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Reginald VelJohnson doesn’t know where he would be today if it were not for John McClane and Steve Urkel.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, VelJohnson, best known for his roles in Die Hard and the long-running sitcom Family Matters, says he takes great pride in being one of TV’s most quintessential dads and longs for the return of family-friendly shows.
“I don’t know what it is about me and this cop thing, but I get a lot of cop offers,” the 63-year-old says with a chuckle. “Everyone always assumes that I’m someone on the force, but as long as they are paying me, I will play a cop until the day I die.”
VelJohnson portrayed Sgt. Al Powell, a Los Angeles police officer who aided Bruce Willis’ character in the 1988 blockbuster Die Hard. Recently, an indie film producer and writer took out a full-page ad to pitch his plot suggestion for the next Die Hard installment. VelJohnson says he heard about the ad and got a kick out of it, saying “maybe they can even put me in it again.”
And he is serious, VelJohnson says he would be interested in playing Sgt. Powell one more time, if the script was right.
“How many times can this guy get into trouble and then get out of it on his own?” he says. “So it would have to be something unique. Maybe you could have John McClane fighting zombies, that could work,” he says laughing.
Of course, Sgt. Powell is not the only badge-sporting character VelJohnson has portrayed.
He also appeared as detective David Sutton in the 1989 hit Tuner & Hooch, starring Tom Hanks. He also played a cop on the TGIF sitcom Family Matters, which ran from 1989-1998. But he first appeared as a cop in small role in Ghostbusters.
That role was a gift from director Ivan Reitman after VelJohnson lost out on the role of Winston Zeddemore to Ernie Hudson, VelJohnson says.
“They flew me out to California, and it was between me and him,” VelJohnson says. “And since it was so much trouble, Ivan Reitman said ‘let me do something for you,’ and gave me the prison guard.”
VelJohnson has been busy through the years, appearing in numerous TV movies and shows, including spots in Mike & Molly, Hart of Dixie and Bones.
He reprised his role of Sgt. Powell in 1990’s Die Hard II; the character’s screen time cut back significantly due to VelJohnson’s commitment to Family Matters.
“It was a little disappointing, but I’m glad I was in a little bit of the movie,” he says.
On Family Matters, VelJohnson played Carl Winslow, a loving husband and father often driven crazy by neighbor — who would become a ‘90s pop culture cornerstone — Steve Urkel.
That was a time like no other for VelJohnson.
“My years on Family Matters were precious to me,” he says. “During the run of the show, I saw many births, deaths, weddings … The actual family on the show became my family. We still talk to each other to this day.” That includes staying in touch with Jaleel White, who played Urkel, he adds.
Originally, White’s cheese-loving, suspender-toting nerdy character was to appear only on a single episode of Family Matters, but the audience loved him so much, he became a regular, then star of the show, VelJohnson says.
“If it wasn’t for him, the show wouldn’t have done what it did,” VelJohnson says of the sitcom’s popularity and longevity.
The show about a middle-class Chicago family had heart and soul, teaching lessons through entertainment the whole family could enjoy — a rarity these days, VelJohnson says.
“There was always a subtle message or something of value that you could come away with,” VelJohnson says. “I do miss those days of family entertainment when everyone could watch.”
VelJohnson would not be totally shocked if the show were to be rebooted, but is 50/50 on whether people would watch.
“Do people want to see Urkel as a grown man? I don’t know,” he says laughing.
Still, he doesn’t hate the idea of playing Carl Winslow one more time. “Bringing us back together again would be wonderful, and I would love to be a part of something like that,” he says.
In parting, VelJohnson offers some fatherly advice for struggling younger actors and life in general: “You have to believe in yourself. You have to go out there and love what you are and who you know you are in terms of your craft,” he says. “There are going to be more rejections than getting the part. You have to get used to the rejection and learn how to believe in yourself so much, nothing else matters.”
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