Not everyone gets a chance at a dream gig, and those that do are rarely fortunate enough to take that gig and feel like they’ve made the most of it, but if I might be allowed a rare moment of self-congratulation, I really do feel like I’m turning in some of the best work of my career with the Random Roles interviews I’ve been doing for the Onion AV Club, and based on the comments I’ve been receiving on these pieces, it certainly seems as though there’s a certain amount of the readership that agrees with me. As such, I hope to continue doing them for the foreseeable future…if perhaps not in quite such substantial numbers as I did in 2012, because, damn, I did 60 of them this year!
Given this preposterously large number, my look back at the folks I’ve chatted with for the feature has necessarily been split into three pieces, so here’s Pt. 1 for your perusal. Maybe you read them all as they were originally posted, or maybe a few of them slipped past you. Either way, I’d be curious to know which have been your favorites, and I’d also love to know who you’d be interested in seeing turn up in future installments. That’s not to say that I’ll A) actually be able to score an interview with them or B) get editorial approval to do it (it’s not like I run the joint, you know), but there have been plenty of occasions where suggestions have turned into reality – Ed Lauter leaps immediately to mind – so what the hell, throw it out there. It can’t hurt.
The Downton Abbey star talks about playing a countess, getting an Oscar nomination with her second film, and the terror of sitcom acting
California Fever (1979)—“Lisa Bannister”
Elizabeth McGovern:[Laughs.] Oh, my God. [To her publicist] This man has done his research. Well, I can’t tell you very much about that, because I actually can’t remember. I think the name of the series kind of says it all. That was a summer job I did sort of to earn money, because I thought I was going to go to college. What a joke. [Laughs.] I remember walking along the beach in a swimming costume. And Jimmy McNichol was in it, wasn’t he?
AV Club: Yes, he was. And Lorenzo Lamas, too, I believe.
EM: Yes, I think he was. In fact, he was, actually. It’s starting to come back. Unfortunately. [Laughs.]
AVC: So were you actively looking to get a full-time TV gig?
EM: At the time, all I was actively looking for was to get some money. [Laughs.]
The veteran actor talks about a career that stretches from Peyton Place to Cooley High to Showtime’s House Of Lies
Glynn Turman: Oh, my God. Where the hell did you pull that from? [Laughs.] Man. Do you know that was the first TV show in California that I’d ever done? The very first thing I ever did in California.
AV Club: Was it just a cattle-call audition?
GT: I don’t even remember. [Laughs.] I don’t remember auditioning or anything else about how I got there. I just know it was the first show I did. I do have a funny story about it, though. It dealt with me having to hunt down this leopard. I was a young wannabe warrior, and I had to hunt down a leopard, so the animal wranglers had a leopard that was trained to leap and growl. But what they do is they wire it down—they put an invisible wire around its neck and stake the wire to the ground—and they were continually trying to get this animal to leap, which it would not do on cue. And I’d gotten so used to them trying to… the director’s, like, “Cut! Take 13. Leap! No? Cut!” And the wrangler’s going, “I don’t know what’s wrong with the animal!” Now I’m standing in front of this thing, having gotten over my fear of standing in front of it in the first place, and I’m waiting for the thing to finally act right on cue. And at some point, they did a thing to it that made it leap… and when I looked, this thing was in my face. You have no idea how fast the human body can run. You really don’t know. [Laughs.]
AVC: But apparently you do.
GT: Oh, yeah, I know! You might not have any idea, but I definitely do. [Laughs.] And the first place I stopped after that was the bathroom!
Diedrich Bader talks about his knack for ending up in cult hits like Office Space and acting in Napoleon Dynamite (both versions)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989)—“Tactical Crewman”
Diedrich Bader: Oh my God! That’s going back. Yeah, y’know, that was kind of a fun show to do, ’cause I grew up watching Star Trek when I was a kid, and I really wanted to do the show, so I was excited. Also, frankly, I hadn’t eaten in awhile, and it was great to be on a set, because they had a great craft-services table. [Laughs.] Literally, I think it actually had been maybe two days that I had not eaten. I was, seriously and literally, a starving actor. So to go onto a set with food was amazing. And I got to be on the bridge, on the Enterprise deck, and be attacked by Klingons. So yeah, it was cool. Got to wear the little outfit and everything. But one thing people don’t know is that the zippers, they just don’t go down far enough. So when actually had to pee, you kind of had to take off the whole thing. You’re standing at the urinal, and you’re letting it all hang out. [Laughs.]
AVC: Did you have any lines?
DB: Yeah, I did. I think I had several lines, actually. I took over for Worf at the security station when he took over as captain, so he had to ask me for status updates. But it wasn’t like I was ever going to come back or anything. Frankly, I was hoping to be killed. That would’ve been awesome. But no such luck. I also wanted to be able to go through the bridge doors, but that didn’t happen, either. But we did get attacked by Klingons, so I got to hurl myself across the deck. That was pretty cool.
The veteran actor won’t dish on Mickey Rourke or Wesley Snipes, but found Madonna delightful
The Malibu Bikini Shop (1986)—“Todd”
Bruce Greenwood: Possibly my finest work. [Laughs.] Except for Bear Island, that’s just about as far back as you can go, and I don’t think you can unearth anything more ludicrous than that. What can I say, man? I’d been in town a month, and I thought it was a movie. A few years ago, it suddenly burped back onto the horizon and started getting played on TV again, so of course a couple of friends of mine called me and said, “Oh my God!” So my wife and I watched it one night, and I realized that I had so much energy back then that, if you watch the movie, I literally run into every scene. No matter what the scene requires. I just ran into the scene. Kind of a precursor to Michael Richards on Seinfeld. [Laughs.]
AV Club: So you’re saying you were the Kramer of the Malibu Bikini Shop cast?
BG: Oh God, no. I’m not saying that at all. [Laughs.] That would be giving me way too much credit.
The star of Switched At Birth looks back on, in her words, a “weird-ass career”
The Wild Life (1984)—“Anita”
Lea Thompson: Oh, wow! That part was really interesting on two levels. One, that’s how I got Back To The Future, because they were looking at Eric Stoltz for Marty McFly, and they were, like, “Who’s that girl?” So that’s how I got the first audition for that. The other thing was that I actually had a topless scene that they cut out of the movie. [Laughs.] I found that really interesting to have my breasts cut out of a movie that was basically a teen exploitation film. I was, like, “Really?”
AV Club: Was that a blow to your ego?
LT: Actually, it was a calculation on my part. It was contractually obligated, so I said, “If I’m going to have to do this, it’s not going to be stupid. It’s going to be really sexy.” And that’s what happened, and because of that, it was too sexy for the movie. [Laughs.] It was like, “Wow, this is a really sexy scene!” It didn’t fit with the tone of the movie, so they took it out. So, y’know, it was mission accomplished, actually, on my part. I outsmarted them. That was in the scene with Hart Bochner, by the way. The scene’s still in the movie, but they cut before he unbuttons my blouse. Kind of a funny accomplishment, but take note, teenage girls in exploitation films: Make the scene sexy!
AVC: You realize, of course, that this will cause countless men in their 40s to rise up and demand a special-edition DVD of The Wild Life.
LT: Well, that’s okay. Because, y’know, I was only 22. Trust me, the boobs were looking good.
The star of Jane By Design, and many other projects, talks about her career’s ups and downs
Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes (1984)—“Miss Jane Porter”
Andie MacDowell: Well, Cameroon was amazing. Not many people have been to Cameroon. The locations that we went to were astounding, and the sets themselves were gorgeous as well. The clothes were beautiful. There were corsets. That scene with Christopher [Lambert] on the bed, with him jumping around and going, [makes monkey sounds]. That’s a pretty vivid memory. [Laughs.] I remember the actors wearing [Rick Baker’s] monkey suits and how they had to completely cover their eyes while wearing those really hot costumes. Oh, and working with Ralph [Richardson]. Sir Ralph.
AV Club: There was a lot of British acting royalty in that cast. Was it intimidating, given that it was your first film?
AM: I felt a little bit like a fish out of water, you know, just because I’d never experienced it. Everybody else knew what they were doing, and I didn’t quite know what to expect. It was a huge movie, too, which is kind of a hard way to start. I wouldn’t suggest that to anyone. Start with a small film. Start small and build up to something like that, because it was enormous, with a lot of attention on it.
AVC: What was your reaction when you found out about the post-production dubbing? [After the completion of filming, it was decided somewhere up the food chain that MacDowell’s Southern accent was inappropriate for the character. As a result, her dialogue was dubbed in post-production by Glenn Close. —ed.]
AM: I was shocked, for starters, because I had no idea. And how I found out, I felt, was cruel. I went over to do looping, and they kind of told me. I was by myself. My agent didn’t know. Nobody knew. I thought the way they did it was very underhanded and thoughtless. I still ended up making the sounds for the baby being born in the jungle, but… well, you can imagine that ended up being pretty easy, because I was in so much pain after that. I fought really hard to redub it myself, but it was really… I had a lump in my throat the whole time, so I’m surprised I even made it through. It was horrible. [Hesitates.] I thought about jumping out a window. Seriously, I did. Because I kind of knew what the fight was going to be for me. And I was correct. I was right.
But, you know, in the end, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my career, because it made me work really hard, and it made me more appreciative, and it made me very humble. And it taught me huge life lessons about arrogance and hard work. I’m really not talking about my arrogance, I’m talking about how the world judges people. So I think it taught me a lot. It made me who I am. It’s one of those horrible things that happens to someone where, at the moment it happens, it’s debilitating and heart-wrenching, but when you look back, you know that you overcame what most people could never overcome. So in the end, if you ask me, it’s the greatest accomplishment of my life. Well, as far as my work goes. That’s not including my children. [Laughs.] But it was a huge accomplishment. I look back at it, and I really feel like I overcame the impossible.
The Alcatraz star weighs in on a history of playing madmen, regular fellows, and everyone in between
Telephone Etiquette (1974)—director, writer, editor
Sam Neill: Please don’t mention that ever again. [Laughs.] Don’t even inquire about it. When I was a very young person, making documentaries, that was my first little go at it. And it was terrible.
AV Club: If nothing else, it seems like you learned quite a bit from your days working with the New Zealand National Film Unit.
SN: Oh, I learned a great deal, actually, because I trained as an editor before I was doing anything else, and when you’re making your little films, you research them, you write them, you direct them, and you put them together. You even played the music. You did everything, really. I was working there and acting part-time for about seven years, so I had a sort of very different background to working in film than most actors do, I suppose.
AVC: We couldn’t find so much as a clip of it online, but it’s tough to fight off the desire to go searching further for it.
SN: Please don’t. If you continue to try and find it, I will hunt you down. [Laughs.]
The actor, comic, writer, and talk-show host talks about the new Columbus Circle and frank talk from Walter Matthau
Million Dollar Mystery (1987)—“Officer Quinn”
Kevin Pollak: Jesus. Why do you want to hurt me? [Laughs.] I think it’s important that your first film be your worst film, that one’s life trajectory should go up. While there’s been an ebb and flow, as it turns out, that everyone has, there was certainly nowhere but up from Million Dollar Mystery.
I was a comedian. I heard that they were doing basically a rip-off of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World—as opposed to a remake, because this was definitely a rip-off—and that Dino DeLaurentis was behind the whole thing and that they were gathering comedians to be the stars of this film. And unlike It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, where they were very famous comedians, they decided to cast very, very unfamous comedians.
AV Club: Yeah, with all due respect to your lesser-known co-stars, it kind of says it all that the matinee names of the film—and, amazingly, this is both then and now—are Tom Bosley, Rich Hall, and Eddie Deezen.
KP: [Laughs.] You’re welcome. But you know what? I was thrilled to death to be in a movie. I cannot tell you how exciting it was. There was never a moment when I stopped and went, “Wait a second: this is gonna be horrible!” That did not enter my mind. Mind you, I hadn’t anticipated having a film career as a dramatic actor at that point, so I didn’t have much to protect in terms of being in that movie, either.
An improv comedian known for her roles in The Hangover and Reno 911! talks about her new dramatic lead role and her attempts to forget playing a giant troll doll
Treehouse Trolls: Forest Of Fun And Wonder (1992)—“Big Mama”
AV Club: This credit sounds way too good to be true.
Rachael Harris: And yet that is, in fact, accurate. [Laughs.] I did that when I was living in New York City, trying to get stage work. You know those characters that walk around Disneyland with the big heads? Yep, that’s what I wore. It was a live-action thing like Barney, and that’s how big the costume was. The head was huge. I wish I could find a copy of it. I have never seen it. But that was one of my first jobs. Actually, I did an episode of Hard Copy. That was my first job ever in New York, when I was living there. It was a reenactment. I would pay big money to find that. [Laughs.] But Treehouse Trolls, that just came out of an audition in this shitty theater. Like, it wasn’t even a theater. It was a room. Near Times Square. And I was like, “I hope this is a legitimate audition. I could be going in for a porn. I don’t know.” It was like, Backstage East. [Audibly shudders.] Ugh. I mean, good God. I could’ve died so many times.
AVC: So what do you think you brought to the character of Big Mama?
RH: [Laughs.] I have no idea. I don’t remember a single line. I think I’ve tried to block that out.
AVC: Surely you at least remember what the inside of the huge head smelled like.
RH: I don’t! I don’t remember what the head smelled like! I just remember—okay, this is what I remember thinking: “Oh, my God, I hope it gets better than this.” [Laughs.] But also, at the time, I was like, “This is awesome! I have a job! I’m getting paid!” Because I’m from Ohio, I grew up in the Midwest, and honestly, I think at that time—you know, I take that back. I don’t think it was, “Oh my God, I hope it gets better than this.” I think I was like, “Okay, here we go. I’m getting paid. I’m getting paid to act. Yes, I’m in an outfit like a Disneyland walking character, but I’m getting paid to pretend I’m somebody else… and she happens to have the name Big Mama.” [Laughs.]
[Note: Although the following clip provides a general idea of Harris’ work for the Treehouse Trolls franchise, she can neither nor confirm nor deny that it’s her under the Mama head. Or, to more precisely quote her Tweeted reply, “Just watched the video. Scared the shit balls out of me. If it’s me, I blocked it out.”]
AVC: Jumping back for a second, do you happen to remember the specifics on that Hard Copy reenactment? Maybe one of the readers might have a line on it.
RH: I do! It was for Huntington Hartford, who was this billionaire playboy who, in his late 70s or early 80s, was homeless, and they were going back and reenacting how, at the height of his money and power, he loved these Brigitte Bardot-type women. So I had to go in and hang out with—well, it looked like I got to go hang out in a club, and then I got into a girl fight. And then I sniffed cocaine. Oh, I’m sorry: snorted cocaine. God, people have said to me, “Rachel, you’re so pathetic. Don’t you even know the terminology? You don’t sniff cocaine, you snort it.” But I did snort fake cocaine. [Laughs.] And it’s all in black and white, so it was very tasteful for Hard Copy. I’m pretty sure it was a very special edition of Hard Copy.
The grown-up Goonies star discusses Raising Hope, her Family Ties role and stealing Elvis Costello’s sweat
200 Cigarettes (1999)—“Monica”
Martha Plimpton: Well, you know, she’s the one who’s throwing this New Year’s party that everyone is supposed to be avoiding or whatever, and nobody shows up. The highlight of that experience for me was getting to meet Elvis Costello.
AV Club: As well it should’ve been.
MP: He was awesome. And I… [Pause.] I don’t know if I should tell you this, but… I was so excited to meet Elvis Costello that when he wrapped, when he was done, the wardrobe people let me go into his trailer and dab the sweat from the inside of his porkpie hat onto a piece of toilet paper, which I then slid into the sleeve of my Goodbye Cruel World album that he had just signed. I feel like maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that I have Elvis Costello’s sweat on a piece of toilet paper. [Laughs.] But I do!
The unmistakable character actor talks about returning to TV with Magic City, The Godfather and much more
The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973)—“Jimmy Scalise”
Alex Rocco: That was with Peter Yates, a wonderful, wonderful director. I was at the Ritz Carlton in Boston, and I had a scene the next day with big Bob Mitchum, and I was a nervous wreck. So I said to myself, “Hey, grow a pair a balls: Call him on the hotel phone and ask if you can come down and run lines for tomorrow’s scene.” So he says, “Meet me down in the lobby, at the bar.” I came with all my notes, I came prepared, and he looks at me, laughs, throws away all my papers, and we just got stoned together. [Laughs.] But what a pro. I mean, on the set… Bob started drinking early, and if the camera was turned around on me, he’d tell Peter, “It’s not fair to Alex, we’ll do this tomorrow.” I mean, he was there every minute of the day. He was my hero. He was great. What a party animal.
AV Club: There’s been a bit written about the partying on the set over the years.
AR: Oh, yeah. After we finished—Bob took a liking to me, and he turned up at my place once with two bottles’ worth of vodka and mixers, and Sandy, my wife at the time, said, “I don’t know if I’m dreaming, but is that Bob Mitchum coming up the path?” He just liked to drink and tell old stories. And believe me, he had a lot of stories. [Laughs.] He’s the kind of guy you’d see camped out around the keg. That was Bob Mitchum. You know that wonderful monologue in the bowling alley? He said, “Hey, Rocco, you wanna chew my lines with me?” I said, “Sure, okay,” but he was pulling my leg. He already knew where every “and,” “the,” and “but” was supposed to be exactly. He had a photographic memory, that guy. He’d give it back to you every time, every single word. Isn’t that amazing? He’s the only guy I ever ran into who could do that. He was a one of a kind.
The Breaking Bad vet talks about her Don’t Trust the B—- In Apartment 23 role as “a sociopath in a tight dress” and more.
Tanner On Tanner (2004)— “Saleswoman”
Krysten Ritter: You know, that was pretty awesome, I have to say. It was really only one scene, but it was a speaking scene with Cynthia Nixon, and I was cast based on a meeting with Robert Altman. The casting director liked me and said, “I want you to come and sit with Robert.” So we met for, like, an hour, and he cast me. And that was the first time that ever happened, where I didn’t go through an audition and a callback and so on. So I’m really proud I can say I’ve gotten to work with such a legendary director like him. He seemed to really love what he did. He said, “We’re going to work together again, kid!” I wish that could’ve happened. But just being in his presence was pretty much the coolest thing ever.
AV Club: What do you remember about him as a director?
KR: You know, he was really specific. And giving. I haven’t seen that much in directors, unfortunately. Directing’s a hard job, and I think it’s rare when you work with one that really helps you. And he was very helpful, and he was able to communicate to me in a way I really understood, where I went, “Okay, I get that! That’s what I’ll do!” He was really into it, and he was very helpful and encouraging.
The veteran actress talks about everything from The Last Picture Show to Raising Hope to the new horror film The Fields
Lassie (1957-1958)—“Ruth Martin”
Cloris Leachman: Oh, I have stories from that! [Laughs.] Every time I’d have a great idea, they’d say, “No, remember, Cloris: Lassie’s the name of the game.” I mean, I had what I’d call an egg-basket take, meaning I’d start to walk somewhere, and I’d have to stop the minute somebody started to talk—too early, really—so instead of continuing walking, I’d raise the egg basket I was carrying to give me a little more time to stop. Or I’d be washing the windows using a spray bottle, and the kid comes in with a broken leg or something, and I’d say, “Well, there’s chocolate cake and milk in the icebox.” I had a husband on the show, but he couldn’t do anything. He always had to be out in the north 40, because Lassie had to save the day. So I’d say, “Go tell Uncle Paul!” [Laughs.]
On the show, I’d say something like, “Timmy, time for bed now,” and he’d say, “But I’ve gotta go check the rabbits,” or whatever. Then I’d look at my husband, I’d look back at Timmy, and I’d say, “Okay, but hurry!” But when you watch it in the air, after Timmy said, “I’ve gotta go check the rabbits,” I look at the husband, he looks at me, the dog looks at me, the boy looks at me, I look at the dog, the dog looks at the little boy, the dog looks at the husband, the husband looks at the dog… Finally, I look at the husband, the husband looks at me, and then I say, “Okay, but hurry!” [Laughs.]
Tony Hale on Veep, Arrested Development, and Larry The Cable Guy
Dawson’s Creek (2001)—“Dr. Bronin”
Tony Hale: Oh my God, you’re pulling them out. [Laughs.] Okay, here’s a story about that. I was playing a doctor against James Van Der Beek, and this was definitely my very first TV gig, because I hadn’t moved up to New York yet. This was when I was living in Virginia Beach, and I was so stoked to do it, because it was shot in Wilmington, North Carolina, so all the Virginia actors were excited to get those kinds of gigs. So I drove down and… you know, I was really young, it was my first gig, and I was working across from James Van Der Beek, and I was really nervous. And I remember he had a big coat on, and I said to him, “Dude, you look hot!” And he kind of looked at me, like, “What the hell are you talking about?” And he walked away, and before I could explain that it was the heat from his coat that I was talking about, it just all spiraled out. And once again, I was eating my foot. [Laughs.] I’m like, “Shut up, Tony. Just shut your mouth.”