To many, Mike O'Malley is best known for playing Kurt Hummel's extremely supportive and loving father, Burt, on Glee. But in his new sitcom, Welcome to the Family, O'Malley's character Dan Yoder isn't quite a doting dad.
"What's stitched on the pillow in many a living room: 'There are two things we should give our children: one is roots and the other is wings.' Dan would amend that to 'a swift kick out the door,'" O'Malley quips to TVGuide.com.
In the new NBC comedy (Thursday, 8:30/7:30c), O'Malley's Dan is an exasperated father looking forward to sending to his only daughter, Molly (Ella Rae Peck), off to college and starting the next chapter of his life with his wife, Caroline (Mary McCormack). His plans go horribly awry, however, when Molly announces she's pregnant with her boyfriend's baby.
"It hits you like a ton of bricks when you have kids, and it's only in the middle of it when you're like, 'Oh my gosh, where is the end of this? Where is the end of the bills and where is the end of the responsibilities and where is the end of the driving?" says O'Malley, himself a father of two. "He's starting to feel this pressure of his life closing in on him. And what can he extract from these years, in which he still feels vibrant and attractive to his wife, and continue to enjoy life?"
Further hampering Dan's grand empty nest plans are his daughter's future in-laws, Miguel (Ricardo Chavira) and Lisette (Justina Machado), the former with whom Dan has a particularly hard time seeing eye-to-eye. "It's a constant reminder when we look at one another that we're only in one another's lives because our kids made what many would deem a mistake," O'Malley says. "It's like traveling to some foreign dictatorship and you just have to sit still and try not to get in an argument with anybody and just try to get through it. When you marry into a family, you are stuck with that family. ... You can't just go to complain to human resources like at work. You have to work your way through it."
Although the culture clash between Dan and Miguel has been heavily emphasized in the promos for the new series, O'Malley says their differences are just a fraction of the issues facing both families as Molly and Junior (Joey Haro) drastically change their college plans and begin to forge a new life together. "How are they going to not just get through it [but] actually enjoy one another's company? The grandchild is going to force that," he says. "When a baby is coming into the house and when plans and dreams have changed, it really impacts everyone who's had those plans and dreams."
Behind the scenes, O'Malley may be able to relate. What started out in 2009 as a just another guest-starring gig on Glee as Kurt's father turned into a career redefining role that earned him an Emmy nomination and led to other roles such as his buzzed-about arc as a villain on Justified earlier this year. O'Malley's recent turns as a dramatic actor is just the latest chapter in his long career. After starting out as a host on Nickelodeon's GUTS in the early '90s, O'Malley starred on the CBS sitcom Yes, Dear for six seasons. Since the show ended in 2006, he's dabbled in comedies such as My Name is Earl and dramas like Parenthood.
"There's always going to be some people who are like, 'I can't watch this guy. This guy is from Nickelodeon's Guts. It's like I can't do anything about that," he says. "I think that you [need to] be able to go out and say to the people, 'Look, I'm willing to audition for this and try to stretch. I'm not asking that you pay me a bunch of money. I just want to do good work."
But after years of guest-starring stints, O'Malley, who is also a writer and consulting producer on Showtime's Shameless, knew he was ready for a more regular gig. "I want to be doing my own stuff. I want to be either writing a show that I'm one of the creators of or be one of the main actors on the show so that I have a voice in what I'm doing," he says. "Sometimes when you're a guest actor, you're a guest. You have to behave as a guest and that's fine, but sometimes you feel removed from not only the experience but [also] from having a voice on how that experience is going to be portrayed."
Despite his leading man status, O'Malley hasn't forgotten the roles that helped pave the way. He popped up in the Glee season premiere and will also appear in the Cory Monteith tribute episode airing Oct. 10. "Glee is a very, very important role and Burt is a very important role to me. I love that group. I think, particularly since Cory passed, it's been tough," O'Malley says. "This episode that they've written is just beautifully done and beautifully written but yet stays true to the spirit of the characters."
Thanks to Glee, and the other roles that came before it, O'Malley is now just enjoying this latest chapter in his career. "When you've been around as long as I have, you realize it's still extremely rare to get an opportunity to launch a show," O'Malley says. "To sort of run the gauntlet of even getting a show picked up is a big thing. So, it's very exciting."
Welcome to the Family premieres on Thursday at 8:30/7:30c on NBC.