TORONTO – Alan Thicke is dropping in for a quick four-episode arc on “The L.A. Complex,” a sudsy TV dramedy about starry-eyed young Canadians scrounging for opportunity in Hollywood.
The 65-year-old from Kirkland, Ont., of course, can relate. But he has mostly fond memories of his own formative years in the early ’70s, when he first moved to L.A. with the hopes of making it big as a writer.
“It’s a happy time but a nervous time too,” Thicke said in a recent telephone interview. “You’re looking for that job, you’re looking for that break. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions for these people in real life.”
Yet even four decades ago, Thicke remembers that Canadians tended to stick together.
On his first job-hunting treks down to L.A., he crashed with CBC director Terry Kyne, submitted material around town and tried to forge some connections. When Thicke later found substantial success as a writer and TV star, he tried to pay such hospitality forward to other Canucks.
“I did it for Alex Trebek, he stayed in my guest house. Shania Twain ended up on my sofa,” he laughed.
But while the desperate denizens of the seedy apartment structure documented on “The L.A. Complex” are mostly 20-somethings, Thicke was personally more familiar with a younger class of Hollywood hopefuls when he hit it big playing the psychiatrist patriarch Dr. Jason Seaver on “Growing Pains.”
One of the most high-profile TV gigs an aspiring teen actor could land in the late ’80s, the family sitcom was shot near the Oakwood apartment complex, a popular address for young actors that has served as a temporary residence for the likes of Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, Jessica Biel, Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst.
“We were getting 25 million viewers a week so every stage mom in America and Canada wanted to have their kid on the show,” recalled Thicke, pointing out that the show featured future stars including Brad Pitt, Matthew Perry and Hilary Swank in small roles.
“I’ve seen first hand that whole environment if you will â€” that demographic, and that whole struggle, those career aspirations.”
And a full 20 years after bowing from the airwaves, “Growing Pains” is still keeping Thicke busy â€” sort of.
His arc as the mastermind behind an ecclesiastical family drama on “L.A. Complex” â€” which continues with Tuesday’s episode on MuchMusic and the CW â€” is just the latest in a series of quickie guest spots on network shows, many of which poke fun at Thicke’s wholesome TV past.
On “How I Met Your Mother,” he portrayed himself with a false back story revolving around a collaboration with Cobie Smulders’ Robin Scherbatsky on a cheesy ’80s Canadian music video. In the Adam Sandler vehicle “That’s My Boy,” he had a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo as the star of a bad TV movie. On the cult favourite “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job,” he was “Dr. Alan Thicke,” shilling for a new brand of sedative fruit.
He’s also stopped by “Tosh.0” and several other shows to make fun of himself. The actor has a theory on why he’s had so many calls for self-deprecating cameos.
“I’m in the icon period (of my career), where everybody running the business now is in their 30s and that means they kind of grew up on me,” he said with a laugh. “They all say, ‘Hey, you raised me,’ and then they want to meet me and see how fat or bald I am.
“So there’s a friendly warmth and that’s made me kind of the go-to guy for a lot of young shows…. The point is, I’m getting all the calls from these people who say, ‘Hey, wonder what he looks like now?'”
And the former comedy writer has no qualms with poking fun at his image.
“It works for me. I had a review once â€” Alan Thicke has a nice ‘self-defecating’ sense of humour. And he didn’t know the humour of what he was writing,” he recalled.
“My biggest fan was a functional illiterate.”