TV Guide (Magazine):
Article about Ed O'Neill

Last update October 16, 2002

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As posted at by Carolyn Crapo.
Remarks by Carolyn in [brackets].

TV Guide
January 12, 1991

Ed O'Neill - Without the Laugh Track

By Michael Leahy

"Ed O'Neill's temper is percolating, as he sits irritably in a studio trailer waiting for something, anything to happen. An assistant director the TV movie he is starring in, 'The Whereabouts of Jenny', has called him back to the set an hour and a half early, interrupting a lunch by the ocean with his wife, Cathy Rusoff... "I'm not a prima donna, but there's so little time," he says. "There are so many interviews, so much professional manuevering; it gets to where you need break... and then this - calls, ruining the one relaxing moment I've had all week... I don't think I'm making too much of this, am I?"

He pauses, thinks about this, scratching at his long beak of a nose. "No, I'm not", he says, answering himself with finality. Clad in a drab t-shirt and old shorts, he stands and bends from the waist, flexing his 6'1", 200-pound frame with an athlete's suppleness. On Fox' MWC, the lowbrow Sunday night sitcom that has catapulted him into celebrity, O'Neill looks lumpy - a 40ish doughboy playing the crude, couch potato shoe-salesman Al Bundy. It is a carefully crafted TV persona, radically at odds with the intense, broad-shouldered former college football player swinging his arms in taut circles now...

He is alluding to something besides his troubled marriage, thinking aloud about a life that sometimes feels like it's fracturing beneath stresses whose source he can't see but always feels. "When people on the outside read you're getting a little notoriety and money for the first time in your life, they think, how can you be bothered by anything? They think that suddenly you should be able to accept all the game-playing that goes on in this business: the talk behind your back about your personal life; the tabloid -; the executives who want to do a power trip on you..."

It's an all-too-familiar Hollywood complaint. For as long as there's been starry-eyed newcomers from Biloxi and Battle Creek coming here to find fame, there have been the innocents among them who, believing that they would forever have a grip on this town's insidious pressures, never understood that it was the town that had the grip on them. "You discover you're part of the machinery", O'Neill says, stunned.

But in this naivete the actor reveals himself as just another star who doesn't understand that in exchange for the obscenely fat five-digit paychecks he recieves each week, he is expected to endure the often unreasonable scheduling calls, the intrusiveness of reporters and Hollywood's insatiable appetite for power plays. Even after five seasons of stardom on MWC, O'Neill confesses he still doesn't get it, and so he is, for the moment, one more unhappy actor in a small trailer, genuinely puzzled and hurt....

[Snipped a few pars about the TV movie.]

Despite Danza's (Tony Danza, the producer, who cast O'Neill in the role) enthusiasm, ABC intially resisted casting O'Neill in the pivotal role, partly out of concern that the network would be undermining itself by bolstering the star of a Fox series that goes head-to-head with its big movies every Sunday. 'I had some concerns for competitive reasons', said Allen Sabinson of ABC. "Other names were discussed, but Tony didn't have to push that hard for Ed. I'll tell you this: you look at Ed in this and the last thing you think of is Al Bundy. There's no Bundy stigma here whatsoever."

The Bundy stigma. O'Neill himself admits, "I don't think that if I saw me in MWC that I'd use me for many roles." Yet so far he seems to have managed to avoid being typecast...(discusses 'Dutch') This is a hot time for him, he admits. If only he could get a handle on the pressures and demands that come along with the perks of stardom..."I gotta think things though," he says.

When fans encounter O'Neill in the street, they greet him by shouting, "Hey, Al Bundy!" "You think, in the beginning, you're recognized everywhere. This is fantasy. Then later, you want to say, 'I'm not Al Bundy. I'm the actor who represents Al Bundy'. I can't be Al Bundy for my whole career. I'm a much better actor than people know....I'm surprised I have to prove myself at all."

It rankles him that many people still don't know what he can do. He'd played football at Youngstown State in Ohio and had a brief tryout as an outside linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but acting has been his craft and passion for the 21 years since. He co-starred, with Danny Aiello, in the Broadway play 'Knockout' in 1979. "Lotta people don't know that," he snarls... Since then, he's played in regional theater productions and TV movies. But it wasn't until his wife picked up the MWC script he'd spurned and started laughing at the jokes that his career took off.

"She was saying, 'This is horrible' and then laughing," O'Neill recalls of the moment four years earlier. "I thought, 'God, this must be funny'. So I flew to L.A." He thinks about the luck in that. "Yeah, if Cathy hadn't started laughing, I might still..." His voice trails off. "When I think about it that way, and then I think of my existence these days - my house on the beach, my hammock, the chance to play handball on the weekends, which I love - well, I have to think, 'This is a pretty charmed life'."

And yet the things he once coveted as a young and anonymous stage actor in NY - the heat of recognition, the attention of gushing network executives, the clamoring agents and producers seeking a piece of him - still seem disorienting to him in Hollywood. "Sometimes, I gotta tell you, having all this heat on me p----- me off," he says. "The stakes become so high. You think, 'God, if I screw this up, will they let me have one more project?' It can drive you crazy. I'm telling you, there's a lot more stress now than at any time before in my career..."

O'Neill is interrupted by the director, who wants to shoot his scene...O'Neill is trailed by a coterie whose presence fairly screams his importance. Later, after the director has praised his work, he allows himself a small grin. "It feels so good sometimes," he allows. "It's a high."

... Still a novice at coping in the Golden Land, O'Neill needs to know: how does anyone out here manage? He sucks in his breath then, ruffled, having just remembered something. There is suddenly no more time to think. He says he has to run. There is an important phone call to take."

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