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: Tim Daly began his on-camera acting career at a young age, thanks in no small part to his father, James Daly (Medical Center), but it wasn’t until high school that he decided that he wanted to pursue it as an actual career. Despite a preference for the theater, Daly got his big-screen break with Diner, but he’s continued to find his most significant successes on the small screen, first with Wings, then with Private Practice. Currently, Daly can be found in the new CBS drama, Madam Secretary, playing Téa Leoni’s significant other.
Madam Secretary (2014-present)—“Henry McCord”
Tim Daly: What I love about Henry McCord is that he is confident enough and powerful enough to be perfectly comfortable in a dynamic marriage with a woman who’s as powerful as he is at home and more powerful than he is outside the home.
The A.V. Club: How did you find your way onto the series? Did they come looking for you, or were you looking for a full-time gig?
TD: No, what happened was that the script was sent to me and—I think they were, frankly, thrilled that I was interested in it, because they like me and I like them. I know Barbara [Hall], I was a fan of Téa’s, and obviously Morgan Freeman was involved [as an executive producer]. But I read it, and, you know, I needed to meet with Barbara, because the fear about something like this is that you become the male version of what we’ve become too accustomed to on television for decades, which is the supportive wife, right? And I didn’t want to be the supportive wife, only with a penis.
But that’s not what this role is or what it will be, by any stretch of the imagination. Like an onion, Henry will have many layers that will be peeled back over the course of this series. We’ll learn a lot more about him. But I just liked him. Also, I loved that this was an opportunity to do something that, sadly, has become rare on television, which is to represent a really dynamic, vital marriage that’s working, that’s complicated and difficult, but you get the sense that these people are passionately, fiercely committed to making it work out. Despite all the complexities and troubles that may befall them, they’re going to have it be workable. And that’s good, because I do think it exists, despite the fact that, on TV, all the marriages are going to shit.
AVC: Off the top of your head, are there any past TV marriages that you’d liken to the one between Henry and Elizabeth?
TD: You know, I will say one marriage that I’ll liken it to, and this is going to be interesting, but—I was thinking about the marriage that was depicted in the TV show that my sister [Tyne Daly] did—Cagney & Lacey. Mary Beth Lacey and Harvey had a great marriage. They had a lot of conflict, but they were in it, and they weren’t going anyplace. This is obviously very different, but as a loose generalization, I would say that one.
An Enemy Of The People (1966)—“Morten Stockmann”
TD: Oh, God. Okay, so the big story about that is—well, obviously, it was complete nepotism, because my dad [James Daly] was there. I was playing my dad’s son. They had a kid who got fired because he was a little shit who wouldn’t learn his lines and kept bothering everybody, so I went and auditioned. Badly. But they gave me the part anyway. But if you watch that, if you can get the kinescope or whatever the fuck that was shot on, you will see me look right into the barrel of the camera. Like, three times. Just look. I’ve got my mouth open, like I’m hypnotized, but they didn’t have enough money to reshoot, because it was shot almost like a play, in big chunks. So there it is—me gazing right at the American public.
AVC: So is it not a coincidence, then, that it was a very long time before you set foot in front of a camera again?
TD: [Laughs.] Look, I was just a little kid. I had no idea what I was doing. I think it was a favored-nations contract. I was 9 years old, and this was—well, whenever it was, they paid a thousand bucks. I thought I was going to be rich forever! But I had no thought I would be an actor at that point.
AVC: Do you remember at what point you decided that you did want to try pursuing a career in acting?
TD: My freshman year at high school. It took me a long time to get around to it. But I played Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and I remember people saying to me, “I had no idea it was you.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s really fun.” It made me happy that I could pull the wool over somebody’s eyes.
Hill Street Blues (1981)—“Dann”
AVC: Your first on-camera role as an adult would’ve been on Hill Street Blues, right?
TD: [Instantly.] “Bulgarians, Lieutenant!” That’s all I remember about that. This wonderful character actor, Dolph Sweet, looked over at me and said, “Whaddaya got?” And I made a big show of saying, “Bulgarians, Lieutenant!” And then it was something like, “Three fingernails on the left hand, one fingernail on the right hand.” Beyond that, I remember that my hair was too long and that I had no idea what I was doing.
AVC: You did some theater work prior to doing Hill Street Blues. Did you always have the desire to get back in front of the camera, or had you been happy doing theater?
TD: I never had the desire to get in front of the camera. It never occurred to me! I always thought I’d be a theater actor. Then I did that on Hill Street Blues, which I thought was weird, because all I did was wait around all day, and then I got to act for 20 minutes, and then I was done. It was like, “What? What happened?” Because I like to do the most possible acting. So I thought I’d be a stage actor, maybe work in regional theater, which I did: I was offered to be a part of a resident company in Providence, Rhode Island, in Trinity Rep, and it was my dream come true. Then, like so often happens, if you happen to have your dream come true, you then get another dream.
I didn’t dream of being in television or film. But then I got married pretty young and had children, and I wanted to feed the children, so I worked a lot of film and television. I still think I prefer theater, because—as I said—it’s the most acting per day. You know, you spend the most hours working per day probably in television and film, because you’re around, but you have to wait so much. And my idea of a good time is not sitting in a motor home, waiting for them to put up lights. My idea is actually getting to do it. So what happens between “action” and “cut,” I’m good with.
Ambush In Waco: In The Line Of Duty (1993)—“David Koresh”
TD: Oh, boy. I remember being—that was a weird one, and a performance that I’m actually very proud of. I think it’s very good. It got a lot of flak because it was done so quickly on the heels of that thing, but I think my performance was good. I was on Regis And—Kathie Lee, was it, back then? And they put up a side-by-side photograph of David Koresh and me, and I literally stopped and was like, “Oh, my God!” I had not seen that juxtaposition, and I was shocked at how similar we looked. But that was incredibly involving, and it was weird, because at one point during that production, I was playing a guy who was alive in the morning and was dead after lunch. And I hope never to have that experience again.
AVC: Obviously there was plenty of resource material to be had. Did you do any additional research on your own, or did you prefer to just stick with the script?
TD: Not only did I do a lot of research—I mean, there was a researcher who was on call sort of 24/7, but I had a wonderful producer, Ken Kaufman, and director, Dick Lowry, who allowed me the freedom to go into the script and—not rewrite it, but augment it. The one thing in my research about David Koresh that I found was that people disagreed on everything about him except for one thing: He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible and the ability to recall it, chapter and verse, at will whenever he needed it in conversation. So I thought that his dialogue needed him to quote chapter and verse all the time, because he was able to manipulate people who’ve had that particular bent toward religious fervor by using the Bible out of context to make his arguments.
So I was staying in a hotel room in Tulsa that actually had a conference room next to it, and on the walls of the conference room I put biblical quotes. It looked like the lair of an insane person. [Laughs.] There were biblical quotes on index cards all over the walls, and on push-boards and on blackboards, because I was constantly infusing those things into scenes. I got a concordance and would pull things out on various subjects that I could use. And they were also good about—now, I don’t want to say they gave me power, because if I had an idea that they thought was bad, they would say, “Tim, this is a shitty idea,” and I’d say, “All right.” But if they liked it, they’d leave it in.
The Fugitive (2000-2001)—“Dr. Richard Kimble”
TD: [Intoning.] “Dr. Richard Kimble.” I just loved that show. It was like being a kid. The first thing that flashes in my mind is sitting on top of a semi trailer going 70 miles an hour down a deserted highway outside Seattle in the middle of the night. It’s just cool, you know? Jumping off an 11-story building onto pads on the floor below. Doing stunts. But also having an interesting, complex character to play. I was sad that show went away. I’m not quite sure why it did.
AVC: What did you think when they pitched you the idea of doing a reboot of a show that had also been adapted into a film?
TD: I thought it was a great idea, and at the time—I mean, I remember being at the affiliates dinner in Las Vegas, sitting next to Les Moonves, and they showed the entire pilot—and it got a standing ovation that went on for two minutes. And I thought, “We’re golden.” And then for some reason—Not to criticize Les, because they have their own way of thinking about these things—but we were on Friday nights at 8, and I thought, “Oh, that’s a weird time for this.” Because I thought it was adult. It had plenty of action, but I thought it was a dark story about a guy who had a lot of troubles. Anyway, for whatever reason, it didn’t work. But I loved it.
The Mindy Project (2014)—“Charlie Lang”
Hot In Cleveland (2014)—“Mitch”
TD: The Mindy Project was so much fun. There were two great lines that I had, one being “sauce.” [Laughs.] Just staring down a guy and saying “sauce.” It was really fun. The other one was, “I’m not a guy, I’m a man.” That’s a great line! So I’ve got to credit Mindy [Kaling] for that writing. She’s a cool character and a very fun and quirky and confident and interesting woman. And it’s a good set. It’s a weird medium, doing a single-camera comedy, because when you do a comedy in front of a live audience, you sort of know where you stand. If they’re laughing, you know you’ve hit the joke. With single camera, sometimes the crew laughs, but then they get bored, and you don’t know if you’re good or just shitting the bed after a while. You have to hope that they find something good there to put in.
AVC: You also got to do Hot In Cleveland, so you got the multi-camera experience again, too.
TD: You know what? I hadn’t done a four-camera live sitcom since Wings, but I went on that set, and those women are just lovely. They’re so great. But for me, it was kind of like looking in my closet and finding an old jacket, and going, “Oh, look at this jacket!” And then putting it on and saying, “Damn, it still fits and not only does it fit, but I still look pretty good in this! This is not bad!” I really had a great time. It actually made me have tremendous appreciation—and also a little bit of regret—that I didn’t appreciate Wings even more when I was doing it. Because the life of it is great, and it’s just fun. But it’s also a peculiar medium. I know a lot of great actors that cannot do a sitcom. They can do comedy in the theater, they can even do it in the movies, but a live four-camera sitcom? They can’t do it, for whatever reason. And I can. [Shrugs.] I’m pretty good at it. And I had a great time doing it again.
AVC: So would you consider doing another one, then?
TD: Oh, sure. If it was good. I have one rule about comedy: It has to be funny. Because a lot of them aren’t. And that really bums me out.
Diner (1982)—“Billy Howard”
TD: Oh, gosh. “I’ll hit you so hard, I’ll kill your whole family.” [Laughs.] I mean, if that line doesn’t make it onto some reel about the greatest movie lines ever, I don’t know why, because that’s a great line. You know, I was so green, I had no idea what I was doing. Actually, I think my nervousness worked for that part, but—that’s one I’d like to have back. I’d like to play Billy Howard again knowing what I do now, having a little more experience.
AVC: A Diner sequel, perhaps?
TD: [Snorts, then begins speaking in a deadpan.] Yeah. Sure. Okay. Great. That’s good. All right, I’ll do it. I’ll do it! [Laughs.] Anyway…
AVC: By the way, I’m going to be talking to Daniel Stern tomorrow for this feature.
TD: Oh, yeah? Danny. Oh, boy. [Laughs.] We used to—Baltimore was such a shithole then that there was, like, one place to have dinner, so we’d all go together, and we’d then eventually wind up there in groups. So we’d look across the restaurant, there’d be a couple of guys over here, a few guys over there, and we started telling the waiters, “Send those guys whatever they’re drinking. Send them a couple of beers.” And then that got boring, so we’d say, “What are those guys drinking? Beer? Send them a pink lady and a velvet hammer.” And then a couple of weeks later, “What are those guys drinking? Beer? Okay, send them an order of the chicken and a side of fries.” “What?” “Yeah, just send it to them.” It was just this constant thing of trying to figure out the funniest thing to send the other table.
AVC: What was the worst reaction you got from sending something?
TD: Oh, it was all hilarious. [Laughs.] No one felt obliged to eat or drink anything we sent over. It was all in fun.
AVC: You said you were still pretty green and kind of nervous. How did you get into the film in the first place?
TD: I auditioned in New York, and I met Ellen Chenoweth, who told me that she thought I was too young, but that she liked me and thought I should go read for Barry [Levinson]. So I went and read for him, and he liked me, and he had me read again—and then he had me read again, and he had me read again. Then I did a screen test or two. It was a long process, and I believe the studio wanted another actor—who probably should’ve done it, because I think I know who it was. But I got lucky. Because Barry liked me, and because the other actor didn’t want to do it.
AVC: When Diner proved to be a success, did you think, “Oh, boy, now I’ve got a movie career,” or did you not even think of it in those terms?
TD: Well, the first thing I did after Diner was go and work in regional theater, and I went on tour for six months. So, you know, my agents were tearing their hair out and ready to kill me. [Laughs.] I mean, in retrospect, I made a lot of really bonehead career decisions, in terms of the size of my career. I’ve obviously had a really blessed life and a great career, and they haven’t kicked me out yet. I sort of thought, “Okay, Diner is now my artistic benchmark, below which I will not fall,” not realizing that a movie like that comes along maybe once in a career, if you’re lucky. So I’ve turned down a lot of things that could’ve turned me into a movie star or something. Or I could’ve had a whole other trajectory to my career. But theater was really important to me, so I got to do that, and then I got to do television. I’ve had a diverse career, so I don’t regret it. But they were bonehead decisions.
Dr. Jekyll And Ms. Hyde (1995)—“Dr. Richard Jacks”
TD: Oh, Jesus Christ. Goddammit, I knew it. Goddamned Internet! [Laughs.] Well, okay, you know what? There are a few things about it. One is that, at certain points in my career, I’d tried to be a snob about material, and I thought, “This is a silly, stupid comedy.” But I’d just seen Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and I thought that was stupid, but it was funny. And I thought, “Maybe this’ll be something. Maybe this’ll be stupid and funny!” Not so much. Just stupid. But you know what it did do? They paid me quite a bit of money for that at the time, and it allowed me to buy my farm in Vermont that I’ve had ever since. That is the place where my heart lives. No matter where I am, my heart is there. So there’s a silver lining to all that, but—yeah. Oh, gosh, Dr. Jekyll And Ms. Hyde. What good memories do I have about that? Oh, shooting on the skeleton of a building, overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, when there was the International Fireworks Competition. That was amazing. So we had to shut down shooting every night to watch fireworks for 45 minutes. And they were eye level, because we were on the 10th floor of this building.
AVC: I have to ask, at least partly because you didn’t mention her name at all: How was Sean Young to work with?
TD: Uh… [Gestures to the recorder.] Turn that off, and I’ll tell you.
[Writer’s note: Man, do I wish I could tell you what he said, because it was hysterical.]
Made In Heaven (1987)—“Tom Donnelly”
TD: Oh, gosh! I had such a good time making that movie, because Alan Rudolph was, like, the coolest guy ever. Every day on the set, he just let the actors play so much—I think perhaps to the detriment of that movie. [Laughs.] But every day, the entire cast and crew was invited to go view the dailies, so it was like a big party as you’d watch all the dailies. His attitude was, “Everybody worked their ass off, and now you get to go and see what you did.” Which was really wonderful. I remember he used to sit in the back, and, you know, you’d see multiple takes of the same scene, and he had—well, this was way back when, but he had a cassette player, and he’d be popping in tapes of different music and playing the music under the scene. And it was astounding how a scene could completely change if the music was jazz or rock ’n’ roll or classical or folk music. It just totally altered the mood of the scene. I think that was a really interesting thing that he did, to try and find what it was.
AVC: He also had a couple of musicians in the film, but did you actually get to work with either Neil Young or Ric Ocasek?
TD: No, I didn’t. And I’m sort of bummed about that. But Alan was really into music. And it’s funny, because the other thing I remember about that movie was that we’d walk out of the dailies and say, “This is going to be the greatest fucking movie of all time. This is going to be the best movie ever made.” And I think that’s because every scene was so interesting, because he was so creative and let us play it. But, you know, what he had at the end of the movie was, like, 150 really interesting scenes that maybe didn’t tell a cohesive story in two hours. [Laughs.] Although I’ve heard that there was a four-hour cut of the movie, and I would’ve liked to have seen that. I mean, that’s a little long, but I bet there was something there, because Alan’s a really smart and creative guy.
Year Of The Comet (1992)—“Oliver Plexico”
TD: Oh, God. Year Of The Comet. What a bummer, man. I loved that movie, I loved doing it. It was just a great part for me! And that was my shot, right? That was my shot to be a movie star. I mean, on paper, it was a William Goldman script, Peter Yates directing, it was a Castle Rock production, it had a good budget—and the movie just did not work. But I still think—as I recall, I think I was pretty good in that movie. [Laughs.] I mean, I don’t blame myself for the lack of success. There was also the added novelty that it was released the weekend of the Rodney King riots, where every white person in the United States was locked in their safe room. So I don’t think a lot of folks were traipsing out to the movies. I think it may still hold the record for being the biggest flop in Castle Rock history. A dubious distinction.
AVC: What were your feelings on the mustache you sported in the film?
TD: Um… you know, I thought it was kind of dope. [Laughs.] I mean, it was a little Robert Redford-esque, don’t you think? Or something. I kind of like it. It drove me crazy, though. I was always, like, pulling at it or licking it. But I thought it added a certain—I mean, it either added some panache, or it made me look like a ’70s porn star. Take your pick.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1986)—“Scott”
Almost Grown (1988-1989)—“Norman Foley”
TD: Oh, man. Almost Grown was one role, but it was in three different time periods. That was one of the greatest roles I’ve ever had. It was a dream come true for an actor. I’d worked with David Chase on the first thing he ever directed, this remake of an Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode that he’d updated called “Enough Rope For Two.” David and I just get each other. I just totally get that guy, and he gets me. We made each other laugh.
But Almost Grown was an immensely complicated TV series. This was back when people were still laughing at HBO, because—well, it was like a joke. It was mostly just crappy stuff. I can’t imagine what CBS thought of that show. They must’ve looked at that and gone, “What the fuck is this?” I mean, if you got up and took a leak during that show, you didn’t know what was going on. You really have to pay attention. And I think commercials hurt it. But basically it was, like, 1964, 1972, and present day, which was ’88 or ’89, and I was playing between ages 16 and 40 in any given episode. It was really challenging, and the hours were brutal, but I really loved it.
AVC: When you sign on to a series like that, where it’s interesting material but—even as you were reading the script for the pilot episode, I would presume—you know it’s going to be a struggle for audiences to latch onto, do you just go in, enjoy the challenge, and cross your fingers for its success?
TD: Well, look, everybody has to define “success” for themselves, right? And we’re Americans, so most of us define “success” by how much money we make, right? I don’t do that. I really don’t give a shit about that. I mean, I like money as much as the next guy, but I don’t really give a shit. People have said to me, “Were you depressed when Almost Grown failed?” And I’ve said, “Well, no, because it didn’t fail. It was freaking great! I don’t know—for whatever reason, it didn’t find an audience, but that was a great show. And I felt the same way about Eyes, and I felt the same way about The Fugitive, and I felt the same way about The Nine. Those were really good shows that didn’t catch on for whatever reason. But, the landscape is littered with those things. The good news is, I got to do them. But the two things I’ve done on television that have gotten the worst reviews are the ones that’ve stayed on the air! [Laughs.] So go figure!
The Sopranos (2004-2007)—“J.T. Dolan”
AVC: To keep it on the David Chase shows, when you played J.T. Dolan, did it give you a certain sense of satisfaction that, despite all the people who were thinking of you in terms of Wings by that point, you were able to pick up a role on The Sopranos because David remembered what you were capable of?
TD: Well, it’s interesting, because HBO still won’t touch me with a 10-foot pole, even though I’ve been on two of their most successful things, From The Earth To The Moon and The Sopranos. So I’m sure David had to ram me down their throats, because I’m not unknown, I’m not a movie star, and I’m not Australian, which is who they cast now. [Laughs.] But I was thrilled about it.
David and I are friends, and I know he’s always looking out for me. He called me up four different times about The Sopranos, and it was a very funny conversation, actually. He said, “Listen, how’d you like to play this role?” And I said, “Wow, it sounds interesting! Tell me about this.” And he was like, “Well, the guy does this, this, and this,” but then it was, like, “Wait, no, never mind. No, forget it. I don’t want you to do that.” I’m like, “Wait, hold on!” He’s like, “Nah, never mind, I’ll find something else for you.” Four times, he talked himself out of the role he was going to give me. [Laughs.] And then finally he wrote J.T. Dolan for me, to be his alter-ego: the downtrodden, abused TV writer.
It was funny, because he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t forget anything. In the original script, he had the guy’s name as T.J. Dolan and he was from Paramus, New Jersey, or something like that. And then David remembered that I had grown up in the town adjacent to Mahwah, New Jersey, so he actually generated pages that changed where the guy lived from Paramus to Mahwah. And then he remembered that my actual name is James Timothy Daly, not Timothy James Daly, so he issued pages making it J.T. Dolan, not T.J. Dolan. [Laughs.] So he was all in there.
But I’m eternally grateful to him for that, because it was a really fun role and an iconic show. It sort of changed everything, man. It really did. It put HBO on the map, and it showed the people who make television that television didn’t have to be a certain way, that there was an appetite for interesting adult dramas. So, yeah, that was a good one.
Bereft (2004)—“Happy,” director, producer
AVC: For Bereft, not only did you act in the film, but you also produced it and directed it.
AVC: You have not, however, done a huge amount of directing either before that or since then.
TD: No. And the reason for that is… You know what? This is the thing: I look like sort of an organized, normal guy, and people accuse me of being a pretty boy and they say all those things and stuff like that, but the truth is, I’m a very strange man, and I have very odd tastes. Directing is really difficult, and I just don’t feel that I could do it unless I was really passionate about it. Bereft took years to get made, and some of the other stuff I’ve produced has taken years and years, and—it just got too hard. I don’t want to spend five years again to get a project made that’s probably not going to get made, and if it does, probably no one will see it. That’s just too hard.
Now Happy, on the other hand, was a great character, and I was great in that part, and I know why: because I was the director, and I let myself alone. The majority of my career, I’ve had directors saying to me, “Don’t do that, don’t do this, stop doing that,” and there was no one there to tell me not to do what I wanted to do. And I think that’s why I was so good.
I Married A Centerfold (1984)—“Kevin Coates”
TD: Oh, gosh. Wow. Okay, so the funny story about that. Hey, I’ve got a lot of good stories! [Laughs.] I was doing The Glass Menagerie, playing the Gentleman Caller, with Amy Irving—that was when I was being an artist—and I got this TV movie called The Girl Of His Dreams. And there was this beautiful, long scene that’s sort of the centerpiece of the movie, with Lew Ayres, the old cowboy actor, who I was a fan of, and I thought, “This is great! I mean, it’s kind of a little bit cheesy, but… it’s Lew Ayres! I get to work with him!”
So, literally, I did the closing night of The Glass Menagerie, and they hired a little two-engine prop plane to fly me from where I was, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to L.A. to start work the next day. So I fly on this plane, I go to this office in L.A., and there’s Lew Ayres and Teri Copley, who played “the girl,” and the producers and the director. And they hand me a script that’s now rainbow-colored, right? It’s red and pink and blue and taupe and whatever other colors they make up. And then on the cover of it, it says, not The Girl Of His Dreams. It says I Married A Centerfold. I’m like, “What? Huh? What’s this?”
Anyway, we read through the script. The big, beautiful scene was completely gone, and Lew Ayres, after the reading, politely stood up, and he handed the script to the producer, and he said, “Thank you very much, but I really don’t think you want me for this part. It’s not what I signed up to do.” And he walked out. And I was like, “Whoa! Holy shit!” So that was that. And at the time, I had, I think, an 8-month-old baby—my son, Sam—and they were paying me some absurd amount of money for me at the time. Like, low five figures, but it was still five figures. So I did it. And the rest is history.
AVC: But, hey, at least you got to meet Lew Ayres.
TD: I did get to meet Lew Ayres, who was a cool guy. He was very sweet, and I admired him for just kind of being old enough and cranky enough to say, “You know what? Fuck this. I’m out of here.” [Laughs.] “I’ve been around too long for this. See you later.”
From The Earth To The Moon (1998)—“Jim Lovell”
TD: I have a great photograph hanging in my office that was actually taken by Ron Howard at the White House of me, Tom Hanks, and the real Jim Lovell. The three Lovells. [Laughs.] Yeah, that was awesome. I mean, that was an awesome experience. With the exception of living at Disney World for four months or whatever it was. If I saw one more Mickey pad of butter or Mickey bar of soap, I was going to commit a crime.
Other than that, it was great, especially hanging out with our technical advisor, this guy named Dave Scott, who was just so cool, because he told us stories. He’s the guy who drove the little dune buggy on the moon. I don’t know if you remember that. But he was in this one mission with—I think it was Neil Armstrong, on a Gemini mission, where his space capsule was spinning out of control. And, you know, they saved it, but Dave’s just this kind of gentle Midwestern guy, a really smart, sweet guy, and I said, “Dave, come on, were you scared that you were going to die?” And he said, “Well… we were a little concerned when we realized we were six or seven seconds away from reaching our biological limitations.” I said, “Dave, goddammit, “biological limitations”? Just say it: You were going to die!” He was, like, “No, come on, we don’t talk about that kind of stuff.” [Laughs.] He wouldn’t do it.
Let’s see, what else did he tell me? Oh, he was really impressed with actors. He just could not believe that he could, like, teach us how to push the right buttons. He was, like, “Shoot, you actors, you could land on the moon! You know how to do trans-lunar injection!” I was like, “Dave, there’s a little bit of a difference. If we push the wrong button, it’s ‘cut, take two.’ If you push the wrong button, you’d be burned up in space. So don’t be too impressed.” [Laughs.]
Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000) / Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009) / Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) / Justice League: Doom (2012)—“Superman”
TD: You know, I feel badly that I did not realize how important Superman was to a lot of people. I had a really good time doing it. I didn’t take it as seriously as I perhaps should have because—I mean, I thought I was doing something for kids, right? I didn’t realize that there was this whole Comic-Con thing going on, that people really took that seriously.
Uh, I could tell you this story, but I want to do Superman more, so I don’t know if I should tell you the story. Oh, hell, I’ll tell it to you. Because it happened. One time, Al Roker was interviewing me in the studio where I was doing Superman, and—I don’t think it was a live interview. I think it was taped. But, anyway, there was a woman from Warner Bros. there, and there was Al, and Al said, “So what’s it like doing the voice of Superman?” And I said, “Well, you know, most of what I do is these grunting, straining, screaming noises, because Superman’s always getting clobbered. Somebody’s beating him up or he’s getting electrocuted by a laser beam, or he’s hit by a bus or a truck or smashed by a girder. Come to think of it, it’s a little disconcerting to think that the children of America have a pretty good idea of what I sound like in bed.” And Al fell out of his chair laughing, but the woman from Warner Bros. was, uh, not too happy. [Laughs.] I should’ve known better. But I did get a very nice letter from Warner Bros., asking me to please not do that anymore. So I was very contrite. I felt bad about it.
Private Practice (2007-2012)—“Dr. Pete Wilder”
TD: Um. Oh, boy. [Very long pause.] You know that old saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all”?
AVC: I am familiar with it.
TD: I think I might invoke that. Except to say that I loved the cast. I thought they were great. But other than that, I think that anything I might say would just get me in trouble and hurt some people’s feelings.
Eyes (2005-2007)—“Harlan Judd”
The Nine (2006-2007)—“Nick Cavanaugh”
AVC: You mentioned Eyes and The Nine earlier. Do you have a favorite between the two when it comes a favorite experience or one that you wish had gone longer?
TD: Eyes. It’s got to be Eyes. I just thought Eyes was so much fun. John McNamara—who’s a good pal of mine, obviously, because we’ve done two shows together—it was one of those things where he created the character and he loved it, and then he saw how I did it, and he loved it more. We both sort of enhanced each other with Harlan Judd, and—I miss that character, because I just thought he was so much fun.
AVC: Do you think The Nine was just too complicated or too sprawling for broadcast network audiences?
TD: I don’t think it was too complicated. I think maybe at the end of the day it just wasn’t a series. Maybe if it had been a six-part miniseries or something, it would’ve been fantastic, because it could’ve wrapped up. But I think the struggle with trying to keep it going was maybe too much. I also thought, when they did get to the big secret, it wasn’t that big, you know? It was, like, “Eh, whatever. I thought it’d be bigger.”
Spellbinder (1988)—“Jeff Mills”
TD: Oh, Smell Behind Her, as I used to call it. [Laughs.] Well, boy. That was—you know, it’s, like, that was—I thought, “Oh, it’s a horror movie! I’ll try it!” And then it didn’t work. Like Dr. Jekyll And Ms. Hyde. “A rompy, silly comedy? I’ll try it!” And it didn’t quite work. What I remember most about that movie are two things: One is the director, Janet Greek, trying to tell me how to back up a car, as if I’d never driven, and I was like, “I know how to drive!” And the other thing is that Kelly Preston, at that moment in time, was the sexiest human being on the planet. By a long way. This is pre-John Travolta.
Okay, I’ll tell you one more little tidbit. I’m sure that this is—I mean, someone else must’ve mentioned it at some point, but—so Kelly and I had some pretty steamy love scenes in that movie, and, you know, we were naked-esque. Naked-ish. And I remember looking over before one take, and I think I had run into a room and ripped her clothes off, pinned her against the wall, and she was hot for it, blah blah blah. I looked over, and there was the makeup person with a piece of ice, making sure that her nipples were nice and hard for the camera throw. And I thought, “I have seen everything: They’re icing her nipples before the shot.” That’s Hollywood!
Wings (1990-1997)—“Joe Hackett”
The Daly Show (2011-2013)—himself
TD: Well, geez, Joe Hackett—it’s funny, because—like a lot of people—I hadn’t really appreciated Wings until sort of recently. When I was doing it, I had a great time, because there were a lot of really talented people, and we laughed a lot—it was very funny. And it was that sitcom schedule, which I’m blessed to have had, because I actually got to be a father to my children, which is a miracle. But, you know, it didn’t get very good reviews, and it wasn’t, like, hip, you know?
It wasn’t Seinfeld, it wasn’t Friends, it didn’t really have a reputation as a “hot” show, and—it kind of made me feel a little bad. I was like, “Hey, how come nobody likes this show?” Well, in retrospect, being many years removed from it, I look back at it, and that show was really fucking great! It’s hilarious! And we were very good. We were really funny. I don’t know why we didn’t get the credit we deserved at the time. But it’s odd—now people think of it as a classic TV show. Critics, maybe not, but the citizens or whoever seem to think it was one of the all-time greats. At the time, nobody cared about it that much. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. I’m just really proud to have been in it. And I’m sorry to our writers and creators that I wasn’t maybe as positive about it then as I am now. Because it was a great show.
AVC: You had a Wings reunion of sorts a couple of years ago, when Steven Weber guest-starred on The Daly Show, the web series that you did with your son, Sam.
TD: Oh, God. [Laughs.]
AVC: What was it that made you finally decide to risk doing that reunion?
TD: You know, I’d just been dreaming about killing Weber for so many years that I thought it was important that I finally got to have that fantasy. [Laughs.] No, look, I’ve had so many close friends come and do episodes of that show—and new friends! So I just automatically thought of Stevie, and it was just a matter of timing, getting him over there, and once we finally came up with a concept, we had just a great time.
What’s really funny about it, though, is that there are Steve and my son, Sam, in the episode. Then cut to this TV show, Murder In The First, the Steven Bochco show on TNT, and Weber’s playing the pilot of a private plane. And who’s playing his co-pilot? Sam Daly, my son. And I ran into Tommy Schlamme, and I said, “Tommy, thanks for casting my son in that thing. It’s so funny.” He said, “Who’s your son?” I said, “Sam Daly.” He said, “Oh, my God, I had no idea!” I said, “Yeah! I thought you were going for a little irony or something. ‘Daly and Weber in the cockpit again! The magic is back!’”