Gerald McRaney took home the very first Emmy of his nearly 50-year acting career this weekend for his supporting role on This Is Us, but the Emmys have always been good to him. After all, the award show served as the setting for one of his earliest dates with his wife, Delta Burke.
The couple, married for 28 years, showed up arm in arm at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony on Sunday. McRaney won for outstanding guest performance on a drama for his turn as the NBC show’s Dr. K, and the two reminisced on the red carpet with PEOPLE about one of the earliest public outings of their relationship.
“We had just gotten together – 1987 was the first time,” recalled Burke, 61, of their big date. She was just starting the second season of her career defining sitcom Designing Women, while he was still in the thick of his breakout series Simon & Simon, where the couple first met when Burke made a guest appearance.
“He asked me to marry him on the second date, so we were pretty committed!” said Burke, laughing.
“I wasn’t going to let her get away,” admitted McRaney, 70. “I already had competition. There were people asking her out on dates, and I was going to move in right away.”
They married less than two years later in 1989.
“We survived the Emmys, and we’re still together all this time later,” McRaney said, “but people always said to me, ‘You never want to marry an actress.’ Why not? They’re the only people who understand this insanity. And she does. If I’m on location, and I don’t call her until 2 o’clock in the morning, no big deal. She knows. And the same thing out here. If I come in in a foul mood because I’ve had a problem with the script or the director or this, ‘Okay, I’ll listen to you. Just don’t take it out on me, and I’ll listen to you.'”
Burke says she’s been happy to support to her husband, particularly during the critical and industry kudos that have resulted from his stint as This Is Us’s kindly physician.
“This has been huge for me,” she admitted. “I have wanted him to be nominated for so many years, I cannot tell you. I think that’s he’s richly deserved it, and that they’ve noticed him and acknowledged him this year makes me want to cry.”
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Indeed, Burke did get weepy when McRaney’s victory was announced during the ceremony, and he paid tribute to her in the press room while toting his newly bestowed Emmy trophy.
“As a man, I’ve had the love of the finest woman I can possibly imagine,” he told PEOPLE. “As an actor, when she tells me something is good, I accept that I’ve done okay, because she knows what she’s talking about. When other people say it, it’s nice, I appreciate the compliment. When she says it, it’s real, because she’ll tell me when I suck, too. She has no hesitation about that. So it’s a good partnership for me. It keeps me toeing the line.”
McRaney also revealed how his feelings for his wife played into his performance on This Is Us.
“I think the primary emotion that drove the Dr. K character was the loss of his wife and the loss of a child early on,” he said. “All I had to do was imagine losing my wife. When I did that, the only problem I had was regaining my composure when a take was over. … If I imagine losing Delta, I’m completely lost and I really don’t know how long I could continue doing this.”
After nearly three decades together, the stars remain devoted to each other.
“At the end of a day’s work, I get to come home to her – that’s the fun,” McRaney said.
“And we get each other,” Burke added. “As nutty as we both are, we get each other.”
“We did a renewal of our vows once, and one of the things that Delta wrote into the vows was that we embrace each other’s insanity,” McRaney said. “Not just accept it – embrace it.”