Bored to Death
Ted Danson is not just TV’s best cad. He’s inventing a whole new genre of cad: the genuinely endearing sociopath. On HBO’s Brooklyn-noir comedy Bored to Death, he stars as the up-for-anything but prepared-for-nothing magazine magnate George Christopher, the comic foil to the ne’er-do-well leads. George, for all his accomplishments, actually seems like the least well-equipped of all of them to handle life. “He smokes dope, he drinks too much, he’s been married too many times. But there’s an innocence to him. He wants to be relevant. I find that wonderfully human,” says Danson. Wonderfully human—how many jerks on TV could you describe that way? Or, rather, how many jerks who aren’t currently played by Danson? The former sitcom star has found a second career playing standout supporting roles of varying degrees of villainy. The metamorphosis began when Danson played a preening version of himself on Larry David’s HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. “Cheers and Becker were great, but I hung on to that style longer than I should have. I felt like I’d stayed at the party too long. Doing Curb set me free.”
In 2007, the producers of FX’s Damages chose him to play an outright black-hat villain: Arthur Frobisher, a narcissistic, amoral industrialist whom you can’t stand but can’t stop watching. To build the character, the producers gave him a series of assignments: Meet with five real-world CEOs. Watch the documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Read a study on the similarities between imprisoned sociopaths and successful CEOs. (One shared trait: an inability to read the emotional impact of their actions on others.) And go to an acting coach.
“I’d come from half-hour comedy, and there’s a rhythm that has to be followed. I was the nice actor who always knew what was needed in each moment. So [the coach] said, ‘You need to be the guy who could give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks of him. As an actor, you need to adopt that arrogance.’ ” But Danson makes such a great bad guy precisely because the black hat sits slightly askew. “By hiring me for Frobisher, you present the audience with all my baggage,” he says, “which is, hey, it’s good old nice, sweet Ted who’ll make us smile. Then Ted jumps into an Escalade with a hooker and tells somebody to kill somebody else. Nice sweet Ted is suddenly scary, and yet it’s still nice sweet Ted. You can go into darker places and bring the audience along if your baggage is like mine.”
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