In this first interview since his breakout role, Bill Chott tells us more about his career – and the big secret he had to keep about This is Us. Find out what’s next for him.
After watching this week’s devastating episode of This is Us I wrote a blog post about how much I loved the scene with the mailman. It struck me personally, and I loved the actor’s tender portrayal.
Just a few minutes later, I was thrilled to get a message from the mailman himself, actor Bill Chott. I quickly realized I was far from the only one who was touched by his sensitive performance. Bill and I traded some messages, as our social media exploded with love for the scene and the nameless mailman.
I wanted to know more about the man who apparently became an overnight sensation (and who I kind of want to be my new best friend.) He’s humble, funny, and kind. He acknowledges people might recognize his as ‘that guy” who has been on a lot of shows. I’m sorry to say I didn’t know his name before he became America’s favorite mailman, but I’ll be watching his career from now on. He’ll appear next on NBC’s new show Trial and Error – and he sent me a photo of him with John Lithgow as a sneak preview.
He was kind enough to talk with me about his wide-ranging career, from campy commercials to inventive improv – and how he feels about being “discovered” after a lifetime in the business.
“This is my first national attention for such a small role,” he said. “I’ve been very humbled by comments from fellow actors saying there are ‘no small roles, only small actors.’”
You’ve probably seen Bill a lot of things – from CSI and ER to Third Rock from the Sun. He appeared for five years on Disney’s “The Wizards of Waverly Place” starring a young Selena Gomez, and was in the 2016 film Marshall’s Miracle”opposite Lauren Holly.
You’ve undoubtedly heard his voice. He voiced cartoons on Saturday Night Live for years, including the announcer and a lot of supporting characters such as the Ambiguously Gay Duo, and X-President. He even voices the doorman and Hundley the dog on Curious George.
He also played Thomas in the Farrelly Brothers film The Ringer and had a bit of a cult following from a sci-fi film.
“Nerds know me best from my appearance in Galaxy Quest,” Bill said.
It was his first big-budget movie, and he played a very small role, a nerd at a convention who gets the autograph of Alan Rickman’s character Sir Alexander Dane and proudly announces, “By Grabthar’s Hammer! By the Sons of Warvan! I shall avenge you!” The line became a catch phrase.
“To many audiences, the one line I had in that film has been more memorable than many larger roles I’ve played to this day,” he said. (Read the touching article he wrote when Rickman died.)
Until the mailman came along, that is.
The 47-year-old caught the acting bug in elementary school in St. Louis and hasn’t stopped since. He joined an improv troupe right out of college called The Network at Catch A Rising Star Comedy Club in St. Louis. He moved to Chicago to study improv at The Second City, where Stephen Colbert was his first teacher. He toured the country with comedic powerhouses including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Rachel Dratch, and he still performs and teaches at his improv school, The Improv Trick.
I loved hearing about his work, his passion, and his dreams for the future. Do they include a reprisal of his mailman role? Read on to find out – and learn about the big secret he kept for months.
Did you know when you were filming the mailman scene it was special?
To be honest, when I film a scene, I’m just thinking about that moment, and not necessarily what’s going to happen with it after it’s in the can. My first hint that this could be something big was the Entertainment Weekly article that had my picture in it. That doesn’t always happen to a supporting character actor like myself. I also knew this was a very important scene because I watch the show, and when I read for the audition, the script did not include the fact that William had died. They changed the script on me, so I was sitting on some top-secret information for a long time.
Though your background is in comedy, your emotional scene was so compelling. What’s the difference for you between comedy and drama? Do you have a preference?
I love doing both equally. I think good comedy is drama and good drama needs to have some good comedy with it. That’s one thing I love about This is Us. There’s such dark humor there. The good thing about drama is that if it seems like it’s done well it doesn’t matter what your tastes are, it’s compelling. People can run hot and cold on comedy – everybody has different tastes. But when something’s sad you just know it. I’m trained in both comedic and dramatic acting as well as musical theater. I won a Broadway World Award for my portrayal of Fred Mertz in “I Love Lucy Live on Stage.”
Were you surprised by the attention you received for this guest role?
I’ve been amazed at the response! Social media blew up for me that night, and it keeps growing. Obviously there was a lot of attention from teen fans for Wizards and The Ringer, but that was foreseeable. I was on the poster and had a lot of screen time in The Ringer. I got a lot of attention for my line in Galaxy Quest, and I did an Entertainment Tonight interview for a smaller role on CSI, but nothing like this. I hope it will lead to more dramatic opportunities.
Your growing fan base has lobbied for you to return to This is Us. Will we see the mailman again?
If people want to find out, I suggest they subscribe to my blog at www.billchott.wordpress.com and keep those emails and social media posts and letters to NBC coming! The more they get, the more potential there is for me to appear again if it makes sense for the show’s plot lines. Even if I do get it, I’ll probably have to keep it secret like last time.
What’s your dream role?
Ask Ron Howard! I’m looking forward to a late night call from him. (This happened to Kevin after the opening night of his play in the same episode of This is Us.) Seriously? This role and the way it was received could open up a lot more dramatic roles for me. And I’d be just as happy doing more comedic roles. I’m also having the time of my life teaching improvisation. My dream role would be a dramatic show like Breaking Bad, or my own variety show. Or a long-running stage production.
Tell me a little more about Bill Chott.
I’m also a magician. I’m performing this month at the World Famous Magic Castle in an improvised musical magic show with my magic partner Dave Cox called The Charlatans. And I do a two-man long form improv show with my improv partner Jay Sukow called Zer0 H0ur directed by Jeff Michalski. I teach monthly improv classes in LA for beginners and experts, but I love teaching beginners the most. I just finished a three-week workshop and a weekend of shows at Central Methodist University, where I went to school and met my wife, Samantha Chott. She also taught and performed with me there last week. We have a daughter named Isabella who has already appeared in an improv show. When I shot This Is Us she was on my mind, as well as my father, who passed away recently.
I know this sweet and versatile actor will continue to charm audiences. Learn more about Bill and his wide-ranging work at www.billchott.wordpress.com or follow him on Facebook (where you can see his “Live Jive” videos) and on Twitter @billchott.