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In a Recent ‘Night Court,’ John Larroquette Plays Defense


In 1985, John Larroquette won the Emmy for best supporting actor for his work in “Night Court.” Larroquette, a Recent Orleans native with a double bass voice and a 6-foot-4 frame, played Dan Fielding, the smarmy prosecutor assigned to the graveyard shift at a Manhattan municipal court. (Here is Entertainment Weekly’s appreciation: “Rarely has horny smugness been so convincingly portrayed.”)

Larroquette won again in 1986. And in 1987 and 1988. Then he declined to be considered for further awards.

“I didn’t wish to outstay my welcome,” he said on a recent video call, from the study of his home in Portland, Ore., a black-and-white diptych of the playwright Samuel Beckett behind him. (Larroquette collects rare books, particularly Beckett first editions.) He had taken the character, he felt, to the boundaries of what the network would allow. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences should give another person a likelihood.

“It was a high-class problem, my God,” he said.

“Night Court,” an affable workplace comedy with a wealthy vein of absurdism, ran from 1984 to 1992 as a part of NBC’s vaunted Thursday night bloc. Having fun with the steadiness and the camaraderie, Larroquette put within the hours until the top. But when the network offered him a spin off, he declined. His nine seasons as Dan had defined his skilled life; he desired to try other people on for size.

“I assumed, I’ve done this for a very long time,” he said. “If I let him die his natural death, perhaps I can do one other character elsewhere.”

But Dan Fielding didn’t die. On Tuesday on NBC, he approaches the “Night Court” bench over again. Within the show’s reboot, a multicamera passion project for Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”), Larroquette reprises his role — bearded, grayer, less capable of leap a courtroom’s railing in a single certain.

“I desired to see if I could make him funny again, truly,” Larroquette said. Then, smiling his signature smile that reduces his eyes to slits — half grimace, half goof — he landed the punchline. “Also, let’s be honest, it was a variety of money.”

Larroquette, 75, doesn’t see his profession, before “Night Court” or after, as having a deliberate arc. He understands it as an alternative as a flashy pinball game that has bounced him from bumper to bumper and sometimes into the gutter, artistically anyway. (Pressed, he’ll mention a “Fawlty Towers” remake.)

After “Night Court,” he next starred in “The John Larroquette Show,” a comedy a few recovering alcoholic that skewed too dark for network tastes. (Larroquette is about 40 years sober. After I warned him that I had food poisoning and may need to exit the decision in some unspecified time in the future, he said: “I’ve held the heads of several drunks in my lifetime. I’m used to it.”) That comedy, created by Don Reo, captured a bit of his native melancholy, a morsel of his seriousness.

“I had no idea I’d be working with an actor who was as into Samuel Beckett as he was,” Reo said.

“Staring into the abyss and the abyss is staring back — that spoke to each of us,” he added. “He’s just in contact with the curse and the blessing of being alive.”

Stints on the David E. Kelley shows “Boston Legal” and “The Practice” followed. “The Practice” earned him a fifth Emmy. Once a lawyer, almost all the time a lawyer: “You don’t consider me as a man that runs a bike shop,” Larroquette said together with his usual rumble.

Kelley, speaking by telephone, said: “You’re searching for an actor who will be funny without compromising those dramatic stakes. John keeps things real.”

Afterward, fulfilling a lifelong dream, Larroquette went to Broadway, where he earned a Tony, in 2011, as a featured actor in “How you can Achieve Business Without Really Trying.” He has rarely felt entirely satisfied as an artist; this got here close.

“I wish I had been more substantial in that regard,” he said. “Mainly, I’ve never considered acting much of an art.”

In recent times, Larroquette had begun to contemplate retirement. He has a pension from the Screen Actors Guild and a few savings. And social security. “Because I’m an old guy,” he said. None of his three children, he joked, need bail money. He had spoken to his wife, the previous actress Elizabeth Larroquette, and consulted financial advisers. They told him that so long as he didn’t buy too many more rare books or live past 105, he’d be all right.

Then Rauch called. She loved “Night Court” as a child and hoped to oversee its reprise. She wanted Larroquette as a component of it. Larroquette turned her down, kind of flat. He wasn’t the physical comedian he had been, and he didn’t feel that Dan’s libidinous ways matched current sensibilities.

“He said no,” Rauch recalled in a recent conversation. “But there was also a little bit of a door open.”

Because Larroquette had questions. He didn’t wish to see the popularity of the unique “Night Court” sullied. So he and Rauch kept talking: about what this latest show needs to be, about what needed to alter and what should stay the identical. Step by step, they developed a friendship. And when Rauch announced that she planned to star within the series, playing a judge, the daughter of Harry Anderson’s Harry Stone, he agreed to affix.

“There was a component of me that was intrigued by the concept of reinhabiting the character that I’d played 35 years ago and what’s funny about him now,” he said.

On this reimagining, Dan remains to be a narcissist and a buffoon. Yet, he now not leads together with his genitals. He has loved and lost, and the women who saunter out and in of court now not hold the identical allure.

“There’s no degrading glances,” Larroquette said. “No person desires to see an old man do anything. I don’t find it appealing. So I don’t know where the humor would come from.”

One further change: Dan is a defense attorney now, a source of occasional confusion. “This man is a depraved menace and has no place in an honest society,” Dan says of his first client, a person accused of lewd acts. Then he course corrects: “My client, dare I say, my friend, is an impressive pillar of his community.” The client then flashes the bench.

On the unique show, Larroquette had a talent for going big without ever seeming to point out the strain. Marsha Warfield, who joined “Night Court” because the bailiff Roz in its fourth season, remembered his effortlessness, regardless of how absurd the jokes. “He was fully committed to the insanity and all the gags and things,” she said. “He made it look easy.” (How absurd was the unique? “We had an episode where a ventriloquist’s dummy committed suicide,” Larroquette said. “Not the ventriloquist, however the doll.”)

While making this new edition, Rauch noticed an analogous facility. “It’s almost like watching a jazz musician riffing,” Rauch said, describing a scene by which Larroquette needed to deliver his lines while shooting backward in a swivel chair. “He’s never not funny.”

But this reboot had gravitas, for Larroquette at the least. Almost every major member of the core forged has died — Anderson in 2018, Markie Post and Charlie Robinson in 2021. While filming on a set that mixed pieces from the unique production with recreations, he said, he sometimes would look over and see his old castmates as that they had been.

“So it was sad,” Larroquette said. “It was. It hurt.”

Larroquette won’t do one other nine seasons on this latest “Night Court.” But revisiting the show seems to have helped him to just accept the progress of his profession and to acknowledge the unique as a high point. Though a serious man, he has accepted that he’s best loved and best remembered for portraying a pervy fathead. He joked that he looked forward to “Entertainment Tonight” setting his obituary to a slowed down version of the “Night Court” theme.

He’s, he said, a clown, which he meant each within the Beckettian sense, a witness to the absurdities of life, and within the red nose one. The concept of going out the way in which he got here in, making jokes about men arrested for lewd conduct, had began to feel pretty good.

“I used to be born a clown,” he said. “It was easier to make people laugh, and typically they wouldn’t beat you up in the event that they were laughing. I’ve tried to live by that, just attempting to make people laugh. You possibly can’t consider your troubles in case you’re laughing.”

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