Carroll O'Connor revealed that he and Rob Reiner ad-libbed part of one of the most profound scenes of All in the Family
The actor had been developing moments to incorporate into scenes for years.
It’s well known that Carroll O’Connor was deeply invested in his role as Archie Bunker on All in the Family, and throughout the show’s run, he would routinely clash with series creator Norman Lear to gain more off-screen control. However, on-screen, O’Connor was certainly allowed more freedom as actors on set were welcome to improvise. Because of this freedom, O’Connor frequently took opportunities to ad-lib to incorporate what he felt were important details of Archie’s character.
One of the most well-known examples is the All in the Family episode "Two’s A Crowd." In this episode, Archie and Mike, who are probably more comfortable arguing with each other than anything else in the world, have to spend the night trapped together after being locked in the storeroom of the bar. After getting efficiently drunk, the two have a heart-to-heart where they open up to each other — well, as close to a heart-to-heart as Archie and Mike can get.
In an interview with The Television Academy, Carroll O’Connor discussed that much of that heart-to-heart was actually ad-libbed between him and Rob Reiner. O’Connor explained, “I improvised much of my dialogue and he [Reiner] improvised his.” Carroll specifically referenced the moment in which Archie opens up about his father and added a bit of an explanation about Archie's history with his father, and how it affected his character. “The poison got into the system, and it was passed on. It was Archie’s heritage.”
As one of the caretakers of Archie, O’Connor had spent years nurturing details and backstories surrounding Archie’s character during the show's run. “The show was on for a long time and I had a long time to think about it. I thought of many things I would like the show to say, but I wasn’t going to put them down in two or three pages. I had to wait. I had to be very careful about getting anything like this into the script.”
O’Connor explained that during this scene between Mike and Archie, he realized that he had an opportunity to work one of his ideas into the script. “Rob has some line about, ‘I don’t understand how you get to feel this way about people.’ I jumped on this preconceived idea [from] way back when I said to myself, ‘I’ll get it into the show one of these days,'" O'Connor said. "Bingo, here’s the chance to get it into that script that day. I was very happy to play it and I played it.”
Not only does the scene give the audience a better insight into Archie's character, but it also gives that same insight to Mike, who is deeply affected by Archie's impassioned speech about his father. It also leads to what has to be the most sentimental moment between the two, when Archie falls asleep and Mike gently covers him with a blanket.