Whatever your plans are for the next few days, you will not have a better weekend than Gregg Henry. He's starring as veteran police detective Carl Reddick as The Killing debuts its final season on Netflix (Aug. 1); the character he voices — the grandfather of Chris Pratt's Star-Lord — helps open the new big-screen blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy (Aug. 1); and he's playing Brigham Young on the fourth season of AMC's Hell on Wheels, which premieres on Aug. 2.
Even for an actor who has more than 120 different TV series and movie roles on his résumé (as well as memorable big-screen performances in Payback, Body Double, and Slither), it's a weekend worth celebrating — at a time when his career (which also includes ongoing roles on Scandal and The Following) is hotter than ever.
"I scratch my head," Gregg, 62, tells Yahoo TV about his sudden turn in the spotlight. "I'm not sure quite why things happen, but I'm very grateful that they are. I think, beginning with The Riches and the role of Hugh Panetta, which was a real favorite of mine, then through Hung and into Scandal — Hollis Doyle is such a great character. They're all really fun characters, and they have some size and some scope. I'm saying 'thank you's every day."
To kick off Gregg Henry Weekend, Yahoo TV asked the actor to chat about some of his most memorable TV roles.
Rich Man, Poor Man — Book II (1976-77)
"The first thing I was fortunate enough to get was Rich Man, Poor Man — Book II. That's where I learned the ropes of doing film and television, and I think [the TV industry] has gone through such changes over the years that now we're in a position where everybody wants a TV series, because that's where all the good roles and the good writing is happening. It's better not to be prejudiced about one particular medium and form. I've always been that way. If the part is right and the food is right, I'll show up and do something in your living room."
"I had been on stage in San Diego, understudying Orlando in As You Like it, and Cassio in Othello, and playing smaller roles, and making $65 a week. Then somebody saw me do Orlando and the next week I was up in Los Angeles making $1,500 a week in a TV show. I was rich. It was great. They, of course, called me 'The Kid,' but they made me feel at home, and it was a great school."
Murder, She Wrote (1985-96)
(In which he played six different characters across seven guest appearances, and, clearly, was a favorite of star Angela Lansbury.)
"She's obviously a genius actress, but she was also a great supporter of all actors and made sure that all these wonderful New York and Broadway actors got roles in the show. That show would actually pay you well and would pay you better each time you were on, and that was really because of Angela's insistence on things like that. I am very grateful to her, and am honored to have worked with her all those times."
The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom (1993)
(The wonderfully satirical HBO movie was loosely based on the real-life scandal involving Texas mom Wanda Holloway, who tried to hire a hitman to kill the mother of her daughter's junior-high cheerleading rival.)
"Nobody had really seen anything like that before. The great director Michael Ritchie… at the same time we were making this movie, ABC was shooting a movie of the week [Willing to Kill: The Texas Cheerleader Story] that was also loosely based on the incident. The great thing about Michael Richie and [writer] Jane Anderson's tone was that it was also a comment on our culture and [the media], and how quickly things become movies and part of the culture."
"At one point, Ritchie took, without permits and without knowledge, he took a cameraman and a camera and he went to the site of where they were shooting the ABC movie. They picked up extra footage of them shooting their movie, and it caused… ABC was all freaked out and got upset about it, but that was the tone of the whole movie from HBO. The ABC movie took it much more seriously, of course. But [Ritchie's] was a fun one. Great pleasure to work with Holly [Hunter] and with Beau [Bridges] and Swoosie [Kurtz]."
(In which his Season 2 character was killed, forcing Jack Bauer to cut into his chest to retrieve an info chip, and in which Gregg says his experience with star Kiefer Sutherland was nothing like the one Freddie Prinze Jr. described recently.)
"Quite the opposite. Kiefer was totally professional, very welcoming to me to the set. We never waited 10 seconds for him for any shot. He was always there and ready to go. We had a few laughs, too. We had a good time — and my character's death was a little harsh. But the hard part was when I had to lay there dead. They put this prosthetic piece over my ribs and chest, for where the surgically-implanted chip was. Then I have to play dead while Kiefer takes his finger and digs in there in my ribs. It's just tickling the s--t out of me, and I'm like, 'Oh, God, I can't stop laughing.'"
The Hunt for the BTK Killer (2005)
(In which he played convicted serial killer Dennis Rader, whose case was still unfolding as the movie was in production.)
"The movie was listed as a go before the court scene where [Rader] pled guilty, because there was no death penalty in Kansas at the time. That was a reveal… when the producer who had optioned the book optioned it, she wasn't even sure who it was that did it. Then they caught him and took him to court. He says he's guilty, so that's changing the script."
"We continue forward, and then we were two weeks into shooting, and he did an interview on 20/20 with all this revelatory information about the confession he gave to the cops, and you get more of a sense of just how twisted this guy was. Stephen Kay, the director and writer of the script, did a mad 24-hour rewrite, and then we incorporated all of the stuff from 20/20 that was new information to us."
"You saw all these other mannerisms, and you saw his speech patterns and the physical tics that this guy had, which were helpful things to latch onto, but also difficult things to wrap your whole being around in such a short period of time. It was a good news/bad news thing, but ultimately I think it made it a stronger movie."
Gilmore Girls (2005-07)
(In which he played newspaper magnate Mitchum Huntzberger, father to Rory's boyfriend Logan, played by The Good Wife star Matt Czuchry.)
"I did get feedback, none of it good. Poor Rory. [Mitchum] just gave her some notes about writing, really, said maybe she didn't have it quite yet as a writer. The Gilmore Girls fans considered that a greater offense than all the people I've murdered as other villains on other shows. They are a loyal bunch of fans, and that was a wonderful show. It was intriguing to see just how loyal that Gilmore Nation was — pretty impressive."
"Yes, that's me singing and playing the piano. [Hung co-creator] Dmitry Lipkin also did The Riches, where I play one of my songs, one of the songs I wrote, when Hugh Panetta gets married, so I did a little singing and playing in that. Plus, a lot of folks come out and see me when I did gigs around town. It's great fun. It wasn't how I pictured Mike in Hung. I didn't picture that he had that talent, but once we did it, we went, 'Oh, OK, so that's something else interesting we'll add to him.'"
"Hollis Doyle is a riot. He's a kick in the pants to play. I think he's a complex character, and I think they've really showed that over the course of [his appearances] on the show, where they're dealing in a lot of gray area and a lot of characters do a lot of bad things."
"The first time I met folks was at the table read, and the table reads for Scandal are just insanely great fun. Really, 99 percent of the time, no one has seen the script until they arrive at the table read, and they're well-attended by cast and crew and a few network [execs] every now and then, and writers. Everyone wants to know what the heck happens, to find out if we're getting killed. You've got to find out if you're still alive! There's also such a great sense of camaraderie and support and love on that show. It's a great group of people. I assume we'll [see Hollis again]. He's still around, and he's still got a lot of money."
The Killing (2013-present)
(On Reddick investigating his former partner, Joel Kinnaman's Holder, and Holder's new partner, Mireille Enos's Linden, in connection with the disappearance of a fellow cop.)
"[Reddick] thinks he's just on mop-up, and he's going to have this drudgery work, but all of a sudden, things aren't adding up. It starts out as just curiosity in his mind, and then all of a sudden, he goes, 'Wait a second; there's more here.' I think Reddick's a good cop, he's a good detective. He's very dedicated to the job, but he also has a life. He's one of those cops who is able to have a wife and a kid and a family life. But it doesn't stop him from being really dedicated, to be obsessed with the job at times."
"I think he's the same as any other good cop. When he gets a hold of something that is not smelling right and not making sense, he has to chase it down and find out what the truth is. It, of course, carries the weight of having colleagues and friends on all sides with regard to what he's uncovering now. It's very troubling for him, and when he gets down to it in the end, he's got tough decisions that he has to make. It's very difficult for him to weigh the balance of duty versus friendship and the future, but he's clear in his head what he has to do."
The Killing Season 4 premieres Friday on Netflix; Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theaters Friday; Hell on Wheels Season 4 premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. on AMC.