Monday TV: William Hurt Takes On ‘Moby Dick’

Ethan Hawke and William Hurt in "Moby Dick"

William Hurt takes on a beard pegleg and a brusque personality as Captain Ahab in the latest interpretation of Herman Melville’s masterpiece.

The two part “Moby Dick” (Encore, 8 p.m.) co-stars Ethan Hawke as Starbuck with brief appearances by Donald Sutherland as the fiery preacher on land and Gillian Anderson as the wife left behind.

The effects have improved in the adaptation, nobody looks too happy to be taking part in the longish interpretation.

Shot in Nova Scotia, with the sea scenes in and around the island of Malta, “Moby Dick” has more details of the Herman Melville text than the previous John Huston version simply because it’s longer, it’s producers say.

For Hurt, it’s an opportunity to get involved with the book he claims “changed my life.”

Not that it was easy to read, he told reporters at the TV Critics Press tour last week. “I had to start the book five times before I was able to get going and get all the way through it. I mean, as all great things are, it’s very demanding, and what you’re trying to get people to do is do something demanding which will bear fruit in their life, invite them to an action which might take some courage and application on their part, which will be which will give them a lot more than they put into it. The book is endlessly, endlessly gift giving.”

Television isn’t that unusual for him to do, Hurt said.

“The first TV I ever did was for PBS, and I did a ‘Kojak’ once,” he said. “I mean, I’m an opportunist in the direction of my goals, and I take the best opportunities I’m offered at the time. I really will go anywhere if I see the chemistry of quality there, and this was my this is my chance to delve into that book which is biblical to me and a commentary. It’s an analysis. It’s masterful work. I think it is the greatest American fiction, and I saw what I always look for.

“I saw a script and people and an environment being created where I thought it might be possible to do something reasonable, you know, conscientious. So I don’t really care about the format. I just care about that mix, and I’ll go to your barnyard for it. I don’t care about I’m not effete that way that I prefer a forum to another forum. It’s the topic. It’s the people, and it’s the ethic with which it’s done. Those are the only things I play with.”

“Moby Dick” concludes with part two runs Tuesday.

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