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'Night Court's' Richard Moll

Standing tall

By Serena Kappes

Richard Moll
Moll, on the game show "Street Smarts" in February; (inset) Moll on "Night Court" in 1986.

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(PEOPLE) -- When Richard Moll walked in to audition for the role of Bull Shannon on the sitcom "Night Court" in 1983, he had no idea that being bald would be a dealmaker.

"When I went in they said, 'Oh, that's great. We love the look. Will you shave your head for the role?' " he recalls. "I said, 'Are you kidding? I'll shave my legs for this role.' "

Luckily, Moll -- who now sports a crop of silver-gray hair-- never had to go to such lengths to land the part of the menacing-looking but kindhearted bailiff on the show, which ran from 1984-92. In fact, "Night Court's" producers rethought their vision for the character once he was cast. Bull was going to be "very hard-edged," says Moll, "but I think they saw something in me to make him a lot softer."

Though Moll, now 59, stands at an imposing 6'8", he's more likely to crack a joke ("The hard part was avoiding pneumonia sitting in restaurants," he says of his bald-headed days) than snarl. Still, he would welcome the opportunity to play "some sort of serious thug in a crime movie. I think that would be great fun -- I love that stuff."

He won't be brandishing any guns in the upcoming independent film "Cats and Mice," however: In it, he plays a cross-dressing madam in a brothel. "I'm in drag the whole time," he says with a laugh. "It's an extreme character stretch."

That kind of acting challenge appeals to Moll, who got his start playing a "bad elf" in a grade school play. "I remember I was enjoying just vamping around onstage," he recalls.

But it wouldn't be until much later that the Pasadena, California, native decided to pursue acting as a career. After Moll, a history and psychology major at the University of California at Berkeley, graduated in 1964, he became a deputy probation officer in Alameda County. That stint lasted only 10 months. He then worked as the "head of stock in ladies' hosiery" at a San Francisco store, but, says Moll, "I knew I was in the wrong place."

Moving to Hollywood

The notion to pursue acting came about when Moll asked himself, "'What do you want to do? Not, 'What should you do?' or 'What are you supposed to do?' And that's when I started to study acting," he explains.

In 1968, he moved to Hollywood, but what followed was a decade filled with stops and starts. "It took me 10 years to find my way to the bathroom," he jokes.

While making ends meet at odd jobs, Moll won occasional commercial roles -- such as playing a cannibal in a mid-1970s Hertz commercial with "Get Smart's" Don Adams. After a time he began to land guest parts on shows such as "The Dukes of Hazzard" and small roles in movies including 1981's "Caveman" and 1983's "Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn." For the latter, he shaved his head.

Post-"Night Court," Moll has appeared in a number of films, including a small role in 2001's "Scary Movie 2." He also had a recurring role on the Nickelodeon kids' series "100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd," which debuted in 1999 and aired for three seasons. All that suits him fine: "The more work the better, as far as I'm concerned," he says.

Married since 1993 to wife Lisa, a former fashion designer, Moll is dad to Chloe, 8, and Mason, 7, and stepfather to Cassandra, 17, and Morgan, 14. Moll met his wife in 1992 through her stepfather, late comedian Milton Berle. Of his father-in-law, who died in March 2002, Moll says, "I loved Milton -- I miss him more than I realized."

Today, the Los Angeles-based Moll -- who is an avid antique collector -- has one major goal: improving his craft.

"I'm still growing as an actor, still trying to put more and more of myself into each role," he says. "I guess I shouldn't say that as I'm getting ready to play a cross-dressing madam."

For more Where Are They Now? stories, visit PEOPLE.COM

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