It wasn’t typecasting when actor Thomas Haden Church nabbed the role of the perplexed about-to-be-ex-husband in HBO’s Divorce. Church has never been married. But he shared a long relationship with an actress with whom he has two daughters, 12 and seven.
“I’ve been engaged a few times and it’s crazy as soon as I ask anybody to marry me, the dysfunction started. Like the real warts started to show in the relationship, and it seemed like they all ended pretty quickly on the heels of marriage being introduced as a dynamic,” he says.
The veteran of shows like Wings, Ned And Stacey, Broken Trail and the hit movie, Sideways, Church says he didn’t harbour any reservations about dating actresses. “You get into situations with people performing opposite of you,” he says, his legs splayed out in front of him, his hands clenched behind his head.
“You get really, really close to that threshold. ‘Now, what am I experiencing? Am I experiencing real passion with this person or is that a performer with me?’ It’s a tricky, blurry line that I’ve had to negotiate before. And in the end, was it worth it? I don’t know. It’s a slippery slope.”
He’s negotiated that slope for four years with his girlfriend who’s NOT an actress. “She’s a manager consultant now,” he says. “She’s a very normal person.”
When it comes to normal people, you couldn’t get much more normal than Church. He grew up in Texas, United States, and in spite of the spiffy beige suit, blue-and-white striped shirt, and pale blue tie, his boots give him away.
With Divorce, he’s headed back to Texas where he runs four cattle ranches with a partner, and spends the summer doing what he calls “herd maintenance".
“Checking water wells, checking fences, making sure nobody’s crippled, making sure nobody’s having trouble having a calf.”
Church was nine years old before he ever experienced a father. “My mother married my father who adopted me and took us out of a life of uncertainty and upheaval,” he says.
Each parent brought three children into the marriage. “Because I had five brothers and sisters, and for a period of time one of my grandmothers lived with us, so in my home with my parents, you just always had an audience, despite what I did later like playing football and working on ranches. I was 13 when I had my first job on the ranch – the masculine pursuits of young men,” he chuckles.
“I still enjoyed the art of performance and the challenge of creating. I know it sounds ridiculous but (I was) creating believable characters even when I was eight, nine, 10 years old.”
His adopted father was ex-military. “My dad was definitely a disciplinarian, but also a very organised individual. ‘These are the steps that you must follow for success. Whatever it is you want in life these are the steps you must take and these are the things I’m going to help you accomplish.’
“So those very fundamental things were: have a great sense of right and wrong, which was largely because of going to church and my parents’ friends. Get an education, which I did. Then go and pursue ambition, but (observing) discipline and all of the fundamentals.”
Though he landed a cushy advertising job out of college in Texas, he quit at 28 and headed for Los Angeles to pursue show business. Still, he never forgot the “fundamentals”.
“I slept on a couch for a little while. I’m a nickel-squeezing SOB, so I slept on couches probably longer than I should have. I got really cheap – even when I was on Wings – I got really cheap rent-control furnished apartments for the first couple of seasons. It was in North Hollywood. I think it was US$500 a month.”
His business manager suggested: “ ‘You know you’re making pretty good money. You’re on a prime-time show, NBC, on after Cheers. It’ll probably go on for a little while. Maybe you should think about buying something’. I said, ‘Nope, nope, nope. It’s wayyyy too early for that'. My dad said, ‘Put that money away before you start spending it'. And that was my day-plan for years. I was out there for six or seven years before I bought my first house.”
Those principles dog him to this day. He says his daughters tease him about being so frugal. “I drive diesel trucks in Texas and have a coin thing in the truck. I don’t fool around with pennies and nickels, but I keep all my dimes and quarters and keep my dollar bills tucked in the visor.
“My 12-year-old says, ‘You leave all the nickels and pennies on the counters, why not the dime? Why is that the distinction?’ I go, ‘I don’t know. Leaving a nickel and a penny on the counter it’s like I’m leaving it to somebody else who maybe needs some change. But from the dime up, it just seems really important to me.” – Tribune News Service/Luaine Lee