Character actor Ed Lauter photographed at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
You may not recognize the name, but few wouldn't recognize Ed Lauter's face. The tall, athletic character actor has been in a head-spinning number of movies and TV series over the last four decades. The 73-year-old has had television guest spots that go back to 1971's "Mannix," "Miami Vice" in the '80s, "The X-Files" in the '90s and, more currently, "Grey's Anatomy" and "Shameless." He's made an impression on the big screen too, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock's last film, 1976's "Family Plot," Robert Aldrich's 1974 football movie "The Longest Yard" (and its 2005 remake), "Seabiscuit" and "True Romance" among his many credits.
Lauter, who went to college on a basketball scholarship and has worked as a stand-up comic, played Peppy Miller's butler/chauffeur in last year's Oscar-winning "The Artist." His latest release is the Clint Eastwood family drama "Trouble With the Curve," in which Lauter plays a baseball scout buddy of Eastwood's character. And he plays an absentee father in Ed Burns' upcoming drama "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas."
He's also a delightful raconteur who broke into uncanny impressions of Burt Lancaster, George C. Scott, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart during a recent interview at a Beverly Hills hotel.
It's hard to believe that "Trouble With the Curve" is the first time you've worked with Clint Eastwood.
Yeah, that's why I wanted to do it. Listen, I got so tired of being asked, 'Have you worked with Clint Eastwood?' I would say I met the guy socially a couple of times but I never worked with him.
Was the experience what you expected?
He is such a nice guy. He loves jazz, and we talked about his mom. She was like 96 when she died. I loved my mom, Sally. She was a great girl. My mother worked on Broadway with Frank Morgan and Henry Hull. She knew the Marx Brothers and Fred and Adele Astaire. She would tell me all these stories.
How were you chosen for "The Artist"?
They put me on film because the director wanted to see me and when he saw me he said, "I love that guy's face. I want that guy." The French are probably the foremost moviegoers. So I knew I was recognized there.... You know, years ago, I was thinking about getting my nose changed, but I am so glad I didn't.
You have been around for four decades, but did more doors open for you because of "The Artist"?
People were talking about me for "Trouble With the Curve," but in the middle of the conversation they said he's also in "The Artist," and it piqued their interest even more. "The Artist" percolated things. That's how I got the Ed Burns movie "The Fitzgerald Family Christmas."
You play a wayward father in that?
It's a big role. It's a really good part. We just sold it to Tribeca Film. It's going to be released on Nov. 21. Ed grew up in a town 10 miles from me on Long Island. I grew up on Long Beach, Long Island. The mob lived there — we had Three-Finger Brown, Socks Lanza. We had all the boys there.
How did Hitchcock cast you as the nemesis in his last film, 1976's "Family Plot"?
He saw me in "The Longest Yard." Burt Reynolds wanted a part in "Family Plot," so they sent over "The Longest Yard." Prior to that, Hitchcock had told [his assistant] Peggy Robertson, "I am not doing this film until I get Maloney, the antagonist, cast." Peggy said he would watch a film for 15 minutes, but he was in there for 45 minutes. He came out and said we got our Maloney.
What was it like working with Hitchcock?
I tell so many stories about him because I connected with him. I was doing a scene with Bruce Dern. We rehearsed it and we were going out to get ready to shoot it. I said: "Mr. Hitchcock, what do you think?" He said, "I think it has too many dogs' feet in it." I said, "Dogs' feet?" and he said "Pauses." So in other words, tighten it up.
Hitchcock told you he was going to give you a lead in the film "Short Night" but the project was canceled in 1979 because of his ill health.
Hitch told me this: "We have Sean Connery and Liv Ullmann and you have the third lead. You are playing her husband."
You actually had your first and only lead back in 1975. You starred as a gumshoe in an NBC TV movie, "Last Hours Before Morning," which was a pilot for an hour-long series called "Delaney." But it never sold.
It would have changed my life. Just name value alone. A lot of people say, "I know you," but they don't know my name. But I've had a great run.