The saying goes that behind every great man, is a great woman — and that has rung especially true on many of the most-beloved family sitcoms in television history. Al had Peg, Ray had Deb, George had Weezy, and on Home Improvement, Tim Allen’s Tim “The Toolman” Taylor had his wife, Jill, played with a pitch-perfect exasperated-but-loving eye roll by Patricia Richardson.
“[The network said] we need to have someone that challenges him and is as much a feminist as he is a masculinist,” Richardson recently recalled of her character, who was often the sane and balanced counterpart to Tim’s hare-brained schemes. “There has to be an equal struggle.”
The actress looked back at her time on the mega-popular sitcom — which ran from 1991-1999 on ABC — as part of ET’s Iconic Leading Ladies of the ’90s week, which also features interviews with Melissa Joan Hart, Tisha Campbell, Suzanne Somers and Jane Seymour.
As it turns out, Richardson’s initial casting on the show was an unexpected case of being in the right place at the right time. The actress recalled how she was under contract with Disney with plans for another project, which fell through, when she was brought in as a last-minute replacement for the role of Jill — just days before filming was to begin.
“They called me in and said, ‘There is this guy, he’s a standup, he won an award, he has a special on Showtime,” she recalled of her impromptu introduction to Allen. “I had never heard of him, I had never heard of that show and I had already seen one show that had failed… that had been done with a standup and a family and everything.”
Her concerns about the role and her interest in more serious fare, Richardson admitted, almost caused her to pass on Home Improvement altogether. “I didn’t want to do any more sitcoms, and I certainly did not want to be a thankless mom,” she noted. “I didn’t audition for it. I came in and they said, ‘We want you to start tomorrow.'”
However, her on-screen comedic chemistry with Allen was instantly evident — “Immediately, I loved him,” Richardson said. And audiences loved them together as a sitcom family: Tim, Jill, their three sons, Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan), Randy (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) and Mark (Taran Noah Smith), along with Tim’s co-workers, Al (Richard Karn) and Heidi (Debbie Dunning), and of, course, their mysterious, introverted neighbor, Wilson (Earl Hindman).
“The primary thing I saw the most in the mail was, ‘Are you looking through our windows? The things you and Tim fight about are just like our family,'” Richardson recalled. “Or, ‘I get it, I have three sons too,’ or, ‘This is so freaky, because it’s just like our family!'”
“It was very gratifying to me, because Tim and I worked so hard,” she added.
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