Gerald McRaney appeared in just one scene of one episode on “This Is Us” this year, but it was enough to bring him a second consecutive Emmy nomination after winning Best Drama Guest Actor in 2017. If McRaney were to win again, he would become the first actor in Emmy history to win Drama Guest Actor twice for playing the same role.
McRaney recently sat down with Gold Derby managing editor Chris Beachum and senior editor Marcus Dixon for a chat about his big Emmy win last year, his nominated scene from Season 2 of “This Is Us,” and his excitement about the upcoming “Deadwood” movie. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby (Marcus Dixon): Gerald McRaney, one year ago you won the Emmy Award for “This Is Us.” Take us through that moment. It was your very first career nomination. Did you know what to expect going in?
Gerald McRaney: Yeah, I knew sort of what to expect going in because I’ve been to the Emmys, I’ve been a presenter on the Emmys so I knew basically what to expect. What I didn’t expect was my wife’s reaction to it. I’ve never seen anything like it. I refer to it as projectile crying. I looked to my left and honestly tears were shooting out of her eyes she was so excited for me. I think it meant more to her than it did to me, actually.
GD (Marcus): I remember, Chris and I were both backstage and we saw you guys back there. The way she was looking at you answering the reporters’ questions, she was really, really happy for you, we could tell.
Gold Derby (Chris Beachum): A lot of first-time nominees this year and you were a first-time nominee last year after all those years. What advice would you give these people?
GM: Take a deep breath and just take in your surroundings when you’re there. Don’t let yourself get so caught up in the idea of winning or losing but just enjoy the evening. It’s a cliche but it really is an honor to be nominated, to be put in the same company with these other actors. To me, the tough part is over. Now it’s just, you either get the trophy or you don’t get the trophy. Enjoy the evening. Enjoy the fellowship. Enjoy the camaraderie of your fellow performers and all the other people who work in this business. Just enjoy.
GD (Marcus): Where do you keep the trophy? Is it in a nice place where you can show it off to all of your friends?
GM: I got campaign furniture style desk and it sits right up on top of that desk in my room.
GD (Chris): Now, you were only in one episode this year which you’re nominated for, your second nomination, “The Car.” What’s their process for getting in touch? How do you know that they’ve got something for you coming up?
GM: Generally a few weeks out they will get in touch with my agent and find out if I’m available at that particular time. If they want Dr. K to do something they will generally give me a lead-time that I can make myself available to that. And I will do that. If I’m working on something else, I will try to persuade those producers to let me out long enough to go do another episode of “This Is Us,” because the show has been so good for me. Not only winning the Emmy but just being allowed to do such great words. The writing on that show is phenomenally good. I’ve often said all I have to do on this role is learn the words and stay out of my own way. So if I get a chance to do that show again I will do that show again, no doubt.
GD (Marcus): And last year a lot of your scenes were with Milo [Ventimiglia]. This year you were one on one with Mandy Moore. Tell us what it was like working with her.
GM: She is just a dream to work with. She’s so earnest and hardworking in what she does. Not even a hint of being a prima donna. Just the opposite of being a prima donna. She is incredibly helpful and incredibly giving. She’s always there for you. When she’s off-camera, it’s your closeup, she’s giving 110%, just the way she did in her coverage or in the master. She’s a wonderful professional and I’m constantly amazed that she doesn’t get a nomination.
GD (Marcus): We were just talking about that, how that’s very, very shocking. We thought she was gonna be a lock for Best Actress.
GM: Yeah, I thought so too. I thought so, especially in that episode. She was so good in that. But everybody was good in that episode. Milo was just magnificent in that.
GD (Chris): The moment we see you for the first time is one of those classic movie kind of moments where we hear your voice and then there’s a shot of you and then they go to a commercial break. It’s like a big tease and then you get to come in and lay down that five or six minute scene. Just tell us about that moment.
GM: The moment itself, it’s another moment of acting. But it was so special for Mandy, who was flashing back to the pilot, which was the other time that she and I got to work together at all. It was sort of a nostalgic moment for both of us to be able to do that. We sort of knew what an audience reaction would be to see Dr. K again after all those years. I must say, though, that I was a little bit disappointed because I was playing Dr. K at the age of 92 and they only had me in the makeup chair for about 15 or 20 minutes. I was rather insulted by that.
GD (Marcus): Maybe next time we see Dr. K he’ll be in a wheelchair.
GM: There you go. Do something to justify me being that age.
GD (Marcus): You’re right, the fans absolutely love this character and as a “This Is Us” fan, I kept waiting in Season 2, “Where are you, where are you, where are you?” Finally you pop up in the episode after the Super Bowl episode. And I think they teased it in the trailer saying, “And an old friend returns.” I was like, “I know who they’re talking about.”
GD (Marcus): Were you happy to get the call to come back?
GM: Always. Always. I’ve never had this experience with a show before. If you do a five-story arc, it’s terrific. But last season I did one scene and I just enjoyed myself thoroughly and I don’t care how much or how little they want me to work on it, as long as I get to go in there and do it again from time to time. It’s a wonderful role to play.
GD (Chris): Your episode, we were talking before we started recording, is the episode Milo is submitting for Emmy voters to watch. So you’re not in any scenes with Milo this year but you have seen the episode. What is it about him that works on this show? Why is he so good in this role as this loyal, caring father?
GM: A lot of it, I think, has to do with Milo’s character himself. He is a good friend. He’s a good man. One of the things I noticed in one of the press conference things that we did, year and a half or so ago, one of the ladies onstage, one of the cast members, began to cry a little bit. And he reached out the handkerchief immediately. I was the only other person prepared to do that, but Milo is ready to do it and he doesn’t hesitate to do it. It’s just an automatic with him. He’s a gentleman. He’s an old-school gentleman. I think that comes through into his character. So a lot of his character is Milo. That helps a lot.
GD (Marcus): Milo’s character, Jack, did not have a good relationship with his father so it’s almost like you’re the surrogate father of Jack. Is that how you play those scenes when you’re with him?
GM: Not the first one, of course, because our characters would’ve just met. And not really so much trying to be a father figure to a grown man, but to be just a friend. Doctors used to be more like this, I think, or maybe it’s just me being nostalgic about my childhood, but the doctors that I had when I was a kid seemed to care about me or my mom or dad or whoever their patient happened to be in our family. It wasn’t just treating a bunch of symptoms. It was dealing with that human being. But I think Dr. K, if he’s any sort of relationship like that going on, it’s that of an older brother, not so much a father. An older brother, somebody who can be the confessor, the confidant, that guy you can go to.
GD (Chris): When you see somebody out these days over the last two years since “This Is Us” started, what do they say to you about this character? I would imagine along with maybe “Simon & Simon” and maybe one or two others, this is probably one that people really wanna talk to you about.
GM: It’s mainly this one now that people wanna talk to me about. They’ve long since forgotten all those other things and the main thing they say is, “You made me cry,” and that’s usually followed by, “You son of a bitch.” That’s the general thing is, “You made me cry.”
GD (Chris): Do you like that?
GM: Yeah, I do, because it means you’re affecting people, which is the whole idea. We’re supposed to elicit responses in people, not necessarily crying, but that’s a good one. Laughing is a good one. Any kind of legitimate response you get out of people, you’re almost earning your money.
GD (Marcus): Our senior editor, Joyce Eng, she was looking through the history of this category and she found out if you win a second one, you’ll be the only person to win this category twice for the same role. So you could be making Emmy history in a couple months.
GM: Knock wood.
GD (Chris): What was your reaction this time on the second nomination when they announced that morning?
GM: I was sort of surprised because it was one scene. That was it.
GD (Chris): It was an impactful scene.
GM: It really was, and again, I have to give total credit to the writing that happens on that show. It’s simple, it’s direct and it’s just delicious. It’s wonderful.
GD (Chris): And Ken Olin, we’ve known him since “Hill Street Blues” and then “thirtysomething.” He’s an actor like you that’s turned into a director. What is it like when you are working with him and any other actor-turned-director?
GM: Some actors-turned-director aren’t very good directors. Acting is sort of a subjective art, whereas directing is more of an objective art, and some people can’t make that transition. Ken is one of the people who made the transition and made it very well. He can objectively see where your performance fits into the rest of his movie, but the actor in him knows enough to give you the space that you need to create the character. He’s not so concerned with speed, and he understands the difference between speed and pace. A lot of people don’t. But Ken never tried to get you to speed things up. He allowed the transitions. That’s always enjoyable when you work with somebody who gives you the time that you need to make the character whole.
GD (Marcus): I assume you have not been asked yet for Season 3, is that right?
GM: No, not yet.
GD (Marcus): But you’re totally down if they give you the call?
GM: Absolutely. Absolutely
GD (Marcus): Is there any more sides to Dr. K that we haven’t quite seen? Is there anything that you as the actor wants to know about this guy?
GM: I would like to know more about Dr. K’s youth, but we probably won’t be able to see any of that.
GD (Chris): Spinoff.
GM: The 20 minutes it took to make me look 92 would turn into an hour and a half to try and make me look younger. That’s something I would like to see explored in Dr. K, but this isn’t a show about Dr. K, unfortunately.
GD (Marcus): Well it should be.
GD (Chris): I just read last week, Robin Weigert, one your co-stars on “Deadwood,” said she felt like things were coming together for a movie maybe this fall or a little after. Have you heard that?
GM: Yeah, I have heard that. We’re working on it, trying to get it to happen.
GD (Chris): All of you are so busy. How are you gonna get that cast together?
GM: That’s gonna be a little bit of a miracle, I think, to get all of those people available at the same moment in time to do “Deadwood,” but again, that’s one of those things that, working for David Milch, people will drop a project to go work with him again. I know I would, because again, the writing is just so wonderful, so delicious. You love doing those words. And the other thing is, the time that we had working together is just such great fun. Those are all fantastic actors and everybody got along so well.
GD (Marcus): David Milch’s process was a little different, right? He wouldn’t script out everything word for word for word. He’d be open to maybe playing with the dialogue.
GM: Oh yeah, he would have something perfectly written out, absolutely ready to go, and then on the set, he would be the one to instigate improvising. You could improvise in rehearsal, but then David would take that improvisation and form it into dialogue and then you do that dialogue. It’s not that you’re improvising on camera. You improvise in the rehearsal and everybody was part of the process, and then David would take that and form it into a scene that had real structure to it.
GD (Chris): Who is somebody from that cast you haven’t seen in a long time you just can’t wait to see again?
GM: Ian [McShane].
GD (Chris): That’s Marcus’s favorite actor of all time.
GM: Oh, he’s fantastic, isn’t he?
GD (Marcus): Yeah. Just the way he does his line readings. I’m so scared of him character but I’m so intrigued by his acting process.
GM: He’s kind of like watching a cobra that way.
GD (Chris): The two of you facing off, that’s quite interesting.
GM: When you have an acting partner that brings that kind of energy to something, god, that’s fun. That’s the best it gets.
GD (Chris): Speaking of directing, I was watching one of your “Simon & Simon” episodes. I think you did several of those, and I didn’t even know which one I was watching necessarily, where it fell, and at the end it had this shot of the two of you walking out of a room and it went up to the sign and I thought, “That feels like a series finale,” and I got online and you had directed the series finale. First of all, what was that like? And then also, any plans to direct something else down the road?
GM: I would love to direct again but I don’t have any specific plans to do it right away. When I did that finale, it was interesting, I designed that shot, the lights in the office going off one by one until the only thing left on was that neon sign of Simon & Simon, and then that flickered a little bit and went off, too. I think our producer did this, I was outside the office door and I hollered in, “Cut,” and then we came back into the room, the lights came back up and Jameson [Parker] and I hugged each other because it had been a terrific eight years. The cameras kept rolling, and the producers actually put that in the end credits of that episode. That was a great run. That was eight years of stealing money from Universal.
GD (Chris): That was one of my favorite shows back then. It was so much fun.
GM: It was, and that’s all it was intended to be. We occasionally would get into some sort of cause. We did an episode about Salvadoran death squads following people into the United States and things like that that other people weren’t doing, but for the most part, that show was intended to be just sort of a good lark, and I think most of the time we did that.
GD (Chris): Well thanks so much. We were so excited you got a second nomination.
GM: I am too!
GD (Chris): We’ll see you back on these Emmy red carpets here in a few weeks.
GM: Indeed. Well it’s more than a few weeks. Thank god I’ve got time to buy a new tux.