Ed Begley, Jr.
Ed Begley, Jr. brings his Temple of Tranquility to Chicago
Fri. October 20, 2023 by Jerry Nunn
In the first meeting, Christopher Guest discusses the character with each performer and it is sheer heaven!
ed begley, jr.
Ed Begley, Jr. heads to Chicago Humanities Fall Festival
Actor Ed Begley, Jr. is heading to the Chicago Humanities Fall Festival with his new book in hand titled To the Temple of Tranquility…and Step on It! A Memoir.
It’s packed with stories ranging from juicy Hollywood stories to the challenges of a recent Parkinson’s diagnosis.
His starring role in St. Elsewhere brought him into households around the globe where he won six consecutive Primetime Emmy Award nominations and his television career has flourished for decades most recently with Modern Family and the Queer as Folk reboot.
His cinematic achievements began with The Lottery in 1969 and led up to Amsterdam in 2022. His appearances in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries have continually kept him in the spotlight and his film career has matched his numerous stage and television performances throughout the years.
This environmental activist played himself in the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? and has written books on the subject as well.
The new memoir covers tales of The Beatles, Jeff Goldblum and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. This brings him to a conversation with fellow performer Bob Balaban On Acting, Activism and a Greener Future in Chicago on October 28, 2023.
JN: (Jerry Nunn) What inspired you to write To the Temple of Tranquility?
EBJ: (Ed Begley, Jr.) My daughter came in armed with a smartphone one day and suggested I write some of my stories before I forget them. She recorded on her phone the story of my grandparents coming over on a boat from Ireland and things about my dad’s acting. She wanted to know what life was like without movable type and talkies. She started it out and then pretty soon she became unavailable. She wasn’t at my beck and call every day so I started taking notes for her. I wanted to get the archive down and I showed it to someone thinking it might possibly be a book. All of a sudden I had written the entire thing!
JN: How long did it take to write it?
EBJ: It took me three months to do eighty percent of it. I did the rest of it the following two months. When I finished I sent it to an agent David Vigliano. I used Hachette Books as a publisher who helped me immeasurably to get it into good shape for final publication.
JN: I enjoyed reading about the love affair with Cindy Williams from Laverne & Shirley.
EBJ: Thank you. I loved that woman a lot.
JN: She had planned to tour with her stories then COVID happened to cancel it.
EBJ: That is exactly what happened.
JN: Did you ever take a piece of hair from her? [laughs] I am referencing your appearance on Netflix’s Love.
EBJ: I should have! I would have cloned her. She does have some beautiful clones by the way. Emily Hudson and Zach Hudson are her wonderful and talented kids. I have seen them since she passed, nearly a year ago now. Talking to you reminds me that I need to give them a call.
I would love to take them out for a meal and spend some time with them.
JN: You have always had these piercing blue eyes that everyone was in love with. Was that inherited?
EBJ: My mother had blue eyes that were normal blue, but my dad had piercing blue eyes with his Irish heritage. He was a hundred percent Irish and my mother was 50 percent Irish with some German and Scandinavian thrown into the mix.
JN: I haven’t drunk liquor in eight years personally after going cold turkey.
EBJ: Good man!
JN: It is important to share journeys such as that. What worked for you?
EBJ: There’s a saying, “I can’t, but we can” and that is what really happened to me. I got with a group that assisted me in my quest for sobriety. Things did get easier most importantly.
The people who were nice to me I valued greatly when they supported me in many ways. The people who were over me and fed up who didn’t give me a lot of leeway I cherish just as much.
There was a guy named Billy Boyle who was my salvation. He was totally over me and told me that I would never get sober as I walked into the recovery group. I asked him why he would say that. He asked if I had a wife, kids, a job and a house with a roof over our heads. I told him I had a little place in Hancock Park and was working on Battlestar Galactica. He then said I was screwed because I hadn’t lost anything and to come back to him when I did. He asked for me to call him back before I took a drink again or he would kick my ass.
Billy Boyle by the way was about 5’3” and 120 pounds. I am 6’4” and 200 pounds. I don’t think he could have kicked my ass. He has since passed away.
The inevitable happened and I was at LAX when I ordered a drink. I put it to my lips and then thought of Billy Boyle. I went over to the payphone. There were no cell phones because it was 1978.
I told him I was going to drink and head to Cuernavaca. He said to call him when I arrived there and he had heard the weather was very nice at that time. I couldn’t believe he was so casual about it because he had told me I was going to lose everything if I drank.
The bartender called me over to see if I wanted the bloody Mary and I told Billy since I was flying first class that I planned on drinking at least five drinks if they served them to me.
He said that I was not going to drink and I asked why. He replied, “Because you called me…If you really wanted to drink you would have already. If you wanted to keep drinking you wouldn’t have come to that first meeting in 1976. You don’t want to drink and call me when you get to Cuernavaca.” He then hung up on me.
I didn’t drink the Bloody Mary on the plane. I didn’t drink in Cuernavaca and I haven’t ever since. That is the way it works.
JN: You wrote a little bit about LGBTQ+ rights in the book when describing The Kathy & Mo Show. Have you ever played a gay character in the past?
EBJ: Yes. I played a gay character in a David Mamet play called The Cryptogram in Boston and New York. I played a makeup and hair artist in a Christopher Guest movie called For Your Consideration.
JN: Oh, yes I saw that movie. What is the cast party like after a Christopher Guest movie wraps up?
EBJ: It is like every minute from the beginning with the first script reading to the wardrobe fitting and makeup. In the first meeting, Christopher Guest discusses the character with each performer and it is sheer heaven!
Chris does all of the heavy lifting and writes the treatment, at first with Eugene Levy, but now he writes it with Jim Piddock. They will spend several months, sometimes a year, writing the 25-page treatment.
He will get me, Jennifer Coolidge, Fred Willard, who is sadly gone now, Parker Posey and all kinds of wonderful people together to jam and have a party. All I will have to go by sometimes is a sentence. For Best in Show, all I had was, “Gerry and Cookie Fleck try to check into their hotel and their credit card doesn’t work.” That was it, period, end of sentence. We get to say whatever we would say in response to the great Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara after that. I would try not to crack up because they are such comedic geniuses. That was my life and pretty fun!
JN: You will be reunited with Bob Balaban from the Christopher Guest movies for this upcoming Humanities event.
EBJ: Yes. He is my dear friend and I am over the moon that he is going to host the question and answer section. In the movie A Mighty Wind I did a bit where I spoke Yiddish. It had occurred to me on the set to try that and Chris liked it. The funny part was not me saying all the different phrases but it was Bob’s reactions when he was looking at me. He had no idea what I was doing and that was written all over his face.
JN: This is going to be such a fun appearance and it happens in a church, which I thought is interesting.
EBJ: I can’t wait. Any time I get to spend with Bob is great. He’s a director as well as a fine actor. He has used me in several different projects. I am grateful to know him and work with him!
JN: Do you visit Chicago often?
EBJ: Not often enough. The last time I was there was about five years ago and that was too long. I take your wonderful transit system when I am there. I don’t have to get in a car and it is an easy city to get around in. It’s always a pleasure.
JN: Since you are an environmentalist, what can a person do to reduce their carbon footprint?
EBJ: One simple thing is to get out of your car as much as possible. That could be walking, riding a bike, if the weather permits, or taking public transportation. I recommend getting out of the car and helping the environment.
JN: Was there anything left out of the book that you wish was in it?
EBJ: Yes, Paula Poundstone! I thanked her at the end, but I should have devoted a whole chapter to her. I need to write another book just so I can talk about Paula Poundstone.
JN: I have interviewed her a few times in the past.
EBJ: She is such an amazing artist and a gifted comedian. She is one of my dear friends.
JN: What would you like readers to take away from Temple of Tranquility?
EBJ: That it is possible to have an amount of serenity in your life. Don’t rush it because serenity comes at its own pace. Definitely don’t try to rush it with drugs or alcohol because it doesn’t work. You might think it is serenity but it is actually numbness. If that is found in a bottle then it is not the tranquility that you want or need. Getting serenity from chemical means will never work.
JN: What are you working on next?
EBJ: I am waiting for the strike to settle so I can get back to work on Young Sheldon and other shows like that. Hopefully that will be soon. The strike was unfortunate but necessary with a description of what AI is and what it can mean for every artist plus everyone should have a meaningful portion of residuals for streaming shows. Right now it is the Wild West and what people think it should be.
JN: Thanks so much for this interview. You are the best!
EBJ: You are such a delight yourself, pal. I will see you soon in Chicago!
Find your Temple of Tranquility on Saturday, October 28, 2023, starting at 4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, 77 West Washington Street.
Tickets can be found at ChicagoHumanities.org.