In 'Forever' and beyond, Judd Hirsch has a taste for history

In 'Forever' and beyond, Judd Hirsch has a taste for history
"I practically live in the past," says a talkative Hirsch as he shares memories from his career. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Judd Hirsch is ball of kinetic verbal energy.

He speaks rapidly, often flitting from subject to subject, while having a memory for dates like a steel trap.


"I practically live in the past," Hirsch noted. "I remember everything."

Like working with the film noir actor Sterling Hayden ("The Killing") in the 1978 film "The King of the Gypsies."

"He was on his way out," said Hirsch. "He was a living on a barge in the Seine and smoking marijuana all the time in his trailer. He had a problem with his lines."

Hirsch has fonder memories of the late influential comic Andy Kaufman, who starred with Hirsch in the award-winning 1978-83 comedy series "Taxi" as the sweet immigrant mechanic, Latka.

"He was brazen fellow," said Hirsch, laughing. "Andy was not an actor, I don't even think he could act. He wanted to make you believe him, which is what actors do, but he wanted you to make you believe him in a different way."

At his manager's apartment in Los Angeles, the New York native proudly informed the photographer that he just turned 80 — almost impossible to believe. The Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor, best known as compassionate and pragmatic cabbie Alex on "Taxi," doesn't look much different than when he starred on the classic sitcom.

"We should all be so lucky to be 80-year-old Judd Hirsches," said Matthew Miller, the creator, an executive producer and writer of the ABC fantasy drama series "Forever," which has its freshman season finale on Tuesday.

The hourlong series, which is on the bubble for renewal, revolves around Dr. Henry Morgan (Ioan Gruffudd), who is an immortal New York City medical examiner. Hirsch plays Abe, his only friend and adopted son who had been rescued as a baby from a concentration camp during World War II.

"When we shot the pilot he turned 79," said Miller. "We were shooting a scene when it was freezing cold out. It was, like, this long walk and talk where he had a ton of dialogue. He absolutely nailed it."

Gruffudd immediately hit it off when he met Hirsch for the first time. "The days I look forward to more than anything else is coming to work with him because we sort of have the emotional content of the show," he said. Plus there are other perks. "I played golf with him the other day. He took the game up in his mid-60s, and he's fantastic."

What intrigued Hirsch about the series was not the weekly crime — "I thought, 'Who cares about that?'" — but the historical aspect of "Forever" and the relationship between Abe and Henry.

"What show does history?," Hirsch asked. "All I can do is keep this guy from being found out. I am all he has. If we get a chance to go on with this I would love the idea that the jeopardy becomes even more."

If "Forever" isn't renewed, Hirsch has plenty to keep him busy, including reprising his role as computer expert Jeff Goldblum's father in "Independence Day 2," the sequel to the 1996 alien invasion blockbuster.

"There's another invasion, of course," said Hirsch. "Robert Loggia, who played one of the generals, will be with me. We are going on a fishing trip [in the movie]. He's older than I am!"


And Hirsch hopes to do another play in Los Angeles next year. In 2013, Hirsch reunited with Danny DeVito, who played Alex's nemesis Louie on "Taxi," in a revival of Neil Simon's "The Sunshine Boys" at the Ahmanson Theatre.

"I worked with Danny DeVito two times before we did 'Taxi,"' Hirsch said. "We did a play together in Philadelphia. He played my dog. That was 1971. And Danny reminded me he was a guest star on [my series] 'Delvecchio.' That was 1976-77. He was some snidely little guy."

When they did "Sunshine Boys," said Hirsch, "we sort of acknowledged the fact of what we were to each other. In fact, in the play I called his character the wrong name. His name is Willie and I would call him Louie on stage many times. I'd say, 'Oh, Louie,' and he would give me this look. The audience — I don't think they caught it."

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