Actor RICHARD GILLILAND’s career on screen began in the 1970’s with roles on ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ with Michael Douglas and ‘McMillan & Wife’ with Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James followed by ‘The Waltons’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Operation Petticoat’ and more in the 1980’s. During that decade he also played “Pervis” in the motion picture comedy classic Airplane II (more on that below). Throughout the next decade he took on the lead in the feature film Star Kid, co-starred along with Brian Dennehy and Barbara Hershey in the TV movie A Killing in a Small Town and made guest appearances on hit shows including ‘Thirtysomething’, ‘Party of Five’, ‘and ‘The Practice’. More recently: ‘Desperate Housewives’, ‘Dexter’, ‘Scandal’, ‘24’ and was just seen on ‘CSI’ with Ted Danson. Gilliland also played a news anchor for the new feature film Parts Per Billion.
The Texas native attended the University of Kansas then moved on to the Goodman School of Drama. He has been happily married to actress Jean Smart for almost 30 years, and ‘Criminal Minds’ Joe Mantegna has been his best friend for even longer than that.
Gilliland also enjoys performing voice over work; he played “Frank/Raven” in ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and is sought after for audio books. Another passion, stemming from childhood, is theater: he performed at Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theatre in Balancing Act with Yeardley Smith and I Remember You with Tony Danza.
He graciously accepted our invitation for an interview at The Tolucan Times offices in Toluca Lake.
What made you move from Texas to Los Angeles?
The performing bug happened to me in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. I was in a group called the Texas Boys Choir which was and still is an organization in Fort Worth; we played all over the country and recorded. I liked the feeling of being on stage. Then I did high school plays. I moved from Texas to Oklahoma then to Chicago for college and began working professionally which is where I first met [Joe] Mantegna around 1971; we did Godspell together at the Studebaker Theater. I moved to Los Angeles in 1973 after Godspell closed.
Was filming Airplane II as hilarious as it is to watch?
Pretty much! The whole idea of running with the bulls doing improv here and there – Ken Finkleman wrote the movie…just a joke a minute! A lot of my stuff was with William Shatner; we had worked together a couple of times before on ‘Little Women’ so we knew each other. What is still amazing to me is that he has reinvented himself so many times and picked up this a whimsy sense of humor about himself; he’s so bright and so sharp! He’s a real intellectual. He actually became my next door neighbor at one point in Studio City.
And on the other side of the spectrum, what was taping ‘The Waltons’ like?
It was during their last season and then we started doing the movie specials. They were iconic back then; everybody knew who they were: the ultimate family show. It took place in the late 1940’s; my character came on in 1947, right after the war and “John-Boy” had just left.
Why do you think you were allowed to play so many characters on ‘The Love Boat’?
I guess it was because they liked me, they really liked me… (Laughs) Aaron Spelling was one of the most success television show producers. He used people known from other TV shows and I had been doing a lot of work for ABC like ‘Operation Petticoat’. I also worked a lot for Universal as well. I kept hoping, but I never got a cruise…They always happened a week before I was on or the week after.
How did you feel about working with your then-future wife on ‘Designing Women’?
I remember it like it was yesterday; the first time we met there was the lock of eyes. I had already met everyone else in the cast and on the second or third day I was [on set]Delta [Burke] came up to me and said, “Jean wants your phone number”. Jean may not remember it that way but that is the way I remember it. I recall having lunch at this restaurant near Cahuenga and we just kept looking at each other. I was doing a terrible play at the time and I invited her. She came and laughed her head off which made the audience start to laugh as well! The author asked if she could come every night and she kind of did. She made it tolerable so I married her!
What are the differences between when you first began in the business 40 years ago and today?
I think technology has changed so much… It used to be that television and film put ten pounds on you. Now HD puts ten years on you. I think that things are younger than ever and reality television changed everything as well; it started with ‘Survivor’, but really if you go back to ‘The Loud Family’ on PBS that was really the first reality show, but that was a whole novel approach. So much of the programming on TV nowadays is reality-based. Now the scripted comedies are better than ever; look at what HBO is doing: ‘Boardwalk Empire’, ‘Game of Thrones’ – amazing television and in many ways they are better than movies, they are impeccable. And there are so many Brits in everything…they must be jumping up and down!
What has been your favorite series to work on so far?
‘24’ [as “Captain Stan Cotter”]would be right up there because I became such a fan as well.
Do you enjoy stage more than film work?
Overall, yes because it’s more a part of your everyday life; it feels more like going to work every day even though the hours are different. I love the rehearsal process because it forces discovery. You keep discovering until the end of the run, then you’ve got it and you close…It goes back to live performing when I was nine or ten years old; being in front of an audience getting real-time feedback.