Brilliant Casting: Some shows bring in guest stars that don’t really fit but Denis Leary, who we’ve seen play dysfunctional characters his entire career, joining this season as Deran’s father Billy has been genius. But once Smurf is out of jail, watch out for the two to clash in a big way!
Remote Control (1987–1990)
Leary appeared on the MTV pop culture quiz show alongside then-unknowns Adam Sandler and Colin Quinn. “It was an incredibly talented group of writers and actors,” he says. Soon after, director Ted Demme hatched an idea to shoot black-and-white short interstitials of the comic ranting about everything from supermodel Cindy Crawford to rock ’n’ roll musicians. “We had no script,” Leary says. Once the videos began airing, “it was like overnight everything took off.”
The Job (2001–2002)
While playing a cop in 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair, Leary was inspired by the movie’s technical adviser to make this ABC sitcom about a New York City police department. “This guy was a pill-popping maniac,” Leary recalls, “but he had a million funny stories about being a detective in New York.” Leary met writer Peter Tolan (The Larry Sanders Show), who liked the idea of building a comedy around Leary’s hard-living Det. Mike McNeil. “I told Tolan, ‘I don’t know how to write television,’” Leary says. “And he replied, ‘Well, you’re gonna learn.’” The show lasted only two seasons, but a partnership was born.
Rescue Me (2004–2011)
Leary and Tolan developed FX’s critically acclaimed firefighter drama as an homage to the heroes of 9/11. Leary had a firefighter cousin who died in the line of duty, and the show’s mix of drama and comedy “was organic to every firehouse I had been in — there were always tragic circumstances and the darkest sense of humor.” It helped that antihero dramas like The Sopranos were all the rage, so a series about a post-9/11 firefighter who, as Leary says, “goes on this journey of survivor’s guilt but is also really good at his job” fit right in. Leary was twice nominated for acting Emmys and once, with Tolan, for writing.
HBO Films/Everett Collection
The actor ventured into uncharted territory for this HBO film, playing Michael Whouley, a real-life Democratic Party consultant during the 2000 presidential election recount. His research included spending time with Whouley, who “was able to tell me everything he felt and said about the events that were portrayed,” Leary says. “I definitely felt like I owed Michael a certain level of dignity.”
In this half-hour FX comedy, which he created solo, Leary played self-destructive aging musician Johnny Rock, who is given a second chance at success thanks to the singer daughter he didn’t know he had. “It was completely different from anything I’d ever done because we wanted to create some of our own music,” he says. Those demands — on top of writing, producing and acting —challenged Leary in a way he never anticipated. “The show took a lot of time.”
Warm and fuzzy aren’t words to describe the clan of criminals that populate TNT’s Animal Kingdom— so edgy actor Denis Leary felt right at home when he joined the cast this season (starting with the June 19 episode).
Leary plays Billy, deadbeat dad to Deran Cody (Jake Weary) and an ex of Smurf (Ellen Barkin). "I have played in a lot of dysfunctional family stuff, and this is by far the most dysfunctional family," Leary says.