Icons & Innovators: Denis Leary and Michael J. Fox
Denis Leary & Michael J. Fox
"You want us to talk to each other?" Denis Leary jokes, relaxing with his old pal Michael J. Fox. "This is really hard, because we don't have a lot to say to each other. Actually, we do, but it's mostly hockey talk." In fact, Leary, 54, and Fox, 50, share a lot more than their love for the Boston Bruins: They're devoted dads and husbands (Fox married Family Ties costar Tracy Pollan in 1988, one year before Leary wed writer Ann Lembeck) with their own charities: the Leary Firefighters Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. Fox's Emmy-winning role as a hedonistic paraplegic on Leary's recently wrapped drama Rescue Me reignited his acting career, leading to his irreverent turns as an unscrupulous lawyer on The Good Wife and as himself, poking fun at his Parkinson's, on Curb Your Enthusiasm. One thing's for sure: These two can't curb their enthusiasm for each other.
TV Guide Magazine: This is for our series "Icons & Innovators." I'll let you two decide who's the Icon and who's the Innovator.
Fox: He's the Innovator.
Leary: Now that f---ing sucks!
TV Guide Magazine: How do you feel about the Icon label?
Fox: It's more the stuff I've been involved in. Alex Keaton and Marty McFly are iconic characters, and certain people think Teen Wolf is an iconic character for very different reasons.
Leary: He's way too humble. A couple years ago, my kids were watching Back to the Future. I remember when I first saw the movie, and these kids were laughing at the same spots. This goes back to his timing. You either have it or you don't when it comes to comedy. Fast-forward years later, and take into account the Parkinson's, and he does Curb, where it's dark and funny and playing with who he is. Not a lot of people can or will do that.
Fox: That's what I've been saying about what you do, I'm so amazed...
Leary: I was hoping you'd suck up.
Fox: I don't know that it's sucking up. I don't want anything. But you set me free on Rescue Me and let me do stuff I've been carrying around for a long time. And you inspire me because you don't give a s--t. And I give too much of a s--t a lot of times. Like getting into a fight with Rush Limbaugh [after he accused Fox of faking his Parkinson's symptoms]. Like, it's OK if someone doesn't like you, if it's that person.
Leary: Yeah, especially!
Fox: And it's OK to piss some people off and take some chances. And right from the outset, Rescue Me, at a time when the world was rightly honoring firefighters and putting them up on a pedestal for very good reasons, you said, "I get that, but they're real people, too. They have real lives and flaws." I don't think I've ever done anything as brave and innovative as that.
Leary: I knew Michael long enough to know he could do the role on Rescue Me in terms of surprising people. That's the thing at our age. You get better as you get older because you have more stuff to pull from, right?
Fox: Yeah. And now I don't care about playing characters that people don't necessarily like. They're not heroic, like the character on The Good Wife...
Leary: That's a great character.
Fox: I don't have a moral read on that character. It's funny that people react so strongly, like I'm an evil guy. And I go, "Really? He's just got his M.O."
TV Guide Magazine: What's the secret to your marital successes?
Leary: When you're a famous guy, quite often people look past the person standing next to you. In both of our cases, she's actually the person who deserves most of the credit. Because when you raise a family, just getting through 30 years of being together as a couple is no day at the beach.
Fox: A lot of people say Tracy's a rock, but she didn't cast herself in that role. I've gone through the challenges of Parkinson's, and I need her. She's the CEO of the operation.
Leary: Our wives actually care enough to stop us and go, "All right, listen: Here's what you're doing wrong now."
Fox: When I was writing my book [Always Looking Up] and I was way behind deadline, I was literally pulling my hair out and Tracy said, "What's the matter?" I said, "I'm never going to finish my book on optimism!" And she said, "What did you just say?"
TV Guide Magazine: Why do you guys get along so well?
Leary: We come from the same place. We came from nothing, our dads died early, we had tough moms, and we ended up as these things you're calling us — I don't think either of us thinks we're icons or innovators. So I admire and respect the way he's dealt with it. There's a load of bravery and a complete lack of self-pity about what he's done with his foundation. That's easy to admire, but behind the scenes, watching him as a dad and the way he handles himself is amazing.
Fox: Thanks. My turn. With Denis, I think about writing, creating and producing a show like Rescue Me, and I don't have the brain cells for that. Then he steps in front of the camera and kicks ass. I'd be in my trailer taking a nap, eating some Cheetos, then walk out and do my bit. And then to have his foundation, which makes a tremendous difference. It saves lives. It's surprising that Denis is this brash, fun guy, but there's this amazing citizen, artist, creator and innovator — back to that word — who will always have my respect and admiration.
Leary: Being a control freak with ADD really helps.
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