Times Staff Writer

In "The Human Target," ABC's summer action series based on a D.C. comic character, Rick Springfield plays Vietnam veteran Christopher Chance, who assumes the identity of people in distress.

The Australian-born Springfield, 42, loved music from an early age and received his first guitar at 13. Four years later he performed in Vietnam with a band. Upon his return, Springfield made the first recording of his own material as a member of the band Zoot. The band's "Speak to the Sky" hit No. 1 in 1972.

Springfield moved to the United States in 1972 and soon got a contract at Universal Studios, where he appeared in numerous TV series, including "The Rockford Files" and "Wonder Woman."

His big break came in 1981 when he was cast as the charismatic Dr. Noah Drake on ABC's "General Hospital." During his two-year stint on "GH," his recording career also took off. His albums "Working Class Dog" and "Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet" both went double platinum. He won a Grammy for his No. 1 tune, "Jesse's Girl."

Springfield also appeared in the 1984 feature "Hard to Hold."

Springfield, married and the father of two young sons, talked about "Human Target," his experiences in Vietnam and his four-year hiatus from show business with Times Staff Writer Susan King.

You're playing a Vietnam vet in "The Human Target" and you performed with a rock band in Vietnam during the war. Can you talk about your experiences there?

I was a teen-ager and I went over there in a band, which was a very, very stupid thing to do. I didn't realize it. They wanted white bands. You couldn't go over unless you had a couple of women in the band.

We weren't particularly good. We played all over Vietnam. We would take open trucks and we would drive into the jungle and play cities. We based out of Saigon and DaNang and then we would stay overnight at encampments.

One night, we spent the night in some bunkers with these soldiers, shooting and firing mortars. We did some truly stupid things. We shot everything from 45s to tanks. I went up on a mission in a Cobra. Anything was allowed in Vietnam. That was when I first started smoking dope over there. The first thing I had was heroin-laced grass.

How long were you there?

Three-and-a-half months.

Did Vietnam change you?

Oh yeah. My mom says when she met me at the airport I had this really haunted look in my eyes. I would hear a noise and I would spin around. She saw a real change in me when I came home.

Why did you leave your homeland for America in 1972?

It was a real deep psychological thing about me leaving Australia. I wanted to get out. I had been in England when I was a teen-ager and it was hard going back to Australia. I love Australia, but it was like going back to the farm after seeing the city. Australia then was very cut off from the rest of the world.

I wanted to be in the world. I was seeing my fame and fortune coming here, but mainly I had to get away from mom and dad.

Why did you turn to acting when you came to Hollywood?

I only did it to make money. Everyone at the acting classes I was going to was laughing because they were waiting tables to wait to act. Here I was going, "I am going to act until I get a record deal."

But I lucked out like most blind, innocent people do at the time and got a contract at Universal and it was the most money I had seen in my life at that point. Basically, acting kept me alive. When I was living in Hollywood and the light bill would come, I would think, "How am I going to pay this?" Then here would come an $80 residual check for a "Battlestar Galactica" I had done. I would go, "Wow. This is Hollywood! This is great!"

The initial drive of the actor is unfulfilled love. It is something they didn't get from someone they should have. I can pinpoint mine, which I won't go into now. (During "General Hospital") I was still in the mode of, "Check me out. I am an actor and a singer."

But now you are serious about acting?

Having kids grounds you. I started to go back to (acting) workshops. I really enjoy it.

It must have been an amazing experience a decade ago to achieve success as an actor on "General Hospital" and as a Grammy Award-winning recording artist.

It was what I worked all my life for. I knew it would happen. The hard thing was the realities of it--the reality of having to deal with people.

There is no way not to change. You get kind of bloated. I guess I got bloated about it. I was never a monster about it. In fact, the crew on the road always used to love to go out with us because it was such a great tour. I suffered from within myself.

Did you ever think about returning to "General Hospital"?

I thought about it actually when I took four years off after the birth of my (first) son. (I thought), "Maybe I should start back to "General Hospital." I went in and met with them and it didn't feel right. But life is short, so I wouldn't rule it out. It would be a money thing (if I went back).

What prompted your decision to back away from show business for four years?

I was burned out. I was going through some severe mental problems. I wasn't into drugs, but I was mentally deteriorating basically. I didn't mean to take (the time) off. I said, "OK. That is the end of the tour and we are going to have our baby and I will write and record." But I stopped writing and stopped doing anything.

I just sat and became a hermit in this house we just bought. It was very weird. I was in therapy for five years and I still am.

What's going on with your music career?

I am writing like crazy. I have gone through spurts of writing and not writing. I will always do that, whether I record again or not (I don't know). I will always write. I am just trying to find out what the next step for me is musically.

"The Human Target" airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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