Alan Ruck - from Ferris Bueller to the Big Apple

Alan Ruck had a lot of fun being politically incorrect in the 1990s sitcom Spin City.

"It was time to spiel,'' he says.

"I got to say all these heinous, racist, sexist, inappropriate things. I got to get all of all that nasty stuff out of my system and have people laugh, and then go home and hopefully be a nice guy."

Ruck - best remembered by a generation as the uptight Cameron in the 1986 John Hughes movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off - was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1956. He studied drama at the University of Illinois and made his Broadway debut in 1985 in Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues with Matthew Broderick, the future Ferris Bueller.

Spin City was pitched to him by his agent as "Michael J. Fox's return to TV."  Fox had become a star on the sitcom Family Ties before focusing on movies. In Spin City he would play the go-getting deputy mayor of New York, Mike Flaherty who has to oversee an office of misfits including Ruck's character, sleazy chief of staff Stuart Bondek.

Ruck auditioned for the series' creators, Gary David Goldberg - who had also created Family Ties - and Bill Lawrence, in Los Angeles.


"They liked me and decided to fly me to New York to audition for Fox - it just worked out."

And, especially while Goldberg and Lawrence were on board, he says, it was a lot of fun and a well-run show.

"Gary David Goldberg did things his way. If he believed in you, he would fight for you."

Goldberg approved Ruck's casting despite the network wanting other options considered and would fight to maintain his vision of the show against outside interference.

"The first three seasons were really tight: the writers were on fire, Michael felt physically pretty good, we were just enjoying it. It's all in the writing. If they don't produce it, nobody can do it."

Ruck's character enjoyed an odd-couple friendship with the uptight, fastidious gay minority affairs representative Carter Heywood, played by Michael Boatman. The two actors played well off each other.

"We can't figure out what happened,'' Ruck says.

They had been teamed on an earlier sitcom, Muscle, and developed a rapport both on and off screen.

"When I got the part on Spin City and Boatman was on it, it was a gift from God," Ruck says,

"People say we worked well together but for me it was just hanging out with Boatman." 

Fox had already been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease before Spin City began. He would take a large dose of his medication to manage the symptoms at the start of the working day but it would wear off and sometimes he would need to rest and have a massage. But Ruck says those involved were sympathetic.

After four seasons, with his condition worsening, Fox decided to leave the show and a new character, played by Charlie Sheen, was introduced.

"It was a hard thing for Charlie to do,'' Ruck says.

At a program launch, a 10-minute tribute was paid to the departing Fox and then, finally, Sheen was introduced.

"He said it was the longest 10 minutes of his life. What are you going to do?"

But Sheen fitted in well with his castmates, Ruck says, despite not being all that well known for comedy, unlike Fox.

"Charlie was in good shape at the time. I know Charlie and I love him,'' Ruck says. He acknowledges Sheen's more recent notoriety for drugs and sex and strange behaviour but says at the time he was clean and sober and hardworking.

"Everybody loves Charlie."

But when Lawrence left to create Scrubs and Spin City was handed over to different show runners, it just wasn't the same behind the scenes and Ruck thinks the show suffered for it.

Still, he had some good times. As for Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in which he played a teenager when he was nearly 30, Ruck says: It's a strange thing. I looked so young for so long. When I really was 18 I looked more like 12. I wasn't crazy about it."

He wasn't the only overage adolescent in that film: Mia Sara, who played Ferris's girlfriend Sloane, was the only actual teenager among the principal cast.

But he grew into his age and a long career in film and television and on stage - including Spin City.

The first two seasons of Spin City are available on DVD from Via Vision.