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: If you want to start a career as a thespian, it never hurts to have an Academy Award-winning actor as your father, but Ed Begley Jr. really had no clue what he was getting himself into when he first stepped in front of the camera. But it didn’t take him long to figure it out, which enabled him to work steadily throughout the ’70s. But despite spending the decade bulking up his list of “that guy” roles, it wasn’t until 1982 that Begley’s star truly began to rise, thanks to his work on NBC’s St. Elsewhere. To date, Begley has racked up over 100 film credits and is rapidly closing in on 200 television credits, including Starz’s Blunt Talk and—in the near future—Netflix’s Lady Dynamite, starring Maria Bamford.
Ed Begley Jr.: There was not an audition involved. They called me up and asked if I wanted to do it, and I jumped at the chance because I’m a fan of Jonathan Ames, I’m a fan of Jacki Weaver, and I’m a fan of Patrick Stewart. And Michael Lehmann, who’s a dear friend. I’m a fan of his and we’d worked together on several things over the years. He was involved, and I suspect he might’ve had a hand in the decision to ask me to do it, but I was elated. And the scripts were sensational, so I was ecstatic when they asked me.
The A.V. Club: How would you sum up Teddy in a nutshell?
EBJ: Teddy’s a guy I can relate to: he’s having a bit of memory trouble, and lord knows I go into the garage a lot and wonder what I came in for. [Laughs.] He takes it a step further, though. He really starts to wander around, and he loses keys, so he has to take an Uber everywhere. He’s a little more advanced than me, perhaps. But my wife might beg to differ.
AVC: Have you enjoyed working with Patrick Stewart?
EBJ: He’s amazing. Sir Patrick Stewart is a trained Shakespearean actor, and I’ve been a fan of his for many, many years. I worked on Star Trek: Voyager, but I love the whole Star Trek franchise, and he was brilliant in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He was great in X-Men, he’s great on stage. I’m a big fan of his movie work, his TV work, his stage work. He’s awesome. And Jacki Weaver, when I first saw her in Silver Linings Playbook, I thought she was from Jersey or something. But she’s a brilliant Australian actress, and the idea of being married to her, if only on screen, was a great treat.
AVC: So is there potential for Teddy to return for the second season of Blunt Talk, or is he likely to just wander off, get lost, and never return?
EBJ: That’s a good question. I hope I remember to show up at the studio. [Laughs.] But, yeah, it seems we’re headed toward having more of my character. Teddy seems to be someone they’re planning to visit more in the next season. And they didn’t have the nail-biting of wondering if they were going to have a second season, because the second season was something that was planned all along. That’s a great luxury. That falls on Patrick’s largesse and Jonathan and Seth MacFarlane: They got two seasons out of Starz. And I’m very happy to be part of it as long as they want me to do it.
AVC: It looks as though your first on-camera role was in an episode of My Three Sons.
EBJ: That was my very first role, that’s correct. I wanted to be an actor my whole young life. My dad was an actor, obviously—he won an Academy Award [for Sweet Bird Of Youth]—but I had no idea what was involved. I had all the wrong ideas about acting. “I’m kind of charming. Hand me a TV series, Dad. I want to do a Perry Mason. I want to do a Gunsmoke. Get me a job!” I had no idea you had to train and work the way you do in any craft. Imagine the son of a plumber saying, “I want to be a plumber today! So you just fit the pipes together, right?” No, you have to train and apprentice. So I did that for awhile, and then finally I started to get some work when I took some training.
AVC: By virtue of your parentage, you obviously were at least aware of the concept of acting as a career, but was there a specific point when you realized exactly how much effort was involved?
EBJ: I had the luxury early on of being able to learn lines quickly, and I took advantage of that talent, and I would sometimes be ill prepared early in my career. I could learn the lines in the makeup chair before we began to film. But that’s no way to approach a character. Fortunately, I had a dear friend by the name of Bruno Kirby, and Bruno was an actor who truly prepared. He was a wonderful actor, as I’m sure you know, and he did lots of great movies—The Godfather Part II, lots of wonderful Barry Levinson movies, Donnie Brasco. Early in my career, Bruno became a friend of mine, and he was all about the preparation and research. So I started to do a bit of that, and I started to get better work and do roles that I never thought I could do.
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)—“Student” (uncredited)
Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972)—“Druffle”
Superdad (1973)—“The Gang”
AVC: Was the first time you worked with Bruno Kirby on Superdad?
EBJ: Yes, exactly. We were friends before that, went up for auditions together and separately, and hung out sometimes. But the first time we worked together was on Superdad, and we became very close friends.
AVC: Superdad was one of what would end up being numerous Disney films in your back catalog, but it looks like your first—not just your first Disney film, but your first film, period—was The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. You weren’t credited, but you were in it.
EBJ: You and IMDB are both very good. [Laughs.] Yes, that’s correct. I don’t know if I had a name or not. I may have just been “Student.” But I was part of a college-quiz thing. Kurt Russell was playing a college student who somehow had interacted with a computer and I can’t remember the plot exactly, but he had all of this knowledge in his brain.
Interestingly, my first film role and my first TV role were both computer-related. I never really thought about that, but the My Three Sons episode was called “Computer Picnic.” We were being matched up by a computer, and I had a girl I was trying to pawn off on Stanley Livingston’s character, and he had a tall girl, and we thought we could match better amongst ourselves, so I wanted to trade my date for his. But it turned out that my girl had a broken arm, so I was trying to pull a fast one on him and send him to a picnic with a girl with a broken arm. [Laughs.]
AVC: You also worked with Kurt Russell on Now You See Him, Now You Don’t. What was it like working in the Disney stable in those days?
EBJ: It was so great. Disney was a wonderful place to work then, as it is now. I’ve worked there recently, too. But it was very much a family thing. You’d hang a right at Goofy Drive and turn left at Mickey Lane and walk to the studio. [Laughs.] And Kurt Russell would be out there throwing the ball around, because he was a great baseball player as well as a great actor. It was very much a family studio.
AVC: Thanks to doing Superdad, you must’ve been one of the few people in the cast of Auto Focus—maybe the only person—who’d actually worked with Bob Crane.
EBJ: I might be the only one. He was a great guy, a wonderful guy. I knew nothing about that more tawdry side of his life. You know, he was a Disney star. Had they known, I’m sure things would’ve been very different. But it was great working with him. I was a big fan of Hogan’s Heroes. Bob Crane was quite a legend of TV and film. But I didn’t know anything about that other side of his life. I certainly discovered it with Auto Focus, though!
AVC: Your tendency toward mixing it up with the types of roles you do was prevalent even back then. For example, you did Superdad in ’73, and then in ’74 you did Cockfighter, which was not exactly what you’d call a family film.
EBJ: [Laughs.] Yeah, but I’ll be real honest: There wasn’t a lot of career planning there. I took what roles were presented to me, what roles I could audition and get, and what roles were offered to me. There have been a few roles offered to me, but at that early in my career, it didn’t happen. After St. Elsewhere, I started to get offered stuff, but then I’d have to audition for roles, and some I’d get and some I wouldn’t, but I took what I could.
AVC: Roll Out was your first time as a series regular. Did you feel a sense of stability, at least during the course of that one season?
EBJ: Yeah, it was a dream come true! I wanted to have a TV series, I wanted to have a regular job, so I did that show in 1973, and I was hoping and praying that it would last forever. It lasted all of 22 episodes? It might’ve only gone 13. I don’t remember that important detail! But we had a bit of a problem. Back then, there were only three networks, so it was a big deal to be on a show, beyond anything you experience now.
But the night before we premiered on CBS, Stu Gilliam—the star of the show—got into an altercation on La Cienega called The Lobster Barrel, I think? It was owned by Alan Hale Jr. of Gilligan’s Island. And Stu thought he was being made to wait too long for a table, so he got in a fight and went out to his vehicle and got an ax. He had camping equipment, and he apparently came at the Skipper with a little hand ax. And, uh, that did not play well in America in 1973. I mean, you can’t go after the Skipper—Alan Hale Jr.—with an ax! [Laughs.] And, you know, maybe there was some legitimacy to his beef. Maybe because he was an African-American gentleman with a Caucasian woman, they made him wait. I don’t know any of that. I wasn’t there. But it looked bad, so we were kind of doomed from the first night.
AVC: Yeah, when we talked to Garrett Morris for this feature, he indicated that Gene Reynolds basically had to cancel the show because of that incident.
EBJ: Yeah, and it’s so funny when that kind of thing happens. You go on the set one day, and you’ve got a Hollywood Reporter and a Variety in front of you, and you look at them, and they say, “Roll Out Canceled.” The morning paper’s there on the set, and that’s how you find out about it. You read it, and you go, “Wow, uh, that’s weird.” Then the producers come down—or somebody comes down, maybe some executive from the studio or something—and they say [Angrily.] “Now let me tell you something: I saw that article in the Hollywood Reporter, and I’m telling you right now that it is complete bullshit. We are not canceled. We are not! I don’t know why they’d say that. I don’t know who would say such a thing. Canceled? I don’t know how that happened. Of course we would’ve come to you first. We are not canceled! That’s crazy! You forget about that. I’m suing the Hollywood Reporter. I’m personally going down there with my lawyer today!” And, then, of course, you learn within 24 hours that are you are canceled.
AVC: Welcome to Hollywood.
EBJ: [Snorts.] Yeah. But it was a great experience. And it was great getting to know Garrett Morris, who went on to great success on Saturday Night Live. But to have a series… I did quite a few pilots. I kissed a lot of frogs over the years, but not many princes. Not until 1982.
EBJ: I auditioned for a part on St. Elsewhere and didn’t get it. It was the part of Dr. Peter White, which Terence Knox got, a character who ends up getting shot in the second or third season. But they threw me a bone and gave me this character Erlich that wasn’t really anything. He had, like, two lines. And they merged him with a character named Stanton or something who had another two lines, but unfortunately one of the two lines had him talking to Erlich. So I was talking to myself as a character. [Laughs.] So I was, like, “How’s this going to go? Wow!” But I wanted to be on the show, so I was just glad that I got to do it. And then it was, “Wow, they want me to do a second episode, and a third episode!” Pretty soon they made me a regular, and I worked for six wonderful years on the show.
AVC: How did you enjoy the evolution of Erlich as a character? Did you feel that they gave him enough facets over the course of the run?
EBJ: Oh, yeah, they gave me wonderful stuff to do as Erlich. It was a real treat. It was Tom Fontana and John Masius and Bruce Paltrow, and Mark Tinker and Josh Brand and John Halsey, these wonderful, wonderful writers. And great actors: Bill Daniels, who I know did an interview with you, and Ed Flanders, Bonnie Barlett, Christina Pickles, and Denzel Washington, for God’s sake! It was just great.
AVC: Did you have a favorite Erlich storyline or plot arc during the run of the show?
EBJ: Yeah, where I meet this woman at a bar and I take her home. It was based on some urban legend, probably an apocryphal tale that never occurred, but in the show, I take her home, and she’s into kinky stuff, so I tie her up. But then I say, “Oh, I don’t have any protection, let me go out to the car.” But when I come back, I can’t get back in her apartment! And then in the apocryphal tale, the guy who this supposedly happened to, he meets the girl again at the bar a month later or so, and he goes, “Oh, my God, I’m so sorry! I went back to your building, but I didn’t know what number you were in, and even if I could’ve pushed the button, you couldn’t answer, so I couldn’t get back in!” And she supposedly says, “Far out,” which is exactly what you’d say after you’ve been tied up for that long without food or water or whatever. [Laughs.] I can’t remember what she said in our version, but I ended up marrying that girl on the show, so that was a bit of fantasy!
AVC: Several years after the show wrapped up, you popped up in Homicide: The Movie playing a doctor, and even though your character’s actual name is never said aloud, you’re credited as playing Dr. Victor Erlich.
EBJ: Oh, that’s right! They did a TV movie to kind of wrap up Homicide: Life On The Street, and they had me play a doctor, so I played Erlich, who was suddenly living in Baltimore. [Laughs.] It was a Tom Fontana show with Barry Levinson, so they kind of took that liberty, which was fine by me!
AVC: How did you find your way into Paul Bartel’s camp?
EBJ: Through Paul, appropriately enough. [Laughs.] He was an acquaintance of mine. And I knew Mary Woronov, and I still know and love Mary. But Paul was a friend, and he just approached me one day. I was working on Cat People at Universal, so that would’ve been ’81. He came on the lot. I don’t know he got a pass or maybe I got him a pass—I don’t know how that happened—but he showed up when I was doing Cat People. We had been in New Orleans a bit, but then we were at Universal, so Paul came over, came into my trailer, and said, “Hey, I’m doing this movie with Robert Beltran. Do you know him?” And I didn’t at the time, but he told me a little bit about the movie, and I said, “Absolutely! When do we do it?” And he told me the dates, and we did it. It happened that way. And it happened because of my friendship with Paul.
AVC: It’s funny that you mention Cat People filming in New Orleans. John Heard discussed that shoot a bit during his Random Roles interview.
EBJ: John Heard is wonderful. What a great actor. I’m a big fan of John Heard’s.
AVC: He indicated that he was, uh, imbibing a bit during the course of the Cat People shoot.
EBJ: I think that’s true. I think that’s very true.
AVC: He said that Paul Schrader finally put him in the penalty box, which meant that he could only drink in the bar by the hotel.
EBJ: [Laughs.] That’s funny. I did a couple of other Paul Schrader movies in the ’70s: Blue Collar and Hardcore. By the time I did Cat People, I had gotten sober, but before that I was a party-hearty wild man, and on Blue Collar… Yeah, I was definitely a party child.
AVC: Did you get to party with Richard Pryor?
EBJ: Richard did not party on that movie. He might have secretly, but I didn’t know about that. Later he got into freebase and stuff, which was quite dangerous, as we know the outcome to that. But at the time, he had his trainer, Rashon, who was there, and he worked out and was in good shape. We played poker one evening—somebody put together a poker game, maybe it was Schrader—but it was me and Richard and Paul and some other actors from the movie. I think Borah Silver, maybe Harry Northup. I can’t remember who all was there as well.
Because I was such a huge fan, and he had worked with my dad on a movie called Wild In The Streets, I thought I had an in. But he kept to himself, so my moment of giving him the praise I so wanted to came when I had him kind of captive at the poker table. So I said, “Richard, I just want to say, I’m such a fan of your latest album.” [Starts to laugh.] He knew very well what I was talking about. He said, “What’s the title of that, again?” And you might know the title of that. But there was no way I was going to say the N-word, so I immediately said, “That Black Man’s Crazy!” And he laughed. And he said, “You’re all right.” I passed the test. I didn’t get flustered. It was like I was prepared for it. So he and I spent time together after that, and he was a great talent. What a huge talent Richard was. I was the biggest fan you could imagine and still remain the biggest fan you can imagine.
AVC: Not to dwell on your party-hearty wild man years, but if ever there was a film that demanded that we stay on that topic, it would seem to be Goin’ South. Based on what’s been written, that definitely seems to have been a party film.
EBJ: I’ll just speak about myself, because I don’t want to incriminate others. It’s kind of well-known what John Belushi and I got up to, because that’s written about in a book called Wired, so I’m not giving any information on that, but let me tell you how out there I was on Goin’ South. I was 27, not quite 28 years old, so I thought I could drink with impunity. And I was on such a tear, I was trying to outdrink Jack Nicholson’s father-in-law, this guy Shorty George Smith, who was this guy who worked for the railroad in Jersey, and he was kind of Jack’s father figure, if you will. And Shorty George was a professional drinker.
I was an amateur. I was not even a journeyman at this point. I mean, I could drink a quart of vodka, but Shorty could outdrink me. And I was there trying to outdrink this man who was, like, at that point 50 years old or something. And I’m twentysomething and trying to outdrink this guy. And at some point John Belushi comes and drags me out of the bar, saying, “This is crazy! You’re gonna kill yourself! You can’t drink that much!” I was too far gone for John Belushi, is the point. [Laughs.] John and Judy Belushi—it wasn’t just John—grabbed me by each arm and took me out. We took a drive around the countryside, saw some of Durango, and had a nice afternoon. But they thought I needed to leave the bar. There was too much drinking and partying for John Belushi. So that’ll tell you all you need to know about my years of the ’70s and what I was up to.
EBJ: Yeah! They approached the guy who played Whitey, and he couldn’t do it for whatever reason. I think he worked as a policeman in Van Nuys and didn’t want to do it. I can’t remember his name. Do you know it?
AVC: Looking it up right now.
EBJ: I should know it. I knew it for most of my life, and now I don’t remember. But he was working in law enforcement and didn’t want to do it, so they got somebody who certainly fit the bill for a character named Whitey. [Laughs.] And that was me. So I played his character 20 years after the Leave It To Beaver era.
AVC: Actually, having just found the actor’s name—Stanley Fafara—on Wikipedia, I think maybe you might’ve mixed him up with Ken Osmond [Eddie Haskell], who was a policeman.
EBJ: Oh, you’re right!
AVC: Stanley Fafara, meanwhile, was on the wrong side of the law.
EBJ: Yes, now that you mention it, I think you’re right on that, too!
AVC: So had you been a big Leave It To Beaver fan growing up?
EBJ: Big time. It was a big moment for me in high school—in Notre Dame High School, in Sherman Oaks—when I got to meet Jerry Mathers. Jerry went to school there, and so did I. But meeting the Beaver… I kind of touched on this earlier, but back then, if you met somebody who was on a network series, it was like meeting God. There were only three channels, and if you got a job like that, you felt like you had died and gone to heaven, and if you met somebody—like meeting Dick Van Dyke for the first time when my dad did an episode, or meeting Mary Tyler Moore when her show was in its prime—I mean, I was speechless. I was just speechless. And even though my dad was in the business and I was around it, you met people like that and you still could barely get a word out.
AVC: Was knowing Robert Beltran from Eating Raoul what got you onto Star Trek: Voyager?
EBJ: I think it was completely coincidence. As I recall, Robert was very happily surprised to see me there. [Laughs.] But that was just great. It was a good show, it was a really good part, and to be part of the Star Trek franchise, even years on from the original show, which I was a huge fan of. Back when the original show was on, I was in my mid-teens. I was the perfect Trekkie candidate. I loved the show. Not so much that I actually went to conventions or anything, but I sure did love it. So to be on Star Trek: Voyager, I felt really blessed.
EBJ: That was fun. And that was a good job, too. You would do one day’s work on that show, and you’d wind up getting three for every day’s work you got. Why? I was not a contracted player on that. I was not a regular. I was just a returning character. But it proved to be a great job because you’d do one day as a fighter pilot, as Greenbean, and they’d call you back a day or two later and say, “We’ve got to do it again. You’ve got to be going left to right instead of right to left in the cockpit.” “Uh, okay.” You’d think they could just flip the negative or whatever, but these were greater minds than mine. [Laughs.]
Then after you’d come back and do that, they’d go, “There was a problem with the sound. You’ve got to go and do a day’s looping.” “Okay.” So every one day you had, you’d wind up with three days. It was a great job. I’d just had my second child, and I wanted to name him Battlestar Galactica Begley. [Laughs.] Or even just Greenbean or something. It was before St. Elsewhere, but it was my first somewhat regular job since Roll Out, and it was good money. So, yeah, I also considered naming my son Glen Larson!
Happy Days (1974)—“Hank”
Laverne & Shirley (1979)—“Robert ‘Bobby’ Feeney”
Young Doctors In Love (1982)—“Lyle August”
AVC: Was the first time you worked with Ron Howard on Happy Days?
EBJ: Correct! That was in, what, ’74? When it was a one-camera show.
AVC: You clearly found yourself in the Garry Marshall camp after that: You also did a few episodes of Laverne & Shirley.
EBJ: I was very good friends with Cindy Williams. She and I were great friends for many years. Still are. And she put my name up for that, and they said “Yes,” so I got that job totally because of her, no question about it.
AVC: How did you end up in Young Doctors In Love?
EBJ: That was a last-minute thing. I was definitely not their first choice. So much so that when I went on set and saw the call sheet… They called me and said, “Can you work tomorrow for Garry Marshall?” I said, “Absolutely!” So I went there, and there was somebody else’s name on the call sheet. Actually, it was the call sheet from the previous day, but somebody had clearly gotten sick or something. So I wasn’t the first choice, but believe me, I was not unhappy. I was there with a smile. Garry gave me some good work.
AVC: Had you known Michael McKean prior to appearing on Laverne & Shirley?
EBJ: Yeah, I knew him through Cindy, and I knew him through [satirical comedy team] The Credibility Gap and David L. Lander and Harry Shearer. I was a big fan of The Credibility Gap, so to meet Michael McKean and then to work with him on Laverne & Shirley and Young Doctors In Love. I love working with him whenever I get a chance!
AVC: Was Michael your entryway into Christopher Guest’s films, or had you already known Chris before you appeared in This Is Spinal Tap?
EBJ: I met Chris Guest through his sister, Elissa, and I met Elissa through Harry Gittes. I met Chris in the early ’70s, and to meet him was like meeting God, too. Chris Guest, Michael O’Donoghue… These people from the National Lampoon, it was like meeting God. I had every magazine from the first issue. I met Chris in the studio. He was playing guitar or doing something for the National Lampoon Radio Show. They’d had that album out already called Radio Dinner, a brilliant comedy album, so to meet Chris Guest was extraordinary.
AVC: I’m sure you had no clue that your brief appearance in This Is Spinal Tap would go on to be legendary.
EBJ: I know! I mean, it’s a very small part, but it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever been in.
AVC: Do you have a particular favorite moment from within your work in the Guest filmography?
EBJ: I think the riff in Yiddish in A Mighty Wind is one of my favorite moments.
AVC: Was that something that was scripted, or was that all you?
EBJ: It was totally spontaneous. I just came up with it before we rolled. I don’t know what I was thinking. It was entirely inappropriate to do that, because I’m a Swedish American producer. Why Yiddish? [Laughs.] And my angle, I guess, was that I was trying to ingratiate myself to [Bob] Balaban’s character, Steinbloom. You know how goyish people pepper their dialogue with Yiddish to try and curry favor with someone of that persuasion? That’s what I was doing. And Bob Balaban was looking at me like, “What are you doing?” And I think Bob Balaban the actor was also looking at me like, “Where did this coming from?” [Laughs.] ”He didn’t do this in the rehearsal!” But Bob made up for it. His reaction to that is just sheer brilliance.
AVC: You’ve worked with Bob Balaban a few times, but I’m particularly partial to Greedy.
EBJ: That was one of the best times I’ve ever had on a movie. Michael J. Fox, Kirk Douglas, Phil Hartman, Jere Burns, Bob, and a very young Kirsten Dunst! She had just one line, but everyone knew even back then. “Look at that girl! That girl’s gonna be a star!” She had one line! [Laughs.]
AVC: At least one of our readers said they’re still convinced that they dreamed this movie.
EBJ: [Laughs.] That was a great treat, working with Michael Lehmann. I had seen Heathers and was a big fan of his, and everybody wondered what he was going to do next. Well, he and this guy, I think his name is Redbeard [Simmons], they wrote that script, and it was out there. They got Stockard Channing to do it, and I think he asked me, “Would you call your friend Dabney and see if he’d do it?” He was a big fan—as I am—of Dabney Coleman. So we got Dabney to be in it. That movie holds up really well for me. I like that movie. It’s a real original. There’s nothing like it from that period.
AVC: Because of that, you were probably surprised that it became more of a cult film than a box-office smash.
EBJ: Right, it didn’t do a lot of box-office business, but it has a following. People saw it during that period and saw it later and they really thought it was worthy. I certainly think it’s worthy. I’ve worked with Michael Lehmann a lot lately on Blunt Talk and this show we did for Amazon called Betas. So I love working with Michael. He’s a great director, and he’s directing lots and lots of wonderful television.
EBJ: Rob [Thomas] is so talented, and Kristen Bell is so talented. I just saw her last night. She sang at this thing for Oceana, and she is a world-class great singer. Most people know this from Frozen, but I didn’t really know it because I knew her mostly in the context of Veronica Mars and that she was a really talented actress. But what a singer! I just think the world of her, and Rob is just a great producer, great writer, great director. That was a great arc I had on Veronica Mars, and what a smart show. A smart, funny, interesting show. And then after that I got to work on Party Down, the show that he did after Veronica Mars, and that episode I did with Jane Lynch and a lot of other wonderful people is one of my better moments in episodic television. I just love that episode of Party Down, as I love the stuff in Veronica Mars.
AVC: How did you first meet Carl Gottlieb? You worked with him on Amazon Women On The Moon, but before that you also appeared in a sequel to A Christmas Carol that he directed for George Burns Comedy Week.
EBJ: You are very wise to ask that. Nobody’s ever asked me that. Carl Gottlieb has been a dear friend for very many years. I was a fan of his and of all of the members of the group called The Committee, this improv group with Howard Hesseman and Carl and Garry Goodrow and all these very talented actors. Lee French, Julie Payne, these wonderful people. They started in San Francisco then came to L.A. and worked at the Tiffany, and Carl was one of the mainstays of that fine group. I knew Carl socially, too. He was a friend of Samantha Eggar’s, and I’d see him around and we’d schtickle together and just kind of make each other laugh.
And then his wife, Allison Caine, had a loop group, an ADR group that did looping and dialogue enhancement for movies, so suddenly I’m working thanks to Carl and Allison on Jaws 2, on Slap Shot, Ordinary People, Rollercoaster… All these movies that I’m not in! [Laughs.] But you get residuals because you did a SAG job of doing a voice on it! So Carl and I were friends for years, we did some improv things together, and he hired me as a writer during the actors’ strike in 1980. I was broke, I didn’t know what I was going to do, I had a young family, and he gave me a job on The Smothers Brothers Show. Carl is a very talented guy, and he’s one of my dear friends for life.
EBJ: At that point in 1985, I had never been offered the lead in a movie. That just didn’t happen. They wanted Jeff [Goldblum] to do it, and I think I was kind of the bait. They knew Jeff and I were friends, so they figured, “Well, we’ll try to get Begley to do it, he’ll probably do it, and then that’ll lure Jeff in.” And I think that’s kind of what happened. They offered the movie, I said “Yes,” and then I kind of said, “Jeff, I’m doing it! Are you going to do it? Jump on in, the water’s fine!” And he—correctly—went, “Well, what about the script? Do you think it really works?” “We’ll make it work! It’ll be great!” And it’s actually a very charming, fun, wonderful movie. It was a very happy experience for me doing that movie, so I’m glad I did it, in every way.
EBJ: Stan Sitwell was a great character. I saw the first season of that show and flipped for it. Jeffrey Tambor is a dear friend of mine, as is Ron Howard, and Jason [Bateman] I knew a little bit before that. So when they called me up and asked me if I wanted to play this character with alopecia, I jumped at the chance.
I’m working with Mitch Hurtwitz again right now. I’m doing the new Maria Bamford show, if you know Maria Bamford. She’s a wonderful comedienne. I’m playing her father on a thing called Lady Dynamite, and Mitch is producing, directing, writing… He’s doing everything.
AVC: Do you have a favorite Stan line or scene?
EBJ: I just remember trying to do some scenes with Will Arnett, and one of the eyebrows kind of stuck to him when we were doing some sort of embrace. I’m giving him a hug or something, and one of my eyebrows sticks to his face or shirt or something, and we were just. Maybe it was scripted that that was supposed to happen—it may have been because of Mitch’s genius that that happened, as most things are on that set—but it was so goddamned funny when we did it. Mitch is unbelievable. I’m just so happy to work with him again.