For our final “Bionic Reboot” fan-cast exercise, we have the primary creator/developer of the bionic technology, good ol’ “Dr. Rudy Wells”. In the original “The Six Million Dollar Man” TV movie, Wells was portrayed by veteran actor Martin Balsam. For the next two TV movies and 7 episodes of “The Six Million Dollar Man” series (including the 2-parter that introduced Jaime Sommers), the role went to voice-over legend (and later Star Trek guest-star) Alan Oppenheimer. He was replaced at the beginning of Season 3 of TSMDM by the wonderful Martin E. Brooks, who is credited in 45 episodes each of TSMDM and TBW, as well as the three subsequent TV reunion movies in the 80s & 90s.
Dr. Rudy Wells was not only adept at designing nuclear-powered, cybernetic prosthetics and their interfaces with organics, he was apparently a damn fine surgeon. Of course, he had an entire surgical team working with him, but Rudy was in charge. Plus, he gave Steve and Jaime their regular physical checkups (including the bionics, of course), so I was always under the impression that he was a physician, too.
Physically, the 3 original actors varied, with Balsam being the oldest (~53), only 5’7″, and a little more… robust. Oppenheimer was fairly trim, balding, about 5’10.5″, and in his mid-40s. Brooks was also trim, not balding (just slightly receding), a tad shorter at 5’10”, and about 49 when he first took over the role. (They were all mustached, too, but that isn’t much in fashion, these days.) I always preferred Brooks’ look and take on the character, but my only physical criterion for a reboot would be that he is still roughly 40-something, maybe 50-ish. As for the kind of person Rudy was, he seemed quite likable and got along well with, and was respected by, everyone. Rudy and Oscar appeared to have a good working relationship. He was kind and truly cared for his patients. True, he really got excited about the bionics and could get lost in his work, but Steve and Jaime (and a few others) were not just experiments to him. As I said before, he was sort of like a slightly eccentric uncle, including the occasional (stereotypical) absentmindedness. I wouldn’t mind if the character was developed a bit more than in the 70s series, but I like the idea of keeping the personality and relationships intact.
In researching candidates for the “Rudy Wells” role, I didn’t come up with as many possibilities as I did for “Oscar Goldman”. Not sure why. But, I did settle on three fine actors for your consideration:
Hill Harper (5’9″,b.1966)
Yes, this is an exception to my general rule of keeping the original race of a character. With a name like “Goldman”, I figure Oscar has to be white. But, “Rudy Wells” is much more flexible. So,… Harper is my favorite among these three. Probably best known as Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on “CSI: New York” and more recently as Agent Calder Michaels on “Covert Affairs”, Harper has demonstrated portraying characters that are likable, very intelligent, and intellectually curious, as well as a loyal & dependable friend. Combining the doctor/scientist and federal agent roles — a la “Rudy Wells” — seems a natural fit for Harper. Given the opportunity, he definitely has the chops to make Wells a more complex and well-rounded character, too.
Jon Gries (5’11”,b.1957)
I first remember Gries from the TV series “The Pretender”, in which he played an odd, somewhat nerdy supporting character. He has also appeared in many, many things over the years, including Fright Night Part 2, “Quantum Leap”, “The X-Files”, “Lost”, and “Supernatural”. At 56 (at the time of this writing), Gries is a little older than I would prefer. (He would probably agree.) But, he’s a great, versatile actor, whom I think would do a great job as “Dr. Rudy Wells”. (He even looks a bit like Alan Oppenheimer, dontchathink?)
Rob LaBelle (5’10”,b.19??)
I can’t find a birthdate for LaBelle on IMDB or anywhere else, but I’m pretty sure he is within our desired parameters. I think the first thing I saw him in was “First Wave” as geeky conspiracy theorist “Crazy Eddie”. Great character! LaBelle has had guest roles in lots of genre shows, including “The X-Files”, “Lois & Clark”, “Sliders”, “Star Trek: Voyager”, “Eureka”, “The 4400”, Watchmen, and “Supernatural”. Though he often plays “out there” characters, even stereotypes, I think LaBelle could bring a sufficient combination of seriousness, humor, and humanity to do “Rudy Wells” justice.
There ya have ’em! Thoughts? Comments?
Thus concludeth this fan-casting series for a possible reboot of “The Six Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman”. If we’re gonna do it — and I really think “we” should –, we need to do it right. Right? That means returning to the characters, stories, and themes that made the originals so endearing and enduring. Are you listening, NBC/Universal (or whomever has the rights)?
* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2014.