Arguably, William Shakespeare is the greatest playwright the English language has known. In his play AS YOU LIKE IT, the character Jacques has the famous monologue which begins with the famous words, "All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players…" To explorer Richard Wiese, the words ring true and his new television series BORN TO EXPLORE vividly prove that Shakespeare knew what he was talking about. Each episode of the show provides the viewers with stunning scenery, high drama and a true exploration of the human condition. It's television at its best.
Meeting Wiese in one of the theater district's most famous eateries, he marvels at the quality of the matzo ball soup served at the Café Edison (a.k.a. "The Polish Tearoom"). It rivals some of the finest culinary treats he's had in the many exotic locales he's filmed in and it certainly surpasses the rotted shark he'd eaten in Iceland. "It was a year old and fermented. It tasted exactly like how it sounds. To this day it's the absolute worst thing I've ever eaten."
The native of Head of the Harbor on Long Island's North Shore is affable, good-looking and down-to-earth. In fact, it's hard to believe that this man has been seen riding camels in Times Square for "Good Morning America" and getting the show's Josh Elliott to join him. There's a certain sense of "daredevil" about him but maybe that's part of his innate urge to explore the world.
"My father was a pilot for Pan American Airlines. It afforded me a lifestyle and a view of the world that most people would not have gotten. For example, when I was eleven years old my father took me to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. It didn't seem out of the ordinary because it was what I grew up with. I was lucky, too, because my father was into the outdoors and celestial navigation. Even to this day when I visit my parents and stand outside their home, we'll look at the stars and talk about weather patterns that we see coming in. It's also fortunate that my mother's brother is a nuclear physicist at MIT. He was very influential in my life in that we'd have conversations about science and this and that. In retrospect I realize how wonderful it was to have somebody who explained things to me and I had a natural curiosity about the outdoors and science. "
Wiese explains that he attended the highly regarded St. Anthony's High School which was then located in Smithtown, NY, (It has since relocated to South Huntington). "It was run by the Franciscan Brothers and ironically, the founder of the Order is St. Francis of Assisi who happens to be the patron saint of nature. Even now, my family and I live in Connecticut next to the Church of St. Francis, so there's some sort of irony or cosmic alignment there. Nature has become a significant part of my life."
Richard Wiese feels that his experience at St. Anthony's was a good one. "I did sports and all sorts of things like that while I was there." He followed that up by attending Brown University which he considers "an eye opener". It had an international enrollment along with a long list of "famous sons and daughters. At that time I had a more pronounced Long Island accent and I sort of self-taught myself away from it. It was like that famous scene in MY FAIR LADY. I cleaned up my diction at Brown. My mother was originally from the Bronx and my father was from Brooklyn, so what were chances of my having a normal speaking voice?" He now adds the –ing to words that need them and pronounces the end consonants with hardly a trace of his Long Island roots.
The reference to MY FAIR LADY is not unusual for Wiese because he has experience as an actor. "I've done a movie with Peter O'Toole and Robin Williams called CLUB PARADISE and had a love scene with Brooke Shields in ENDLESS LOVE. I've also done some things on "Saturday Night Live". You see, when I was at Brown, I was in New York City and I learned that there was an open casting call for ENDLESS LOVE. I was literally picked out of the crowd and wound up having a small part in the film. It's a short scene, but I'm most definitely in it! Then I did a few "Saturday Night Live" segments whenever they needed an uptight WASP or a surfer. I guess I did that four or five times. My role in CLUB PARADISE was significantly larger. In fact, my picture is on the box cover. It was fun to see Robin Williams and Peter O'Toole work together."
Wiese becomes reflective and remarks, "It's funny because so many things we do in life go into our memory banks and somehow plays out Let me give you the example of an artist who might be used to working in watercolors and then switches to oils. It somehow changes the way he thinks. Now on BORN TO EXPLORE, I am playing myself but there is a performance element and I want to portray stuff and get a message across. It's very much like what a stage actor does when he's conveying the ideas of Ibsen, Shaw or Neil Simon."
Developing a flair for performing required a bit of work on Wiese's part. "When I first started on camera I was awful. I felt very self-conscious, inhibited and nervous. I always knew I could be better than that. I knew I could and it was frustrating. What I came to realize is that there's no substitution for actually doing. In other words, if you're an actor there's no substitution for acting a lot. If you're a spokesman or a lecturer, there's no substitute for going out there and doing it again and again. One of the best on-camera experiences I had was when I did a show called "Q2" which was eventually bought by QVC. I was hired as an 'outdoor expert'. In a very short time Barry Diller had a thought and suddenly I was selling things on the air. There were times when I was on the air for three or four hours talking without a script. It was talk, talk, talk. In fact, I used to host a sports show with a guy named Clinton Kelly. It was called 'What Not to Wear'. The test of being a QVC host is that they give you a number two pencil and tell you to sell it. All those elements of salesmanship or at least performance-driven stuff carry over into anything you do. I don't care if you're a business man who gives presentations for sales: it's performance-driven. So seeing Robin Williams, who works very differently from Peter O'Toole, was a very good contrast to watch in their scenes together. Robin Williams works well off of other people. He ad libs lines all over the place. Even though Williams would go off script, Peter O'Toole would deliver his lines perfectly. They trained differently and they had completely different approaches to their craft."