Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”: 12 TV guest stars who joined the cast

1-3. Peter Capaldi, Colin Baker, and Karen Gillan, Doctor Who

Television series have a long-standing tradition of reusing the same guest actors in multiple roles, be it for reasons of contracting, love (Dick Schaal was a versatile enough performer to fill several distinct parts on The Mary Tyler Moore Show—but he was also Valerie Harper’s husband at the time), or budget. Genre series are at a distinct advantage here, as they always have the option of turning to makeup and costuming in order to re-cast a returning guest. (See: Jeffrey Combs on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine; Wayne Alexander on Babylon 5.) Rarer is the Doctor Who franchise’s tendency to pull regular cast members from the guest ranks, with several day players later becoming companions—and one, Colin Baker, regenerating into the Sixth Doctor.


Peter Capaldi’s casting as the 12th Doctor means saying “fuckity bye” to the actor’s image as TV’s most profane wonk, but it also means reconciling the timeline of the show with Capaldi’s performance as Caecilius in the David Tenant-era episode “The Fires Of Pompeii.” The actor has been quite the staple of the rebooted series, unknowingly purchasing the TARDIS as an ancient Roman merchant before playing a supporting role on Who spin-off Torchwood. Showrunner Steven Moffat reportedly has an explanation for the three Doctor Who faces of Peter Capaldi—which squares with the one his predecessor Russell T. Davies cooked up—but has he given any thought to linking Karen Gillan’s “Fires Of Pompeii” to Amy Pond, the companion she’d play two years after her first appearance on the series? [EA]

4. Mary Ann Mobley, Diff’rent Strokes

So intense was Phillip Drummond’s affection for TV aerobics guru Maggie McKinney that he raced across the United States just to ask for her hand in marriage. Alas, two years later, she turned into a different person. That’s making it sound more melodramatic than the case may be, even for a sitcom with a thirst for melodrama as intense as Diff’rent Strokes: Prior to the beginning of its eighth and final season, Dixie Carter parted ways with the series and was replaced by Mary Ann Mobley. It was a fitting match, since Mobley had already proven herself alongside Conrad Bain and Gary Coleman, playing a love interest for Mr. Drummond who was also Arnold’s teacher in the season-two episode “Teacher’s Pet.” The show wasted no time in reacquainting Mobley with Diff’rent Strokes signature blend of mawkishness and severe tonal clashes: Season eight begins with the infamous two-parter “Sam’s Missing,” in which Maggie’s son is kidnapped by a father grieving the loss of his own child—and yet the studio audience and the viewers at home are still expected to laugh at the mishaps surrounding a big renovation at the Drummonds’. [EA]


5. Tom Lenk, Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Thanks to the magic of latex, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was able to make use of actors multiple times—first as humans, then as demons, or sometimes the other way around. The list includes people like Jeff Kober (both the vampire serial killer Kralik and Willow’s magic drug dealer, Rack), and Brian Thompson (The Master’s acolyte Luke in the pilot, then season two’s The Judge). But the most famous of these is Tom Lenk. Originally seen as Cyrus, one of Harmony’s pathetic minions from Buffy’s college years, Lenk became a much bigger—albeit still laughable—threat as Andrew Wells, part of the geek supervillain team The Trio. That group was originally meant to include Tucker Wells, who’d loosed hellhounds on the Sunnydale High prom, but when actor Brad Kane proved unavailable, Andrew was retconned in—leading to a running joke where Andrew is only recognized as “Tucker’s brother.” Still, Andrew has the last laugh: He becomes a crucial part of the Buffyverse, maturing from would-be supervillain to redemption-seeking member of the Scooby Gang to full-blown Watcher in Angel and the comics, with Tucker—and Lenk’s vampire past—long forgotten. [SO]

6. Harry Morgan, M*A*S*H

While it can be strange to see a TV guest actor show up years later in a regular role, for a syndication favorite like M*A*S*H, it would be jarring to watch the episodes out of order and see Harry Morgan playing a dangerous lunatic. In season three’s “The General Flipped At Dawn,” the actor who became paternal commanding officer Colonel Sherman Potter shows up as a different member of the brass: General Steele. The general arrives to inspect the unit and starts off with a few odd requests—insisting that the 4077’s doctors start re-using old tongue depressors, making Radar polish the bottom of his boots—and then mistakes dress-wearing Klinger for Mrs. Steele. He finally crosses the line when he demands an African-American pilot perform a musical number, insisting, “It’s in your blood, boy!” The Army mercifully takes the general away from the 4077… and into a promotion at the Pentagon, overseeing the whole war. But the cast and producers so enjoyed working with Morgan—who won an Emmy for his guest role—they brought him back the following season as Colonel Potter, who became one of the show’s most beloved regulars. [MV]


7. John McIntire, Wagon Train

In the third season of Wagon Train, John McIntire guest starred as the title character of “The Andrew Hale Story.” He played an amnesiac who exhibits great leadership when Ward Bond’s Major Adams goes ill, eventually recovering his sense of identity along with a lot of Bible quotes—turns out he was a preacher. When Bond died of a heart attack the following year, producers cast McIntire as his replacement. As was routine in those days, McIntire was cast in a different part, but he shared a common name with his predecessor. After some credit-only episodes, he finally appeared as the lone survivor of his family’s massacre in “The Christopher Hale Story,” leading the wagon train through its eighth and final season. No explicit relationship between Andrew Hale and Christopher Hale was ever revealed over those next four years, and Wagon Train wasn’t very serialized, but there’s just enough information to speculate: Christopher had a brother who became a preacher. So either two broken but upstanding Hales rediscovered themselves on the civilizing juggernaut of the wagon train, or the wagon train connects two Hales spreading the good word across the West in the space of a few months. It’s hard to say which explanation is more typically Wagon Train. [BN]


8. Ken Curtis, Gunsmoke

In TV’s olden days, guest actors would frequently play different parts on different episodes of a show, so Ken Curtis had come across Marshal Matt Dillon several times before becoming his right-hand man. After first playing a cattle drover in season four of Gunsmoke, he showed up, in chronological order, as a man trying to swindle his brother out of his share of their inheritance, a ferocious outlaw, a Kiowa scout, a hayseed on a mission of vengeance, and a cad whose trail of broken hearts comes back to bite him. The hayseed character was Festus Haggen, and at the end of that episode, Festus decides to stay in Dodge. Even after Curtis went on to play yet another character, Festus was the one producers returned to when Dennis Weaver, who played the original deputy, wanted to go into movies. Curtis played six different guest parts before lasting 11 and a half seasons as a regular, a tradition inherited by David Milch. Given how much of Deadwood is revisionist Gunsmoke, it’s not hard to see where Milch got the idea to cast Garret Dillahunt in two different roles on the same show. [BN]


9. Joseph R. Gannascoli, The Sopranos

Closeted and doomed mobster Vito Spatafore made his first appearance on The Sopranos in “The Legend Of Tennessee Moltisanti,” but actor Joseph R. Gannascoli had already appeared on the show earlier in the walk-on role of Gino, a bakery customer who runs afoul of Michael Imperioli’s Christopher Moltisanti. In his lone scene, Gino is attempting to place a pastry order when an impatient Christopher, frustrated by his position as Tony Soprano’s designated cannoli-fetcher, tells him to take a walk and come back in 10 minutes. It’s hardly a star-making turn, but Gannascoli’s hangdog, soft-spoken presence must have made enough of an impression on David Chase to warrant an invitation back for a meatier role. Adding to the scene’s hall-of-mirrors quality is the fact that it also functions as an homage to an earlier Imperioli mobster turn: Spider in Goodfellas. In the Scorsese film, Spider is shot in the foot for showing disrespect; here, Imperioli’s Christopher metes out the same punishment to the bakery clerk. [SVD]

10. Diane Neal, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

If you’re looking for a cognitive disconnect in your double-duty actors, Diane Neal fits the bill. Neal first appeared on Law & Order: SVU in “Ridicule,” a groundbreaking third-season episode in which she played one of three women who raped a male a stripper and then conspired to murder her guilt-ridden friend to keep the crime a secret. Imagine the surprise in season five when ADA Alexandra Cabot (Stephanie March) went into the Witness Protection Program and her replacement was… Diane Neal, as the ambitious Casey Novak, so new to sex crimes that she cried in her office on her first case. Reusing actors isn’t unheard of in the Law & Order universe, but snagging such a major role after a guest appearance in a memorable episode is definitely an actorly coup. And it stuck: By the time Diane Neal left the show, Novak held the honor of the longest-running ADA in the entire franchise. Not bad for someone who started out on the other side of the law. [GV]


11. Joseph C. Phillips, The Cosby Show

In The Cosby Show’s season-two episode “Cliff In Love,” eldest Huxtable kid Sondra and her boyfriend Elvin are on the outs because of Elvin’s chauvinist tendencies. Enter Daryl Marchamp, an Oberlin pre-med student played by Joseph C. Phillips, who seems tailor-made for Cliff’s approval. Alas, Elvin and Sondra make up following an epic takedown delivered by Mrs. Huxtable, and that was the end of Daryl. Phillips continued his role as walking plot device when he returned to the show four years later and joined the cast in the form of a Navy Lieutenant husband for impulsive hippie chick Denise to bring home to her unsuspecting parents. He was eventually absorbed into the Cosby clan without so much as a mention of his resemblance to Sondra’s rebound date. [AB]


12. Will Forte, 30 Rock

No one, least of all Tina Fey, thought that 30 Rock would be on the air for very long. Between its aggressive absurdity, constant jokes, and continual needling of NBC, it’s a miracle that the show got through one season, let alone seven. Maybe this is why the show relegated Will Forte, one of Saturday Night Live’s most oddball and hilarious alums, to a bit part in the first season. While Forte did an admirable job with the farce of playing assistant to Paul Reubens’ inbred foreign heir in “Black Tie,” it seemed like a waste of his skill once the series kept sticking around. But 30 Rock pulled some weird shit in its time, and so when it recast Forte in the completely different, much more substantial role of Jenna’s soul mate/drag impersonator, it made all the sense in the world. [CF]

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