Much to cheer about
Ted Danson experiences career surge on cool shows.
THESE days, Ted Danson has gone vegan. He laughs at himself as he says it, like: Here’s the Los Angeles guy latching onto his next fad. But what the heck, Danson says it makes him feel better. And that hearty health-food shake he and his actress wife, Mary Steenburgen, quaff each morning – well, they actually look forward to it.
Meanwhile, even apart from his dietary focus, Danson is feeling great these days. And why not?
Two decades after ending his spectacular Cheers run, he’s been savouring his latest career surge on cool shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm (where he and Steenburgen comedically acted out their real-life friendship with series star Larry David), and on the gritty legal thriller Damages (where Danson played a cutthroat corporate billionaire).
Now he is appearing on two other series – simultaneously.
He is back for a third season of the HBO comedy Bored To Death,” where he plays urbane pot-head George Christopher.
He also stars in CBS’ long-running CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which he joined this season in the role of new CSI Supervisor D.B. Russell, a scientist and family man who loves the stories a crime scene tells.
“It’s so different from everything I’ve ever done,” Danson says of his new venture. “We have a maggot wrangler!
“Every day I go in, and there’s something new I’ve never done before. To deliver all that exposition and still be a real character takes a huge amount of technique and work, and I’m still grappling with that. But it’s actually the most relaxing job I think I’ve ever had.”
The job came up suddenly at mid-year, and within a week he was in Las Vegas (where the show is set) getting a CSI crash course. The next week, he was back in Los Angeles in front of the cameras.
“I was feeling windburn, things were moving so fast,” he says with a laugh. “And at first, I panicked: If this (gig) is successful, I was looking at 18 months of solid work, because I’ll go straight from this to Bored To Death, then straight back to the next season of CSI. I thought, ‘ Omigod, how will I do that!’
“But you take it day by day, and it’s quite doable.”
Danson signed on for CSI shortly after wrapping this season of Bored To Death, which is set and filmed in New York.
It stars Jason Schwartzman as Jonathan Ames, a writer who, fired up by his love of detective novels, places an ad on craigslist advertising himself as a private eye.
Zach Galifianakis plays a comic book artist with his own superhero delusions of grandeur. Rounding out this trio (a little bit Three Musketeers, a little bit Three Stooges) is George, who, as a prominent magazine editor, had been Jonathan’s boss.
This season George, ever the bon vivant, has opened up an artisanal restaurant (the chichi marketing term for a dining spot that serves “hand-crafted” food items). It’s called, provocatively, George on Jane, although Greenwich Village’s Jane Street is where it’s situated.
“It’s kind of my new canvas,” says George proudly. “Like the magazine – but with steak frites.”
Powered by a steady intake of martinis and marijuana, the 60-ish George is always game for any caper, especially when teamed with his younger chums.
On a stakeout at Grand Central Terminal, he and Jonathan go looking for a woman.
“My mark is supposed to be tall and wearing a distinctive yellow hat,” says Jonathan, to which George, seeking clarity through his cocktail haze, asks, “Is the hat distinctive because it’s yellow? Or is it yellow, and distinctive?”
“The key to George’s character is, ‘Don’t leave me out! I want to play! I still want to be relevant!’” says Danson with a laugh. “I’m 63 and I want to be relevant, too, so it’s really easy for me to play him. And I’m having the time of my life.”
All the more fun for several episodes in the season ahead: Danson will be sharing scenes with Steenburgen.
“My wife plays my voice-coach-slashlover-slash-fellow-pothead,” he explains. “I never actually learn to sing. All we do is sleep together and smoke dope.”
As he speaks, Danson is as crisply attired and stylish as when he’s costumed as George. He is wearing an impeccable blue pinstripe suit, with a white dress shirt that sets off his snowy white hair. He props his square jaw on a fist and leans in towards his questioner as talk turns to what drew him to a life as an actor.
“I fell in love with acting when I was 20 or 21 at Stanford University,” he says. “I auditioned for a play, got the smallest part, and a light went off. And I still feel that way. I love going to work. I love being with crews. I love being with actors. I really enjoy it.”
Despite his seriousness in tackling a role (he took a bartending course before filming the Cheers pilot), and his effort in finding post-Cheers roles to move him beyond Sam Malone, “I do the same character over and over again,” he declares.
D.B. Russell on CSI? “Sam Malone sees dead people.”
George Christopher on Bored? “Sam Malone with a magazine, smoking dope.”
He laughs at the suggestion he is selling himself short.
“Basically, you bring your life experiences to any role; you bring you,” he proposes. “Because if you don’t show up with yourself, then people go, ‘ Oh, that’s a nice impersonation.’
“And then you do different things in different situations. That, to me, is what acting really is: You do different things, but you’re still bringing yourself to the party, or else you wouldn’t be worth watching.”
And for Danson, in love with his work, a party is always under way. – AP