Even if you don't know his name, Alan Dale's face (and voice) are unmistakable to American TV fans. He was President Palmer's second in command on 24, Caleb Nichols on The O.C., Bradford Meade on Ugly Betty, Charles Widmore on Lost, Senator Eaton on The Killing, King George on Once Upon A Time and currently plays Emmet on Hot in Cleveland.
That's not to mention the eight years he spent playing Jim Robinson on Australia's Neighbours, where his character became one of the iconic show's most beloved ever. But it turns out, had it not been for that long-lasting, highly-adored role, none of the amazingly mean men Dale's since played would exist.
ETonline: What appealed to you about playing Emmet on Hot in Cleveland?
Alan Dale: I came to The United States to see what would happen in 2000 after working for 20 years in Australia and asked my agent to look out for the nasty roles because I'd become famous for playing the nicest man in Australia. So I wanted to play bad guys. But I've been doing that now for 13 years so when I was offered the chance to do some comedy, I grabbed it.
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ETonline: Did you need to prove to them that you could actually be funny?
Dale: They offered me the role, but I did have to prove that I could do the comedy part first. They pre-recorded most of my first episode, but after that, I was able to put my head in front of a live audience, which has been great fun. I think the most fun I ever had was playing King Arthur in Spamalot on the West End, but this comes so close to that.
ETonline: Having done both, do you prefer being a series regular or a recurring character?
Dale: Financially, it's not as rewarding [to be a recurring character], obviously. But if you take that out of the equation, I love it. My wife says I'm much happier when I'm not a regular on a TV show. When you're tied to one show, you are very much at the mercy of the writers so you can suddenly get a script where you have a heart attack and die. I've got to be in The Guinness Book of World Records for having the most heart attacks on television [laughs]. When I'm recurring on a lot of shows at once it's very nice because if the amount of times one show uses you goes down, another picks up.
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ETonline: Actors who play bad guys often say fans will yell at them like they're actually the character. Does that happen to you?
Dale: No, it hasn't, but I think that's because they're too afraid [laughs].
ETonline: Of all the bad guys you've played, who have you seen as the evilest of the evil?
Dale: The one I loved playing most was Caleb Nichols on The O.C., because he was as bad as the others, but he had a cheeky side as well. He had some fun along the way and I really enjoyed that. Some of the other characters have been a little two-dimensional in the writing. When you're a regular on a TV show, they give you more of a backstory, so with these recurring gigs, you have to make up your own backstory. I'll tell you a funny story with Lost. The guys that write Once Upon a Time were major writers on Lost, and we had lunch when I started on OUAT and the first thing I said to them was, "I spent five years on Lost, you have to tell me, was my character good or bad?" They looked at me and said, "We have no idea." That's why you have to make your own backstory. I decided Widmore was the evilest of the evil, but in the end, not even the writers knew.
Hot in Cleveland airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land.