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Patricia Richardson Recalls 'Immediate' On-Screen Chemistry With Tim Allen on 'Home Improvement' (Exclusive)

Patricia Richardson Recalls 'Immediate' On-Screen Chemistry With Tim Allen on 'Home Improvement' (Exclusive)

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 HartTisha 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.

Home Improvement landed a coveted time slot on Tuesday, between Full House and Roseannefor its first season, before moving to anchor ABC's Wednesday night 9 p.m. slot, and eventually became one of the most-watched sitcoms of the decade. Viewers connected with the family dynamic and the way the show addressed real-life issues like bullying, rebellion and cancer scares. Almost overnight, the stars of the show became household names and faces, which led to some unwanted attention.

"This is my first experience with tabloids," Richardson remembered. "Oh man, did I have an education there."

The actress remembered particular scrutiny and body shaming from the media in her first year on the show -- after she had given birth to twins just months before filming began.

"They said, for instance, that the producers made me keep the weight on, and I was just like, 'How are they making me keep the weight on? Do they come to my house and force feed me?'" she laughed incredulously.

"What was great was that the producers were like, 'We don't care,'" she shared. "I was like, 'I am working hard to try to lose the weight,' and they were like, 'We don't care, look like whatever you like, you look real, we don't care.'"

Home Improvement continued to be a massive success for the network, but after eight seasons on the sitcom, Richardson was ready for a change. In 1999, she decided to walk away, despite intense pressure from the network -- and Allen himself -- to stay on for more. The pair butted heads over contract negotiations for a ninth season, but Richardson stood her ground.

"So then they went to Tim, and they said let's do it with dead Jill," she revealed. "And then Tim was like, I don't think we can do that. So then he went out and said well, I think it's time to end Home Improvement."

The pair reunited in 2016 on Allen's new sitcom, Last Man Standing, which was a thrill for fans, though Richardson admitted she worried her former co-star has "never really forgiven me for not wanting to do the ninth year."

"He loved Tim Taylor," she said. "Tim Taylor was this happily married man with his great boys and great life, and so he wanted that show to go on forever."

She may no longer be as close with Allen, but Richardson has kept in touch with her on-screen sons throughout the years. She encouraged Thomas to run for his spot on the SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles board, on which she serves as president, after seeing promise in him from an early age. 

"When Jonathan was first on the show and I knew how smart he was, I would say, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?' And he would say, 'I don't know, I don't know, maybe I'll be a politician.' I said, 'You should be president of the United States,'" she recalled with a laugh.

"He's been on the national board with me now, and everybody, even the other side, is impressed with Jonathan. He is awesome," Richardson added. "But when I first called him I said, 'OK, here's the plan: You're gonna run for the national board and then you're gonna be really big on the national board. And then you're gonna be president of SAG-AFTRA and then you're gonna be governor of California and then you're gonna be president of the country. So I've got your whole life planned out for you.'"

She and Smith have kept in touch online as he stepped away from acting to pursue work in disaster relief, submarine instruction and a vegan cheese company. And she shared fond memories of Bryan as well, despite his recent legal troubles.

"I loved watching Zach work," she recalled. "If you give Zach a direction, he is so instinctive and he is so directive and so brave. Athletes and standups -- that is what Tim had going for him, too -- both are so courageous and gutsy they will just do anything right away. You tell them to do it. They'll just jump...They just go, and Zach is like that... He does it full out. Heart out."

After leaving the show, Richardson went on to celebrated runs on Strong Medicine and The West Wing, before stepping away from acting to spend more time with her family. These days, she's enjoying life as a grandmother, having welcomed her first grandchild almost a year ago.

But she'll always have fond memories of Jill Taylor. "If you get a hit show, it is so unusual," she shared. "It just, really, it's like winning the lottery to have something like Home Improvement."

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