If you have watched television or movies in the past 35 years, you likely have seen Sam McMurray in numerous shows and films. Among his many film credits are Raising Arizona, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, L.A. Story, The Wizard, and C.H.U.D. On television he was a featured player on THE TRACEY ULLMAN SHOW, played a recurring role as Chandler's boss on FRIENDS, and appeared in THE KING OF QUEENS, Disney's RECESS, FREAKS AND GEEKS, and THE SOPRANOS. He's even had roles on the daytime soaps THE DOCTORS and RYAN'S HOPE. Now McMurray is bringing his talents to the web with a two-episode arc on hit comedy series THEN WE GOT HELP!
In this new multi-part interview, McMurray shares mememories from his career, and takes us backstage at Indie Soap Award winning THEN WE GOT HELP!
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did you end up on THEN WE GOT HELP!?
Sam McMurray: I did a movie last summer with Julie [Ann Emery] up in Nashua, New Hampshire. She played my daughter in it, and we struck it off. We actually have a number of things in common, and she told me about this series, and I thought, oh, okay, webisodes. But of course you know, I'm a dinosaur, and I come back to L.A. and I'm actually with a younger friend who was staying here, and he says, “this show is hysterical,” and so I sat down and watched it—the whole season! All 80 minutes of it. And I laughed my ass off!
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What soaps have you been on?
Sam McMurray: I cut my teeth on them a bit... I moved out to L.A. in '86, I never was a “contract player”; it was never something I was looking to do. But a couple of jobs I was very grateful for, about half a year each. One was THE DOCTORS, and I came on toward the end of that show's run. It was already gasping for air and I held the whole Hope Memorial Hospital hostage and I killed off the regulars on a fairly regular basis. They would see me in the green room and wonder if they were next.
As I was leaving the show, when it was really going into its last year, they found this new actor--a new guy who was waiting tables, and they said, "This guy's got something,” and they put him on the show in an attempt to revive it. It didn't help...and it was Alec Baldwin. We talked about that last winter. We met at the cafeteria out there in Queens where they shoot 30 ROCK and we were reminiscing about that and it was, well, it was scary, how time goes... but [we were saying] what's better than being a serial killer?
But I have to say, more enjoyably, I did RYAN'S HOPE. And it wasn't necessarily about good guy, bad guy, whatever, but just interesting people—and that actually took place in New York City.
I came on, and worked with Nancy Addison Altman and I replaced David Rasche. I did six months in his role of Wes Leonard, who was this sort of idiot bon vivant who knocked about town hitting all the hot spots and so on...
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That does sound like a fun role!
Sam McMurray: It was a blast! That was a blast. And Ilene Kristen was on that show, who is one of my favorite people. When I first did THE DOCTORS, there was a young actress who had replaced Kathleen Turner, but when I came to THE DOCTORS, that character had been replaced by Kim Zimmer, you know, a doyenne of the soap world. Kim and Larry (Riley, who played Calvin Barnes) were very close, and a year or so later I wound up going into the production of "A Soldier's Play."
Larry was in it at the time, and making a sensation along with some other unknowns like Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, and one night Sidney Poitier came to the show. I later had the privilege of working with him, actually, and there's a picture taken of the whole cast.
In the picture you can see Sam, you can see Denzel, my friend Eugene Lee, the late Adolf Caesar (who was nominated for an oscar for the movie version of "A Soldier's Play" called A Soldier's Story, directed by Norman Jewison), Jim Pickens Jr., Peter Friedman, we all stay in touch, actually. Great picture.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In Part 2 of our interview, McMurray takes us behind the scenes of hit web series THEN WE GOT HELP! Watch his first appearance on the show here.