The second SNL of 2022 boasts a big get: the triumphant return of Will Forte. The comic and actor on the show for eight seasons, from 2002 to 2010, though he’s made return appearances from time to time, most recently in 2016. During his tenure, he did the requisite impersonations: He took over George W. Bush from the just-departed Will Ferrell, and he also handled Newt Gingrich, John Edwards, Brian Williams, and more. But he was best known for MacGruber, the MacGyver send-up he later milked for a movie and, now, a show on Peacock. But why did he ever leave?
When Forte’s decision to leave after eight seasons was first announced, his reasons were mysterious. In a press statement, SNL honcho Lorne Michaels was cryptic, simply said he was going to “pursue new opportunities.” But a few years later, after he scored the title role in the popular show The Last Man on Earth, he opened up more about skedaddling from a steady, much-watched gig he had done for almost a decade.
“It was way more of a personal decision than a professional one,” Forte told The Daily Beast in 2017. “It’s always going to be a crapshoot when you leave there in terms of getting work, but it just felt like the right thing to do. I had been there for eight years, just turned 40, and my sister was having kids and they’re all on the West Coast, so I wanted to be closer to them.”
He added, “But I loved that job. I’m so thrilled I got to be a part of that show; it was like my family. But it just felt like it was the right time.”
A few years earlier, he had intimated about some of the other reasons he decided his SNL run should end. In 2013, while promoting his most dramatic starring turn in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, opposite screen legend Bruce Dern (and with Bob Odenkirk as his brother), he talked to Grantland about how the intensity of the show — and the fact that he’s “a little OCD” — didn’t make for an ideal work-life balance.
“I’m not trying to brag, but I’m a hard worker, and there, the actors are writers,” he said at the time. “So I would work really hard to write, and find myself there for long periods of time. And it’s a really hard, intense process. It’s a lot of work. So it’s hard to have a life outside of that.”
But 0nce Forte was no longer caught up in the mad grind of cranking out SNL episodes 20-some episodes a year, he was surprised by how he felt.
“The weird thing is the first time the rest of the cast is back doing the show and you’re not there,” he told Grantland. “You miss it with all your heart. It’s really hard to watch the show for awhile, because you just want to be there. But at the same time, that’s your family there, you want to support the show, but it’s hard to for a little while, because you want to be back there. And it was my choice to leave, so that made it even harder, because it’s like, ‘I could be there right now! Why am I not there, if I’m missing it so much?’ That took awhile, to talk myself into thinking I made the right decision.”
Forte will host SNL alongside musical guest Maneskin on Saturday, Jan. 22. The new MacGruber show streams on Peacock.