Originally created 05/04/04

Ed Begley Jr. plays against type in Hallmark's 'Life on Liberty Street'



LOS ANGELES -- Ed Begley Jr.'s distinctive voice, more expansive than the confines of the modest San Fernando Valley home he shares with wife Rachelle, is loud with joy as he snuggles on the couch with their 4-year-old daughter and the family dog and cat.

"Look, I've got this beautiful daughter, this wonderful wife, perfect little home. That's why I can consider retiring in September," he says, noting Screen Actors Guild eligibility when he turns 55.

"I don't have to shovel a lot of coal into the boiler of the S.S. Begley to keep it afloat. I grew up in a house this size, I will die in a house this size. This is all I need."

If Begley does retire, it won't be for lack of work.

In the Hallmark Channel's "Life on Liberty Street," he plays Richard Spencer, a high-powered attorney unable to cope with the condition of his son, who suffered brain damage in a car accident. The movie airs 9 p.m. Sunday.

In the recent ABC drama "Kingdom Hospital," he played the medical facility's administrator, Dr. Jesse James, who "doesn't see any ghosts, doesn't know any ghosts."

Later this month, Begley will be in Canada to play a cop in the feature film "Desolation Sound." Then he'll head to Pittsburgh to play Mayor Shinn in good friend Jeff Goldblum's hometown stage production of "The Music Man."

Because of Begley's real-life activism, he gets offered many scripts asking him to play "the environmental hero saving trees."

"But that's kind of too on the money," he says. "That's not interesting. Let me be the head of the lumber company, the head of the oil company."

The father in "Life of Liberty Street," is an example of Begley's preferences about roles.

"He's a very shutdown guy," the actor said. "He's been through a lot of pain. His way of dealing with that is to deny. He doesn't allow his son to grow - out of fear, that's understandable, but out of guilt and other issues that's just not right, and people do that every day."

Ethan Embry - Joe Friday's sidekick in ABC's failed attempt to revive "Dragnet" - plays Spencer's son, Rick, who was once gifted academically and athletically but is now struggling just to manage on his own.

David Kenin, Hallmark's executive vice president of programming, says the cable channel favors three genres of movies - Westerns, mysteries and human relationship dramas that are usually tied into holidays. That's why this "very feelingful movie ... a beautiful story about caring" is airing on Mother's Day.

Begley, the son of Oscar-winning character actor Ed Begley, says he supposedly exclaimed, "I want to be an actor, I want to be a comedian" when he was only 3.

"But there's a problem," Begley notes. "When you are the son or daughter of somebody (famous), you have this attitude, 'Wake me when I'm famous. I want to do what Dad does. I'd like to just talk in front of a camera. How hard could that be!"'

As a kid, he tried to get by on charm, but "got no work." He's pleased he didn't because "I didn't have a clue."

So in his late teens, he studied his craft and the jobs started coming. Most notable was Dr. Victor Ehrlich on "St. Elsewhere."

He went to military school in Buffalo, N.Y., but spent summers in the San Fernando Valley. "It was, I remember, a pretty good childhood," he says, "except for one major problem, which kind of set the tone of the rest of my life - the smog."

On the first Earth Day in 1970, he decided to become part of the solution. He bought an electric car, started recycling, and whenever possible, rode his bike rather than drove.

He's still deeply committed to "all that environmental stuff."

"I have things, too," he acknowledged. "I don't live in a teepee in Topanga. I live here. I have a computer. I have a fax machine. But I try to limit that stuff to what I consider a reasonable level."

On the Net:

www.hallmarkchannel.com