Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Barry Bostwick has had four major milestones in a 45-year career: He originated the role of Danny Zuko in the Broadway version of Grease, and he played stiff-as-a-board Brad Majors in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, our first president in George Washington, and absentminded New York mayor Randall Winston in Spin City. But in between there have been dozens of roles, either as a romantic lead, the “asshole husband” who gets dumped, or as a guy who is a send-up of both. Bostwick has been around long enough to go through those rounds of typecasting more than once, so he relishes playing odd roles in smaller productions.
Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse (2015)—“The Senator”
The Scorpion King 4: Quest for Power (2015)—“Sorrell”
Barry Bostwick: I did a movie called The Selling for [writer-producer Gabriel Diani and director Emmy Lou]. Then he called and asked if I’d play this Catholic priest who comes to rid this house that he’s selling of the Devil’s spirit or something, very funny movie. I was so impressed with him as a writer and as a filmmaker that we became friends. The movie came out really well and he won a lot of stuff at a lot of festivals. He was very diligent and he was very smart about how to market it. It was his first film; he went the distance with it and was willing to invest his time at editing and do it.
When he was going to do his next one, which was Diani & Devine Meet The Apocalypse, I said, “Listen, look. Let me you help you out with it and let me be in it, and we’ll make it work.” So that’s when he came up with the whole Kickstarter campaign, which was brilliant. He is like a master at using the Kickstarter software and the whole system, and I think he’s actually gone to a few colleges and given lectures on it. In the interim, between The Selling and the Diani & Devine Meet the Apocalypse, he got me involved in a web series called Research for a guy named Adam Hall who had just graduated from USC Film School. It was like an eight-episode web series and he recommended me and I said, “Well, yeah, if you’re going to be in it,” and he was playing the lead. It came out really well and he really impressed me as an actor, Gabe did. I want to support him in anything that he does. I think he’s got a real career ahead of him.
The A.V. Club: So you did the video pitch from the set of The Scorpion King.
BB: Yeah, in Romania, and it’s funny. I said to him, “You know I really don’t have a Facebook page.” He says, “Well I can get that up and running for you” and then I found out that he did. He did a good job of setting it up but then everything that was put on it was about his movies. He knew how to use my Facebook and my fan base so well I just basically let him handle it.
AVC: What part of working with young filmmakers do you enjoy the most?
BB: They have some kind of a fresh approach to the work, something that’s different than if you went into 20th Century Fox and did a TV series with 120 guys sitting around doing their 1 percent job on it. There is something staid and predictable about that. But when you’re working with young filmmakers and you’re working very quick, very cheap, they get very creative in terms of how to solve the basic filmmaking problems as opposed to just throwing money at it and making it work in the best way possible if it was a big film. So I’m attracted to the ones that problem solve in unique and interesting and challenging ways. I did a movie called Some Guy Who Kills People. That was another indie film that was sort of a genre-busting film: It wasn’t a horror movie and it wasn’t really a family film, but it has elements of so many different kinds of films and it fascinated me. I think I said to the filmmaker, “You know if you can make this work, this is going to be really good and if you can’t, it’s just going to be a piece of shit.” Fortunately, he made it work and again, it went through the whole circuit of film festivals, did really well, and I ended up playing a character that I wouldn’t normally have been cast in, unless they needed me in some way to get some financing or get it released.
AVC: How was the role different?
BB: He was a very rural sheriff in a small town, and I don’t usually play rural characters. People have a tendency to cast me more as lawyers and doctors and just rich guys, rich assholes basically, a lot of rich assholes. That’s what I’m normally seen as, you know. These guys, they cast me in different parts and they cast me in parts that I find challenging and I also like working really quickly, because I’m a veteran of television and television works very fast. You don’t have a lot of time to massage a scene into oblivion. It’s like you do it, you get a couple of good takes, and then you move on, so you have to be very spontaneous as an actor and have done your homework, and I like that.
BB: It’s a webseries from Mildly Fearsome Films, the same people who did Research; in fact, I just saw it last night and it’s actually quite good. I did it by sending myself up, you know, it’s like one of those reality shows and I’m the celebrity who introduces it and doesn’t understand why everybody in the show doesn’t know who I am. You know, constantly signing my autograph. “Don’t you want my autograph? Don’t you want my autograph?” That show was fun.
AVC: Do you like roles that send up that rich asshole persona?
BB: Sure. Oh yeah. I love that. I mean you can’t take yourself too seriously. I have a history of playing these over-the-top guys. These either sort-of-obnoxious-but-rich people who come off like really nice guys and then end up killing your brother.
BB: I started out on Broadway. I was the original Danny Zuko in Grease. I created the part and I did it in the ’60s and ’70s. I did a lot of Broadway shows and won a Tony Award for Best Actor In A Musical [for The Robber Bridegroom].
AVC: What was it like doing Grease when it was first out? It’s such an institution now that it’s kind of hard to think about it as a new thing.
BB: Yeah, but it’s still like Rocky Horror. They’re both iconic musicals, and who knew at the time? I mean, Grease didn’t get great reviews. The first year we were up and running, we were nominated for five Tony Awards and nobody got any of them. So we sort of bottomed-out on the awards situation but it struck a chord with the audience and people would come back again and again. It was really the first show that explored that period musically and stylistically, and we just had a group of rambunctious, young actors who remembered the tail end of the ’50s and could send it up in a way because we lived through it.
One of the problems with subsequent productions is that it gets broader and broader because these people are just sort of mimicking the last production. It doesn’t have the kind of heart and solid reality that a lot of us had way back in the beginning. Grease was a smaller show that came out of a basement theater in Chicago about basically, two street gangs in Chicago, and the writers based it on a lot of their friends and gangs that they belonged to. Then it just became more cotton candy-ish the minute it left Chicago and got into New York. The movie got even more simplistic—still very entertaining, obviously—but it didn’t have the edge that the original production had and when we first did it. It had a certain energy and an edge that came from the fact that we had lived through it.
BB: You look at the trappings. They just look at the obvious trappings and the sort of Life magazine version of those eras. It works on many levels entertainment-wise, but sociologically in the way you wish they would all go a little bit deeper. That was the same thing with Rocky Horror in the ’70s. It was just a musical that they were finally putting on film. It was a show that had been very popular onstage for a couple of years, and everybody who had been involved with it for years just basically wanted to get it out of the way, put it on film, and move on with their lives. When we came in, Susan [Sarandon] and myself and Meat Loaf, it was fresh for us. No, not for Meat, I think he had done it onstage, but Susan and I were babes in the woods for the show.
AVC: Had you been familiar with the stage show?
BB: Yeah, I had seen it because it was such a hip show. I forget what theater it was [showing at in L.A.], but it was really a huge underground hit and it was a hard ticket to get into because it was, I don’t know, just so theatrical and sort of off-Broadway-ish and it was such a trendsetter. During the ’70s, that’s what we as young actors did. We always sought out the weird, wacky, wonderful shows to learn from whether it was some European repertory company doing something that was very obscure but very physical or doing weird things vocally. We were all just looking to expand our vocabulary and in a way, Rocky Horror was an expansion because it took a small space and turned it into this sort of nightclub kind of environment and engaged an audience in many ways hadn’t been engaged before. It was loud, it was raucous, it was sexy, and it was a multi-sexual experience.
AVC: What goes on when the cameras go off, is it just everybody goes back to their trailers or are you guys hanging out?
BB: You’re assuming we had trailers. It was a low-budget movie. Nobody had trailers. It was a small sound stage in Windsor outside of London. There weren’t any bathrooms on the sets or anything. It was equivalent to working on an indie film these days, but the difference was that the people who working on it were at the top of their game creatively and were this cream of the off-, off-Broadway, London, theatrically oriented set of artists. So you knew when you were doing it that you were doing something that was colorful and kitschy, and interesting, but you just thought you were making another musical and sort of getting it in the can. During the breaks, Susan and I were a little on the outside because that’s really who we were playing, and because we hadn‘t created these long-standing friendships like the other people had. We sort of kept to ourselves. Tim [Curry] and I became friends because he was very engaging and kind and a great actor and a nice guy. Maybe he wasn’t as strange, weird, and wacky as some of the other ones, so he was a little more enveloping in terms of accepting us into their worlds.
AVC: He’s the one who had to get in the corset every day, though.
BB: Yeah. I think he was so burnt out on it by that time. He just basically wanted to get it on film, get it over with, and move on with his recording career. He had other things on his mind, but that didn’t stop him from giving 100 percent to the movie and to being generous with everybody around him. There was never really any issue other than could they make it on time and on budget.
AVC: When did you first notice the movie gaining cult status with the midnight showings and people coming in costume?
BB: Late ’70s, probably. I don’t even remember it being released. I was probably doing something like a Broadway show or something in ’75, ’76. I was so focused on my musical career and I guess I just sort of lost track of it. Then it opened up down in the Village and started getting a following and I think I went down there a couple of years after. I loved what they were doing. At that time, they weren’t yelling out quite so much as they are these days. It wasn’t like this mist of comments where you couldn’t even hear the movie because sometimes some of the shadow cast and audiences are so clever that they in a way are the whole show as you know. The show itself and the movie itself justifies a really good look because it’s a well-made film that in many ways is being overshadowed by the hoopla.
Even though I love the fans and the fans have kept this thing alive forever and ever and ever and I’ve become really good friends with some of them. I’ll do these conventions occasionally and keep up with them and you know in that world, I’m Uncle Barry. When I do these conventions, all of a sudden, I’m meeting a third generation of kids who have just seen it, you know, 10-year-olds, 12-year-olds, and then their parents or their grandparents. It’s just one of those moments in life that people sort of measure their life against.
AVC: When I was in college, not only would I go to the theater but when we’d watch it in the dorm room of the fraternity house or whatever, we’d do the talkback lines.
BB: Are you doing the talk back lines even in private sittings? That’s where a lot of them came from I think. The guys smoked a little bit too much and then they try it out in the theater on a Friday night and get a laugh. I don’t know. It’s a great thing. I haven’t even heard the whole thing but there’s a whole Blu-ray out or something or album out of talkbacks. The whole thing is what the audience is saying and you hardly hear the movie in the background but you hear all of the calls.
BB: We were a rock group put together by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Jeff Barry was a music producer and we were put together specifically to make albums and to do a one-hour TV show. We would be the interlocutors. The group would be the ones that introduce that and the show was going to be circus acts and celebrities, but not necessarily celebrities. It wasn’t like Circus Of The Stars. I think the pilot, we had Sammy Davis Jr. on it and then some circus performers and it was actually quite a good idea but it was never picked up. We got one album out called The Klowns and we were sort of the hip ’70s… we had alter egos. My name was Beau and I had a fringed jacket and we all had a little bit of makeup on, sort of stylized clown makeup but a hipper clown makeup. We had one song that I think got to number 72 with a bullet or something and that’s about as far as it got and it was just one of those little stops along the way, and it wasn’t really a film. It was a TV movie but more of a recording deal.
BB: My manager moved out here and he had three or four us, John Travolta, myself, Patrick Swayze, and three or four other actors and he was trying to bring us all on the West Coast. What brought me out was a pilot for a series called Slither. James Caan had done a movie called Slither and I did the TV series version of it and we only did the pilot, but it got me to the West Coast but that was all prior to Rocky Horror in ’75. It’s hard to keep up with those years because I was just all over the place. I was either doing a show in New York or I was out here doing something and then I had this whole decade of TV movies and miniseries.
AVC: After you played George Washington, it feels like you were getting more serious roles.
BB: Yeah. I did that and then War And Remembrance playing a serious part. I played a lot of serious parts in a lot of TV movies and early miniseries but what happens is that you get sort of locked into “Oh no, he’s a serious actor.” Well, I was a serious actor for nine years or 10 years and then I get into comedy and everybody said, “Oh no, he’s funny. He can do comedy,” and then all of a sudden, you’re just a comedy guy. Now, for instance, this [upcoming] pilot season, I don’t think I was ever considered for a drama, but I was considered for a lot of comedies because they still think of me as the mayor of New York or the goofy guy. Even though I do pepper my year with things from cable shows or this and that, serious parts, I think I’m still now still being considered the comedy guy.
AVC: How do people say hey, Barry Bostwick could be good for the part of George Washington? How does that happen?
BB: Well, I think a lot of it had do with just physicality. I think I was the right fit at the right time. I mean, George Washington was 6’3” and I was 6’4” and I was young enough they knew that I could play the age range. They could make me look 17 and make me look 63. I just had a particular look for that. One thing I regret is not getting the nose. They said, “Well, we can’t put a nose on you. We’re in the middle of Virginia, in the middle of summer, and the nose would keep falling off.” I thought that to make me really look like George Washington I needed that strong nose. I didn’t quite have the strong nose.
I think I probably auditioned for it. I know that I got War And Remembrance [because] Dan Curtis saw me in the George Washington thing and said, “Hey, I got something for you” and all of a sudden two years later, he goes, “Okay. Here it is. Here’s what I’m going to give you,” and I didn’t have to audition for that. How I got George Washington, I think was just a series of auditions and just being right for the part I guess. Patty Duke is quite short and so was Martha Washington. We had the right look down.
AVC: Any weird pressure when you’re reading this part saying, “How do I pull this off?” There’s really no obviously recorded history of George Washington. What do you do to try to inhabit a guy that you can basically just read about and see if you can try to play it in your way as well as you can?
BB: Well, you just do your research on the things that you can research. I had access to the writer, the original book, The Indispensible Man. These people when they made this were very conscientious that they stayed as close to history as possible and even though they wanted to make it a bit of a romance at one part between Sally and George, which historically seemed accurate based on some observances and diaries of the time. It was television after all. The hard balance was to make it chronologically interesting and right from a historical standpoint and still make it a personable, flawed human being because he’s so iconic. So I had to figure out what his weaknesses and that was just all based on talking to people.
I just read today that somebody has written book calling George Washington a big queen. They are saying he was part of a homosexual/bisexual underpinning of the founding fathers and that George Washington was a big queen and I thought, “Well, I didn’t play him as a big queen. Maybe I should have.”
AVC: Was it easier the second time around when you played him for the sequel?
BB: Yeah. Yeah. It was easier but it was also harder because he was older and this sort of youthful vigor of the guy was much closer to my wheelhouse in terms of jumping over fences and being enthusiastic about killing the Indians. It was a slow progression into the man who was quiet and understood his place in history and was in a way creating his place by this behavior as the first president and from going from the general to being a president and then understanding what he had to do and who he had to listen to and how he had to solve the multitude of problems by surrounding himself with the brightest and the best and apparently also according to today’s [article], he was having an affair with Hamilton.
BB: You feel like you’re doing a feature because they had that kind of time and you were shooting on real submarines in Honolulu and you were being dragged around the ocean while you’re on the conning tower. It was very realistic—I mean very realistic from my standpoint—and I know from the people who were shooting the scenes in Europe, they were shooting in the real places, in the real camps. It was life-changing for many of the actors and many of the people who worked on the project because it was so historically accurate. I mean if you put the two up together, Winds Of War and War And Remembrance, it was probably I’m going to say 10 to 15 years of [writer and director] Dan Curtis’ life and I don’t know anybody else that could have done it. He was really of the old-school, sergeant-at-arms kind of director/producer. He pushed people and when he liked you, boy did he like you. He really supported you. I always found him incredibly supportive of me, but he was a no-bullshit kind of guy. It was in an era when he didn’t have 20,000 people looking over his shoulder going, “Well, you sure you want to do that way?” He’d go, “Fuck you. This is the way I’m feeling it and I’m doing it.”
Spin City (1996-2002)—“Mayor Randall Winston”
Scrubs (2003)—“Mr. Randolph”
Cougar Town (2010-14)—“Roger Frank”
BB: It was a little like Gary David Goldberg on Spin City… He had a track record and they basically left him and Michael [J. Fox] alone to make the series that they wanted to make and didn’t intrude in the process. That was one of the reasons why we shot in New York for the first four years, because there weren’t going to be the suits hanging out behind the monitor every Friday night going, “Well, you sure you want to see it that way?” I know that they wouldn’t have done the series if they had that kind of overseeing and trouble and having to answer to so many people. I find that the best work is done by the sort of auteur. They have a vision, they see it through, and they don’t have to screw with people.
AVC: Bill Lawrence has said that at a certain point Goldberg just handed him the reins. What was it like working with a young and inexperienced version of Bill? And why do you think he’s had you and other people who’ve worked for him guest on shows like Scrubs and Cougar Town?
BB: I think it’s just trust. I mean he got to the point with all of us on Spin City where he just trusted us and he knew our voices so well that that they got to be easier to write for. It always looks easy on the outside: “Well, you really only work one night a week!” But the [reality] is that you’re doing six different scripts during the week and you’re basically doing a new show every day for the writers and the producers and they’re seeing what works, what doesn’t work. You’re committing 100 percent to whatever they’ve written the night before. I love that process, but it’s stressful. I think Bill would have us on his other shows because he could like take a breath and go, “Well, I don’t have to worry about it. If I give him four lines, he’ll get a laugh on three of them.” Also, he knew how to direct us. He knew how to say, “Do a little bit less here” or “Little more there.” He could modulate our performances because he knew how to get to us. He knew what the vocabulary was that we all responded to with him and he’s a brilliant guy.
He’s very spontaneous himself. I remember doing Cougar Town, the final rehearsal of the scene. We’d block it and this and that. He’d come down from the office, he’d watch it, give a couple of notes, and go away, but he was always the last one to put his fingers on a scene. He approved every scene that I could tell and kept control over his shows because of that.
AVC: Did he have that kind of firm grasp on Spin City, even in his late 20s?
BB: Oh, he was just throwing shit out then. I mean he was just being as wild as he could be to see what stuck on the wall and luckily, Mike and Gary would let him do it. So he sort of created a style that he was able to reproduce year after year. And when he left the show, it became a little more conventional. But in the beginning if you look at it, there are miniature people standing on people’s shoulders and talking to them. Mike had his little Mike on his shoulder going, “You know you’re doing it all wrong” and those things. That kind of ingenuity fell away after a while but then it came back on Scrubs because Scrubs was that way. I think he’s a real creative guy.
What was my name on [Spin City]? Something Winston. I was actually named after the postproduction editor on Spin City and he’s now become a big producer and again, he went to Cougar Town. I think he was in Scrubs and Cougar Town.
AVC: Bill’s been known to name characters after people he knows.
BB: Yeah. That’s fun. I mean hell, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point.
AVC: Had Fox shown any health problems on the set or was he just a trooper the whole time he was there? Had you guys known about the Parkinson’s at the time?
BB: No. We didn’t know. We didn’t know until he brought us to his dressing room and told us what was going on. He had at one time had had Lyme disease and that had sort of slowed him down a bit. He was there 100 percent. The only thing was his balance and his ability to do the kind of stunts that he had been known to be able to do kind of altered a little bit, and that’s when we all sort of sensed that something was going on. But we didn’t know what it was until he actually told us.
AVC: Were you surprised when they brought in Charlie Sheen and they kept the show going?
BB: Well, who knew it was a stroke of luck to get Charlie? He was sort of a newbie to the sitcom world and obviously was a movie star and done a lot of comedy and this and that. But he came in as a real player willing to learn and to get absorbed in the process and was there diligently. I liked working with Charlie a lot. I thought he was very responsive to everybody, and certainly there wasn’t like, “Well, I’m the star and I’m the lead.” He became part of the family. In some ways, it was a relief because Michael was always the executive producer/star and then there was us. Now, all of a sudden, the whole acting company was just the acting company. Many of us were frightened of Michael and Gary and all those for a year or two, thinking we’re going to be fired after the next episode. I think it was because they were such strong leaders and such strong creators but they were definitely above the line. There was a sense of separation, which wasn’t there when Charlie took over.
AVC: That’s one of the periods of time when Charlie really had his act together.
BB: Yeah. He was personable and wanted to engage us all and was willing to learn. He brought to it a particular history and sense of baggage that worked great with the part. They could write right into it.
AVC: After all those years of doing one-offs and doing smaller parts, how did the stability of being on a series for that long feel to you?
BB: Well, I was newly married, I just had my first kid, and it worked out perfectly because by the end of the first season of the show, I had my second kid. We moved to the East Coast from the West Coast and we had a little farmhouse about an hour out of the city and it was picture perfect. It was well, “Here, you got your two kids and your wife and you have a farmhouse with some property and waterfalls and lawns and dad goes into work in the city every day and comes back.” There was just something incredibly normal about it. The only thing that wasn’t normal was the fact that we are making good money and we were all still sort of young and naïve. Many of us spent the money that we made rather than going, “Wait a minute. This isn’t going to last that long.” But having Mike at the helm, there was this confidence. A sense of, “Well, the guy’s got history, he’s got fans, everybody loves him, he’s a good guy, and we’re going to be around for a while.” So we took some really nice deep breaths and settled for four years on that and then we had to move back out to California, or I did. I left my family in New York and I flew back and forth every other weekend to the East Coast. I didn’t want to uproot everybody from the places that we settled into there.
It was a very unique experience in my life. I hadn’t had that kind of solidity and a paycheck that came in every week and I certainly miss that. I certainly miss the volume of work and the quality of the work that was so consistent and rather than a lot of the TV movies and things that I had done prior. I would do one that was sort of mushy and I’d play a jilted husband, and by the fourth jilted husband I was done with it. But I still had to do it because in that era, the TV movies were all generated by the female stars. They were all Lindsay Wagners and those people and so you had to play the either asshole husband or the young lover who was pulling her away from the asshole husband.
AVC: When you think of that asshole husband role, which is the movie that’s the most memorable?
BB: Oh God. There were all so generic, so many of those things. Who’s a soap opera star, a short little dark-haired girl?
AVC: Susan Lucci.
BB: Susan Lucci. I did one with Susan Lucci where I was the asshole husband who ignored my wife and then she went and had an affair with some high school kid or some son of one her best friends and I played a lot of husbands who were too busy, too busy for the family and I was too busy making a living or I would have an affair but it never worked out well.
AVC: When Glee did its Rocky Horror episode, was it a weird flashback seeing these kids who were probably born in the ’90s or maybe late ’80s doing Rocky Horror numbers?
BB: I’m always amazed by the enthusiasm that people still have for those parts and that it’s still so engaging to them to want to play Brad Majors, you know, “Hi. I’m Brad.” Occasionally I’ll do these conventions with Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, and we’ll go out and we’ll sign autographs and meet the fans. And [as] I look at us at the table I’m going, “Geez, I’m 70 years old.” These kids are coming up to us from a Shadow Cast at Detroit and they’re all 19, 20 years old and I’m going “Does this really still talk to you?” and it does.
AVC: When you were on the set of Glee, were they all coming up to you and then talking about the movie and asking about it?
BB: I think on the set of Glee, we were only there for one day, me and Meat Loaf. So we were only in a couple of scenes and so we never really interacted with the kids other than at the craft service table. And there we would even have conversations but those guys were so consistently busy. If they weren’t rehearsing something, they were prerecording something. They were getting their costumes. They didn’t have time to relax and sit and chat and get to know and reminisce.
I don’t know why people in the Rocky Horror fandom react so negatively to that Glee interpretation. I think it’s because they had to clean it up so much for television. Hell, they do that with Grease; to clean it up for a high school production, they have to take a lot of the balls out of it. I’m going to be curious to see this next production [of Rocky Horror] Fox wants to do. They talked to me last week and wanted to know if I’d be interested in it, and I went, “Yeah. What do you want me to do?” and they never told me what to do. That they’re re-envisioning it in some way, but it’s a classic. You just can’t remake it, I don’t think.
AVC: How do you think they’re going to re-envision it?
BB: I don’t know. I mean it is of its time. What are they going to do? Change the name on the uniform? It’s still going to be Transylvanians and these sort of iconic characters… I don’t know how they’re going to do it.
AVC: What role do you think they would want you to be playing?
BB: I don’t know. I’m assuming they’re going to so some kind of a flashback with me and Susan but I would doubt that Susan would want to do it. I heard that they had asked her to do the sequel to Rocky Horror, whether it’s true or not, and that she asked for too much money and they moved on and I can’t blame her for… if that’s the truth. I don’t know and I haven’t talked to her about it. But they moved on and recast Brad and Janet in that in Shock Treatment. So I’m assuming the same thing is going to happen here that they have some idea of flashback kind of things or flash forward and that Susan will go why. She doesn’t have to do it. She’s a smart, adventurous kind of gal. Maybe she’ll do it just for the fun of it.
BB: Scruples was one of the first big romantic miniseries of its time. Lindsay [Wagner] and myself. And it was rich with television actors at the time who were on series and stuff and so they stunt-casted a lot of the parts. It started my relationship with Judith Krantz; I think I did three of her miniseries. She became a fan of mine and would put me in her things. So Scruples, I think it was sort of the beginning of my miniseries, TV-movie career because Judith trusted me and liked me and I guess thought I was sexy and right for her—kind of a good guy, sweet guy, adventurous kind of guy character. I didn’t play a lot of assholes with her. She didn’t cast me as a lot of jerky guys. I was always this guy who appreciated and loved women and supported them and all those little things that were female-skewed, strong women parts. So I would say Scruples was one of my first, and I learned a lot from that. I still have some souvenirs that we had. I still have some little boxes that say “Scruples” on them that we had on the shelves in the Scruples [store]. I keep these little knickknacks and the one that says “Scruples,” I look at I go “Oh, that was a really fond memory.”
BB: What a brilliant film it was. And it just never took off, with George C. Scott and Art Carney. It was a musical movie. I think I had just won a Tony Award in New York. If you haven’t seen Movie Movie, a Stanley Donen film, find it. It is so good. It was written by the same guy who wrote M*A*S*H.
AVC: Larry Gelbart.
BB: Yeah. Larry wrote it. I mean it’s so brilliant, and I just don’t know why it never did anything. It had a great cast, very sort of over-the-top, real reflection of the films of the time—it was two movies in one. It was a black-and-white movie with Harry Hamlin playing the boxer, and then the musical, the 42nd Street take-off, and then a series of previews for coming attractions for the same cast. It was interesting because it was the same cast of actors in both movies, so we all played different parts in the two movies. It was fascinating.
AVC: Considering all the old musicals that Donen had directed in the decades prior to that, he adapted okay to doing movies in the ’70s as opposed to the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s?
BB: He seemed to. I don’t know. I was just shocked that it didn’t get a wider view. I know it was released at Christmas time and a Clint Eastwood movie came out at the same time with the same studio and apparently, they put all their money into that. They didn’t know how to sell it. It was sort of a spoof movie but it was before spoof movies. It was, again, ahead of its time.
101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure (2003)—“Thunderbolt”
Phineas And Ferb (2007-12): “Grandpa Clyde”
Teen Beach Movie (2013): “Big Poppa”
AVC: Do kids recognize your voice from Phineas And Ferb at all?
BB: No. No. They don’t. I’ll have people come up and recognize me from 101 Dalmatians II where I play Thunderbolt. I was just in Canada last week doing a Hallmark movie called Play Date and a couple of fans came up on one of the locations and they had posters from 101 Dalmatians II of my character Thunderbolt and they all remembered that. It’s amazing what kids remember. I get a lot of kids now coming up to me for Teen Beach Movie, the one that I did for Disney a year and a half ago. A sort of sequel to High School Musical and huge, huge film among the young, young, young set, preteens, teenagers. They look at me and go “You were in that movie?” and I go “Yeah. Yeah.” Then their parents will go, “I remember you from Brad,” and then they say, “You’re an asshole” and I go “Yeah.”
AVC: Did you work at all with Miley Cyrus? Did she look like she was going to really shed the Hannah Montana thing at that point?
BB: No. I was just impressed by the fact that I thought she was the real deal. I thought that she really was talented. I saw her sing some songs live and time after time after time, take after take, she would just get better and better and different and totally commit herself 100 percent to each take. I just thought she was a real pro and sexy as hell for a young girl. I saw no indication that she was going to try so desperately to change her image, but she’s a smart cookie, that one. Those kind of pop stars, they have to be to be able to sustain their careers.
She really knows what she’s doing and she’s not out of control like Lindsay [Lohan] or like one of those people. I think she is very much in control of her image and how she can massage it and keep it going. She’s of the Taylor Swift ilk. Taylor was in that movie too. They knew how to groom themselves well and behave themselves really well at the time. My friend Peter Chelsom, who directed it, used to be an actor and I met him years ago in London. We did Moby Dick together and he really handled them well and was good with getting a performance out of everybody.
AVC: Everything that Miley is doing is being done for a reason, not just because she’s some wild child.
BB: Exactly. She was a teenager, too, but she was very professional, and because she sort of grew up on television, she knew that she can’t screw around, the work had to be done—and she was showing up on time and she knew her words and she knew her songs and then she had a great attitude.
BB: My scene in the first episode’s probably cut because I was playing a character that was an old acquaintance of Jane Fonda’s, and sort of started flirting with her in a bar and sort of got her hopes up again that maybe she would be attracted to somebody else. Then all of a sudden, my girlfriend, who’s the waitress there, comes up behind me—who is half my age—and we smooch in front of her. I introduce them and then Jane goes, “Well, goodbye” and she leaves. They were going to pursue the relationship between me and her but I think they realized that it didn’t make her look that sympathetic or bright for her to pursue an old relationship that was perhaps doomed from the beginning.
AVC: The chemistry is still there from Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda working on 9 To 5 together 35 years ago.
BB: Did you look at the trailer? Go look at the trailer online and you’ll see that it really does work. I never had a scene with the two of them other than the initial table reading, but I think the chemistry is real strong between them and the guys too. You wouldn’t expect Sam Waterston and [Martin] Sheen to be lovers. They have such a history of being guys and they don’t play them gay. They’re just two guys who love each other. There’s no swishing around like apparently, George Washington. Let’s bring it back to the old queen George Washington.