Howard Rollins joined the cast of ''In the Heat of the Night'' to work with Carroll O'Connor

O'Connor was a star, even to his fellow actors.

MGM Television

There are plenty of reasons why an actor might take on a new role; They might find the character or story interesting, or see it as an opportunity to grow beyond their comfort zone.

For Howard Rollins, there were many reasons why he took on the role of Virgil Tibbs in the series In the Heat of the Night, but one outweighed all the rest: Carroll O'Connor.

O'Connor was deeply involved in the development and production of In the Heat of the Night. In addition to serving as one of the cast's main characters, Bill Gillespie, O'Connor also wore several hats on the production side of the series, including that of director, writer, and executive producer. Moreover, by the time the series premiered in 1988, O'Connor had already blazed his trail in television as Archie Bunker of All in the Family. Not only was it a role that made him appealing in the eyes of every director in Hollywood, but it was also very appealing to fellow actors looking at the prospect of working with such a talented actor.

In an interview with The Clarksdale Press Register, Howard Rollins was asked about the odd couple pairing of Bill Gillespie and Virgil Tibbs, who were able to make a strong and efficient team despite their initial issues with each other. James Lee Barrett, one of the show's writers, stated, "It is a natural, a white chief of police for a small Mississippi town and a black Philadelphia detective always at odds with each other, but always working together, make an interesting team."

Rollins, however, viewed the show's appeal from a very different perspective. He stated, "I wasn't drawn to the part because of the race aspect. It was the chance to work with Carroll O'Connor." The duo acted together for several years before Rollins left the regular cast of the show. Even then, he was still able to return to his character (and O'Connor) in frequent guest appearances.

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3 Comments

texasluva 26 days ago
Some of the movies Carrol O'Conner played in that were significant:

The Defiant Ones
Cleopatra
Lonely Are The Brave
In Harm's Way
What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?
The Time Tunnel
Not with My Wife, You Don't!
Hawaii
Warning Shot
Point Blank
The Devil's Brigade
Death of a Gunfighter
Marlowe
Along with the dozens of TV series and shows. Finally hitting the jackpot with the 206 episodes of All In The Family and In the Heat of the night 146. Archie Bunker's Place just under 100 episodes. Going back you sort of saw him ride up to totem pole of acting. We all can enjoy these that Carrol was in.
WordsmithWorks 29 days ago
This was a brilliant career move for O'Connor. He really showed that he was much more than Archie Bunker. Talk about a tough act to follow.
Runeshaper 29 days ago
Howard Rollins and Carroll O'Connor made a FANTASTIC team! In the Heat of the Night is a GREAT show!
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