Remember the movie Airplane!? I had just done a movie called How to Beat the High Cost of Living and it didn’t get a good review. And the same people sent me the script for Airplane!, for the Robert Hays part. I read it, and there were a lot of plays on words, and I said, “I don’t like this kind of comedy.” So I turned it down, and then they came back and said, “We really want you for this part.” Now, meanwhile, I was doing a show called Real People, and I remember I was sitting in a hotel room in Chicago talking to my agent, and I said, “You know, it will conflict with the TV show, and I don’t really get the movie.” And instead of what he should have said — “Fred, it’s a lead in a movie, do it!” — he said, “Fred, if you don’t want to do it, don’t do it.” I said, “Yeah, I’d feel better if it went away.” So it did go away.Later, I was doing the voice looping for a movie called First Family, and the director Buck Henry walked in and said, well, I just saw a screening of the biggest hit this summer. And I said, oh, what’s that? And he said, it’s called Airplane!. And I went, uh-oh, I made a mistake. [Laughs.] So Robert Hays did it, and I didn’t, and every time something about it comes on the TV, I say to my wife, geez, I probably should have done that. And she says, Fred, if you had done it, it might not have been that successful. [Laughs.]
In a wonderful interview with the always-charming Fred Willard, Vulture talked to him about roles he regrets turning down. And, well, this is great:
If you don’t love Fred Willard, I’m not sure we’d be able to be friends.