A month shy of turning 76, Elliott Gould is quite pleased with himself for having two — count ’em, two — high-profile television series gigs simultaneously. Showtime’s excellent “Ray Donovan” has been using the one-time counterculture icon to great effect as the aging Hollywood power lawyer who is Ray’s (Liev Schreiber) mentor and boss. And, come October, he’ll be seen as Oscar, the flamboyant, advice-giving neighbor of John Mulaney in that “Saturday Night Live” alumnus’ new Fox sitcom, “Mulaney” — along with Nasim Pedrad, Zack Pearlman, Seaton Smith, and Martin Short.
The two shows have been cooperating on Gould’s schedule “so I get to play different characters in two different series,” explained Gould the other day, following the “Mulaney” panel at the Television Critics’ Association summer press tour.
What accounts for his being so busy at this stage of the game? “My answer to that question is, my mother never gave up, and I have to be the way I am,” replies Gould in one of his trademark convoluted answers.
He adds, “And as far as my own ignorance and lack of perspective and judgment through a good deal of my career, it’s taken me forever to attain this character. And therefore, to have this opportunity to have the nature and the strength and the health to work in these productions.”
That makes sense if you recall Gould’s roller coaster career trajectory. He spent 20 years attaining the status of top in-demand film star with “M*A*S*H” and “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” only to become a pariah overnight after the shut-down of his big-budget “Glimpse of Tiger” amid rumors of a breakdown or drug problem. “It had been a week rife with reports that…he was behaving strangely…walking around with a pacifier in his mouth, blowing whistles during camera takes, flying into screaming rages at director Tony Harvey,” wrote Marilyn Beck. He did, of course, eventually work again, logging dozens of film and TV roles, but it was never the same. Decades of forgettable roles and near-misses followed before Steven Soderbergh cast him as one-time casino owner Reuben Tishkoff in his 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven,” and its follow-ups.
Now Gould is enjoying playing two series characters that are nothing alike. According to him, his “Ray Donovan” character will be more prominent in the future. “Ezra is a very serious character, a rather pios character. He’s a highly successful, deeply-connected person. We haven’t seen too much of Ezra, but we will see more of him since his brain tumor is corrected,” he says. As far as “Mulaney,” “With Oscar, you see all of Oscar’s inside. Oscar expresses what he’s feeling. This character is a highly original character for me to do.”
Another difference: “Mulaney” is being shot before an audience with multiple cameras. It’s a challenge. However, says Gould, “I enjoy working and a challenge for me to work with these young people. I enjoy the opportunity and I work at it.”
As for how he maintains his vigor, Gould says, “What do I do – I have a family, I have grown children, and I have a very good relationship with nature. To me, it’s all about the family and mostly about chemistry and being honest and true.”