Playing retired Admiral Hollace Kilbride on NCIS: Los Angeles makes Gerald McRaney feel like a kid in a candy store. “I think this is the most pure fun I have had since my days on Simon & Simon,” he tells Closer. Gerald made his first appearance as the admiral way back in Season 6, but he only became a series regular when his character became the head of the Office of Special Projects this season. “This is one of those situations where I look forward to the days I’m working,” he says. “I get to work early sometimes because I look forward to it so much.”
These are sweet days for the longtime actor, 74, who shares his life with his wife of 33 years, actress Delta Burke, 65. “We have worked together on several different projects,” he notes. “I think, as opposed to a lot of married people, we do better when we’re together 24/7.”
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“When I was very young, I wanted to be either a scientist or a doctor, but I realized I did not have the math skills. About the age of 14, I began getting interested in acting. I messed up a knee playing football and couldn’t finish out the season. Somebody suggested I go help the drama club build sets, which I did. One of the teachers put me in a play, and I thought, “I could do this.” I’ve been trying to do it ever since!”
Was your family supportive of your acting?
“They were responsibly discouraging about doing this professionally, but once they saw I had my mind made up, they became encouraging.”
What do you consider your big break?
“My career has just been this sort of steady climb, but Simon & Simon was certainly a turnaround moment for me. It opened a lot of doors. But I swear, if you could make money doing [repertory theater], I would still be doing rep. It was the most fun. You’re doing a different role all the time. One night you’re the king, and the next night you’re the spear carrier. I still consider myself a character actor.”
What were your favorite roles?
“I loved doing Major Dad, primarily because of the connection to the Marine Corps. I loved working with those guys. Another big breakthrough moment was Deadwood when I got to play George Hearst. There have been so many different moments like that in my career: playing Dr. K on This Is Us and now NCIS: Los Angeles.”
What do you enjoy about playing the admiral on NCIS?
“He’s such a cynic when it comes to Los Angeles, and I like that aspect of him. He sort of pokes holes in all of the pop culture stuff about California, like the fancy coffees. It’s like, ‘Come on, guys, just get a cup of coffee, please!’ A lot of the stuff is fairly serious that the admiral does, but there are comic overtones. I like that.”
It sounds like you are having a great time on NCIS.
“It’s an excellent crew, a wonderful cast of people, the writing is good, and everybody has a good work ethic. I cannot emphasize enough how pleasant it is to work with people who are so professional. This is something that I was taught ages ago about being an actor. Take the work seriously and yourself not at all. There’s not a prima donna in the whole bunch.”
Who have been some of your other favorite co-stars?
“Jameson Parker was just a great partner to work with for eight years on Simon & Simon. We still get together and go hunting. We have been friends since my audition, and we remain friends to this day.”
You met your wife Delta on the set of Designing Women. Would you like to work together again?
“I love when I get the chance to work with her, although she’s pretty much given up show business. We’ve done a couple of things recently, but I think she’s sort of over it. With the right project, she could probably be persuaded one more time. I would walk a mile in tight shoes to work with that lady, she’s so good.”
What’s your secret to a happy marriage?
“In my case, it’s marrying Delta Burke! I had done it twice before, so obviously I am no good at it. The key is who I married.”
Awww! Where is home for you two now?
“My wife and I have bought a home in Central Florida, which we will move into sometime this spring. That’s where she grew up, and we’re going to go back there and just try to enjoy the remainder of our lives together as best we can. We’ll go fishing, shelling, go to the beach and things like that.”
So, are you thinking of retiring?
“No. I don’t think I could ever be completely retired; I could be semiretired, maybe. I think as long as I can show up and remember my words, I’ll continue.”
Did any of your three children follow you into acting?
“No, thank God, they were all born with good sense!”
Do you have grandchildren?
“I have six grandchildren. I just went to my oldest granddaughter’s wedding.”
Looking back, is there anything you know now that you wished you knew as a young actor?
“How to simplify it all. I was one of those intense young actors who probably made it a lot more difficult than it really was. I think a lot of that comes from being relaxed. That just comes with experience, and you can only get experience with age. There’s no way that I could have possibly known as a young man what I know as an old man. You’ve got to be older to get it!”
Do you have any dream roles you still want to play?
“Not really. I think I would love to do Claudius in Hamlet at some point before I croak, and maybe King Lear. I started out doing classical theater; I did quite a bit of Shakespeare. But I’ll do whatever comes along. I enjoy playing make believe. Maybe that’s it, maybe I just never grew up!”