynn Marie Latham finished casting Kyle Chandler as Jeff Metcalf in her period piece last year, she instructed him to rent some Cary Grant movies from the '40s. "I wanted Kyle to get a feel for the language and style of those times," Latham says. "I also wanted him to get a sense of the timing of Cary Grant and that whole era, because he impressed me as someone who could play not only drama but playful humor."It wasn't really necessary. Chandler's adolescent years were spent on a family farm outside Atlanta, where the one UHF channel that he could bring in - "If you wiggled the antenna around," he says - was an early, local Ted Turner station specializing in old movies. "Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable - there was a whole world there from the '40s that I grew up watching," says Chandler. "It opened up that world to play with inside my head, and it was one of the main things that made me interested in acting."If Chandler, 27, already had a running start on capturing the Jeff that Latham had in mind, the pairing of his aspiring major leaguer with Tammy Lauren's sassy would-be actress, Ginger, demanded that the audience recognize them as a breakout TV couple. "Originally, Tammy and I were only scheduled to do three shows together, with some mutual passion that didn't really go anywhere," Chandler says. "The very first scene I did with her was a love scene - the first one I'd ever done on film - and I was too nervous to know whether it really worked or not. But after that, I felt very comfortable in any scenes with her. We just hit it off from the start, like old buddies."For her part, Lauren (an actess since age 7 and a regular on Morningstar/Eveningstar and The Best Times) knew when to throw a little weight around - she cleared the set to make Chandler more comfortable for that first kissing scene. Beyond that, she says, "I hate the word chemistry that's always used, but Kyle and I do complement each other. Simple as that. We sit around and discuss scenes and toss around lines endlessly."Chandler's current good fortune started when he auditioned for the wrong role, reading for the part of older brother Hank, who was just back from the war: "Hank seemed to have unlimited potential as a character," says Chandler. But Latham and partner Bernard Lechowick thought Chandler looked too young to be a war vet and asked him to read for Jeff. "I was broke when I got the job," Chandler says. "I jumped up and down for about a week after I heard the news."See, I had done eight episodes of Tour of Duty during its last season [1989-90], and they were going to bring me back as a regular for the next season. So I thought, 'Hey, I'm rich all of a sudden.' I made the severe mistake of thinking I had Hollywood by the ass." He sighs. "There was no next season. But I'm glad it happened then so that I didn't go financially crazy now."Jeff and Ginger have gone through some rocky periods this year. After the 1946 baseball season as a Cleveland Indian (historically, the Indians have to wait till '48 for a pennant), Jeff went off barnstorming with Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller and other stars. "Actually," Chandler says, "Jeff getting into money turned him into kind of a jerk for a while: the '47 Chrysler convertible - a Town and Country, with Chris Craft wood on the side - oh, man, it's gorgeous. After playing one of the nicest guys on TV last season, it was an adjustment to playing Jeff as a jerk. But he has good basic values to get him through his problems."Growing up, Chandler was the youngest in his family - "I'm typecast on Homefront" - by 18 years to his oldest brother (he has another brother and a sister). Chandler's late father was a salesman; his mother, a breeder of Great Danes, still travels in a mobile home showing her dogs. "It was great fun as a kid traveling with her. I met other kids all over the southeastern states, and we'd get into fun kinds of trouble." Example? "We'd form what looked like dog droppings out of dog food and leave them around the show area so that the dogs would try to eat them while their owners were frantically pulling them away."Acting came about accidentally at the University of Georgia. "I'd had an interst in acting, but I didn't really know how to pursue it. Then I met some people, students in the drama department, who were such oddballs that is seemed like a strangely appealing thing to try. I got the lead in a little play, got some applause, and that started the dream."In 1989, a screen test convinced ABC that Chandler should be one of 15 actors recruited to Hollywood under a talent development program. "It was the right foot in the door," says Chandler. "I got an agent and started to find out how things work here."In addition to Tour of Duty, Chandler did a never-released feature with Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, and guest-starred on China Beach. Last summer he filmed the recently released feature "Pure Country" with George Strait and Lesley Ann Warren. "I play a roadie in George's band. George's character gets disenchanted with all the fanfare surrounding the music, and my character tries to use that to serve his own ambitions."Single and renting a house in LA, Chandler says there's no special woman in his life - "There's always one out there somewhere, but you don't know it at the time. I don't plan on getting married soon, but I would like to have a family eventually."As an admitted recovering perfectionist, Chandler says the one thing about his Homefront performances that galls him is his baseball swing. Although he played some little league baseball, "I think you can tell from my swing that I'm not a professional. It's very hard to duplicate a pro's style. People lie to me all the time that the swing is great, but I know better."Neither Chandler nor the producers are having any of the inevitable media "hunk" stuff that's bound to be attached to a handsome young actor with two of the most dramatically set eyeballs in the business. "It's an injustice to Kyle," says Lynn Marie Latham. "He works so hard, he gets so far into the character that it's simply not fair to lump him into an area that's almost like bimbo.""I tell journalists I'm not a hunk, and then that ends up in the headlines," Chandler says, shrugging. "I don't see any hunkdom in my future. I'll be anti-hunk. Instead of working out, I'll sit around drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. That'll show 'em."