Tim Matheson Talks ‘West Wing,’ ‘Animal House’ & More!

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE, (from left): John Belushi, Tim Matheson on-set, 1978. © Universal P
Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Tim Matheson, who is most well-known for his roles as Vice President John Hoynes in West Wing, voice of 1964’s Johnny Quest and, of course, as Eric Stratton in National Lampoon’s Animal House, recently appeared at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, so we sat in on what he had to say about his amazing career.

In addition to the West Wing, you played Ronald Reagan and JFK. How do you go about your political research? Do you talk to politicians? Do you talk to historians? What was your process?


Everett Collection

Well, I learned a lot from playing JFK badly. So, when I did Reagan, I had his mannerisms and the Midwestern accent and raspy voice he had, but it was really the heart and what was going on inside that I focused on. And the other thing I learned is that you can’t act politics. Whether you believe in them or not, really, what you have to capture is the essence of that person and what their heart is.

People came up to me and said, “I hate him. He’s just so evil.” And I said, “He’s a politician.”


NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE, (from left): Bruce McGill, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, John Belushi

Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection\

Animal House Bruce McGill, Tim Matheson, Peter Riegert, John Belushi, James Widdoes, 1978.

When you were doing Animal House, was there anything that was unscripted that made it into the movie?

It was pretty much the script. Then the interesting thing about John Landis, the director, he wasn’t allowed to print more than one take of any scene. And so, he would never cut. He would just say, “Get back in and do it again and be funnier; do it again.”

What was the funniest moment on the set of Animal House?

The Dexter Lake Club, which was Lampoon’s take on racism and how all these privileged white guys thought they were cool and they were going to hang out with this black group. To me, it was real edge. When the studio saw the picture cut together for the first time, they saw the Dexter Lake Club scene and they said, “No, you’re going to have race riots, you have to get rid of it.” The junior executives at the time were Tom Mountain and Sean Daniels and they had Richard Pryor making movies at Universal and so they showed the scene to Richard and Richard looked at it and he said, ‘White people are crazy. This is a funny scene.’

Do you remember anything about filming 1941 with Steven Spielberg?

1941, from left: Tim Matheson, Nancy Allen, 1979,

Universal/courtesy Everett Collection

It was the biggest budgeted movie I think ever worked on and we did every major stunt two or three times over. It was great to work with one of the greatest, and he’s done every kind of movie you would imagine. Some are better than others, but when you look at his body of work, he makes it seem so easy and so instinctual.

He currently stars in the Netflix series Virgin River.

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