A little 'Exposure' means a lot

For television newcomer Bill Yallup, one bit part might turn into a bit more

By Wes Nelson of the Yakima Herald-Republic 2/27/93

Bill Yallup on the set of the award-winning TV series "Northern Exposure."

Bill Yallup was just a teen-ager the first time he passed though Roslyn as part of a fire crew. Talking and looking the part of an adult, Yallup recalls making his way into the Brick Tavern, where loggers and coal miners flocked when they weren't cutting trees or penetrating the cold earth below. The walk though the tavern's doors was essentially Yallup's acting debut in Roslyn. He had no idea he would one day return to the timber community and again take to the stage.

With the coal mines shut down long ago and timber harvests on decline, the 41-year-old Yakima Indian reappeared in Roslyn in early 1991 as one of a hanful of extras working for CBS' "Northern Exposure." The show, now a Neilsen ratings smash for the network, depicts the sometimes quirky inter-relationships of people in a fictional Alaskan village called Cicely. The early episodes revolved mostly around a Woody Allenesque New York doctor (Joel Fleischman, played by Rob Moore [sic.]) who must work in the remote village to pay off a medical school debt.

The show now has a number of main characters, and story lines are wrapped around each one. Its outdoor scenes are filmed in and around Roslyn, whose rustic, weather-worn buildings provide a perfect outdoor studio. Most indoor shots are shot in a studio in Redmond. Yallup has found himself sharing scenes - and dialog - with the shows' stars.

"Northern Exposure" producers decided in the show's meager beginnings to hire American Indians to play the part of American Indians - a noble departure of Hollywood's past practice of hiring non-Indian actors who then go heavy with the makeup and sport wigs. For Yallup, his work has progressed from walking in the background of some scenes to stealing some scenes. As Indian Pete, in an episode that aired last Fall, Yallup displayed a flair for humor when he disclosed a somewhat embarrassing sexual performance problem to two friends while fly fishing.

So impressive was his debut, the show's producers have decided to reward Yallup with other "speaking parts." Enter the role of John Hope, a tribal elder in Cicely.

"They called me and said, 'We're going to make you a star, yet, Bill,'" Yallup said.

Hope meets with Ed (played by Darren Burrows) and discusses Ed's future while the two sit in a sauna [4.16 Love's Labour Mislaid], Yallup and associate producer John Vreeke recently explained. Yallup sees an advantage to playing an elder.

"I told them I can play an elder longer than I can play a teenager," Yallup said, expressing the relaxed wit that Vreeke said makes Yallup popular with the show's producers. As for the role of Pete, Yallup again auditioned. While he knew what to expect, Yallup dreamed of being a writer, but soon ran into the reality that he had to pay the bills. He eventually took to the waters of the mighty Columbia River, where he fished as a boy, to net a career. Yallup owns Chewana Enterprises, which markets the fish Yallup and a business partner pluck from the Columbia. He sells the fish he catches mostly in Washington state, but he continues to pursue international buyers as far away as Japan, France and Saudi Arabia, which Yallup visited in 1992.

Yallup posing here with a fellow extra [Abraham/Lynn?].

Roslyn's Mayor Jack Denning said the show's acclaim - Golden Globe and Emmy Awards the past two years - has overshadowed the production's somewhat controversial beginning when several longtime residents complained about closed-down strets and hordes of tourists.

"Everybody's a veteran now. It's kind of old hat," Denning said. "There's still a few people who say, 'Run 'em out of Dodge."

The cast and crew will leave in late April and return sometime in June. Meanwhile, the show and city officials will renegotiate a special-use permit that allows the show to close some city streets and exempts the show from some city ordinances, mainly traffic laws, Denning said. The show's "pluses well outweigh the minuses," Denning said, explaining how the show this winter paid for the removal of mounds of snow that had commandeered some city streets.

"Of course, a couple of years ago they hauled in $30,000 worth of snow," Denning said, recalling a dry winter.

The hoardes of tourists have kept local businesses' cash registers ringing, which in turn has boosted sales tax revenue for the city, Denning said. "It's not soething that'll follow us into the 21st century," Denning said. "It's eventually go the way of other shows like Gunsmoke or Bonanza."

Until then, Yallup said he's going to grab as much as he can. He wants more than an extra's duties of walking back and forth across Roslyn's Pennsylvania Avenue trying not "to stumble or look at the camera." He looks forward to a time when he spends less time in his fishing boat and more time in front of a camera.

"I'd miss it, but I'd have more money to invest in my business," Yallup said. He has seen other extras move on to bigger and better things. "If you see one person make it, you know there's an opportunity for you too.


Northern Exposure is Copyright Universal City Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Created 1/24/02
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