Mike O'Malley has come a long way from his sports-obsessed character, The Rick, in a long-ago ESPN ad campaign. These days, he’s Tom Grady (aka agent Raymond) alongside Christian Slater in the spy thriller “My Own Worst Enemy,” which airs on Mondays on NBC.
Born and raised in New England, O’Malley still wears his passion for Boston sports teams on his sleeve. After a day of shooting scenes on Laguna Beach, O’Malley spoke with me about his new series, surviving the Red Sox’ ALCS Game 7 loss, and what Matt Cassel’s mom is doing on the set of the show.
TC: When I first heard the name of the new show, “My Own Worst Enemy,” and I heard you were playing a character named Grady, I thought it might be the story of Grady Little and the 2003 Red Sox. I must say the show is better — but I don’t think it’s as emotionally wrenching.
O'Malley: [laughs] It’s not as emotionally wrenching because it’s not real. It’s a pretend show. I play a spy. It did feel like Grady Little was a spy for the Yankees. Maybe the Steinbrenners implanted a chip in his head, and it made him go out there and keep Pedro in the game. But we’ve forgiven Grady Little for 2003. That is, everyone who lived to see 2004. I do feel bad for those people who died in 2003.
TC: They picked a bad winter to die.
O'Malley: You know what? We should write a play about the 2003 season. We’ll write it together, “A Bad Winter to Die.”
TC: This show has got to be a little more physically demanding to shoot as compared to “Yes, Dear.”
O'Malley: On “Yes, Dear,” the biggest physical demands were on my small intestine and my stomach. Several times the character I played would have to eat four or five Cinnabons, and me, being the Method actor I am, would actually eat those. A lot of people give actors credit when they gain weight for a role in a drama when they win an Oscar, but when you’re doing a sitcom, people don’t give you a lot of credit, because you’ve got to keep your weight on for five or six years if it’s successful. So you don’t get as much credit when you’re putting on weight for a comedy.
TC: Just another sacrifice you’ve made for your craft.
O'Malley: Exactly. I’d eat the Wetzel’s Pretzel, I’d eat the bacon, I’d get my cholesterol up high, all for my art.
TC: Were you able to watch much of the ALCS?
O'Malley: I was able to watch the ALCS because the producers were kind enough to bring a television to the set and get a DirecTV satellite, so even when we were on location we were able to watch the games. The whole crew huddled around the games, especially Game 5. Christian Slater has become a Red Sox fan because of it. It was an incredible game, and it was great to see the crew getting into it, because I was going nuts.
TC: You’re in LA, which we all know became “Mannywood,” but now Manny’s jilting Dodger fans, too. Does that make it doubly tough for you — watching Manny leave the Sox, and maybe now the Dodgers, too?
O'Malley: No, no, because even though I’ve been to some Dodger games, I was not rooting for a Dodgers-Red Sox World Series. Lord knows, my head might’ve exploded every time Manny came to bat with the tension of thinking he might drop another bomb over the Monster yet again — for another team. I’m not someone who can really root for two teams at the same time, even one in the National and one in the American League. I think it was a goof, and a gas, but I’m not sure people back in Boston really understand how much he took over this city. He took over the sports talk in this city like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was kind of telling how much they fell in love with him because he carried that team. That team was doing nothing and he just completely changed everything about it. To be out here and reading the sports pages and listening to the talk radio, unbelievable. It was not unlike when Schilling came to the Red Sox in ’04.
TC: Monday night, the day after Game 7, the Pats blew out the Broncos. Did that help you get through the Red Sox’ loss at all?
O'Malley: It did. Barbara Cassel is the set decorator on our show. Her being Matt Cassel’s mom, it’s kind of fun for me to have the QB of the Patriots’ mom working on our show.
TC: Does she ever flinch when she hears your character’s name, Tom Grady, thinking someone is saying Tom Brady?
O'Malley: [laughs] That’s what my sister thought, when she first heard about the show. “You’re playing Tom Brady?” Barbara’s just there in the morning, so by the time I show up, she’s moved on to the next thing.
TC: There was a stat during the “Monday Night Football” telecast saying the Pats were something like 8-2 when playing after the Sox were eliminated from the playoffs. The first thing I thought was, that must’ve come from The Rick if he were still working there.
O'Malley: That would’ve come from The Rick. We’re trying to bring back The Rick. We want to put some of his old stuff on YouTube and do some new stuff. I run into people who just love The Rick. He’s the most obsessive sports fan you’ve ever met. He takes things very seriously.
TC: The Celtics just put up championship banner No. 17 this week. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. One team loses, and we just move on to the next championship contender.
O'Malley: I’m turning 42 years old. When you grow up thinking your teams are never going to win, when you grow up with the Patriots and you think they’re a national joke, the joke of the NFL like they were in the ’80s, you’re able to appreciate it more. Not that you don’t root for them to win — you always want them to win — and Game 5 was a perfect example. You never get too much winning. You can’t expect them to win every year. The odds are against it. I just love that the Red Sox and Patriots have put together teams that are always in it during the regular season. You’re enjoying it, and it’s a big part of your life that you share with your friends and family, and it’s an enjoyable thing. It really does connect people when things are going well. And you don’t have that when it’s not going well. We’ve certainly been blessed these last few years.
TC: Are you having fun on the show?
O'Malley: I’m having a blast. It’s been a real new thing for me, and I’m just hoping it lasts. It’s very hard to get something that catches people’s attention in this day and age, and I’m just happy that we’ve shot six episodes, we’re working on our seventh, and hopefully it’ll last a long time.
TC: Will my kids be buying Mike O’Malley action figures at the toy store soon?
O'Malley: From your lips to God’s ears, Tom [laughs].
OT contributor Tom Caron is the studio host of Boston Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network.
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports