Home Improvement‘s Tim Taylor might have been notorious for his DIY fails, but fans of the ABC sitcom will surely agree that the show’s cast was the key to its success. Yet, while the chemistry between actor Tim Allen and his on-screen wife, Patricia Richardson, was obvious, the Jill Taylor fans know and love was not the first actress to play the classic character.
Before Richardson assumed the role of the Tool Man’s better half, actress Frances Fisher played the part for three rehearsals before ABC executives realized her dramatic background wasn’t appropriate for the sitcom scene. “Frances is a great actress, but in this role with Tim, she came off more as a victim to him than his equal,” actor Richard Karn, who played sidekick Al Borland, told news.com.au. “I didn’t quite understand that until they brought Pat (Patricia Richardson) in and after the first read-through it was a very different thing going on with the same words. Pat was way more of an equal to Tim.”
When Home Improvement debuted in 1991, Fisher was known for her role detective Deborah ‘Red’ Saxon on the soap opera The Edge of Night (and as actor Clint Eastwood’s girlfriend). But years later, Fisher sailed into A-list territory as Ruth Dewitt Bukater in James Cameron’s Titanic. Ultimately, everything worked out beautifully for both actresses, but that doesn’t negate the fact that Home Improvement‘s showrunners had a rather difficult time getting Richardson to commit at first.
Patricia Richardson wasn't prepared to join the cast of 'Home Improvement'
Although network executives were enthusiastic to bring Patricia Richardson on board, the actress wasn’t prepared to commit because she’d just given birth to twins earlier that year. “I had just given birth to two babies, and I really was supposed to do another show for ABC,” Richardson told HuffPost in 2014. “And that was supposed to happen 9 months later, so I was going to have all this time to lose the weight, and go be with my babies and work.”
That being said, the producers’ prior credits won Richardson over. “They told me that the producers had produced Roseanne, which was my favorite show. So I went in and met the producers and they talked to me that afternoon. And my husband and I watched that clip of Tim and that was terrific and so I thought, I guess I should do this.”
Yet, despite the fact that Richardson and Tim Allen “clicked right away,” Richardson was still shocked by the sitcom’s long-term success. “I had done a lot of pilots already… so when everybody laughed a lot, I just thought, ‘well, they have a really good audience,'” she explained. “And I just didn’t really think a lot about it, because you know, usually things just don’t go. So I didn’t really have a clue that it was going to be as successful as it was.”
In hindsight, however, it’s not hard to see why Home Improvement became an instant classic!
Frances Fisher was also cut from one of Tom Hanks' biggest films
Before Frances Fisher found fame in Titanic, the actress faced her fair share of rejection. Fisher was cast as “Billy’s mom” in Big — one of Tom Hanks’ most famous films — but her scenes were deleted as director Penny Marshall didn’t think she was right for the role.
“[T]hey wanted me to play a New Jersey housewife and I did,” Fisher told The A.V. Club in 2012. “But then when I showed up on the set, Penny Marshall looked at me and said, ‘You’re not the person we cast!’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I came in and did it!’ So we shot all the scenes, but I knew in my heart that Penny was not going to be happy with the character because she wanted a completely different type.”
“I don’t know what it was, but we had to shoot the scenes anyway, and it was very painful knowing that they were never going to be in the movie,” Fisher added. “But hey, I got to meet Tom Hanks and become friends with him, and Penny… you know, I love her so much. She’s got such an interesting sensibility when it comes to moviemaking. So it was unfortunate that I was cut out, but I’ve been cut out of other things, too.”
While we can empathize with Fisher’s career disappointments, we are so glad she was able to overcome those obstacles and find lasting success!
Richard Karn wasn't originally slated to join the 'Home Improvement' cast, either
We know Patricia Richardson wasn’t the first actress cast as Jill Taylor, but as it turns out, Richard Karn wasn’t the first actor slated to play Al Borland, either. According to Karn, he was only supposed to serve as a stand-in during the pilot because the showrunners’ original choice, actor Stephen Tobolowsky, was filming a movie that interfered. “Because they knew me, they hoped that I would be OK with just doing the pilot and if the show got picked up, they would bring Stephen back for the series,” Karn explained to news.com.au.
“They said the whole show was already cast and there really wasn’t anything in there for me,” he added. “They didn’t think I was right for the role of Al because they originally wanted someone who was much taller and older than Tim. They wanted that diversity between the two characters and they felt like I was too much like Tim.”
However, Karn’s turn as Tim Allen’s Tool Time co-host was so impressive, he became a permanent part of the Home Improvement ensemble. And Tobolowsky certainly holds no grudges. “I got to do all the shows everybody knows me for, so I don’t really regret not having done Home Improvement… It turned out to be a very good choice for me,” he said, per Vulture.
Can you imagine anyone else as the Tool Man’s right hand? “I don’t think so, Tim.”
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