Actor Ed Begley Jr. proves the struggle is worth it.
Ed currently plays Rudy in ABC’s Bless This Mess which is described as “Newlyweds Rio and Mike make the decision to change the course of their life together and move from the relentless pace of big city New York to what they think will be a more relaxed existence in rural Nebraska.”
Ha ha ha, right? It’s actually FUN watching characters Rio and Mike struggle! What’s NOT fun is the real life struggle that actors go through, even when successful.
Ed Begley Jr. takes us through his journey from the beginning of his acting career to now, where he lives in an environmentally friendly home with his wife, Rachelle Carson.
New and seasoned actors can learn a lot from you. The acting world today is so different from back in the day. What changes are most noticeable to you?
It’s all changed. The equipment is smaller and cheaper. People are making movies and TV shows on an iPhone. That gives us many more opportunities for work but it also creates many challenges. Just because everybody can make a film, doesn’t mean they should.
One thing that remains the same is that actors always seem to be struggling. When you were a struggling actor, what made you keep going?
I had no idea if I would make it or not. Even being the son of an Academy Award winning actor, provided no guaranty of work. So I developed another career very early on as an assistant cameraman. That provided my vast majority of work and income from 1968 until 1973.
At what age did you decide you wanted to be an actor, and what was the first thing you did it about after you made that decision?
I’m told I was three years old when I started to announce my intentions to be an actor or a comedian. I think I just wanted to do what my father did. I think if he had been a plumber, I would be fitting pipe right now. I took no valuable action after I made that decision because I had the entirely wrong attitude. If I had to sum up my attitude towards my craft for the first 16 years of my life, it was “wake me when I’m famous”. I did no meaningful work to improve my craft. I took no classes. I just thought I was charming and should be an actor. By no small coincidence, within a few months of taking my first acting classes, I got my first job.
How did you get your agent? Is it the same one from when you started?
This is another example of being born on “second base” as Ed Begley’s son. I miraculously had an agent one day, though I don’t know precisely how that happened. My father obviously had something to do with it. I’ve had six or seven agents in my lifetime and the truth is that they have all been wonderful.
What is it about acting that you love and hate the most? Why?
What I love about acting is that it’s an important form of artistic expression that requires no external tools. You can perform in a town square naked if you were of the mind to. Though I won’t use the word “hate”, the one biggest challenge for any actor, certainly at my age is learning lines. It can be drudgery but you must do it.
What point in your life did you feel that you “made it” as an actor?
The first time I thought I made it was after I appeared on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I was suddenly being stopped in airports and in grocery stores by fans and well wishers. But there were other opportunities that I could only dream of, specifically a show called St. Elsewhere in 1982. And then I got to appear in a film with Meryl Streep in 1989 and I knew I could then die happy.
Do you think that actors today have lost touch with acting as a CRAFT?
Though there is certainly some work out there of a lesser quality, probably owing to the volume of content that is available in one form or another, there is also so much incredible work being done by Christian Bale and Joaquin Phoenix and Elizabeth Moss and Meryl Streep. We are also enjoying the “golden age of fine acting”.
Does social media play a huge part in casting a person today?
Sad but true. Socially media often guides decision makers when choosing actors, writers and directors for a project. I don’t know that it’s always the best criteria to foster real creativity.
Do you have any tips and tricks on how to memorize your lines? Do you use any apps to help?
I don’t use any apps for memorization but I have a few tricks. I create anagrams often to remember a particular line. Let’s say I’m having trouble remembering the exact phrase verbatim of something like “I must do better”. I keep getting the line wrong and don’t say it the way the writer intended. I paraphrase it but that’s not what they want. They want it verbatim. So I remember it by using IMDB, literally…I Must Do Better. Then another device is visuals. If I have to remember a character’s name and can’t get it right…let’s say the character’s name is “Katzenbach” and I can’t get it right, I keep saying Katzenberger, and then I use a visual of a cat on the man’s back. And there it is, Katzenbach.
As an actor, what’s the difference between working on film vs. television?
It’s a bit of a generalization but for the most part it is true that the page count is lower for a day’s work on a feature than it is for a TV show. There are certainly movies that shoot seven and eight pages a day like a television show does, but for the most part feature films shoot far less in a day. So you actually have the luxury of time on most movies and of more rehearsal and really getting it right than you usually do on TV.
How does health insurance work?
I have been working as an actor consistently since 1967 so I’ve had health insurance through SAG for 52 years. Not everyone is so lucky. You have to meet a certain threshold of annual earnings to quality for SAG insurance and most actors do not. I am one of the lucky ones that’s for sure.
Please share a story from your early days of acting about something that happened to you that you never thought of could happen.
The first big shock that I had as an actor came in 1979. I had done a commercial for a product called Country Time Lemonade. They had decided to do another round of advertising and my agent contacted me, not to offer me the part I had already done but to tell me they were actually looking for an “Ed Begley type” and he suggested I go in and audition. I foolishly did. I went in the room to audition to play myself and didn’t get the part.
You’ve been in the business a long time. What are some of your career highlights?
Some of my career highlights are being in The In-Laws with Peter Falk and Allen Arkin and in working with Meryl Streep. Being in St. Elsewhere for six wonderful years and any one of the Christopher Guest movies I’ve been in were also highlights. You pick.
Do you find it easier to get jobs now that you’re an established actor? Do you still audition?
I rarely have to audition but I am happy to when it’s requested. Why? I get to play the part in the room for the casting people and often the director and producer. If they want me to do it again in front of a camera for pay, that’s gravy and that’ entirely up to them. But I got to play the part in the room already.
Are you ever scared that some day you won’t be able to pay your bills? Were you ever scared you wouldn’t be able to pay your bills when you were first starting out?
I had a fear of financial insecurity nearly my whole career. It’s only gone away in the past decade.
How do voiceovers work?
I’ve worked on quite a few voiceovers, cartoons and things of that nature over the years and it has changed fairly recently. You used to go in to record a Hanna Barbera cartoon or an episode of The Simpson’s with the whole cast. I can’t remember the last time I did a voice over with another actor in the room. You work solo these days and they piece it together later. It’s probably the best job as an actor because you can wear shorts and flip flops and you don’t have to learn your lines. You simply read from the page.
You’ve been an environmental activist, helping preserve the Earth since 1970. How did you feel when scripts were printed on paper? What about scripts today? How do you receive them?
That is one of the many improvements we’ve made to make film and television productions more sustainable. It’s rare that you receive a paper copy of a script anymore. They used to be printed on non-recyclable paper and delivered to your door by a teamster in a low mile per gallon vehicle. Now you get it as a PDF file that you don’t have to print it at all as you can simply read it off your device. But if print you must, you can print up a 3-4 page scene on 100% recycled paper and learn it in that way.
Your current home is LEED platinum certified, the highest environmental rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. This saves you, and whoever may live in your house in the future, money in the long run. But how much was your startup cost to implement all of the items you had installed?
The actual dollar figure depends on the scope of your project, the square footage of your house and many other factors. But a good rule of thumb is that it will add 20% to your construction budget in most cases. But here’s what you get for that 20% increase in construction. When most people talk about the cost of a home, they simply look at labor and materials, omitting the long term costs…the cost of running that house over many years. That’s like only looking at the part of the iceberg that is above the water line. The vast majority of the iceberg is below the water line. That is the cost of running your house or commercial space.
[See Ed and Rachelle’s WEBSITE for tips on a sustainable lifestyle.]
Tell us about your garden and what it’s like being vegan.
My garden is thriving even though it is Fall in LA but that’s the beauty of Southern California. You can grow fruits and vegetables year round here. Being a vegan has been a good lifestyle choice for me. It’s also very good for my health and it’s certainly better for the cows and pigs and chickens. It’s also better for the environment. It simply takes less space and water and energy to grow a pound of plant based food than it does to grow a pound of beef. Being a vegan is one of the best green choices you can make.
What advice can you give people today who are starting and/or changing their career to the acting field?
Do plays, lots of them. Get involved with a local theater group and start to work. Painters paint. Musicians play their instruments and actors act. Get out there and do it anywhere. Just do it!