Ask Me Anything: Jamie Hyneman

Mythbuster and Hoosier Jamie Hyneman on retirement, being cranky, and building cool stuff.

After a 14-year run for Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, January marks the beginning of the final season for the series that brought viewers duct-tape boats, rocket-powered Chevy Impalas, and all manner of explosions. While fans might be disappointed, the show’s serious special-effects impresario—a Columbus native and Indiana University grad—is looking forward to the peace and quiet.

You just wrapped up filming. Are you going out with a bang?

I have a couple of days, and then I take off for the Mythbusters live tour. It will in all likelihood be my last time in the public eye. Something will likely pop up here and there, but for the last 14 years, I’ve been only a few days or weeks away from a camera crew. It’s odd—I’m someone who is not very gregarious, doesn’t crave attention, doesn’t talk much and am not that good at it. And yet for the longest single period in my life of doing one thing, that’s exactly what’s been required of me. That’s why I’m often told I seem cranky on-camera. But it also seems to be a prominent part of the on-screen chemistry between me and Adam [Savage].

Are you retire-retiring?

I don’t really want to be filmed any more. It is kind of invasive. I am leery of people who actually like it, and don’t want to be that kind of person. It tells me they require it for self-validation or something. I did it—and stuck with it in the first place—because it paid well. And while the show may not deserve as much praise as it has gotten, I do think it was a bit more than just entertainment due to our popularization of science, which was greatly beneficial. We didn’t intend for that to happen, but it seems like it did. We do have a scripted show in development for CBS, which we are executive producers for. It should be a lot of fun if it takes off. It will be easier on us than being in front of the camera.

Anything you’ll miss about being on TV?

Not very much at all. It’s not like I have sour grapes about it, but ‘being on TV’ just means lots of people know who you are. It means you don’t have privacy. I can live with that, and have. It’s part of the job. But I don’t think it’s healthy to seek it or go after it for its own sake. There are people on TV that are there not because they have anything in particular to offer, but because they market the heck out of themselves to stay in the media and get attention. That is kind of a nasty thing to do.

How will you get your “FX” fix?

My perfect time off is spent designing and building things in my shop. Even when I have done exactly that for Mythbusters, the things I do are not necessarily things I am interested in. They are required for the show, and when something is done for filming it takes far more time than it would just to do it, because of having to accommodate the camera and crew. On my own time, I build things I dream up by myself, and in general they are things that are not likely to actually work. But if it’s easy, what’s the point? When you try building things that are impossible, you learn. And sometimes you succeed against all odds, and that is pure joy.

Will you continue doing movie effects?  

I won’t, because I’ve done that for a long time before and prefer new things. Right now I’m just shy of 60 years old, and the thought of working long hours on a movie set doing effects work makes me tired to even think about.

So what will you do?  

I have development contracts underway for a couple of fairly large government and military prototype projects I will be involved with. They are cutting-edge engineering projects that I hope will turn out to be important in a big way. But these kinds of things are usually done in stages, contingent on performance and continued support from the agencies behind them, so they could go on for years or end tomorrow.

You’re relishing the freedom, huh?  

Filmmaking is by definition a collaborative effort that involves constant compromise. You are pushed and pulled, and often end up going in directions you may not have any interest in. I’m not complaining about that, it’s just the nature of the beast. Now imagine after years of that, you’ve got the tools and materials and skills to make anything you like, you can bury yourself in it as deeply as you like, and you can not worry about anything else. You have an idea, and then you snap out of it at some point and realize you have the thing. It’s a thing that had not been conceived before, did not exist before that, has unknown potential. And there it is. That’s a true adventure into the unknown for someone like me, and now I have the time and resources to do it. So I’m a happy camper.

Take an inside look at the final season of Mythbusters.