By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—For 11 seasons, John Mahoney played Martin “Marty” Crane, the retired police officer father to two neurotic adult sons in the TV comedy series “Frasier.” Shot while on duty, he lived with his older son, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), a beautiful British caregiver, Daphne (Jane Leeves), and his beloved Jack Russell terrier, Eddie, Marty put up with foibles of his competitive, fussy psychologist sons.
After the award-winning series ended in 2004, Mahoney retuned to his first love, the theater. But he also has popped up from time to time in films (“Dan in Real Life”) and on TV, making guest appearances on shows including “Burn Notice,” “In Treatment,” and he has a recurring role as Betty White’s suitor in the sitcom “Hot in Cleveland.”
For “Frasier” fans, the snowy-haired actor will always be the lovable, down-to-earth Marty Crane. So when the opportunity arises to play against type, the British-born actor says he relishes it.
In the season premiere of the long-running British drama series, “Foyle’s War,” Mahoney gets to do just that. He plays Andrew Del Mar, an unscrupulous American oil tycoon and Nazi sympathizer. In this first of three episodes in this eighth and final season (known as Series 9 in the U.K.) starring Michael Kitchen as a Senior Intelligence Office with British spy agency MI5, the setting is post-World War II Britain. The government is dealing with intensifying Cold War matters with the Russians, the return of British soldiers to workforce, and the Nuremberg trials.
Mahoney’s episode, “High Castle,” premieres Monday, Feb. 2, on Acorn TV, the British TV network’s streaming service in North America. The remaining two episodes of the series streams Feb. 9 (“Trespass”) and Feb. 16 (“Elise”), respectively. Foyle’s War is created and written by renowned novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, who also wrote the new Sherlock Holmes novel, “Moriarty,” and is currently writing a new James Bond novel.
In the Stewart Orme-directed episode, Mahoney’s character is bedridden and dying in a tightly guarded London apartment, where he lives with his son. With little time left, he fights to preserve his legacy, but he has very little faith in his son, Clayton (Nigel Lindsay), who is now running the business. In the episode, Mahoney delivers a chilling portrait of a cold-hearted businessman, who is still running the show despite his frail condition. MI5 seizes on an opportunity to infiltrate the Del Mar residence, where they suspect the family is facilitating an illegal oil trade deal between Middle Eastern oil merchants and Russian operatives, by placing Foyle’s assistant Sam Wainwright (Honeysuckle Weeks) undercover as Del Mar’s reading companion.
Mahoney, 74, spoke by phone from his Oak Park, Ill., residence about his guest appearance on the popular British drama, working again with Kitchen, revisiting his hometown and what’s ahead.
Q: Your performance as Andrew Del Mar was such a departure for you.
Mahoney: It was so great to be offered a part like that. I always like playing meanies, villains, and I don’t get to do that too often so I always jump at the opportunity, I suppose, especially with something as classy as “Foyle’s War.”
Q: Were you familiar with the series before you got the part?
Mahoney: I’ve been a fan right from the start. Michael Kitchen and I were in a movie together called “The Russia House.” We spent quite a bit of time together on location in Vancouver. That’s how I first started watching it—to see Michael’s show. And then I got totally hooked on it. I’ve seen every episode and I’ve given away a lot of box sets as Christmas presents to people who have gone on to enjoy it very much.
Q: How did you get cast?
Mahoney: When I got the offer I was shocked. My agent called me and asked me if I was familiar with a show called “Foyle’s War.” And I said, “Yes!” He said, “They’d like you to do an episode. And I said, “Yes! Yes! I don’t even care how much they are going to pay. I don’t care. I just want to do it.” They were so kind to me. They let me stay in Manchester and then took me to Liverpool every morning. It was about 50-minute drive. But they let me stay in Manchester because that was where I was born and where I still have a lot of family. It was really nice to visit them while I was there.
Q: When did you shoot this?
Mahoney: About a year ago. I remember it was absolutely freezing, just like it is here now. I remember huddling in the trailer trying to get warm.
Q: Did you shoot your scenes at a studio or on location?
Mahoney: We were on location at this gorgeous home. It was almost a mini-castle in Liverpool. It was all location work. None of it was done in the studio.
Q: You had a great gig: you got to be in bed and be nasty to everyone who visited you.
Mahoney: That’s right. I could lie there, snuggle in and do scenes with Honeysuckle (Weeks), which was great. She’s absolutely terrific. I loved working with her and we got along just great. She was very friendly and welcoming and we had a good time.
Q: Why do you suppose you enjoyed playing such a mean character?
Mahoney: I don’t know why it’s just so much fun to play horrible people, but it just is. I got a chance to be myself. No, I’m kidding.
Q: You don’t have any scenes with Michael in the show, but did you get a chance to hang out with him off the set?
Mahoney: No. He’s not that kind of guy. He doesn’t hang out. But he is extremely welcoming and friendly, and that’s what he did. On my first day of work, he wasn’t scheduled to work but he was there and he welcomed me. We reminisced a little bit about our time together in Vancouver. He’s not a man for tons of nostalgia or anything like that. He just gets the job done.
Q: There’s a lot of post-war history infused in this episode. Did that aspect interest you?
Mahoney: To tell you the truth, I’m not a history buff but I am an interesting story buff. What interested me was the story of that episode. Also, that it actually happened. These storylines are all provable and the writers have done their research so all these things took place. I find that extremely interesting although I must admit it wasn’t the reason why I did the part. I did the part because I thought it was a very well written story, and I liked the character I play, especially his nastiness.
Q: Not only is Andrew a Nazi sympathizer and a greedy evil tycoon, but he also is contemptuous towards his son. Did you wonder what made him so mean?
Mahoney: He’s a man whose life is coming to an end soon, and he wants his legacy to absolutely great. He wants to be regarded as a great man, which he thinks he is. He’s a little afraid that his son isn’t quite up to snuff and is probably going to screw things up and ruin Andrew’s legacy in the process. I don’t think he hates him. He’s a very proud man who doesn’t want anyone interfering with his legacy, even if it’s his own son.
Q: There’s a nice portrait of you hanging in the background of the house. Did they get a picture of you from a few years ago? And did you get to keep it?
Mahoney: I did. They very kindly mailed it to me. It’s in my living room right now, though it’s not hanging. It’s a big picture of me. I don’t want people walking into my house and thinking, “My God, what an egomaniac. About the only thing I’ve got hanging at my house with me in it is I’ve got a few (Al) Hirschfelds. That’s because they’re truly works of art, these caricatures. I’ll put up the painting one day and then invite a lot of people over just to see what they say.
Q: What else did you do while you were in England?
Mahoney: I went out with my family for dinner several times. I was there for only 10 days. It was fun to jump on a bus and go to the old neighborhood that I used to live in or see the school I attended. I was almost like a tourist. It had been a long time since I’ve been to England because I’ve been so busy. I’ve been to Ireland a lot doing theater work. But I didn’t have time to visit two countries. I hadn’t been there for so long it was nice to reconnect and walk the paths I used to walk to school and go to places I used to play.
Q: Are you doing any more episodes of “Hot in Cleveland?”
Mahoney: They’ve checked on my availability. Usually, that’s a precursor to doing a couple of shows or something. I have a feeling I’m going to be offered something. But, at the moment, no, I don’t have any plans to go to L.A. or do any television or films.
Q: What are you up to?
Mahoney: I’m going into rehearsal for a play at Steppenwolf in Chicago in March. That is certainly going to take up all my time in March, April and May. I’m doing a play called “The Herd.” It’s a family reunion-type play. It was staged in London about a year or so ago. It won awards and was highly regarded. Rory Kinnear wrote it and Frank Galati is directing it. Lois Smith and I play husband and wife. That’s all I’ve got going at the moment, and that’s plenty. When you get to your mid-70s, it takes awhile to learn the lines again.
Q: You are probably too young to remember World War II, but do you recall any of it from your youth?
Mahoney: I’m in my 70s now, so it was a long time ago, but I still do remember little bits and pieces here and there. I remember crying in the air raid shelter and how cold it was in there, and playing in the bombed out houses and businesses in downtown Manchester.
Q: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about your “Frasier” family. You’re the godfather of Jane Leeves’ son, Finn. Have you seen her or any of your other “Frasier” family recently?
Mahoney: I was there doing an episode of “Hot in Cleveland,” so I spent some time with Jane and some time with Peri (Gilpin). It was terrific. David (Hyde Pierce) was in New York doing a play and so was Kelsey (Grammer). Peri was here recently with her family. Her husband, Christian Vincent, is a terrific painter, a very successful artist.