What Phil Hartman Might Have Been Doing Today, According to His ‘SNL’ Co-Stars

Can you imagine the Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer in ‘The Crown’?
What Phil Hartman Might Have Been Doing Today, According to His ‘SNL’ Co-Stars

In honor of what would have been Phil Hartman’s 75th birthday, the Fly on the Wall podcast recently assembled some of his old Saturday Night Live castmates to reminisce about Hartman’s brilliant comedy career. One of the topics: What would the future have held for Hartman if he had lived to see that birthday? His old costars had some ideas.

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"I just feel so sad that we didn't get to know what Phil's career would have been," said Julia Sweeney, who learned improv under Hartman at the Groundlings in Los Angeles. 

“He would have been busy,” offered host Dana Carvey.

"I always wonder about the career Phil would have had too,” said Kevin Nealon, joking that Tom Cruise wouldn't be where he is right now if Hartman was around to jump off of buildings. On a more serious note, Nealon offered that Hartman could have handled meatier roles. “He could have been a good Walter White on Breaking Bad.”

SNL writer James Downey offered proof of Hartman’s dramatic chops: “People claimed that Phil used to do looping for Jack Nicholson,” he said. “Nicholson apparently got so lazy, he didn't even want to go in and re-record a simple voiceover. But Phil would come in and do it (in Nicholson’s voice).” 

An urban legend? Not according to Sweeney. “Yeah, he really did it,” she confirms, citing an example of Hartman rerecording lines for Nicholson's movie The Border. “That was one of the first things he showed me.”

“I would have loved to see what he'd be working on now,” said Mike Myers in part two of the podcast. With streaming shows, there would have been lots of opportunities, said Carvey, marveling at “the amount of work he would have gotten if he wanted to take it because of his range.” Myers agreed: “He would have worked nonstop.” 

What could Carvey see Hartman doing these days? Surprisingly, he offered more drama. “He could have been in The Crown.”

“He could have also directed,” Myers added, reminiscing about Hartman’s talent in visual arts. “He thought in pictures.”

The suggestions that modern-day Hartman might have starred in prestige dramas isn’t all that surprising when you consider what SNL writer Robert Smigel says about Hartman’s approach. “Phil was always in the pocket,” Smigel told Carvey and David Spade. “That was the thing about him. He just became the characters. He just had that approach, he approached everything in the way a serious actor would approach the role.”

While Smigel, Carvey and Spade reminisced about Hartman’s sillier roles, Smigel reminded them that Hartman “could turn on a dime and play the Mace character, the “I'm a bad apple rotten to the core” crazy convict running from the police. He could be really scary. If he had been able to have a long movie career, I'm sure he would have played dark heavy roles as well.”

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