The Original Danny Tanner Speaks! Actor John Posey Shares the Story of Losing His 'Full House' Role to Bob Saget
John Posey and Bob Saget in the 'Full House' opening credits
You're an Atlanta-based actor and comedian, and you've just filmed the pilot for your first starring role in a TV show, a family comedy the network has big hopes for. You've packed up your life in Atlanta, and headed back to Los Angeles with a trailer-load of your belongings, you hear your beeper go off (did we mention it's 1987?) in the middle of your drive through Mississippi.
It's your agent. He's got news. It's bad news for you, good news for another actor, Bob Saget.
That's how actor John Posey, who played Danny Tanner in the original pilot for "Full House," learned he was being replaced in the series that would make superstars out of the Olsen twins and become a staple of family-friendly TV viewing for at least two generations of fans.
Candace Cameron, John Posey, and Jodie Sweetin in the original pilot for 'Full House'
"But anyway, they did, and we shot it. And, you know, in all honesty, if somebody were to ask me now, I have no idea whether I was good in that pilot or not. It was all very new to me. We were doing 'Saturday Night Live'-type, Second City comedy, very physical comedy, and 'Full House' was very, you know, sweet and different and unlike the sitcoms that I was watching when I was growing up, which was 'All in the Family' and 'Chico and the Man' and 'Welcome Back, Kotter,' things that were very cynical. This show was quite different. So I can't say that I was the most experienced guy on the set, plus you're holding a baby in your arms the whole time, so I was learning about this, going along but I, overall I thought everything was pretty decent. And the show went. [ABC] picked it up with me, and everything was fine, until about a month or so later when I heard otherwise."
John Stamos, David Coulier, and John Posey in the original pilot for 'Full House'
So that phone call in the middle of Mississippi was it? Did you even know at the time that the producers had been interested in Bob Saget and Paul Reiser?
That was literally it. I was in Mississippi. My pager went off. I've got a trailer full of stuff. I'm driving back thinking, "We're going to get to work soon on this new show." And I get a phone call, go to the phone booth, as we used to do in those days [laughing], returned the call, and it was my agent saying, "I don't know what's going on, but for some reason they're testing Bob Saget." And I said, "What are you talking about? Why would they do that?" I didn't know at the time that he was the guy that they originally wanted, that he was just unavailable. I guess something opened up for him. Maybe he was fired from something, I think [a CBS morning program called "The Morning Program"], and suddenly he was available. And I guess the executive producer talked ABC into allowing him to re-shoot. So that was the end of that.
Saget on how he got the "Full House" role:
They literally reshot the exact same pilot, right? They changed nothing when Saget stepped in?
Exact same pilot, with [Saget wearing] the exact same outfit, which is weird. I'm this stocky, ex-football player, ex-wrestler, who's like 5' 9", 180 pounds, and Saget's like 6' 3", 110 soaking wet. He's an urban Jewish guy, and I'm this Irish guy from Florida and Georgia. And somehow we've got the same exact outfit on, playing the same role [laughing].
And was that just it, after the phone call? Did you have any more interaction with the cast and crew or producers after being told you were being replaced?
Well, I tried to. Being an inexperienced actor, I go, "Wait a minute. Where I come from, if someone like ABC says, "Hey, we love you. You're our next guy. We want to be in business with you," and suddenly they pretend they don't know you... I get curious and go, "Well, what happened?" But that's just the nature of the business. I've since been in a number of sitcoms where people have been fired, and there's just no easy way to handle it. You know, they just say, "Hey, thanks for being here. It didn't work out. Sorry." But I can't say at the same time that they were telling me honestly what happened, because they really weren't. I don't think anybody wanted to say that somebody decided somebody else was [their choice]... You know, it was such an uncomfortable thing for everybody, it just kind of went away.
I took about two years, went to New York, wrote a play ["Father, Son & Holy Coach"] which turned out to be a very successful play that I toured the country with and sold to Sony as a screenplay, and then came back to L.A. So I got back into the game again, and, you know, steady career, TV, film, voiceover, commercials. I've sold a dozen screenplays, gotten one made, two are still at the studios. I just finished another one. So you kind of do what you have to do to stay in it.
Claudia Christian, John Posey, Thomas Gibson, and A.J. Cook in 'Criminal Minds'
You have been on many of the biggest hit series of the last couple of decades and a half: "Seinfeld," "Cheers," "Bones," "24," "NCIS," "Boston Legal," "Criminal Minds"...
I'm proud to say if my grandkids asked, "Did you do anything interesting?" I'd say, "Yeah. I spent a week with Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander, and that was a really fun time." Twelve years later, I'm walking in Jerry's Deli, and someone's yelling, "Hey, Posey." I turn around, and it's Jerry. This guy's worked with a million people, and he's picked me out 12 years later and said, "Hi." That says a lot about who Jerry is as a talent and a human being. And some of the guys in those shows are friends of mine from movies we did. I had a chance to spend a few months with Tom Hanks in Florida shooting "From the Earth to the Moon," playing one of his astronauts. So it's all been good. It would have been easier if I had stayed with "Full House," because then I'd never have to work again. I'd just write a check and everything would be OK [laughing]. I still bounce around and I read for TV shows. I still do voiceover work. I shoot commercials every now and again.
[Related: 'Full House' Men Reunite on Jimmy Fallon]
It's kind of an odd way to make a living, but there's a bunch of us out here who do it. I think they call us blue collar actors, where the casting people, they'll bring you in for a pilot, but the studios are so afraid to hire someone that doesn't have a huge name that they usually pass you by, unless you're perfect for the role. Then you wait for someone to get fired. You wait for the John Posey to get fired, so you can come in and take that guy's role. Or you're the guy that does two, three, or four episodes. And that sort of has been my go-to thing.
John Posey and Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen in the original pilot for 'Full House'
I've never spoken to Bob. John Stamos is a friend. Dave Coulier is a friend. I know that the young girls were all a little bit shattered when it happened, because we developed a pretty good relationship. Candace [Cameron Bure], she was very upset that [it] fell apart. It was hard for the kids to have to do this all over again with somebody they didn't know.
John Posey and Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen in the original pilot for 'Full House'
I appreciate that [Saget] said that. I just couldn't tell, because it was so... when I did "Seinfeld" and "NewsRadio" and those kinds of comedies, that was much more [humor], sarcastic, cynical, more adult-themed humor, and I never was sure in "Full House," in the two or three weeks I worked on the show, whether I was on or not. Nobody said there were problems. It seemed like everything was fine. We shot it. I learned as much as I could in a short period of time. And next thing I know... "Hey, you're no longer employed."
Saget also mentioned he still feels guilty about replacing you in the series. What would you say to him about that if you two did chat?
Well, I'd say that I myself have been on one, two, three other sitcoms that I had lead roles in that either went for a few episodes, didn't go at all, or never got past the pilot stage. And I saw people get fired on them. You feel horrible. Sometimes you can kind of tell during the process, "Oooh, something's not quite connecting here. Maybe it's..." And the next day they're gone. So I've been through that. I've experienced it.
Did you ever watch "Full House" when it became a hit?
I probably had seen a couple of episodes once it aired. And I think I was kind of disturbed by the fact... you know, I'm kind of a competitive guy. I come from an athletic background. I thought, "Wow! They dumped me. It's probably not a show I would have watched, so I think I'm going to bail."
I have a funny story. My younger son, Jesse, used to watch "Full House" all the time when he was a kid. I didn't have the heart to tell him then. One day I did. He was probably, I don't know, six or seven. I said, "You know, I was the original dad in that show." And he didn't believe me. So I showed him the [video], and he said, "Dad, that's one of the more disturbing things I've ever seen, you and Bob Saget."
Tyler and John Posey
Tyler and John Posey
Speaking of your children, though you didn't end up helping to raise the Olsen twins onscreen, you've raised an actor in real-life who has a successful career going, "Teen Wolf" star Tyler Posey. You co-starred with him in the movie you wrote, "Legendary," and guest-starred on his series with him.
People sometimes say, "If you bring your kid into this business, you're insane." But this kid wanted to do it from a young age, when I was touring the country with that one-man show, ["Father, Son & Holy Coach"]. He used to come on stage at the age of five. He said, "I want to travel with you." He'd sit in the audience and watch everything. I thought, "Jeez, I fall asleep watching my own plays. The kid's five, and he's paying attention." So I'd take him with me sometimes. And that's sort of how he learned about the business. Or when I'd be on a set, like when we were shooting "From the Earth to the Moon" in Orlando. He would hang around the set asking questions. One day, I couldn't find him. We're on the set, it's like 3 a.m. I go, "Where is that kid?" I look around, and I see a table of monitors, and there sits Ron Howard, [producer] John Melfi, Tom Hanks, and Tyler Posey. It almost looked like he was directing the scene from in front of the monitor, and he was all of three-feet-tall.