LOS ANGELES — Fred Willard may be the hardest-working man in show business, truly, and at age 72, he shows no signs of slowing down. The comedic actor, whose credits include more than 200 films and TV series and range from “WALL-E” to “Modern Family” and “Best in Show,” has three new projects reaching audiences.
The new ABC improv show “Trust Us With Your Life,” which premiered July 10, and Rob Reiner movie “The Magic of Belle Isle” is playing in major U.S. cities. Willard also is hosting “Market Warriors,” a new reality series for PBS. He spoke to Reuters recently about his newest projects and busy life.
Q: You are everywhere this summer. Are you a workaholic?
A: (Laughs) “No, I’m actually a bit lazy! It seems like I’m the hardest-working man in showbiz, but often when you have a little success, like the Christopher Guest movies, I get offers to do other movies. But they’re just one or two day’s work. I can’t complain. If you work at all in this business you’ve got to feel lucky.”
Q: But you’ve been working steadily since the 1960s. You’re obviously more than just lucky.
A: “The one thing I’ve learned is that everyone’s very replaceable, unless you’re The Beatles or Elvis. If you’re not available, there’s 10 people in line eager to take your part.”
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Q: Well, they specifically wanted you for “Trust Us With Your Life.” Tell us about it.
A: “That show came out of nowhere. The man behind “Whose Line Is It” called me from London and explained they wanted me to host this mix of improv and a talk show. I’d talk to the celebrity guest and then at certain interesting spots we’d stop and act out a portion of their life, and he said I was the only one who could do it. So I was very flattered, and he asked me if I could come to London to shoot the show. I was in a hotel room in upstate New York shooting “The Magic of Belle Isle,” and I thought, this is never going to happen. I kept waiting for the call – ‘We’ve found someone else.’ But it happened and we did eight shows, and it made me look like I was in control of the whole situation, which I wasn’t.”
Q: So who were your guests?
A: “First up was Jerry Springer, then David Hasselhoff, Ricky Gervais, Serena Williams and Mark Cuban. Cuban seemed to be everyone’s favorite because he’s this billionaire and you thought, ‘He’ll be bored by this,’ but he was completely disarming and got right into it and enjoyed it so much.”
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Q: Any other surprises?
A: Serena Williams. She’s this amazing athlete and I thought she’d be tough and gruff, but she was so feminine and sweet, and the improvisers loved her. They ended up sitting at her feet, serenading her, and she was thrilled. The first time she came out she stumbled, and said, ‘I’m so clumsy.’ I was a bit taken aback and said, ‘You’re joking?’ and she said, ‘No, all the time!’ which is pretty funny for a top tennis player.”
Q: Tell us about working with Morgan Freeman and Rob Reiner in “The Magic of Belle Isle.”
A: “Morgan plays this successful, burned-out, cynical writer who arrives in this little town, and I play the neighbor who pushes him into relating to the locals. It’s a sweet romantic comedy, and I’ve known Rob for years. He’s very jolly on the set, so we all had fun doing it.”
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Q: And you also have “Market Warriors.”
A: “I just narrate it. All these projects happened at once. I felt people would be like, ‘Jeez, enough! Why doesn’t he sit back and relax.’ Which I say about actors when they have commercials and films and series – ‘When are you taking a day off?’ (Laughs) But I couldn’t resist it. It’s the team who did “Antiques Roadshow” and a great idea – we focus on four buyers who go around different flea markets with $1,000 in cash, and they target a period, like the 1940s or mid-‘50s. And they have to find deals, take them to an auction house and see how well they did. I’m a collector – mainly sports memorabilia – and I really got into it. It’s a very addictive show.”
Q: The cliché is that comedians are bitter and angry people off stage, but you seem pretty well-adjusted.
A: (Laughs hard) “I’m pretty happy but it’s true – There’s a lot of envy and bitterness in the business. You can’t help it. You think, ‘Why wasn’t I asked to do that show or movie?’ But acting is also a great fraternity and when you hear someone’s been fired, everyone feels the same way – ‘How dare they!'”
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