Back in the 1980s, there was one family that almost everyone wanted to be a member of — and that was the Keaton family. Parents Steven and Elyse Keaton (played by Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter) were loving, supportive (and fun!) parents to their three children: Alex P. Keaton, (Michael J. Fox), Mallory (Justine Bateman), and Jennifer (Tina Yothers).
But what would we do, baby — without Brian Bonsall. Yes, when the family welcomed their fourth child, then 3 ½ year old actor Brian Bonsall joined the cast, playing Andrew (Andy) Keaton. With his blonde hair and cherubic face, Bonsall delivered his lines like a seasoned professional. Case in point: When Alex preps Andy for his first day of kindergarten and what to say when his teacher asks what he did that summer, Bonsall deadpans: “I watched the Iran-Contra Hearings.”
Now all grown up, Bonsall spoke with Celebrity Parents about his experience on the iconic show, what it’s like being a dad, and why you should try really hard not to laugh when your kid says a bad word.
As an 80s kid, I have to say that is that when you joined the cast of Family Ties, it felt that all of America got a younger brother.
The funny thing is that it felt like a family, to be honest. A couple of years ago, we did a reunion online and I got to see everyone, and it was great. Family Ties didn’t have the drama that a lot of other sitcoms had. People were really tight; there were constant laughs, jokes, and pranks off the screen. Obviously, it wasn’t easy all the time, and I was so young. Sometimes, I remember bits and pieces, but doing the reunion with them brought back a lot of great memories. As I heard them tell stories, I was able to visualize a lot and it made it that much more exciting.
The cool thing about the show was that it wasn’t afraid to be political.
It really was. I don’t know how well it would fly today.
So let’s talk about your own family.
Well, I have a beautiful wife, Courtney, and we have one son, Oliver. He’s 3 ½ now and it’s crazy to see him at 3 because I was getting the part on Family Ties at 3 ½ and started around 4. It’s wild to imagine him doing that now — to look back and realize that I was his age and doing that.
Do you see him following in your footsteps?
Later on, if he finds an interest in theater when he’s in school, I think that would be cool for him to do that. But that’s a decision for him to make. It would definitely be a pretty perfect scenario and I’d love to be by his side. I could never just drop him off there with an assistant. We run a machine shop that my wife owns and I’m a stay-at-home dad with my son. I’m extremely grateful to get to spend every day with him.
Right now, he sees you playing with him, eating Mexican food with him, and doing all the dad stuff with him. But then he’ll see what a cool career you’ve had and say, ‘My dad is such a badass.” Not that he should curse at 3, though, but sometimes it happens.
[laughs] Yeah. It does happen. And we’re like, “Hey!” But then we laugh, and that’s not good because it instills it in them. It’s hard though. We’ll look away but he’ll look for our laugh or, you know, our frustration! [laughs]
We should mention that you’re also a musician, too.
Yes, it’s amazing to get to play music as well. I play with The Ataris every here and there. Kris, who is the singer/songwriter, started the band and kept it going for many years. They’ve been one of my favorite bands for 25 years, so it’s pretty amazing to join them. We did a lot of shows and then the pandemic happened, but now we’re doing more shows again. It’s been perfect for my schedule because I’m with my boy.
It’s so obvious from your IG that you’re really enjoying him — and the shot of him wearing a Metallica shirt was a sweet wink and nod to your musical career.
He’s super into music and it’s an eclectic mix, too. Right now, he’s a huge Selena and Mariah Carey fan! It’s awesome to see him singing all that stuff. He’s picking up on it so fast. We have a lot of instruments for him, and I have a real drum set ready for when he’s done with his toy one. It’s so amazing how interested in music and singing he is.
I think it’s so important for parents to introduce their kids to their passions.
I can’t wait to start taking him to concerts and see an Atari show. It’ll be so much fun. He’ll love it.
Now, having been a child actor, how do you think that the industry has changed?
I know it’s changed a lot. I don’t know all the ways, because I’ve been out of that world for so long. It’s pretty wild to look back and know that even though I was so young, I was working 8 hours a day, 6 days a week.
Do you want to go back into acting?
Sure, I’m always interested in projects that are sent my way. When I was younger, I did an interview with VH1 or E! Entertainment. I don’t remember which one it was, and I kind of expressed that I was done acting for the time being. And that followed me. I was young and having grown up in and out of schools — and having schools boot me out because they don’t want a student coming and going, getting a part and leaving for 3 months — it was rough. I wanted to go to normal school and be with my friends. So I expressed that I was done with acting.
And the industry heard.
They did. They hear that stuff. Opportunities stopped coming and at the time it didn’t really bum me out. I’ve done some smaller projects, cameos, and stuff like that. But overall, I had a great experience growing up acting. I know a lot of other child actors have horror stories. I’m not going to say that there weren’t downsides — of course there were, especially with such long hours. For now, though, I’m just focusing on being a dad, playing music, and enjoying my life with the family I love so much.