Timothy Busfield Interview January 2004

Questions from Mary Welty


1. Your work on thirtysomething won you an Emmy for the final season of the show in 1991.  Do you feel a certain piece of work on the show, such as the episode “sifting the ashes”  when Elliot goes to Baltimore and confronts his mother  and his religion, may have been the moments that gave you an Emmy?  As deeply moving as this episode was, was it the most challenging moment for you as an actor on the show thirtysomething?   What other moments stick out as the most challenging and rewarding experiences as an actor during the show?  As a director?

Tim: I think that the Emmy that I won was a culmination of all four years.  Certainly the emotional moments in Sifting the Ashes were powerful and the academy likes that stuff.  I thought that the Therapy episode was my  best work and that was year one… so go figure.  As a director the most challenging episode was A Stop At Willoughby.  It was written by Joe Dougherty and based on a Twilight Zone of the same name.  Ken Olin’s character had to have a nervous breakdown and quit DAA.  At the time Kenny was tired and had a hard time getting there.  He did beautifully but it wasn’t easy.

2.You mentioned in your interview for the BRAVO thirtysomething seminar, that you felt that thirtysomething was something you had never experienced again. What would be the closest thing you experienced to it?  Why? 

Tim: The closest thing I could have experienced quality wise was The West Wing.  Although artistically  nothing has compared.  I don’t think anything ever will.  I shared all of my good and bad in Elliot and an actor seldom gets that opportunity. 

3. Several people on our mailing list have mentioned that they have seen your current work on the show “Ed”.  They have also mentioned it has the “feel” of thirtysomething.  Do you feel that your experience on thirtysomething has crossed over to your work on Ed, and if so, how?

Tim: I was hired to produce ED with the hopes that some of  thirtysomething would rub off on the show.  I think it did a bit.

4. The mailing list has had a long love for the directors and writers of thirtysomething.  Did you have a favorite writer?  Director?  Did any of them influence your decision to also become a director?

Tim: Susan Shilladay wrote many of my favorite episodes, and Marshall Herscovitz was my favorite director.  I learned so much from both Marshall and Ed.


1.Your face and name were well known from Trapper John M.D. and other television appearances before thirtysomething, and you have remained one of the most visible of any of the cast members since.  Your career has been varied and extensive.  What is the one thing you would still like to do creatively as an actor or director that you have not yet done?

Tim: I would like to create a role on Broadway.  I replaced Tom Hulce in A Few Good Men on Broadway, but to create a role would be fantastic.  I would also like to direct a Broadway play

 2. You have given the characters we have seen you portray on television and in film a great range of depth and emotion.  People even today write in to the thirtysomething mailing list and talk about the growth of the character Elliot, and mention your ability as an actor to give him, and others you have played so many layers of personality and believability.  What other characters that you have played proved to be the most difficult?  The most rewarding?  The most challenging?

Tim: Thank you for that.  I try every time out to bring a depth of humanity.  I liked my work in First Kid, Revenge of the Nerds was fun, and Field of Dreams was a great project to be a part of.  The most challenging are the ones that are the least well written.  It makes it very hard to act well when the writing is weak.  Thirtysomething was easy compared to my killer cat movie Strays

3. Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz have a long relationship together on both the small and large screen.  How did working with them differ from other creators/writers and directors you have worked with?  Do you think you carry the experience you had with them to your other work? 

Tim: I will forever carry Marshall and Ed with me.  I grew up with them as a filmmaker and actor.  They were on fire.  Brilliant.

4. You mentioned that you were proud of your work in film, such as Revenge of the Nerds.   What was your favorite role on the big screen?  Why?

Tim: Nerds was my favorite big screen role because he was so different from any other roles I’ve played and we laughed all day long.

5. Where would you like to go in the future with your career?  Do you see yourself doing another television series as an actor? 

Tim:  I see myself plowing ahead doing all the same stuff.  Producing, directing, acting…

6. Is there a particular actor that has been a role model for you, and why?  

Tim: Gene Wilder, Richard Dreyfus, Gene Hackman, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn.


You directed a few episodes of thirtysomething, and you are still directing today.  What led you to directing?  To date, what has been your most challenging work in this area?  Do you prefer directing to acting?  What was it like directing for the first time on the show thirtysomething

Tim: Directing was easy on my first episode of 30something because I’d spent so much time in the middle of the action that it took only a small step to the other side of the camera.