Ted Danson and Dermot Mulroney Talk Conjugal Visits, Fatherhood and Grandfatherhood

Any time you are in a room with Ted Danson and Dermot Mulroney discussing conjugal visits while they were in Alaska filming Big Miracle — the inspirational true story about the world coming together to save a family of majestic gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle — you know you are in the middle of a hilarious interview. Both actors were very warm and sat down at a table with Breezy Mama as well as a group of mom bloggers in Santa Monica last week to fill us in on fatherhood (Dermot), grandfatherhood (Ted), times Ted’s wife — actress Mary Steenburgen– pulled a fast one in real life and their new movie that opens February 3.

Do you choose different roles, now that you have children?

Dermot Mulroney: I have a two and-a-half year-old named Sally, and Mabel’s almost four. And then, my son, Clyde, is 12. So, I have three kids. I’ve never turned down a good part. You know what I mean? So, no. You’re asking do I choose roles because I have kids? No. But, when one like this comes up I jump at the chance because of that. So, I mean, I’d love to do a lot more work like that that. Whether it’s animation or for that reason, but, parts are just tough to come by.

Did your family come to Alaska with you?

Dermot Mulroney: Not my kids. My wife came up, yes. It takes a while to get there.

Ted Danson: We were up there a long time. That was conjugal visits [the room laughs].

Dermot Mulroney: In that time of the year, there’s no direct flight, so you have to stop in Portland or Seattle and lay over. So, it’s really like a 15-hour day to get there–.


Dermot Mulroney: We were going to bring the girls, and it just seemed like that would be all day in a dark hotel room. That didn’t seem like a very nurturing environment.

Zero degrees–

Dermot Mulroney:–But, there are two year-olds in Alaska, so, what’d you say?

Ideal for a conjugal visit–.

Dermot Mulroney: –Ideal. Ideal.

Did you have a conjugal visit?

Ted Danson: I had one. I had to travel for mine. Yes.

How long have you been married?

Ted Danson: Sixteen years. We’ve been together for eighteen.


Ted Danson: But, we’re actors, so that’s dog years, so that’s 80 years.

With Dermot.

Dermot Mulroney: They’ve really been married 107 years.

As all of us are parenting bloggers, a lot of us write a lot about the struggles of being a full-time working parent. Do you find challenges with that?

Dermot Mulroney: I find challenges with that all the time, and sometimes it’s almost impossible to manage, without going into too much detail. I get along with everybody in my family diagram. Last night, for example, I’m happy to announce I get the chance to do a sitcom with Zooey Deschanel on The New Girl.

So, I worked until two in the morning last night, which, it started at nine. They have really long days on this show, and you see the results are fantastic.

Ted Danson: I just became a grandfather–.

Dermot Mulroney:–Nine days ago–.


Dermot Mulroney:–For the first time.

Ted Danson: And I think the reason why I took CSI, which is what I’m doing now, which is in town, with this great cast, great crew, but, to be here in Los Angeles and to be able to be at the birth and to be able to hang around and babysit and do all of that and not be in Anchorage, Alaska. And to be able to work in town at my age is such a treat. I’m so grateful.

Dermot Mulroney: In the last 14 or so months since the start of this, these are the places that I had to go for work reasons: Anchorage, Toronto, Vancouver, Nashville, Pittsburgh, New York, Bangkok, Thailand for a month, Washington, D.C., and back to Bangkok, Thailand to finish.

And really, the list goes on and on. So, I was out of 12–10 out of 14 months.

Oh, wow.

Dermot Mulroney: It’s a lot of conjugal visits [laughs]. But, it was just one of those years where I did a lot of movies. I wasn’t being paid great on a lot of them, so I had to do more just to even make my year.
So, it’s tough. This CSI at home with the grandkids sounds pretty good.

Ted Danson: Very lucky.

Do you think there’s any way that the story of Big Miracle could have happened now?

Ted Danson: Sure.

You think so?

Ted Danson: Different. In our news cycles now, this would be a five minute story instead of a five-week story.

Dermot Mulroney: Yes. Back then, of course, there were only three networks. And you had to wait ’til 6:00 p.m. to hear the next installment of the story that you’re daughter’s asking about the whale or whatever it is. You see that all depicted in the film.

Ted Danson: You answer that question. Seriously. Do you think this could happen today? You’re talking about from a hopeful point of view?

Yes, the resources and the people coming together from all these different factions and all the resources going to something like this.

Ted Danson: Well, we did it with, was it Chile? Yes, remember the miners? The world came together around that. We can get it together as a species every once in a while.

Dermot Mulroney: Yes.

So, Dermot, did you feel any responsibility portraying a real person?

Dermot Mulroney: Well, I was really interested in that aspect of the character, but what I was kind of shocked to learn — and maybe I shouldn’t admit that I didn’t already know it until the day I got to the set the first day — to learn that he had died since the actions in the story took place, in a plane crash. He was a really well-known pilot and sort of was the pioneer leader of the Alaskan National Guard.

Was it fun to play a gruff role?

Dermot Mulroney: It was. One of my most fun things because I think there’s at least a scene or two in there still where I’m sort of just passing off on the people that are asking me questions — just sort of waving them aside and abruptly answering the question and then ending the interview. I liked that part–.

Do you remember [when the events in the movie happened in real life]?

Ted Danson: –I do remember.

Dermot Mulroney: I don’t for some reason. I missed that story.

Ted Danson: I just have glimpses of photographs. But, I went up to Barrow because I was doing work for Oceana, which is an organization I work with. And we went up to Barrow during the filming, and I was in the library and some of the people I met were the real people who actually did find the whale that day and brought it the attention.

And the photographs from 1988 in this magazine look exactly like our film. They did a wonderful job, [Director] Ken [Kwapis] did, of researching it and then duplicating it in such a way that, seamlessly, you could move between the recreation and the actual footage that was woven in.

Ted, I think the classic part of the movie was when the wife sort of manipulates your character — have you ever had a moment where later you’re, in real life with Mary [Steenburgen] — have you ever had a moment when you’re like, “Wait a second”?

Ted Danson: That’s my life. Luckily, I get manipulated into where I wanted to go. So, it all works out.

So, this kind of a movie tends to increase awareness sometimes, and I think a lot of the times, it fades. But, while it’s popular, and in the theaters, since you know so much about the subject, what can we do, do you think, the most important thing, to help the ocean right now or to teach our kids to do?

Ted Danson: I’m sorry, this is lame, because it sounds self serving, but I would go to Oceana. It is the world’s largest now, and ask that question. It’s a great Web site.

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  1. I was really glad that Dermot was so open in answering my question about balancing fatherhood and work – we just don’t hear that much from dads about that sort of thing. And I loved hearing how involved his inlaws are in lending a hand. But I totally love that you had the balls to ask about conjugal visits! You’re right, it was a wonderful, conversational, really nice interview. And great meeting you, Chelsea!

  2. So glad you got those questions in, too. And so great to meet you Liz! Looking forward to hopefully seeing you at another junket soon!


  1. […] big benefits. We were able to see the way they interacted, and they loosened each other up (read Breezy Mama‘s account of Dermot Mulroney’s conjugal visits to see exactly what I mean).The group […]

  2. […] The former Cheers star, Danson, became a grandfather for the first time two weeks ago and shared the happy news with Breezy Mama. […]

  3. […] star, Danson, became a grandfather for the first time two weeks ago and shared the happy news with Breezy Mama. Top Story? (feature beneath menu):  […]

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