Russell Baer
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November 25, 2019
Online Originals

Member Profile: Ed Begley, Jr.

Ed Begley, Jr. has had a fortunate life.

"I've been so lucky. I now can say I've been working in my chosen field for 52 years, for half a century and then some and still working," says Ed Begley Jr.

On the day of this interview, Begley's latest endeavor, Bless This Mess, had been picked up for an additional six episodes, which, as he noted, "bodes well for our future going forward."

Begley seems to have attracted fortune from the beginning. The son and namesake of famed actor Ed Begley, he followed in the family business, which seemed the logical thing to do. Begley says, "I think I became an actor because he was an actor. I think if he had been a plumber I'd be fitting pipe now."

But it wasn't always easy being the son of an icon. Begley deeply admired his father, but was also a bit cowed by him. He says, "My father was a wonderful actor. He was a wonderful father and a wonderful actor. Won an Academy Award for Sweet Bird of Youth.

"He never won an Emmy though. He did a lot of television, of course, and some fine shows in the golden age of television with Paddy Chayefsky and Sidney Lumet and people like that. I didn't work much while he was still with us, sadly. I just was so in his shadow, I was afraid to break out perhaps.

"I was self-conscious and knew I was different and wanted to be different, but wanting to be the same, wanting to be like him. I was conflicted in many ways. It was very sad losing him, but one thing that slightly mitigated that loss was that I began to open up more and to work more, strive more to be a better actor. I started to learn my craft and I continue to learn to this day."

Along the way, Begley was nominated six times for an Emmy for his breakout role in St. Elsewhere, and, 30 years later, in 2019, for the short form show Ctrl Alt Delete, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Of the show he says, "Lovely short form show. I enjoyed doing that. I did that before I had Bless This Mess. So it was lovely to do that."

And being nominated for an Emmy all these years later? Begley says, "It was a very pleasant surprise. I didn't know that that was going to happen again in my long lifetime, but it did and I was very, very grateful."

Bless This Mess is also a job Begley enjoys. He says, "To work with Pam Grier whom I have loved and admired for years and Lennon Parham I worked with before. David Koechner, I have not, but I'm a big fan of David Koechner.

"To be with this kind of group, I count myself lucky. I'm grateful beyond words to still do work with people like this to have a cast like this and a writer like Liz Meriwether in the room that she assembled of brilliant writers and great directors. We are just enjoying every minute."

Although Begley has also been directing for many years, he has not yet chosen to do so for Bless This Mess. He says, "I haven't thrown my hat in the ring yet. Lennon just directed one this week. It's her first episode that she's directing of Bless This Mess and she's just wonderful to work with. For now, I'm enjoying it.

"There's so many women directing these episodes and young people and people of color directing episodes. I love the diversity that they're drawing upon. I'm just reveling in that right now. Let's see if I throw my hat in the ring down the line, but right now I'm loving who they're picking."

As much as he enjoys performing, Begley has other interests that mean just as much. Long known as an environmental activist, he continues this vital work today. He explains, "Well, the environment is so dear to me. It's something I got involved in in 1970. The acting predated that. That was '67 I started with that.

"But, it was very easy given my earlier schedule to balance both of them, because I was an itinerant actor. I'd work and have plenty of time off. It got more difficult when I got busier. But now at my age, I'm not character one on the call sheet ever anymore. I'm character three on a show like Bless This Mess and I have plenty to do, but none of it keeps me from doing the kind of work I do in the many boards I serve.

"Going downtown and showing up for Greta Thunberg when she was here recently and the young people who are getting so active in climate issues. I can find the time for it now just given the way my schedule is. It's wonderful."

Meeting Thunberg was a particular joy for Begley, "She's a hero of mine and it was a great moment, a big moment for me because I really now have more hope than I had before she came forward. I really think the young people are the solution to this and especially a hero, an outspoken young lady like herself that can speak with passion and conviction and backed by good science. I find myself quite hopeful."

Begley and his wife Rachelle starred a few years ago in a reality series Living With Ed, showcasing his insistence on living simply, even in the glamor of Hollywood. Begley says he and his wife still live that way, albeit with a few upgrades.

He explains, "Exactly like that. Hasn't changed one bit. We live in a different house now. It's a much better house. It's a larger house, which is what Rachelle wanted out of the deal. She wanted more closet space and she didn't want to be sharing a bathroom with a teenager anymore, so we built a larger house.

"But even though it's larger, electric, natural gas and water bills are lower than the smaller house because it's all modern technology done right. We have what's called an elite platinum home. Rachelle's happy with her aesthetics and I'm happy with my low bills and low carbon footprint."

A longtime Academy member, Begley is proud of his association with the organization. He says, "I was elated to get in years ago. I think I got in in the late '70s, early '80s.

"By the early '80s I know I was in because I was on St. Elsewhere and wanting to be part of that process to nominate good shows like St. Elsewhere and see a lot of shows and be part of the wonderful Academy and the great work that they do honoring excellence in television. It's just been an honor to be part of the Academy for 40 years now, I think.

"All the wonderful people that are part of the Academy, the actors, the directors, the writers, the cameramen, the lighting directors, the hair and makeup people, there's so much excellence in television now. It's been said that back in my father's early days in television, the Paddy Chayefsky days, that was a golden age of television. I think that's a fair assessment.

"I think we're now in the platinum age of television, with shows like Breaking Bad and Handmaid's Tale. I just think it's a wonderful time for creativity in television. There's so much good work being done out there. I intend to see all of it and be part of the process to continue to honor it."

In the end, Begley simply feels very lucky. He says, "I just seek out good material. I'm very lucky. I've worked with people like Liz Meriwether recently. Mitch Hurwitz from Arrested Development. Christopher Guest from Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. I've worked with some of the best people and I'm just grateful for that.

"I did a movie with Meryl Streep, for God's sake, so I'll die a happy man having been close to that goddess for only a few months, but that's the way my life's been. I'm a very lucky kid from Van Nuys, California and I'm smart enough to know how lucky I am."

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