MARRIED WITH CHILDREN – getTV Interview with David Garrison
David Garrison may be best known for playing the character of Steve Rhoades for four seasons on Married With Children, but the actor really calls the New York theatre his home. Since graduating from Boston University, Garrison has appeared in countless Broadway productions. He is particularly renown for musicals - from the Gilbert and Sullivan classic The Pirates Of Penzance to originating the role of The Wizard in Wicked. During his recent opening weekend of the Cinderella musical Ever After at New York's Alliance Theatre, Garrison generously took time to speak with getTV about his memories of Married With Children, the differences between acting for stage and screen, and why a comedy like Married can have such a lasting legacy.
David, you have had an incredible career as an actor with such success in both theatre and television. You were the first person to be signed to Married With Children. How did you first hear about the show and the role of Steve Rhoades?
I had worked with the creators of Married With Children—Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye—on an NBC series called It's Your Move, opposite a young Jason Bateman. Unfortunately, that show only ran one season (we were on opposite an ABC show called Dynasty; need I say anything more?), but when Ron and Michael were asked to create a half-hour comedy for the new FOX network, they invited me to shoot the pilot episode. None of us had any notion that Married would become such a hit.
How much of the character of Steve was written and how much did you create?
Credit goes to Ron and Michael and the writing staff for crafting all the characters on the show. However, the staff was very skilled at writing to the strengths of all the actors on the show, and there certainly was a synergy between writers and actors in refining the characters as the show developed.
Steve sometimes sang or hummed excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan. Did you suggest this to the writers or did they do it of their own accord because they knew you loved it?
I came from the New York theatre, and much of my work on and off Broadway was in musicals. Ron and Michael liked to tease me about that, and so the notion that Steve Rhoades was a Gilbert and Sullivan fan was just geeky enough to please them.
Of course you spent most of your time acting opposite Amanda Bearse who played Marcy. How was it working together?
Amanda and I are still friends to this day. I recall reading opposite actresses during the final callbacks for Marcy, and hoping she would get the job. Much to my delight, she did. She is a force of nature, and it’s been a pleasure watching her expand her career into directing.
Steve started the series being quite condescending to Al Bundy, but became much more friendly. That meant you spent more time playing opposite Ed O’Neill. What was it like working with him?
I think Ed and I had good chemistry bouncing off each other as Al and Steve—a real odd couple. Early on, I took him and his dad and Amanda Bearse on a white water river trip with me in Colorado.
What do you remember about the initial response to the show? Was there controversy from the start?
I remember laughter. There wasn’t exactly controversy until the dust-up with the viewer in Michigan who thought the show too risqué for family viewing, but there certainly was strong reaction to our turning the whole family sitcom form on its head. Remember: Married With Children aired long before Roseanne or The Simpsons [series] and all that followed.
Do you have a favorite episode or two of the show?
That’s a hard one. The first Christmas episode is certainly up there (and if you look carefully you can see the whole cast almost lose it on camera when Santa plummets into the Bundy backyard), but I guess I’d ultimately have to choose the two-parter about Marcy losing her wedding ring at a male strip club. The show was originally written as a single episode, but the laugh spread from the studio audience was so long that we had to shoot more ‘middle’ scenes the following week, and turn the story into two episodes. It actually played better that way.
Your passion is for the theatre. In what ways was doing the show similar to being in the theatre and in what ways was it different?
Doing a half-hour show on camera with a live studio audience is much closer to theatre work than doing single camera for television or film. As an actor, you have much more control over pacing and delivery than you do when you’re shooting out of sequence and piecing together scenes from various angles. Also, the audience reaction gives you a theatre-like energy. Nonetheless, being on camera in any form requires a different playing style and size compared to being on stage.
You were on for four seasons and then bought out your contract to return to the theatre. What was calling you so strongly at that time?
I was basically commuting from New York to shoot the show in Los Angeles, and I missed my life in Manhattan, as well as my theatre career. The first rule of show business is “leave them wanting more,” so after four seasons I felt it was time to exercise some other muscles. I left on good terms, and returned as a guest on the show in subsequent seasons.
You’ve continued taking roles in television – like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2107) and Madame Secretary (2016) – while being so active in the theatre, including originating the role of the Wizard in Wicked. How do you balance the two worlds?
There is much more prime time television work in New York now than there was during the years Married With Children was shooting, so it’s easier to pick up guest work, even if you’re doing a full schedule in the theatre. And, of course, if a good permanent role in a New York based series came along, I’d be happy to pursue it.
Have you stayed in touch with anyone from Married?
As I said earlier, Amanda and I have seen each other fairly regularly over the years. I visited with Christina Applegate when she was in New York doing a show, and I still hear from crew people, like Marti Squyres, our costume designer. It’s harder to keep in touch with Ed or Katey or David Faustino, as they are all LA based.
Finally, why do you think Married has had such a lasting legacy?
Any show that breaks the rules and re-invents a form is likely to have a lasting impact. Married was gleefully breaking the china in a world where father ‘didn’t know best.’ It was designed to be a cartoon, and to simply make audiences laugh. But what it managed to do beyond that was to tap into the zeitgeist of the paycheck-to-paycheck beleaguered American family. Beyond the cartoon, people could relate to the Bundys because they felt that was the way families really spoke to each other. The show had (and continues to have) fans because the humor, although exaggerated, was fundamentally based in recognizable behavior and real, if dysfunctional, family dynamics.
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