HOLLYWOOD - After more than 30 years, actor, filmmaker and writer Albert Brooks is returning to the small screen.

When Showtime's

Weeds

premieres its fourth season on Monday, Brooks will play acerbic gambler Len Botwin, the father-in-law of pot-selling mom Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker).

"As an actor, I wanted to do it. It's not a character I've played before," said Brooks, 60, whose resume - including multiple directing and producing roles - is filled with neurotic and self-obsessed white-collar professionals in movies such as

Modern Romance

(1981),

Lost in America

(1985),

Broadcast News

(1987),

Defending Your Life

(1991) and

Mother

(1996). In his most recent directorial effort,

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

(2006), he played a character named Albert Brooks.

Weeds

also appealed, he said, because "I liked the writing, and I'm crazy about the actors."

Brooks was the first choice for the special guest-star part, said creator Jenji Kohan, who was hoping he'd stay through the season. But Brooks opted for only four episodes.

"They were very nice," Brooks said. As far as the producers were concerned, Brooks could have been in all the episodes. But he didn't want to do that. "I said, 'What's a number that would accomplish what you need?' They said four was the least."

In the show, Nancy turned to drug dealing to support herself and her two sons after her husband, Judah (Len's son), died. When her home in an affluent suburb is destroyed in a fire, she takes the boys and her brother-in-law Andy, also Len's son, to live with Len in a beach town near the Mexican border.

"He's definitely smart, but he's never held down a smart job," Brooks said of his character. "He's been a gambler his whole life, at the race track, poker tournaments," he said in his considered comedian's cadence. "He is not happy to see anybody."

Last year, the show's guest stars included Mary-Kate Olsen. This year, Lee Majors will appear.

Brooks, according to Parker, was so warm and funny in the role ("not funny in a transparent way") that she said, "I can't imagine anyone else doing it now."

Most of Brooks' work has been in offbeat indie films. Making movies with an artistic vision is always a battle, Brooks said, citing the problems - studio dropping out, cool reviews, small audiences - that came with making a movie with

"

Muslim" and "Comedy" in the title.

But movies for adults are becoming rare, he said. "Two things drive down the mentality of movies," he said. Studios are "worried about 15-year-olds and worried about people who live in Romania. When movies must contain ingredients that play to both those groups, subtlety goes out the window. HBO and Showtime are still places that don't have to be panicked about that," he said.

"The truth is, shows like [

Weeds

] are like little independent movies," he said. "They're not broken up by commercials. You can say what you want to say dialogue-wise. You can tell the story you want to tell."