Rizzoli & Isles is a new TNT drama, based on characters created by best-selling author Tess Gerritsen, that follows Boston detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander). Complete opposites in almost every way, the good friends work together to solve crimes and bust some of Boston’s most notorious criminals in the homicide division.
During a recent interview for the show’s premiere, actress Angie Harmon talked about being on the verge of retirement, before she was offered her dream job, Rizzoli & Isles. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
Question: How did you come to hear about this show?
Angie: TNT offered it to me. I was pretty much getting ready to retire, and I was thinking that I would move back East with my kids and go be mommy. I wasn’t really finding the roles that I wanted to play. So, I made a deal with God and was like, “Okay, I would love something on cable, shoot five months a year, and then get to be mommy the rest of the time. And, I would like it to be funny, strong and intelligent.” Literally the next day, it was on my front porch because my manager lives down the street.
It was very lucky, and I feel very lucky. I feel very blessed because you don’t often get exactly what you wanted and hoped for. All of us are just pinching ourselves, thinking, “How on earth has this happened?” It’s just been fantastic. I would love to say that I’m waiting for the anvil to fall, but I’m not. I’m in a place in my life where I can really accept good things. I guess you really should be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. And, I’m thrilled that they offered it to me and that it’s with TNT. They understand what it’s like to be a working mommy. I just cannot say enough good things about this project. It’s just been awesome.
Since you’ve played a lot of detectives and law people before, what made this one stand out and what past experience can you draw on for her?
Angie: I think the thing that made this stand out the most was just the fact that there’s a lot more character to these characters. We see their back stories and we see their present situations, and that was a lot more interesting than just the regular procedural with four heads standing around a body, spelling it out for you. It’s a lot more of a roller coaster ride. It’s definitely got a lot more grit to it. And, we don’t pretend to be the smartest people there. We’re not like, “This is how we did it, and now we’re just going to show you how we go catch them. The audience gets to figure it out with us.
Also, there’s the caliber of actors that we keep getting. Lorraine Bracco plays my mom and Chazz Palminteri plays my father, and Brian Dennehy and Donnie Wahlberg have been on the show. And, we’ve got Billy Burke from Twilight. We’ve gotten all kinds of fantastic actors. That speaks for itself. Bruce McGill and Sasha Alexander are regulars on the show. That shows that it’s not just a typical procedural show. We have these actors because they can come in and actually act, and show the different colors of actual people. No person is just one color. No person is just who they are at their job, 24/7. That was really what I was excited about.
Plus, being on TNT, I knew we’d have a lot more creative freedom to tell the stories that we wanted to tell. I’ve spent a lot of time with the actual homicide unit in Boston, and it was amazing.
You and Sasha Alexander have great chemistry. Did you know, right when you got together, that it was going to work out so well?
Angie: I think so. We had such a great time. When we were trying to find the woman to play Maura Isles, it was a no-brainer when Sasha came in. We just knew it was her, and she did such a fantastic job. She got the job, right then and there, in the room, and it was great. We actually played a little joke on her. She’s a great lady and we’ve had a really, really fantastic time.
You don’t often get what you ask for, and I got exactly that. I got a show that was on cable, that I could shoot five months a year and go be mommy the rest of the time, and be with a cast and crew that I really, really love, adore and respect. I got all of that. We have just had the most amazing time. Every now and then, we’ll come across a review where the person didn’t like it and we’re like, “What? Really? How could you not like it?” All of us like it so much, and we have such a great time at work. We’ve just been really blessed, and we’re all standing here going, “Wait a minute, how did this happen?” It’s been awesome.
In the books, Jane Rizzoli and Gabriel Dean (Billy Burke) fall in love and their relationship progresses. Do you know how closely that storyline will be followed?
Angie: I just finished reading The Sinner (Book 1) and it’s just been so great because, coincidentally enough, we’re shooting a couple of episodes with Billy right now and the story has a lot to do with Gabriel and Jane. Do I think they’re going to get these girls hitched, right out of the gate? Absolutely not. It’s more fun to watch them date and scramble, and try to figure out their relationship, and things like that. But, I almost felt like this was a prequel to Gabriel and Jane. I feel like I’m seeing them before the stories in the book take place.
You always play intelligent characters, and that really shows in Rizzoli & Isles. What is your interpretation of the character of Rizzoli?
Angie: She’s witty and funny. A lot of people don’t see me as a funny character because I don’t usually get to play them. I’m usually cast in the more dramatic roles, so it’s been a really, really fun time playing her humor and her attitude. She’s a complete tomboy, so I did a really intense study on men and how they relate to each other, in the way they walk and hold themselves and position themselves in the hierarchy, just in something as simple as a conversation. Some of them are threatened by each other, and some of them aren’t. The thing that I like the most about playing her is that she is such a tomboy, and that’s very different from me and from how I am. I also love her humor. Those are the two things I love about her the most.
What can you say about Bruce McGill’s character and what’s happened with him?
Angie: The show is a roller coaster. It’s got its ups and its downs, and it’s a precarious situation. One of the things I love the most about the show is that it’s the characters, and they truly are characters in relationships with each other. That’s life. That’s how people truly are. When you’re at work, you’re not that same person when you’re at home. These two characters have a relationship that is as close as partners knowing that their lives are in each other’s hands.
And, Bruce and I are pretty close as well. We’re both from Texas and we both understand each other. When I’m having trouble with a scene, I’ll just go over to him and be like, “I have no idea what’s happening here. What are we doing?” He’s just been such a wonderful sounding board and, obviously, he’s a tremendously talented actor. We were just so lucky and blessed that he said yes to this. This show is just a giant pot of fantastic and rich characters. It’s like watching people. That, to me, is what good television is.
Do the books influence your portrayal of Rizzoli, at all?
Angie: It does. I hadn’t read any of the books before, but I have since we started. It’s so funny because I’m reading a book of a person that I’m playing. Then, here’s this person that she’s in a relationship with and, what we’re shooting now, we’re not in a relationship. I’m getting a prequel and a history to these people in the book. It’s very odd. It’s very weird because it’s like The Twilight Zone.
Here I am, shooting the history of these two characters, and I’m reading their future. It’s interesting. It’s like our head writer, Janet Tamaro, is writing things that happened before the books. That’s a really cool and interesting aspect of the story and the characters for our viewers because anyone that does follow the books gets to sit there and watch these two characters live. The episodes don’t follow the books exactly. The characters are pretty dead-on, but we would run out of episodes and things to do, not to mention the fact that we want our audiences to enjoy what’s happening, not already know what’s happening. It’s been really, really fun. I’ve never actually had that happen before, in a character that I play.
There are already Twitter pages for Rizzoli & Isles, and there’s a lot of buzz going around the Internet and social networking sites about the show. How important is getting the word out, through websites and Twitter?
Angie: I think it’s huge. It’s smart. I’m from the South, so I’m very old-fashioned and I’m not very computer savvy at all, but I’m getting it. I understand that, if you’ve got information and you want it out there, that is how you go about doing it. I get it. When it’s all said and done, I’m very, very glad to work in this business, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s a business, and I get to do the fun half of it. I get paid to pretend. I get to play really great characters. And, we have such a wonderful writer. She just knows people so intricately, and it’s so fun to be able to act out her words.
But, I totally understand the promotional aspect of our show and the business end of it. We’re putting something out there that we’re really proud of. It’s not like we’re saying, “Hey, come watch our show,” because it sucks. We’re all pretty proud of it, and we’re also standing around, scratching our heads and going, “Wow, this is really good.” With the caliber of actors that we have, you really can’t got wrong. Not only is it fun, but it’s good. It’s been really, really great, in that aspect. I totally get what they’re doing.
Are you a fan of mystery fiction fan?
Angie: I am.
Who do you read?
Angie: To be honest, I hadn’t read Tess Gerritsen’s books until we started playing the characters, and now I’m obsessed. I come home exhausted, and I have to keep reading. I just finished The Sinner and I’m getting ready to start The Keepsake. It’s so fun, playing this out for the audience.
That being said, in my top five favorite movies, two of them are Alien and Aliens. I love to laugh, and I love to make people laugh. I love comedy, but I also love the darker things in life. I guess I’m an extremist. I’m an adrenaline junkie. Just cruising along at a normal capacity really doesn’t do anything for me. I like things to be really, really funny, or really, really dramatic. Those books are certainly the ones that grab me. I like the exercise of reading through a paragraph, and it’s just torture. I try not to have my eyes dart to the right. That’s the stuff that I love.
Now that it’s been canceled, will you always remember your time on Law & Order fondly?
Angie: Absolutely. It’s so important to be thankful and grateful for any and every opportunity that we have, especially in this business. I learned some wonderful things there. I learned that it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you always hang up your wardrobe. That was a wonderful place for me. I would sit in my dressing room and stuff envelopes with my wedding invitations. That place has a real reverence for me. I understand some people may not have that kind of reverence for it, but I really thought that the revolving door of Law & Order would keep it going because you can just keep moving the people through.
People are going to move in and out of their office, and they’re going to move up or get fired. All kinds of things happen like that, in real life. And, we’re always going to have crime, unfortunately. If we didn’t, then I wouldn’t have a new show. My dressing room was right on the water, and I would climb out of my window and walk around on the roof, whenever I needed time to think, or whenever I couldn’t get a scene together. My father even came out there on the roof with me. We just walked around and talked up there, just to get away from everything, and nobody could get to us there. I really do love that place very much. It holds a very deep-rooted place in my heart.