PHOENIX -- Veteran 3TV reporter Mike Watkiss was the first to tell the world about a fundamentalist Mormon leader who spent more than a year on the FBI's "10 Most Wanted List."
When it came to stories about polygamist leader and self-styled prophet Warren Jeffs, Watkiss was the vanguard. He's been reporting on the ever-changing story for most of his career -- 35-plus years.
Watkiss stopped by "Good Morning Arizona" Wednesday to chat with Kaley O'Kelley and Scott Pasmore about the experience, including the audition. Yes, Watkiss had to audition to play himself.
The movie is based on a book, "When Men Become Gods," by Denver journalist Steve Singular.
"Apparently they wrote the character of Mike Watkiss into the script, unbeknownst to me," Watkiss explained. Asked to cast the character, Watkiss' Tempe-based agent asked if he was interested in reading for the part.
"I hang up the phone and I realize there's a downside to this," he told O'Kelley and Pasmore. "What if I go in and audition for myself and I'm not good enough? Thank goodness I was spared that humiliation."
He shot his cameo over two days in New Mexico.
"The fact that they included me in the book and in the movie, I'm flattered because I think it represents an acknowledgment of what we've done at this station, covering this story," he said. "Once upon a time, we were the only people telling this story."
Watkiss said movies like "Outlaw Prophet" will keep the spotlight on Jeffs and his polygamist sect and remind people that the story is not over.
"You have to stay on it," he said. "These guys have succeeded in abusing so many generations of children because we haven't stepped up, watched, got authorities involved. We've changed that a little bit, but if the attention goes away, they're going to go right back to doing what they were doing before -- impregnating teenagers, abandoning boys, ripping apart families. We need to stay vigilant."
Tony Goldwyn ("Scandal") plays the charismatic and abusive Jeffs, who is now serving life in a Texas prison for sexual assault on two girls, ages 12 and 15. Although he is behind bars, Jeffs' followers remain loyal.
"Outlaw Prophet: Warren Jeffs" airs on Lifetime Saturday at 8 p.m. Arizona time. Lifetime has scheduled encore presentations at midnight and 8 p.m. Sunday and midnight Monday.
Watkiss, who grew up in Salt Lake City and has polygamist ancestors, joined 3TV in August 1996.
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