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.