NEW YORK—He plays cheerfully rich reprobate Frank Reynolds on the anti-“Friends” bar comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (FX, Thursdays). But, really, it’s always Danny in Hollywood.
Talk about your multi-hyphenates.
As an actor, Danny DeVito, 62, went from playing that devil-of-a-dispatcher Louie De Palma in the legendary ensemble cast of “Taxi” (ABC/NBC 1978-83)—alongside the likes of Judd Hirsch, Andy Kaufman, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd and Marilu Henner—to starring in big-screen hits like “Ruthless People,” “Tin Men” and “Twins.” He became a feature director with “Throw Momma From the Train” (1987), “The War of the Roses” (1989) and other movies, and added producer to his resume with Jersey Films and Jersey Television (“Pulp Fiction,” “Erin Brockovich,” the “Reno: 911!” franchise).
Married to quadruple-Emmy winner Rhea Perlman (TV’s “Cheers”), DeVito, relaxing at the FX offices in Manhattan recently, pulled together two conference chairs to form a makeshift chaise lounge and speak with Frank Lovece, author of “Hailing Taxi: The Official Book of the Show.”
Q. You’re an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning actor from one of TV’s most acclaimed series, “Taxi.” You’ve been a major movie star/director/producer. So ...
A. Why am I doing a television comedy?
Q. I was gonna say ...
A. I have so much fun being around (co-stars Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson, and series-creator co-star Rob McElhenney). Y’know, they’re fresh and inventive, and they go with stuff. There’s a thing that happens with writers where people get an idea, and they explore it for a minute, and then they may toss it aside. These guys get an idea, and then they go with it and go with it until they find something in there that’s scathing. It’s very similar to the way “I Love Lucy” was ...
Q. Wait. You’re comparing “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” to “I Love Lucy”?
A. It’s similar in that the characters are always trying to get over on someone. Lucy always had a scheme. This is like they’re always trying to do some giant task that seems so unattainable, like figuring out how to beat welfare or pretending to be a cripple.
Y’know, what I am is a character actor, and I look for really good situations to be in and really great characters to play. That’s what I do. At this point in my life, I’m still playing fun things in the movies and producing a lot, but the thing is, when you get out on the stage and you find a character you really like, like Frank Reynolds—I’m having a ball! Every once in a while something comes along that’s a gift, and you have to recognize it and embrace it.
Q. How did the producers of this famously low-budget show—I’ve read the pilot was shot on a home camcorder for under $200—come to say, “Let’s get Danny DeVito to star with our four unknowns!” Talented unknowns, let me say, but unknowns.
A. John Landgraf, who’s now the head of F/X, the big cheese over there, he recognized the show as being a one-of-a-kind, unique show that a demographic of certain-age people would really relish. He and I had worked together at Jersey Television (when DeVito and partners had hired Landgraf as president in 1999). When “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” was just beginning, he said to me, “Danny, you and Rhea and the kids might really enjoy this.” Long story short, we did love it, and less than a year later, he said they wanted to add a character and would I be interested? I said if they could come up with something that’s not just tacked on. And they came up with Frank Reynolds.
They brought me in in a way that fits into my life at this moment. And the changeup feels great. It’s like if you’re always dealing with the studios and trying to get these big-budget movies made—well, maybe not so big-budget but semi-big-budget—and you’re always trying to finagle that avenue, get somebody to greenlight your movie, then something like this, it’s simple, it’s fun, they pay me very well, and you’re staying on top of the new things.
Q. So I hear you’ve just come out with your own brand of limoncello.
A. Yeah, after drinking one too many before I did “The View.”
Q. I wasn’t going to mention your showing up there ...
A. (rethinking it) Hung over. I would say hung over. Let me tell you about (drinking partner George) Clooney (cackles). He’s not above taking you out for drinks, daring you to keep up and dumping his shots into a plant when you’re not looking!