Ted Danson was in an ebullient mood as we chatted by phone from his Beverly Hills hotel room, and with good reason. Danson’s career continues to go from strength to strength, as he is rediscovered both on the small screen in Damages and Curb your Enthusiasm, and now as a gay man wanting to be just one of the boys in the fresh, Indie comedy, The Amateurs.
The film follows a small town band of lovable losers who hit upon an idea that can make their dreams and fantasies come true. Thinking they’ve found the road to riches and fame they decide to make the world’s most innocent adult film, headed by the disillusioned Andy Sargentee [Jeff Bridges] whose midlife crisis sparks off this somewhat oddball idea. Danson plays the lovable and initially closeted gay Moose, and for Danson, it was an irresistible opportunity.
“The funny thing is, my wife actually found it in the script and was talking to people about maybe playing in it. But she said, ‘You know what? You have to see my husband for Moose.’ So, I have her to thank for it, which is a little scary, seeing as how it’s a gay character, but nevertheless, my wife actually got me this part.” The irony here, of course, is that Danson’s own fame came through his portrayal of the womanizing Sam Malone in Cheers, but the actor denies he set about poking fun at that old persona. “I don’t know that I’m clever enough to have thought that through. I just thought the writing was just really, really fun and then Jeff Bridges, one of our great actors, was involved, and that brought other really fun actors. So it just became too irresistible not to be part of it.” To the point, he further concedes, that “I actually went after this and fought for it, because I really wanted to do the film.”
Despite his established success, Danson recalls auditioning for the film “because I don’t think they were thinking of me at first and I really thought it’d be too much fun not to.” With the exception of Moose’s sexual orientation, the actor, who turns 60 this December, said there was a lot with which he could identify, especially “the desire to be loved, the fact that he loved everybody so much, and he just wants to be liked, to hang out with everybody and the fact that, when he comes out and says he’s gay, his biggest fear is that they’re not going to let him hang out with them any more, because he just loves his friends so much.”
The Amateurs exemplifies Danson’s continuous need to prove his diversity, and while Moose is totally likable, his Damages character, Arthur Frobisher is quite the opposite, and the actor says he is gratified that the character allowed him to further prove himself, admitting that it changed people’s perceptions of him, “and I’m forever grateful to everybody involved. I mean, once again, really, really, good writing, then Glenn Close attached herself to it, so it made you look even more closely at it. I had so much fun this year playing that great character.” While it was recently announced that Damages has been picked up for two more seasons, Danson has no idea where his involvement in the show lay. ” Is he dead, is he alive? I would always want to play with those guys, but I don’t know where it’s going and I have no idea what their desire is for a second year. They know I love them and they love me, and so whatever works out or doesn’t work out would be best.”
Danson also left his comedic mark on the small screen this year, popping up as an exaggerated version of himself in Larry Davis’ acerbic sitcom, Curb your Enthusiasm. “That was just complete fun, especially with Larry David. Because working with Larry David is like going out to dinner with him. We’re friends and have been for years and when Mary and I go out with him, it’s always a little scary, because you don’t quite know what he’s going to do. So all I do is think of ways to insult him and make him laugh,” Danson says, laughingly. While he enjoyed working on that show with his actress/wife Mary Steenburgen, Danson says that the couple is not looking for regular film and TV work on a regular basis. “I think we’d like to do plays together while with film and TV, it’s always perhaps safer to go off in your own direction.”
While Danson will next be seen in Callie Khouri’s Mad Money, playing Diane Keaton’s husband, the always politically active actor said his future plans involve striking. “I’m on a picket,” the actor says, further admitting that the current writers’ strike is affecting his choice of projects at this point, “In ways I probably don’t even know. But it’s affecting the entire town and I think that for me and for many, it felt like this kind of theoretical ‘Oh, maybe there’ll be a strike’ and then boom. People lost jobs, things shut down and all of a sudden people are getting let go. So it’s a very big deal here.”
Danson says that the issues in the strike go far beyond mere Hollywood writers, calling for his fellow screen actors to join the strike. “I think if we’re smart, we should be out there, because they’re going first. And this is the conversation: How do we deal with all these new outlets? The Internet, cell phones, how do artists participate, and how do you figure out what the profits are in this kind of brave new world?”
For Danson, it’s more than a matter of principle, given the fact that shows like Cheers are destined to be a part of that brave new world in question, but the actor admits “I’m sure there’s some degree of truth on the studio side that it’s hard to figure out what the pie is, but so what? Give us a percentage. I love one studio person who was quoted as saying, ‘There probably isn’t even any money in it,’ so great, give us half, then and make a nice gesture.”