As an actor, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top rocks.
So says Hart Hanson, executive producer of the Fox crime drama Bones, and he should know: Hanson created a role for the iconic rocker to play four years ago and he keeps bringing him back.
Gibbons returns in the season finale at 7 p.m. Thursday as the father of Angela, a member of the show's quirky crime-solving team. Angela, played by actress Michaela Conlin, is an artist and a free spirit. So it made sense back in Season 1, Hanson says, to give her a freewheeling rock-star dad.
"Billy is a good actor," the producer says. "When the camera is not going, he looks at Michaela, who is an incredibly beautiful woman, the way that a rock star would look at an incredibly beautiful woman. But then we yell 'action' and he has to be fatherly."
And he pulls it off every time.
"He's a better actor than people give him credit for," Hanson says. "I selfishly used the fact that I had a TV series to meet one of my idols. And he turned out to be a really interesting actor."
Nice compliment, Gibbons says, but his work on the show isn't exactly rocket science. After all, he's basically playing a barely fictionalized version of himself.
"When first proposed, I thought they had someone else in mind and had dialed wrong," Gibbons says. "However, when the character was described as kind of enigmatic, we knew it might be a good fit and so it is."
The famously bearded guitarist and lead singer of ZZ Top also appears alongside band mates Dusty Hill and Frank Beard this week in a fantasy sequence of Two and a Half Men.
"That was quite a stretch," Gibbons says, tongue in cheek. "We played a three-piece rock band called ZZ Top. If that's acting, I guess we're full-time actors when we're on tour. We played a similar role in Back to the Future 3.
"And it's a little-known fact that we played Three Men in a Tub on Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre. We asked ourselves, 'What's our motivation?' The answer was, of course, 'Don't fall out of this crazy tub!'"
Hanson says Gibbons was an obvious casting choice.
"When you start going through the list of instantly recognizable rock stars -- someone you don't need someone else to point out, 'Hey, my gosh, it's the lead singer of Journey' -- it's a very, very small group of people," Hanson says. "I made a list of about five people, and he was on that short list.
"Now, not everybody knows Billy Gibbons' name, but they know him as ZZ Top. That beard!"
Conlin remembers her surprise when reading the script for the Christmas 2005 episode, which revealed that Angela had a famous dad.
"It kind of came from out of nowhere," she says. "But knowing Angela, it also made perfect sense. My dad is a big ZZ Top fan. So that was really cool to be able to call him and say, 'Hey, Billy Gibbons is playing my dad on the show. So in a way, he's playing you.'"
Says Gibbons of his TV daughter: "She's great. I mean, a real knockout. Certainly an accomplished actor in no uncertain terms and the sweetest gal you'd ever want to know in real life. My paternal instincts come out whenever I'm around her, both in and out of character."
Perhaps that's why, suggests co-star Emily Deschanel, some viewers have gotten the mistaken impression that Conlin is Gibbons' real-life daughter.
"He doesn't correct them," Deschanel says, "because he thinks it's so funny."
Gibbons says he just accepts it as a compliment.
"Television is so pervasive, it's perceived to be real even when it's clearly fiction or fantasy," he says. "At our shows [on tour], it's interesting to see that some of the fans, even in the seats way down in the front, check out the giant TV screens, as if verifying what they're witnessing onstage is actually real."