Sweep month sensations Waco 'Ambush,' on the heels of tragedy

May 03, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

The interview started out all right for Timothy Daly.

The co-star of "Wings" was in a conference call talking about his role as David Koresh in NBC's "In the Line of Duty: Ambush at Waco," which is scheduled to air May 23.

Daly was using all the right Hollywood jargon to keep the ink flowing about the movie straight through the next three weeks of May sweeps.

He was asked, for example, if he had seen the live coverage April 19 of the Branch Davidian compound going up in flames with Koresh and many of the members of his religious cult still inside.

"I can't tell you," Daly said, sounding as if he were going to say something terribly revealing, "how eerie it is playing a guy who's alive in the morning and who was presumed to be dead in the afternoon.

"I still haven't really allowed myself to feel everything that I, Tim Daly, feel about the tragedy of the whole thing -- from the agents who were killed and wounded and their families to those children and their families who were burned and killed inside the compound.

"Emotionally for me, Tim Daly, this was a very hard role to play. I, as an actor, had to go into a very dark place in order to portray this man."

I hadn't heard the "very dark place" line since Eva Gabor used it ina conference call in which she talked about her performance in the "Green Acres" reunion movie a couple of May sweeps ago.

OK, Gabor didn't exactly say that. But I have heard at least half a dozen actors use variations. The point is, we should listen to Daly and watch the movie with some skepticism.

We're all probably going to watch "Ambush at Waco," if for no other reason than its instantaneous nature, which the producers have enhanced by shooting with videotape instead of film to make it look more like TV news. The movie finished shooting Saturday, less than two weeks after the fatal fire.

But let's not kid ourselves about what we're watching or why we're watching it or the role commercial television plays in reordering our notions of real-life events.

The answers from Daly were not nearly as smooth when questions about such issues were raised.

"Yes, I had reservations at first," he said. But "this was a story that was going to be made. And I realize it's kind of surprising the speed at which this got under way.

"On the other hand, I feel that a movie can't be judged until it's finished, because the speed at which you do something is not always the criterion for whether it's good or not."

The movie, which Daly said is going to be a "genuine exploration of what went on from both sides of the fence," will move back and forth between federal agents investigating Koresh and Koresh's life inside and outside the compound in Texas before the standoff. The movie ends with the initial gun battle Feb. 28 between Koresh's followers and agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. NBC is already talking about a sequel.

"I don't think [the producers] set out to make a movie that's sensationalist," Daly said. "I think they'retrying as hard as they can to do something that's responsible and to put this entire episode in our history into a sort of human, emotional context."

The non-sensational, human and emotional context will include Koresh as leader of a rock band and very sexually active guy -- the stuff of some adolescent boys' fantasies. It will also include his alleged sexual relationships with preteen girls.

"It does go into his relationships with some children," Daly said. "And it has several events that we know about where he's conducting himself in . . . an abhorrent manner."

The movie will also explore philosophy. "David Koresh apparently had this philosophy about beating children," Daly said, "so that he had made different size paddles, starting with paddles for children of 8 months and increasing in size for older children.

"He had this philosophy that you must always hit a child with a paddle so that the child will associate the pain that they are feeling with the paddle and not the people administering the beating."

"Ambush at Waco" will show viewers a Koresh who is "very intelligent, very charming, . . . charismatic, . . . kind and cruel," Daly said. "He was a very complicated man."

But what does Daly, himself, think of Koresh?

"I personally thought he was mad," Daly said, offering one answer without trying to dance around the issue.

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