Craig T. Nelson’s Loss Was Ed O’Neill’s ‘Modern Family’ Gain

Ed O'Neill ABC photo

Ed O'Neill ABC photo

The raft of rave reviews that preceded Ed O’Neill’s “Modern Family” sitcom onto the ABC lineup this week are being received with a mixed response by the actor.

“It’s kind of spooky,” says the man who first found television fame as Al Bundy on the long running “Married, With Children.”  “I’m not used to such good fortune. I’ve never had a show that’s come out of the gate like this.  It seems too good to be true.”

It was too good to be true at first.  Ed reveals that the creators of the hilarious   three-generation sitcom offered him the starring part before it had even been written.  But it turned out the network wanted Craig T. Nelson as the lead, “and it was only when that didn’t work out,” says Ed, “that they came back to me.  I told my manager, ‘Make the deal — it’s too good a show to pass up.”

It wasn’t the first time fate played a happy hand on Ed.  “The hardest job I never got was David Milch’s “Deadwood.” he says. “I was slated to play the lead, but it turned out that HBO didn’t want me.  There was no point in asking why.  But about 15 minutes after I got the word that I wasn’t doing the show received a call from producer Dick Wolf who was doing a remake of ‘Dragnet.‘  Danny Huston was supposed to star, but backed out and here was Dick telling me, ‘I need you to play Joe Friday.’ Joe, of course, was the lead.”

O’Neill reveals, “I’m rarely the first pick, and there have been times that that’s been really upsetting.  But it didn’t put me to bed.  After a day or two I would shrug it off.  I’d be crazy if I didn’t consider myself one of the lucky actors.   At first, after ‘Married,With Children,’ there was the tendency to typecast me, but I never took it personally.  I just kept going forward and thought that eventually I’d be able to get away from the role of Al Bundy.  And I have.  And that’s enabled me to get out of the system money-wise, where I don’t have to do jobs I don’t want to do just because I need the money.  Indeed, I am lucky.”

THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT ACTING:  When you’re an actor on a series doing love scenes with the actress who is married to the star of the show in real life, it would seem things might get a little nerve-wracking.  But David Ramsey – guitar-playing, pot-smoking confidential informant Anton Briggs to “Dexter” fans – makes it sound as if he and Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter take it all in stride. 

 “Love scenes in general are awkward.  I don’t know that it’s more awkward,” he tells us.  “You try to be careful in scenes where you have to kiss, to make sure you haven’t had hot dogs that day or whatever.” 

 According to Ramsey, there’s lots more of Anton and Debra (Dexter’s sister) ahead on this season of the Showtime hit, which has its season premiere Sunday (9/27).  “The writers, to their credit, aren’t going for the same type of shock value they did last year in terms of something life-threatening happening to Anton,” divulges the actor – whose character, last year, was nearly skinned alive.  This season “delves into the psychology of Debra and Anton’s relationship.  He’s the calm in the storm for her.  The major challenge between Debra and Anton this season is how she sees herself as not really worthy of love.  She has a major problem with her self-worth.  That fact becomes illuminated by Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine) coming back into her life.”

 THE INDUSTRY EYE:  Keanu Reeves’ “Henry’s Crime” is set to go into production the end of November with shooting set for New York City and Buffalo, Malcolm Venville directing and Keanu producing.  Just one big element still missing, it would seem, from the romantic comedy about a nice guy who’s mis-identified as a bank robber — the leading lady.  They’re talking to prospects now to fill the role of Julia, an aspiring actress (a good one – who’s in a production of “The Cherry Orchard”) who’s Henry’s love interest.

 An even bigger actor space to fill is that of the lead character Sutter Kelly in Fox Searchlight’s adaptation of the Tim Tharp novel, “The Spectacular Now.”   The coming-of-age dramedy is about a hard-partying, popular high school boy whose world changes when he meets a shy, insecure girl – a boy also facing the uncomfortable realization that his youth is almost over – so it’s very choice role.  Marc Webb of music video and “500 Days of Summer” fame is set to direct the movie

 It was announced last March that Corey Feldman would be on board for “The Lost Boys 3” – and now preproduction is picking up on the direct-to-DVD threequel, with casting being completed on subsidiary roles.

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster 

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This entry was posted in The Hollywood Exclusive by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith and tagged , , , , , , on by .

About Stacy Jenel Smith

I grew up in the San Fernando Valley when it was a kids' Shangri La in the 60s and we had Fabulous Eddie's miniature golf and trampolines on Ventura Boulevard. My big brother frequented The Third Eye psychedelic shop back in the day, but he wound up turning out anyway. Dad was an NBC video man who worked on "Laugh-In," Dean Martin's show, and specials by everyone from Sinatra to Fred Astaire. Mom was a first class home maker and PTA and GCA volunteer. They're still doing great. Anxious to get going in life, I quit college and jumped into journalism when I was still a teenager, and was writing for the New York Times syndicate and People magazine before turning 20. But that was a long time, many adventures, lots of traveling around the world and thousands of interviews ago. I go back to the very last days of hot type and getting to talk to Henry Fonda and Bette Davis, and Sammy Davis at the old Brown Derby...What a ride. That's in no small part thanks to my amazing writing partner, Marilyn Beck, one of the grand old-school Hollywood columnist stars -- a true star -- who knows how to do it right. I'm lucky, for sure. Now is fun, too. I love going out to events with my 17-year-old daughter (Jonas Brothers!). Seeing everything fresh through her eyes renews my excitement about the game. In-between I went back and finished school -- University of Redlands -- married, divorced, and at long last found my true love. My favorite things outside of the show business realm are being with my family, my faith and spiritual growth, learning new things (from doing Qigong to uploading stuff on Facebook), and running. See you on the trail.

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