If Craig T. Nelson had played his cards right, he could’ve landed the plum role of patriarch Jay Pritchett on Modern Family instead of Ed O’Neill.
A new book on the Emmy-winning series reveals that both Nelson, 76, and O’Neill, 74, were considered for the role, and co-creators Christopher Lloyd and Steve Levitan, as well as casting director Jeff Greenberg, were stuck. They had an executive from US network ABC toss a coin – and it landed on Nelson.
Negotiations began with the Coach actor, but, according to Greenberg, his reps began playing hardball.
“He wanted star money, and it wasn’t a star show,” he told author Marc Freeman in Modern Family: The Untold Oral History of One of Television’s Groundbreaking Sitcoms. “It’s an ensemble show. I understand from his agent that he regretted his decision. I’m not surprised.”
Levitan added that they began hearing rumours that Nelson was “a bit difficult on set” and producers were troubled by an interview he had given at the time to Glenn Beck, bashing the government.
“That scared us, frankly,” Levitan said. “There was a lack of self-awareness there and compassion that worried us. Meanwhile, all we kept hearing is that Ed O’Neill is the nicest person on the planet. We decided to pull the offer and go to Ed.”
O’Neill, who loved the project from the very beginning, immediately told his agent to make the deal when he learned they weren’t casting Nelson.
His (agent) said, “But you’re not the star,” to which O’Neill responded, “I know that. I like that about it. It’s an ensemble. It’s more interesting to me.”
Lloyd revealed that O’Neill has said to him repeatedly throughout the show’s 11 seasons, “Chris, this is the best job I’ve ever had. I would have done it for free. Don’t tell my agent, but I would have taken this job for free.”
The book about the beloved sitcom, which ended this year, is on sale now.
A rep for Craig T. Nelson did not immediately return Page Six’s request for comment.
This article originally appeared in the NY Post and was reproduced with permission