Scott Bakula: A private star opens up, kind of

Scott Bakula of "NCIS: New Orleans"
Scott Bakula of "NCIS: New Orleans" 06:44

The New Season on TV means a brand-new season of “NCIS” New Orleans,” debuting Tuesday night here on CBS. Lee Cowan has gone to the show’s namesake city for a visit with its star:

In New Orleans recently on a mercifully-not-so-hot day, actor Scott Bakula was basking in the Big Easy where residents have welcomed him and the cast of “NCIS: New Orleans” with open arms.

“There’s no place where I’ve ever been where people are constantly, constantly saying, ‘How do you like my city? How you liking New Orleans? How you liking the city? How you liking the food?’” Bakula said.

The city itself is as big a character as the special agent Bakula plays.

“Considering Katrina, and the subsequent years, and the rebuilding, you know, I think you feel, everybody’s rooting for New Orleans,” he said while strolling Decatur Street. “And we’re no different.”

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Scott Bakula with correspondent Lee Cowan on Decatur Street in New Orleans. CBS News

He has hopped around a lot in his professional life. In the late ‘80s he made a career out of it, as the time-traveling Sam Beckett in “Quantum Leap.”

It made him a household name -- launching him on a television career that had him playing all sorts of roles, from the captain of the Starship Enterprise, to the “scud stud” on “Murphy Brown.”

But he never really relished the idea of being TV-famous. He’s kept his private life very private.

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Lucas Black, C.C.H. Pounder and Scott Bakula check out a victim of sniper fire in “NCIS: New Orleans.” Skip Bolen/CBS

“Yeah, for a hundred million years People magazine wanted to do interviews with me at my home,” he remarked. “And I said, ‘I can’t, I can’t.’ Where do you stop?”

That’s why Cowan met him near his home, at Gracias Madre, a popular Mexican restaurant in L.A.

He’s 61 now, and commutes home from New Orleans every weekend to spend time with his second wife, actress Chelsea Field, and his four children. 

“You’re somebody who is so well-known,” Cowan said, “and yet you’re not known for your personal life, you’re not known for being in the tabloids, you’re known purely for your work, and a lot of it, which is kind of remarkable these days.”

“That’s what’s wrong with my career!” Bakula laughed. “Actually, you summed it up in one sentence.”

If it all sounds a bit non-Hollywood, maybe that’s because Bakula didn’t grow up in Hollywood. He was born in the Midwest -- St. Louis, to be exact. “My dad was a hard-working guy, my mom raised three kids, and we grew up kind of insulated,” he said.

It was at his Presbyterian church where the acting bug bit, especially musicals. He liked singing so much he dropped out of college (he was planning to be a lawyer) and headed for the bright lights of Broadway, fingers crossed.

“I went to New York to be an actor and hope that I could do stage work and be on Broadway and do musicals,” he said. “I just had to go to New York and see if I could make it.”

And make it he did, eventually landing the lead role in the musical “Romance/Romance,” a performance that earned Bakula a Tony nomination.

But then a funny thing happened: Bakula bailed on Broadway and headed West. “People are like, ‘What are you doing? You’re starring in a Broadway show, and you’re six months into the run, and you got a Tony nomination, and you’re gonna go back to L.A. -- why?’”

Why? To see if his musical chops on stage could get him noticed by Hollywood, even if that process is a little odd.

“Nobody in L.A. goes to see the theater,” Bakula said, “but if they hear that you’re good, then that’s enough.”

“Is that true?” Cowan asked.