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Meet Actor Len Cariou: A Glimpse into the Life and 65-Year Career of Pop Reagan from ‘Blue Bloods’

Before he was Pop on ‘Blue Bloods,’ Len Cariou was slaying them on Broadway in ‘Sweeney Todd’ and more


You can find Len Cariou, affectionately known as Pop on the hit CBS drama series Blue Bloods, at the end of the Reagan dinner table every Friday night. Whether he’s offering advice to his family or cracking a joke, Henry Reagan is a key member of their gathering, but the actor himself is known for more than just his role as the caring grandfather. Blue Bloods’ Len Cariou has had an impressive 65-year career that has seen him taking on innumerable parts on the Broadway stage, the motion picture screen and in a variety of television series and TV movies.

His theatrical career kicked off in 1959 with a role in Damn Yankees and carried through in about 85 others (with him frequently delighting audiences with his singing skills along the way), most recently the title part in 2019’s Harry Townsend’s Last Stand.

In terms of movies, it starts with 1977’s One Man and goes up until 2018’s Bumblebee, with 18 different roles in between. And as for television, things kicked off with a 1963 episode of the Canadian anthology series Quest and continues to this day with Blue Bloods.

There’s so much more to know about the career of Len Cariou, so join us for this glimpse into the life of the actor before he became the beloved Pop.

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Len Cariou: His Early Days

The Playbill for the 1970 production of Applause starring Lauren Bacall and Len Cariou
The Playbill for the 1970 production of Applause starring Lauren Bacall and Len Cariou©Playbill

The actor was born on September 30, 1939 as Leonard Joseph Cariou in Saint Biniface, Manitoba, Canada. His acting career began in the 1960s as a part of the stage ensembles making up Canadian productions of, among others, The Threepenny Opera, Mister Roberts, The Comedy of Errors and The Country Wife.

What Broadway show was Len Cariou in?

Cariou’s first lead on Broadway was in a 1970 production of Applause, playing Bill Sampson opposite Lauren Bacall. Booking the role, though, was actually a bit touch and go. “I auditioned for it about four different times,” he said, “and I thought, ‘What is the matter with these people?’” Of course, Cariou landed the role and the rest is history.

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It wasn’t long before he landed A Little Night Music in 1973, a role he would reprise on the screen four years later. Cariou slowly started to make his way to film, starring in One Man (1977), Drying Up the Streets (1978) and The Mad Trapper (1978) — the first of many to come.

But success on. the big screen never kept him away from the theater, and in 1979 he took the lead in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber on Fleet Street, delightfully plotting revenge on stage alongside Angela Lansbury, who portrayed Mrs. Lovett. It’s a role for which he won a Tony and a show he still looks back upon fondly.

It seemed to me that it was brilliant stuff. Whether the audience would get it or not was another matter, but I knew it was a f—g masterpiece. I’m getting chills now, just thinking about it.”

Needless to say — no matter the medium — the roles have kept on coming.

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What is the age difference between Tom Selleck and Len Cariou?

Len Cariou as Pop, sitting at the dinner table in an episode of Blue Bloods.
Len Cariou in ‘Blue Bloods’

Even with his lengthy career as a stage and film actor, audiences are quick to recognize Cariou as Pop, aka Henry Reagan, from Blue Bloods. The character plays the father to Tom Selleck’s Frank Reagan — despite the fact that he’s only five years older than Selleck — and is the former New York Police Commissioner.

Despite the success of Blue Bloods, it’s actually a less-demanding role for Cariou than one might think, meaning that it’s given him the time to indulge in his love for the stage again. “We’re on an eight-day schedule, and I work maybe two out of the eight,” the actor explained. “I have a lot of free time. And so, I thought, well, I can do some theatre while we’re doing this.”

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The cast of the drama Blue Bloods, gathered around the dinner table, which is the way each episode of the TV series ends.
Len Cariou and the cast of ‘Blue Bloods’ (2016)

Beyond his freed up schedule, Cariou enjoys working with the rest of his Reagan family. And as to those famous Reagan family dinners? The actor says they’re the highlight of filming for him.

The dinners themselves [are the best part], because it’s great fun. We’re all sitting around and we all joke and carry on.”

Cariou’s advice for others in the industry

A photograph of actor Len Cariou.
Len Cariou in ‘Blue Bloods’ (2010)

Needless to say, Cariou is a seasoned performer after all of these years, and when it comes to advice for those who are just getting started in the business, he has only this to offer: give it your all.

Just make sure that you really want it bad, because you are going to get rejections for the rest of your life,” Cariou explained. “You’re going to be out of work more than you’re in work, for the most part. I’ve been very, very lucky.”

Be sure to check out all of our articles about Blue Bloods!

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