It's a big week for Fred Willard. Not only does he play a central role in Wednesday's episode of Pushing Daisies (8 pm/ET, ABC), he also popped by CBS' Worst Week on Monday to play Sam's dad, and he'll appear on Larry the Cable Guy's Star-Studded Christmas Extravaganza Friday night (9 pm/ET, CMT).
Willard is known for sprinkling small doses of his comic genius wherever he goes. Think of the inappropriate dog-show commentator he plays in Best in Show, the idiot Hollywood gossip-show host in For Your Consideration, or really anything Christopher Guest has directed dating back to Waiting for Guffmann. On Daisies, Willard plays The Great Herrmann, an old-timey magician and escape artist who acts as surrogate dad to Ned's newly discovered twin half-brothers, Maurice and Ralston. It seems the twins' deadbeat dad — that is, Ned's deadbeat dad — abandoned them at the Great Herrmann's show when they were just boys.
As luck would have it, Willard happened to be reading a biography of Harry Houdini when producers approached him about the guest spot. He was a big fan of the "very colorful" show, and liked that the episode, titled "Oh Oh Oh, It's Magic," is set within the world of illusion. While he has no background in magic, "I took a trip to the Magic Castle in L.A. once," he says of the world-famous club for prestidigitators. "I'm fascinated by magic. Any time a magician comes on America's Got Talent, I've got to watch it."
Creating the illusion of the Great Herrmann was a different kind of sleight-of-hand, one that involved hard time spent in the makeup chair. Not only does Herrmann have a full mustache and Vandyke beard, but — no spoilers here — over the course of the episode, Willard finds himself wearing other facial accoutrements. "I'm not much of a hot towel guy, but at the end of the day when that makeup guy brought that hot towel in and took off the makeup, it was a relief," he says.
Watch full episodes of Pushing Daisies in our Online Video Guide