You may not know his name, but you’ve seen his face in many series from Weird Science, to Desperate Housewives and more recently in How To Get Away With Murder and the last HBO drama All The Way. Jeff Doucette is definitely not a common man. Here his confessions :
MM : Throughout your career, you played many different roles. You are one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood but you never really « settle into » a role for too long. Does it makes you feel more free in your work ?
JD : Yes, being able to play many different types is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because I am constantly challenged to find a new part of myself that can identify with the new characters I am playing. I think of myself, and most actors, as having a little bit of everyone within them. Not literally, of course, but there is a part of me that can identify with anyone’s experience, and the drives and influences that shaped them. It’s very freeing to know that about myself. It’s only fitting, I guess, that one of my first big roles in High School was The Common Man in the stage version of A Man For All Seasons.
« Being able to play many different types is both a blessing and a curse »
If there is a curse, it would be that people don’t see me as any definitive type. There’s always someone in town who specializes at playing a certain type, and since writers often write with certain types in mind, those actors seem to work much more. But I’m kind of a chameleon who takes on the color of the character I’m playing. It’s more of a challenge, and I fill a certain “unique” category. I have no urge to change it because that’s just who I am. I’m a little “off” in my take on things.
MM : What is the character you enjoyed playing the most ?
JD : Boy, I always have trouble with this question. Almost all my characters are precious to me because they all represent a little part of myself. Obviously Harley Estin, the loveable out-of-work loser I played on Newhart for 5 years, was a really big part of me. I loved his innocence and optimism in the face of what could have been awful for anyone else. I based a lot of that character on my Aunt Susie, who had Downs Syndrome. She had an innocent, uncomplicated and very pure way of viewing almost every event in her life.
« Almost all my characters are precious to me because they all represent a little part of myself »
Al Wallace on Weird Science was also a favorite. He was more of a Homer Simpson type of guy. What I loved most about Al and that show was the freedom we had in being able to play many facets of the character because of the many “magically weird” situations we found ourselves in. Al got transported to play his own great grandfather in the west, himself as a party animal teen, a supermodel named Magnifico, a guy who wore a lucky suit and could do no wrong, a mob boss, and of course a real dad and tow truck driver. What a gas.
But I love some of the darker characters as well. In an episode of a short-lived series called Sleepwalkers with Bruce Greenwood and Naomi Watts, I played a detective on the trail of a serial killer, but it turns out I was also partners with the serial killer I’m supposedly chasing. And I also won every acting award in town for playing a character named Whitey Spurlock in a stage play called Rage, or I’ll Be Home For Christmas. In it, I kill my family and end up going to the electric chair, but believe it or not, it was a dark comedy. I had to walk a fine line between being the most horrible man on the planet, but still be able to make people laugh. Quentin Tarantino was there a bunch of times, and used a lot of the themes of the play in writing Natural Born Killers.
MM : At Melting Mag we are huge fans of the tv show Weird Sciences where you played the role of Gary Wallace father from 1994 to 1997, what are your memories of that experience ?
JD : I just mentioned the role of Al Wallace being one of my all-time favorites. What I loved the most about that show was the incredible writing. Every week these guys would come up with such interesting scripts. They didn’t use me that much, but when they did, it seemed like they built the entire episode around me. It was great to feel so appreciated, and to have some real meaty stuff to do. Of course there were tons of laughs on the set with John Asher, Michael Manasseri, and Lee Tergesen. I still stay in touch with some of the writers, and with John Asher and his mom, Joyce Bulifant, who played my wife and John’s mom on the series. She also played Gavin MacLeod’s wife on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, and we recently got together with her real life husband Roger Perry, and took a picture for the ages. John has become a wonderful director, and recently directed me in a very unique film called Somebody Marry Me, which was a 100 minute film shot in one continuous take. Now that was an adventure. I played a Rabbi who does magic tricks towards the end of the film. He also directed another wonderful parody of the film franchise Taken called Tooken starring none other than the incredible Lee Tergesen. His latest film is called Po. John and I both have an autistic child, and this film is terrific in how it gets into the autistic mind.
MM : There is a new HBO movie called All The Way that just has been released. Can you tell us what is about and what is your role in this project ?
JD : All The Way is probably the best political drama you’ll ever see. It won the Tony Award for Best Play (written by Tony Award winning writer Robert Schenkkan), and Best Actor award for Bryan Cranston. Bryan reprises his Tony Award winning role, playing LBJ (President Lyndon Baines Johnson). The story begins with Kennedy’s assassination, and chronicles LBJ’s extremely ambitious first year in office trying to pass the Civil Rights Act of ’64, while running for re-election and having to fight off the extremely angry Southern Dixiecrats, who were adamantly against segregation. He knew that if he passed the bill, he would likely lose the South forever. And he did. It was produced by Steven Spielberg for HBO, and directed by Jay Roach, one of the best directors alive. I played Mississippi Senator Jim Eastland, a bigoted Dixiecrat (democrat by habit, but not by ideology), who headed the Judiciary committee for 28 years with an iron fist, and stands in the way or the bill. In many ways I represent the face of the segregated south. I say that if you hate me in this film, I’ve done my job. Unfortunately, we had to cut over a half an hour out of the film and two of my biggest scenes were cut, but I’m still in there, and you’ll still hate me. Ha ha.
« What’s really important now is to make sure Donald Trump is not elected or gets anywhere near the White House »
MM : I know you are very concerned about politics and right now America is in the middle of the Presidential Elections. How do you feel about what is going on ?
JD : Ha ha, yes, I am very outspoken in my politics, and sometimes it gets me in trouble. I’ve been a Bernie guy for about 10 years, since hearing him on a radio show every week answer every question put to him. He’s one of the only honest politicians in America, but unfortunately he’s not going to be the democratic nominee. In my opinion, what’s really important now is to make sure Donald Trump is not elected or gets anywhere near the White House. I call him DON the CON. He’s a dangerous man who doesn’t have a clue as to how to run this country. He’s appealing to the lowest aspects of people’s nature. This is America’s chance to show their true nature. The question is will it be our good nature or our bigoted chest-pounding bullying nature? I’ll vote for Hillary, who is the middle of the road choice, and who will most likely not bring the kind of change we need in this country, but will be a hell of a lot better than DON the CON. At this point it’s all about the Supreme Court, one of our three branches of government, that has been under conservative rule for over thirty years. We have a chance to return it to a more liberal viewpoint for the next generation, and it will take a democratic president to appoint the right judges to the court.
MM : Thank you very much Mr Doucette !