Three things attracted Gerald McRaney to the role of Filthy Rich‘s swindling televangelist Eugene Monreaux: “The original script, [showrunner] Tate Taylor and Kim Cattrall,” he tells TVLine. And if you’ve seen the first episode of the Fox drama, you already know that McRaney’s third reason presents a bit of a problem.
“I got the role, we filmed the pilot… and for the rest of the season, I didn’t see her!” the Emmy winner says. “I have a couple of scenes with her [towards the end], but one of the reasons I accepted the role was to work with her, and I didn’t do it the entire damn season.” (For those who haven’t seen the first episode, spoiler alert: McRaney’s character is presumed dead following a near-fatal plane crash.)
Read on for our full Q&A with McRaney, in which he reflects on Eugene’s journey, shares how this role marks a full-circle journey for his career, and reveals his “biggest acting challenge” from the pilot:
TVLINE | Before we dive in, we have to talk about how funny it is that your wife [Delta Burke] did a show called Filthy Rich in the ’80s.
I know, I know. We both get a lot of chuckles out of that. That was also the first time she and Dixie [Carter] worked together, and it was also written by [Designing Women‘s Linda Bloodworth-Thomason]. It’s so bizarre that we both ended up doing shows called Filthy Rich; this one came out of New Zealand and has nothing to do with Linda’s show.
TVLINE | Did you do anything special to prepare for this role? Study up on any televangelists?
No, I grew up a Southern Baptist in the Deep South, so I didn’t much have to. If you watch any of these guys on TV, you sort of get an understanding of what they’re about. And that’s actually another reason for doing this show. It does poke an awful lot of fun at these guys who will take the last dime from some poor widow in Louisiana in order to make another payment on their gulf stream. I am a fairly religious person — I’m certainly a person of faith — so I hope that people don’t get offended thinking that we’re making fun of religion or Christianity. But when it comes to making fun of these bozos who basically steal people’s money under false pretenses, I’m all for setting them up for the fall.
TVLINE | Tate said something similar to me a few weeks ago. It’s not pro- or anti-Christianity. It’s just a show about these people.
Right, it’s these people. This family. It’s also fiction. We’re playing very specific people, not making a general comment about religion. But I do like that it’s going after some of these televangelists who get filthy rich — pardon the expression — on the backs of poor people. … And then there are people who think we’re doing something about Jeffrey Epstein! [Laughs]
TVLINE | We don’t know much about Eugene yet, except that he’s big on private planes and strippers. Is he more complicated than all that?
Oh, yeah. In reality, people who are examples of the Eugene character are far more complicated than just that. My own take on it is that Eugene, and to a lesser degree Margaret, got caught up in the money. They started out with the best intentions in the world, and I think they really did just want to spread the word of God. Then the money started rolling in, and the next thing you know, you’re committing that sin that’s described in the Bible as the love of money being the root of all evil. They went from appreciating a few fine things to actually loving the money. I think that happens to an awful lot of people. You can rationalize almost anything if you work at it hard enough.
TVLINE | I am glad he’s alive, though. How was your experience filming the scene where he wakes up in the swamp?
They actually had a tub there filled with warm water, but it had to go beneath the surface, so the swamp water eventually got in there. It was cold. That was the biggest acting challenge I had on the pilot, to stop myself from shivering. We shot that mid-winter. And there are critters in that swamp water, too!
TVLINE | At least it was worth it. Filming it in Louisiana makes it feel so authentic.
Oh, it really does. And do you want to hear a bizarre little story? I started my acting career over 50 years ago in a repertory theatre company in New Orleans. Not only that, but the first scene we shot — the television studio with the audience — was shot in the theater where I started my career. As far as the swamps were concerned, when I was in that rep company, I worked half of the year in the theater and the other half of the year in the oil fields. So I spent a lot of time in those swamps in Louisiana.
TVLINE | How would you describe the journey Eugene has ahead of him?
Purgatory. I think that’s what Tate had in mind with my storyline, that Eugene is going through a spiritual purgatory and trying to rediscover himself — or discover himself. I’m not sure whether he’s going to come out on the other end saved, or if he’ll be the same as he was. I really don’t know. And that’s the grand thing about this show. I never know, episode to episode, which way Eugene is going to turn.
TVLINE | It certainly couldn’t be more different from the last time I saw you on This Is Us. Did you intend to follow that up with something so different?
This one just happened to land in my lap, but I’m always looking to do something different. I hate the idea of ever getting typed. I was doing an interview the other day about the longevity of my career. Back when I had my first series on the air, which was Simon & Simon, my agent and I agreed that I would do a movie of the week or whatever project during the hiatuses, and I wouldn’t even ask for as much money as I could get, as long as it was different from the Rick character. That first year, I was offered four different movies of the week playing a private investigator. Give me something else to do!
New episodes of Filthy Rich air Mondays at 9/8c on Fox. Drop a comment with your thoughts on the southern-fried soap below.