Ted Danson on the Next Big Vodka Flavor, Drinking on the Set of Cheers and More

Daniel Boczarski / Getty
Daniel Boczarski / Getty

Ted Danson is a rare breed of celebrity: He’s self-aware. At once sheepish, charismatic and goofy, he’s the type of famous person you’d actually like to have a drink with. So that’s what we did.

The former Cheers star recently partnered up with Smirnoff, promoting the everyman’s (and woman’s) vodka in a series of spots in which he touts his friendly, relatable drinking habits to customers who are more than a little surprised to see him appear miraculously beside them in a bar or liquor store. Given his most famous role as bartender Sam Malone, Danson is particularly fit for the job of spirits spokesman.

Here, Danson recalls his most infamous drinking experience with his Cheers co-stars, gives his take on sexy drinks, and makes a strong case for the next flavored vodka he’d like to see hit shelves.

Supercall: So, how do you take your vodka?
Ted Danson: I’m a mixed juice kind of guy. Vodka, cranberry and lime was a standby. But then I went to Hawaii and fell in love with this lilikoi fruit. Man, it was vodka and lilikoi. They had it in the house when I got there in this homemade bottle. I think the point is with a good vodka, you can pick the most delicious thing you can think of and make it work.

SC: Should that be Smirnoff’s next flavor of flavored vodka?
TD: It should be. Lilikoi. Please quote me on that.

SC: As a rich, famous celebrity, do you have many rich, famous celebrity drinking experiences?
TD: Probably so many I don’t even remember them. Obviously we walk around in a rarified world in a way.

SC: What about back in the day with your Cheers co-stars?
TD: I think probably our most famous group drinking experience was memorialized on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. It was the end of the series. In our defense, they brought a cast together that hadn’t seen each other for three months [to say] goodbye. And they brought us to the bar in Bostonsix hoursearly to do interviews and hang around. Well, what do you think is going to happen?

SC: What do you remember most about that night?
TD: It was a very emotional, sweet experience. I remember Jay Leno’s eyes. He was busy taking notes and preparing. Then they counted down five, four, three, two, one. And he looks up and you could see his eyes get very large, realizing, “Oh dear lord. I have to do an hour and a half with these guys.”

SC: In one of the Smirnoff spots you bemoan the fact that you were not voted sexiest man in the world. Most people aren’t in the running for that title, but they might be concerned about looking sexy in their everyday lives—for instance, at a bar. Do you have any advice in that area?
TD: I think it would depend on what city you’re in. “Can I have a shot of straight vodka?” would probably be very sexy in some parts of the world. If you order something with fruit in another part of the world, you’d probably get thrown out.

SC: You could order some lilikoi vodka.
TD: Exactly! “Get your lilikoi out of here.”

SC: A lot of people think neat spirits are sexy, or something classic like an Old Fashioned or Martini.
TD: Right. A scotch or a sipping whiskey, probably. Ginger beer too has made a huge comeback, so maybe a Moscow Mule. Did you know that Smirnoff invented that?

SC: I did know that.
TD: I just found out today. Just learned it.

SC: On Cheers you spent a good amount of time by the pool table. Do you have a go-to bar game?
TD: I used to think I was a pool player and boy am I not. I enjoy a good dart game. Did you ever play football with a folded piece of paper? Flicking it through someone’s fingers? We did that a lot too. We were also fairly rowdy [on the set of Cheers]. And we had no shortage of bar straws and paper napkins, so spitballs were common.

SC: This happened on the set?
TD: On the set while shooting. There are some episodes where you can see spitballs stuck in George Wendt’s hairline.

SC: What was everyone actually drinking on set?
TD: Near beer.

SC: And the cocktails?
TD: Wonderfully colored water. Until the audience left. Then we would spend another hour shooting, putting cameras where they would have gotten in the way of the audience. During the reshoots, George and John [Ratzenberger] moved on to real beer.

SC: But not real cocktails?
TD: No, no. The acting would go out the window.