On the Showtime drama series Ray Donovan, Ray (Liev Schreiber) is the go-to guy who makes the problems of L.A.’s celebrities, superstar athletes and business moguls disappear. It’s the problems in his own life that he never seems to know how to handle, and probably the biggest problem in Season 2 was Cookie Brown (Omar Dorsey in a chillingly stand-out performance), a music business entrepreneur who became a major threat to Ray’s family.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Omar Dorsey talked about finding his place among all of the tough characters already on the show, not playing the stereotype of a character like this, his favorite scene, that he knew his character’s fate all along, and why this was a fun character to play, but not someone you’d want to be like in real life. He also talked about what it means to him to be a part of the upcoming feature film Selma (due out in limited release on Christmas day), about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights marches that changed America. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are major spoilers.
OMAR DORSEY: The thing about it is that I watched last season and was like, “Everybody on this show has all of these awards.” So, when I saw the character, I tried to not play the bad-ass so much. Everybody on the show is bad-ass, so it was perfect just to fit right in. The way that they wrote it and the dynamic allowed me to play with it. Episode 7 is the one that Liev [Schreiber] directed, and that was the first time we were on screen together. He helped me out a lot with the character. The first time I came on was Episode 5, when I was just at my party and I was the baddest dude there. But in Episode 7, I was actually on screen with Ray and there was a lot with the character development. Before we worked together, he said, “You’ve gotta push it.” He wanted me to be a bigger threat than James Woods was last season, so I was like, “All right, cool.” I also tried to play it with a little bit of charm. It’s very scary when you have a guy who’s this threat, but he’s also charming. It’s not just a paint-by-the-numbers bad guy.
Was it important to you, when you’re playing a character like this who’s similar to people in the music business that we’ve heard about before, to not play the stereotype of what a character like this is expected to be?
DORSEY: Yes, 100%. Since I was about 22 years old, I had this agent that I wanted to sign with. It was six or seven years ago. I was playing a scene from Pulp Fiction, as Marsellus Wallace, talking to Bruce Willis, and he said, “You know what? Do that same monologue that you’re doing right now, with a smile on your face.” I was like, “Oh, yeah, I guess you can play a bad-ass with color to it.” It doesn’t have to just be a stereotype. The lines were there. The actions were there. But, you can do it with nuance. I don’t play a lot of bad guys. This was the second bad guy that I’ve ever played because I know it’s very easy for me to do it. If I do it, I want to do it a little different, and not just the same stereotype of the big guy who can beat everybody up.
DORSEY: I love that scene. I think that might be my favorite. I thought the scene when I got stopped by the cop was my favorite scene, but when I thought back about it, I love that I had my son on my lap. That dynamic between Ray and Cookie had so many things underlining it, that weren’t in the lines. We both knew that we could kill each other, at any moment, but we both have kids. and we want to protect our kids and be there for our kids. I had to do some ADR work on it three weeks ago, and I saw that scene and it was very powerful.
Did you know what your ultimate outcome would be when you signed on for the show, or did you learn about your character’s fate, along the way?
DORSEY: I thought I was doing three episodes. Honestly, I did. I signed on to do three episodes, and then Ann Biderman said, “I love you so much, I can’t stop writing for you.” I was like, “Well, I appreciate that.” At the same time that I was doing this, I was also doing a film in Atlanta. I was playing a civil rights leader on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and then by Wednesday night, I was playing a homicidal maniac. It was a really tricky schedule, but they kept writing and I kept coming back to set. I loved it because it just kept getting juicier and juicier. I thought I was gonna kill Re-Kon and Marvin, and then get killed in the next episode, or something like that, but they kept that threat immediate. And the fans seemed to really like the character a lot, too, so they knew what they were doing. I did know that I was going to die, though.
When you’re playing a character that has a bit of a God complex and thinks very highly of himself, did you have a line that you would draw, so that you didn’t go too far with that and so that he would still seem vulnerable, in some way?
DORSEY: I had concerns, especially with Episode 8 when I kill Re-Kon and Marvin. I didn’t want it to seem too cheesy when I was doing it. It wasn’t until I saw a really rough cut that I was like, “Damn, this plays really good!” I just didn’t want it to seem over-the-top or cartoonish. I was in Atlanta for the hip-hop awards and I was hanging with some people who are exactly like Cookie. They’re the most charismatic people in the world, but you know that they’re dangerous. I don’t want to say names, but I was with a couple of those guys, and they wanted me to hang with them because they think I’m playing them.
When you’re playing such an intense guy, who will clearly stop at nothing to get what he wants and protect his own family, is there an enjoyment, knowing you have that kind of freedom, at least until somebody says, “Cut!”?
DORSEY: Yes, 100%. The character, to me, is Richard III. I get to really wear these shoes and wear that coat, until they call, “Cut!” When I walk around, people call me Cookie, and I’m not Cookie. I don’t want everybody to get confused and think I’m Cookie Brown. But, it’s fun when I’m on set playing that. Who doesn’t want to play a guy who feels he can basically get away with murder. At the end of the day, it’s just something that you’re playing. That’s not anything that I’d want to be.
Did you think about what was going through Cookie’s head, in the moment that he executes Re-Kon and Marvin, and whether he would have shot Bridget, if he knew she was there?
DORSEY: The die was cast with Marvin and Re-Kon when Drexler tried to pay Cookie off. There was a line in the scene when we were in Drexler’s house, where I said, “If I wanted to, I could take all of Re-Kon’s stuff.” And then, there’s a line when I was in Ray’s office where I told him, “You just think I’m some pimp, but I want equity.” Lee Drexler said, “I know black people. They’re just all about the Benjamins.” But, that’s not what this guy is about. He was like, “Look, I gave you a chance. Now, I’m gonna do it my way, and I’m taking everything. How about that?” You didn’t know that it was Lee Drexler and not Re-Kon doing it. It was Drexler doing it on his own, but he decided to kill Re-Kon. And then, when the kid was there, he had to go, too. It was already in the cards. They thought he was playing around, so they both had to go. He didn’t know Ray’s daughter was there. That’s something I’ve been fighting with, but I think he would have killed her ‘cause she was a witness.
DORSEY: Oh, my god! You’ve gotta understand that Kwame [Patterson] is one of my main men. He’s one of my good friends. And then, Octavius [Johnson] is like my little brother, honestly. I talk to him three times a week, and I try to mentor him. I knew I was killing them when I got the role. They didn’t know about it because I didn’t share it with them. I didn’t tell anybody. When we all got our scripts, Octavius called me and was like, “Man, have you read the new script?” I was like, “Yeah.” And he was like, “Dude, you’re killing me!” And I said, “Yeah, I already knew that for three or four weeks, but I couldn’t tell anybody.” That was tough on him. On the day, we talked through a lot of that. Just as an older actor trying to help a younger actor, we talked about a lot of it. He did a brilliant job, trying to plead for his life. It was amazing. He did it so good that everybody thought that he wasn’t going to die, but he died anyway. We talked for hours, just about that moment, and how he had to beg for his life and protect his girlfriend, at the same time. And he did such a good job that wherever I go, everybody says, “You know you didn’t have to kill that boy.” That’s how great of a job a did.
How was the experience of shooting your own death scene, and then watching it back?
DORSEY: I watched it back one time, and that’s it. When I did ADR on it, I had them stop it before that part. I just didn’t want to see it. I saw it one time and it was a little eerie. I didn’t even see it finished. I just saw the playback when we did it, so I don’t even know what it looks like. But, I knew that was coming, for the whole season. Ann was fighting herself on doing that to the character because she loved the character so much, but you couldn’t have Cookie running around for a whole other season. He’s just too unpredictable. If it’s Ray Donovan’s life, you can’t do that.
DORSEY: That movie is the most special thing that I’ve ever done. Ava DuVernay is my personal Phil Jackson. She’s a perfect coach. She put together a cast and crew that became family after one day of table reads. This story is one of the most important stories to be told of our generation, and we have that responsibility to tell it. The people who we’re portraying are superheroes to me. The things that they did put their lives on the line for a better future for their kids. The present wasn’t all rosy, so they were doing it for their kids, their grandkids, their heirs and their people. We put that responsibility on our shoulders because they put the civil rights movements on their shoulders. This is the most proud I’ve ever been to play any character. Reverend James Orange is a personal hero of mine, anyway, because I’m from Atlanta and he’s one of the giants of that city. I worked with James Orange and Hosea Williams, as a teenager, and he’s portrayed in the movie by Wendell Pierce. So, for me to be able to come in, 20 years after working with them, as a teenager, and to portray Reverend James Orange in Selma is mind-blowing.
Ray Donovan airs on Showtime.