Ryan Seacrest, watch your back. Why? Because while you’ve had a good run as the hardest-working guy in show business, Fred Willard — whose recently appeared in everything from MODERN FAMILY (as Phil’s dad) to THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE (as Mr. Stuffleby) — would like nothing better than to steal that title out from under you.
“When I’m not working I say, ‘What’s wrong? What aren’t I getting these jobs!’”, admits Willard. “And then when I get a job, I say, ‘Oh boy, I can’t wait until this is over so I can just sit at home and read the paper!’” jokes the affable star. And yet, as a character actor, he’s had the opportunity to work steadily without becoming that thing no actor wants to be: overexposed. You don’t, as he explains, want people saying, “Are we tired of this guy yet?”
Fortunately for him, that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon, especially given his status as one of televisions most dependable go-to guys when it comes to guaranteed laugh-getters. But how did he achieve that rare status? Frankly, by not being overly picky!
“I found early in my career that I almost never get anything I audition for,” he claims. “So at some point, point I decided that any time I was offered something ,I would just grab it!” As luck would have it, what he wound up being offered were a lot of very good parts! “The last couple of roles I have been offered were really wonderful, and I just jumped at them. It’s very flattering, and I’m very lucky.”
Or perhaps he’s living proof that you truly do reap what you sow as evidenced by the fact that despite being nearly 70-years-old, he continues to get great parts like the one on this Monday’s episode of CASTLE which finds him playing the sidekick (read: Ed McMahon) to a legendary-if-aging chatfest host (read: Jay Leno as embodied by guest star Tom Bergeron). The script finds author-and-occasional detective Castle appearing on the talk show to promote his book, Heat Wave.
“According to the script, my character and Tom’s have been buddies for 30 years. We’re best friends, and I make a point to laugh at all of his jokes,” previews Willard. “In the back of my mind, you couldn’t help seeing or hearing [my character as] Ed McMahon.”
Of course, where Castle goes, death tends to follow, so it should surpirse no one when the host of the talk show winds up biting the bullet under (all together now!)… very suspicious circumstances.
Next up? Look for Willard to reprise his role on MODERN FAMILY, this time visiting his son in person as opposed to via iChat. “I enjoy it very much, because I like the producers and writers, Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd. You do a couple of takes and then they say to do whatever you want to do. You get the freedom and then move on,” he says of the sitcom’s set.
Of course, if there’s one thing we know about FAMILY, it’s that visitors often cause trouble… and the actor says Phil’s dad is no different. “I live in Florida they live in L.A.,” Willard says in character. “So I drive my van to drop off the dog that my wife is allergic to, which allows me to be a little sad and a little happy.”
And as if to validate that whole “hardest working man in show biz” thing we were discussing, he then goes on to reveal a little intel about his upcoming appearance on CHUCK.
“It’s the kind of role I always wanted to do,” he admits. “Like Robert Wagner in HART TO HART. Swoosie Kurtz plays my wife, and we’re assigned to help out Chuck and Sarah. We’re suave, sophisticated and have been through it all. The first thing I do when I come into the apartment is ask for a special kind of martini. But Chuck and Sarah, who see their future in us, are kind of disappointed because they see we’ve got feet of clay!”
The episode is titled “Chuck versus the Role Models,” which strikes us as wildly appropriate seeing as any actor out there would be well-advised to use Willard and his career as a guide to succeeding in show business. In fact, his autobiography might well be called “How To Succeed In Business… By Really, Really, Really Trying.”