Tag Archives: Fred Willard

Back to the Dogs (and Cats) for Busy Fred Willard

Fred Willard at Farm Sanctuary event 2011Fred Willard gets back into his “Best In Show” character of clueless commentator Buck Laughlin this weekend, when he and Jim Piddock – a.k.a. doggie show announcer Trevor Beckwith — will be chatting about the merits of celebrities’ pets on behalf of Actors and Others for Animals. The shtick will be part of the entertainment at the luncheon and show taking place at the Universal Hilton and Towers Ballroom in Universal City, California. Fred’s wife Mary is among the organizers of the Sept. 28 event.

“My wife has been very active in [Actors and Others for Animals] for several years. It’s a great group of people who really do a lot,” he says. “I see how much work goes into it. She’s working today.”

Willard is in the midst of a run of work activities himself — including the big screen “Anchorman 2” and a couple of upcoming episodes of “Modern Family,” in which he has the recurring role as the father of Phil (Ty Burrell).

“I don’t know what I’m going to be doing on it, but they’ve already contacted me,” he tells us. “You know, I was on the first season and then I didn’t do the second. I thought they forgot me. And then my wife and I were in Bora Bora, and I took a boat over to the main island, and I was on the dock waiting for the little tugboat to take me back when Steve Levitan’s wife walked by,” he recalls, referring to “Modern Family” creator/showrunner.

“She said, ‘Fred! How are you?’ We’re in Bora Bora. I said, ‘Oh, hi!’ She said, ‘Oh, I must go tell Steve you’re here.’ She left and then all of a sudden, Steve Levitan came over and said, ‘Fred, how are you?’ So we stood on this little Tahitian dock, talking. A few months later I got a call to be on the show. So you never know where you need to go to have a high profile.”

When last seen on “Modern Family,” his character’s wife had passed away and Phil and his friends were trying to hook him up with a single woman. “So I don’t know whether I’m going to have a romantic interest now or what,” says Fred, “but it’s a great show to be on.”

The gifted funnyman, whose gallery of rogues ranges from the dim lieutenant in “This is Spinal Tap” to the smarmy corporate president on “Wall-E,” returns as TV station director Edward “Ed” Harken in “Anchorman 2,” due in December.

“People have been talking about it for a year. And through much of that year people would say are you in ‘Anchorman 2,’ and I would have to say, ‘I just don’t know,'” Willard admits. “Finally I got a call that they wanted me in it. I went in and did a couple of days on it. I didn’t have as big a role as in the first one, because the group is off on a new adventure. They stop off to talk to me and want me to join them, and my character doesn’t want to join them. He discourages them and sends them on their way.”

Adds Willard, “I have to say it looks just as funny as the first one. You know, if half the people see it who seem to be interested in it, it should be a big hit. It was great. I worked with Steve Carell, and Paul Rudd and that whole gang, all being funny and silly.”

On top of that, Willard has been back in action for Pixar, voicing The Secretary of the Interior for a future flick in the “Cars” and “Planes” franchise.  So he gets to add being an animated vehicle to his list of career accomplishments. “I’m not sure what I’m going to be. Secretary of the Interior — I’ll probably be a van or something.”

Celebrating his birthday this month with a trip to Hawaii with Mary, Fred is in the midst of a happy time in his life.  It’s clearly a far, far better year this year than last, when he was arrested for a lewd act in an adult theater – an incident he has called deeply embarrassing, though ultimately, he was not charged. When the difference between summer of 2013 and 2012 is mentioned, he quickly moves on to another topic.  He seems to have put the incident behind him, and obviously, Hollywood continues to keep him busy.

Fred and Mary are involved in a number of causes and have been for years.  Since their grandson was treated at L.A.’s Children’s Hospital years ago, they’ve been supporters of the not-for-profit teaching institution.  Their ongoing charitable activities include the Boys and Girls Clubs, Farm Sanctuary, and the previously mentioned Actors and Others for Animals.  They’re all things that have to do with kids or animals, points out Willard, who gives Mary much of the credit for their involvement.

So right now it’s The Actors and Others for Animals event – for which tickets are available to the general public — in the forefront of their minds.  This brings up the softest of softball conversations — pets.

Fred and Mary have a cat.  He explains, “I’m actually a dog guy. I had one growing up and I just love them. I just don’t want to have one right now.”

The cat “started coming around our house. We think someone abandoned him. My wife started to feed him, and then one day she said, ‘Fred you might as well accept it, we have a cat.’  He’ll come and sit on my wife’s lap and watch television. He’s an indoor-outdoor cat, a pretty lucky cat.”

Fred is feeling like a pretty lucky cat himself these days.


New Comedy Talk Show for ‘Fernwood’ Pair Martin Mull and Fred Willard?

Martin Mull in "Oliver's Ghost" Hallmark Channel photo

Fans of the comedy shows “Fernwood 2 Night,” “Forever Fernwood” and “America2-Night,” get ready.  Martin Mull and Fred Willard, who kept audiences laughing with those classic nighttime talk show parodies, are in meetings about launching a new chat fest for public TV.  “Fred has agreed and I’ve agreed.  That would be in January,” reveals Mull.  He also lets us know, “I haven’t talked about this before.”

It’s so new, in fact, the two funny guys haven’t even decided whether they would do the Cleveland-based show as themselves or their Fernwood characters, Barth Gimble and Jerry Hubbard.  “It would be a ball,” says Mull.  “We’ll see if we get a groundswell of support.”

Mull certainly has a full plate even without the proposed Fernwood redux.   He’ll materialize Saturday (10/22) as the title specter on the Hallmark Channel’s  “Oliver’s Ghost,” with Rhea Perlman.   

“I was telling Teri Garr, first I played her young boyfriend, then her husband, and then she and I were grandparents.  What comes after grandparents?  Dead.  So it’s age-appropriate,” notesMull. 

His character is “a fellow whose unresolved issues with his daughter cause him to haunt this house.  Then he encounters this 11-year-old boy, and, there’s an idea there — it’s kind of about recognizing someone, with the metaphor of a ghost.”  He adds, “It’s my second movie for Hallmark and it was fun, a breeze.  You know going in, you’re not going to be doing Ibsen, but it’s nice to do something on television that’s not the Real Housewives of Somewhere.  It’s a movie.  It’s a good little film.” 

MEANWHILE: Mull is also continuing his role as Russell the pharmacist on “Two and a Half Men.”  At least, “They haven’t mentioned anything about my not coming back” — as the Ashton Kutcher, post-Charlie Sheen era continues along.  “I think they’re still kind of testing the water as to where I fit in….Chuck Lorre and I go way back, to ‘Roseanne,'”Mull reminds.  “He’s a very good friend, and it’s such a fun show to work on.  I’m also a fan of Ashton’s.  We did a movie called ‘Killers’ that came out a couple of years ago and I got to know him and admire him.  He’s a terrific actor.”   Still, he adds, “I think the bottom line of anything on television is the writing.  It’s the writers’ medium.”

Linda Gray Has a Blast With Fellow Stars of a Certain Age in Big Screen ‘Expecting Mary’

Linda Gray tells us she had a blast making the big-screen “Expecting Mary,” which has an anticipated fall release.  The indie film has a pregnant teen – Oleysa Rulin of “High School Musical” fame – running away and winding up in a trailer park, the denizens of which are a colorful assortment of crazies in their AARP years.  Linda Stars with Elliott Gould, Lanie Kazan, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, Della Reese, Fred Willard and Gene Simmons.

“We shot it in 18 days.  Because everybody loved their role, we all came together quickly.  It was like going to party you can’t wait to go to,” says the actress who reigned over the TV scene as Sue Ellen Ewing on “Dallas” back in the 80s.  Gray plays a former Vegas showgirl “whose last gig was in New Mexico.  She’s funny and pathetic – and still can be glamorous.”

Linda Gray

Linda was also instrumental in getting “Expecting Mary” made.  She’d gotten to know screenwriter Dan Gordon when “we both bought the rights to ‘Terms of Endearment’ as a play, which I did in London about eight years ago.  During that time we talked about what fun it would be to come up with something more comedic than Sue Ellen or Aurora, the part I played in ‘Terms,’ and we started throwing out ideas.”

Gordon eventually wrote “this miraculous screenplay” for “Expecting Mary” as a result.  The fact that the movie put so many talents of a certain age to work is, of course, one of Gray’s favorite parts of the enterprise, since all of her cast mates – save Olesya, of course – have had to face unapologetic Hollywood ageism.  “We approached it with a lot of humor.  We made a pact: Nobody under 50 allowed.:”

MEANWHILE:  Asked about the chances of any more on-camera “Dallas” reunions, Gray is quick to respond, “Oh, God no.  Unless something very classy came along, we’re through.”

That’s not to say, however, that the “Dallas” cast is through getting together on their own.  Linda says that she and Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy got together just a matter of weeks ago when Duffy was in town from his Oregon home for a “Bold and the Beautiful” appearance, and it’s not unusual that they and other former cast mates meet for “long lunches or dinners.  One of the joys of doing ‘Dallas’ was the enduring friendships.  We’ve known each other 33 years.  We text each other now.  Our kids have us all using iPhones.”

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS:  Terry Crews admits that having his and his family’s lives opened for the world to see on their “The Family Crews” reality show has been an adjustment for everyone.  With Season 2 of the BET show now in production, he recalls that when the first season began to air, “We got off Facebook and all that stuff.  We retreated.  We felt like, ‘Hey, if you want to know something about us, watch the show.’  There has to be a boundary, a limit.  You start to feel like you don’t have any privacy at all.”

According to him, they have bumped into “a couple of people” who’ve been negative.  “And you’re like, ‘Eh!  They don’t like me.’  But the thing is, most of the people we encounter are fans and they’re nice.  It’s fun to talk to them.”

Crews, who’s also starring in the series version of TNT’s “Are We There Yet?” says “We’re pretty excited about Season 2” of the reality skein.  “On our show, the drama doesn’t come from me versus my wife, or us versus the kids.  We’ve decided we’re going to stick together, to have each other’s back.  When my daughter announced she was pregnant, that was a really big family issue.”  Obviously, baby on board will be a theme this coming season.

Bravo Going Behind the Scenes With Superstar Photographers

Indrani, Markus Klinko Bravo photo

The high stress, high art, high friction, high ego world of A-list celebrity photographers gets the docu-reality treatment in Bravo’s June 15-debuting “Double Exposure” – which follows the work of photographers (and former couple) Markus Klinko and Indrani.   The team has worked with such famous personalities as Beyonce, Kate Winslet, Lady Gaga, Will Smith and Lindsay Lohan.  As the show reveals, they have plenty of personality themselves.

Former model Indrani tells us no two shoots are alike.  “Some will come in with very strong visions.  David Bowie told us he’d been following our work from the very beginning and he loved what we did, which we found very exciting.  He asked us to do things we’d never done before, working in black and white with old school style photography solarization.  Others time people come in and they’re very open, ready for a total change of their image.  It really depends.  Sometimes the collaborative process is really fighting for ideas.”

“Double Exposure,” she says, “is our idea, because for many years, people have told us we should have a TV show.  We’re crazy and hysterical and there’s a lot of drama on our shoots,” she admist.  “It’s because our work is our lives and we’re very passionate about it.”  It’s also because “photo shoots are often where people feel the most vulnerable.”  The stars, she adds, “are just as insecure as you or me or anyone about having their photo taken.”

IT PAYS TO BE RICH AND FAMOUS:  News that Charlie Sheen is likely to wind up serving half of a 30-day sentence – sans probation – in his plea bargain deal in the Christmas day domestic violence case involving his wife, Brooke Mueller, would be unsettling enough on its own.  Has anyone taken a look at his prior record?  But to have it be in the pattycake Pitkin County Jail?  The notoriously cushy spot, where Claudine Longet served her 30-day sentence for misdemeanor negligent homicide in the shooting of skier Spider Sabich back in the ‘70s, is outfitted with homey comforts from plants and TVs to coed areas where inmates can mingle freely.  Not much tougher than the luxury rehab facility Sheen visited earlier this year as a “preventative” measure.

A NEW STAGE:  Fred Willard says he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll be called upon to return to his role as Ty Burrell’s dad on “Modern Family.”  He’s certainly not waiting around to find out.  Willard has his family on a European vacation. When they get back, “someone is talking to me about a stage show on Broadway.  I’m not sure about that.  I have to find out more,” he says.  “I’ve been wanting to do more theater.  We’ll see if this is the time.”

Steven Weber Compares ‘Happy Town’ to ‘Dark Underbelly of the United States’

Steven Weber NBC Photo

With ABC’s new “Happy Town” wreaking its own brand of havoc on Minnesota’s friendly image, Steven Weber makes it clear he knows that the real Land of 10,000 Lakes is “a lovely place.  I don’t think they’ll take the show personally,” he adds, smiling.  “Certainly people could ascribe all sorts of meaning to it as a metaphor – as the dark underbelly of the United States, for instance.”

Actually, more people are likening the moody mystery series to “Twin Peaks.”  The show turns on a series of unsolved kidnappings in an outwardly serene Minnesota hamlet. “I’ve worked on several Steven King projects and I’ve had, I guess, a taste for this kind of stuff since I was a kid — spooky stuff,” says Weber, who starred in the TV miniseries version of “The Shining,” and did a turn on “Nightmares and Dreamscapes.”  That is, of course, in addition to his eclectic collection of Broadway, film and TV credits ranging from “The Producers” to “Wings.”

The 48-year-old actor notes, “I was looking for a role that interested me rather than a show.  At my advanced age I want things that I can sink my teeth into. Not the affable womanizing guy, I’ve done that.  I’ve done a lot of pricks in suits as I call them.  I think I think the fact that this guy has a genuinely tragic core — even though the show has a kind of a supernatural cast to it — there’s something very basic and terrifying in a real sense about him.  He’s suffering through the loss of a child.  He’s obsessed by the vacuum created by the child’s disappearance.  Especially being a father myself, it’s a terrifying thought for me.”

He was also attracted to the “Happy Town” cast including Sam Neill and Frances Conroy.  “I’m very interested in collaboration, in a communal creative process, especially with guys who’ve had such varied and successful careers.”

A GOOD VINTAGE OF FANS:  Fred Willard got a surprise last week when he answered his door and found a group of visitors from France there waiting for him.  “They’d hunted me up somehow and brought me a bottle of wine, and asked for my autograph.  There were four men and a woman.  They said they were big fans.  One of them said to me, ‘It is a pleasure to you.’  And his friend corrected him and said, ‘It is a pleasure to MEET you.’  It was very nice but I wouldn’t want things like that to happen too often,” admits the funnyman.

Well, no, but Willard’s getting another jolt of TV exposure the next two weeks, including turning up as Ty Burrell’s character’s father on “Modern Family” this week.  “I’m a little cornier than Ty, I think, but you can see the connection,” Willard tells us.  Seen previously in a quick Skype holiday phone call, Willard’s character now appears in the flesh, having driven his van from Florida across the country to give his beloved dog away to his son and family.  “My character’s wife in allergic to the dog,” he lets us know.

Will Dad be back?

“They said it’s possible.  The trouble is my character lives in Florida.  I suggested they go down to Disney World for a week.  Ty loved the idea.”

Willard does a whole different type of turn on NBC’s “Chuck” next Monday (5/3).  He and Swoosie Kurtz play a married couple of spies sent by the government to teach Chuck (Zachary Levi) old school spying techniques.  “But we seem to double cross and triple cross them – and so much for spy lessons.”  He adds, “It’s the kind of role I’ve always wanted to play.  Not out-and-out funny.  And I just loved working with Swoosie.”

FROM THE INSIDE LOOKING OUT:  Victoria Justice, who many might remember from “Zoey 101,” now has her own television show, Nickelodeon’s “Victorious,” in which she plays a singer at a performing arts school.  The 17-year-old tells us that with her new busy schedule, she’s trying to find the right balance between being a teenager and being a working actress, but so far, so good.

“The show takes up 95 percent of my time but it gives me some time to hang out with friends or go out to dinner with my cast.  Sometimes it’s tough because friends will be like, ‘Hey, do you want to go to a movie,’ and I have to say no because I have an interview or have to learn lines or I have rehearsal, but I love doing what I do and I think I would be bored if I wasn’t doing it,” says Justice.  “I’m most happy when I’m on set or when I’m at home hanging out with my family or friends and I don’t have to worry about wearing makeup or being all dressed up.”

In fact, she claims her life couldn’t be any less Hollywood.  “I live a pretty normal life.  It’s not all glamorous or anything like that.  Plus, I have a great support system.  They’re never going to let me think I’m better than anybody because it’s just ridiculous to go there.”

CASTING CORNER:  They’re rounding out the cast for – why? – Johnny Knoxville’s “Jackass 3.” Among the roles still being set: a “hottie babe of a girl” who’s a quick thinker with a comedy background; an older woman with comedy experience to play a grandmother; and another funny femme to play “an overweight, loose woman.”  For the latter, they want either a “white trash or African-American mama.”  You can just tell what the movie’s going to be like already, can’t you?

With reports by Emily-Fortune Feimster