On the new TNT series “Dark Blue,” executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer is taking viewers into the complex world of undercover officers. Starring Golden Globe winner Dylan McDermott, along with Omari Hardwick, Logan Marshall-Green and Nicki Aycox, the gritty TV show follows the exploits of a team of cops so covert, many of their own colleagues don’t even know they are involved.
“Dark Blue” takes place in the underbelly of Los Angeles, showing a side of the city rarely seen on television. Criminals roam free and Lt. Carter Shaw (McDermott) and his special undercover task force understand, better than anyone, that to bring down a criminal underworld one must dive into its depths and get on the criminals’ level. Frequently faced with circumstances that blur the line between right and wrong, all that matters is loyalty to one’s fellow officers and to the goal of bringing down the bad guys. Hit the jump to read the interview.
TNT recently invited a handful of online outlets, including Collider, to talk to the show’s lead actors about working with powerhouse producer Jerry Bruckheimer and portraying such an intense profession. Here’s what they had to say:
How did each of you come to this series?
LOGAN MARSHALL-GREEN: I read the script when I was abroad. I was going to go in for it and just sent a tape in, and then I got a test. They flew me out, and I decided to just walk into the room as the character, hoping to walk out with him.
DYLAN MCDERMOTT: Much of the time, as an actor, you sit around waiting. Most of your life and career, you’re waiting for your agent or your manager to call you. You’re waiting for good news, somewhere. The day I got the call that Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to sit down with me was a great day. Anytime you’re involved with him, you know it’s going to be a great project. Also, undercover work was something I was always fascinated with. Serpico was the first book I ever read. So, I was initially just really excited because I thought that playing different characters, within a season, would be a tremendous thing to do, as an actor.
NICKI AYCOX: I was very fortunate to work with Danny Cannon, Jonathan Littman and Jerry Bruckheimer, at other points, on shows, so I was extremely excited to get a call that they wanted me to come in and meet for a show that I’d actually be a leading character in. It was a very grateful day for me.
OMARI HARDWICK: Dylan likes to call me the repeat offender on TNT. I was on TNT three years ago. I did a show, called Saved. I think Dark Blue came to me while I was doing a project in London. I read it and the character immediately popped out at me. I thought, “This is great because he’s so dichotomous and he’s full of variance of personalities and passions, and like and dislikes.” I thought, “I would love to do something so dirty.” And then, I found out who else was attached to it and who they were looking at, and we were all in. So, to work for Mr. Bruckheimer is a cool deal.
One of the appeals of the undercover cop genre is the fact that it gives actors the chance to play different characters, all the time. Do you enjoy the role-playing aspect of a show like this?
HARDWICK: Yeah, definitely. We were all excited about this show because we get to step outside of ourselves for awhile. It’s really rare to come across a character, a show or a movie that allows you to completely play four or five different characters within a season, let alone a week. It’s challenging for us, as actors, but also fun.
AYCOX: Every time I go undercover and have another character, I drop one character and really believe and be the undercover character that I have for the day. So, in that sense, it’s really exciting that I can’t to play a different person within the same show.
MCDERMOTT: The reason I did the show was to have that. Sometimes, if you do serial television over time, you’re playing the same character and it wears you down. With this show, it’s interesting to play different characters. It keeps it alive and you don’t feel like it’s getting stale at all. That’s the main reason I did the show.
MARSHALL-GREEN: As an actor, the idea that these guys break rules sounded appealing as well. They’re actors who break rules. That’s how I approach pretty much all my jobs. I learn the rules and then try to find ways to break them.
MCDERMOTT: It’s contained episodes, so it’s a different bad guy, every week, and a different case. It’s close-ended, so there’s always going to be a great bad guy, anytime you watch.
HARDWICK: We’ve been very blessed with the guest stars that have joined us. It’s been awesome. We’ve had very good guest stars.
Who are some of the guest stars that you’ll be having?
HARDWICK: We recently had the legendary Michael Biehn. It was an episode that was loaded with my character interacting with him and, one day, in the make-up trailer, Logan came up to me and said, “You’re working with Michael Biehn. That’s crazy. I’m jealous.” We grew up watching him. He was in Aliens and The Terminator.
But, there’s been a slew of them. We’ve been fortunate enough to even have guest stars that we have personal relationships with, and who we’ve seen on our trajectory to where we are now, as actors. It’s stellar. For the budget, the time, the recession and for all that’s going on, the caliber has not fallen off.
What does Danny Cannon bring to a pilot like this, to establish the tone, mood and flow of the series, going forward?
MARSHALL-GREEN: He’s amazing. He knows what he wants. He knows what Jerry wants. He knows how to talk to actors. He knows how to juggle all the departments, which is really what you ask for. Obviously, he has oiled the machine very, very well, and it shows.
MCDERMOTT: This is the show that he’s wanted to make, for a long time. This is something that’s been inside of him, a long time. To make something so gritty and so dark for television is something you don’t normally get to do, especially on network television. This show would never exit on a network. It would be homogenized and all the characters would be heroic, and we’re not heroic. The best thing about this show is that we’re real human beings. We’re anti-heroes, if anything. I think he captured that very well. He’s the co-creator of the show, so everything that was inside his head is now on the screen.
Omari, what does it mean for you, that you’re now cast as a cop?
HARDWICK: What’s interesting is that you start out your career and I’ve had the typical family comments, as I was climbing in my career, of “Oh, it’s amazing that you didn’t die in this project.” They were all happy when I didn’t die, and I survived. It’s an interesting thing to play the heroes of our society, like cops and firefighters. They’re the basic heroes that, as little boys and little girls, you look up to as the first heroes of your small, specific community. Playing a cop goes a long way. I have a lot of friends who are working as actors, and as soon as I started playing military characters or cops, and not the actual criminal that we’re chasing on this show, they all said, “You actually can have a career now.” Dylan has been on the side of the crime world, playing a lawyer before, but Logan and I, and Nicki as well, started out trying to figure out what our mojo would be and where it would lie, as an actor. This show allows you to still be yourself, and to be whatever you’re bringing, but we all have found a comfortable fit on this show. There is a stability that this show provides, in allowing us to be rebellious. We can be a cop and a hero, but be a rebellious, flawed one. I feel like I’ve arrived.
MARSHALL-GREEN: I shaved my head about a year ago, and all I’ve done is play soldiers and cops. Before that, I played the loud-mouthed, foppish asshole. So, you shave your head and the career follows.
What kind of research have you done to understand the mentality of the individuals who do this kind of work, and was anything particular surprising to you about it?
MCDERMOTT: I, personally, hung out with the L.A.P.D. and undercover cops, and talked to them. And, I went on a ride-along, which was very interesting because we would stop and talk to people. There was one instance where we talked to about 10 gang members. We got out of the car and hung out with them for about 45 minutes. And then, we got back in the car and the cop said to me, “That was a little uncomfortable for me because I killed the one guy’s brother, two years ago,” and I was just like, “I wish you’d told me that before we got out of the car.” So, in the moment, I understand that there’s such duality in these guys.
I also understand that they need the street. You can’t just show up and be a cop. You need people on the street to tell you information. You need to have relationships with people. Information doesn’t just arrive. You need to have informants and you need to know people. That was interesting to me, too.
With these guys, it was all about what they weren’t telling me and what they were hiding. They hide so much. They’ve learned to hide so much, in their life. That’s mostly what I use, in my character. It’s about what I’m not telling people and what I’m hiding. They were so shy. Half of them wouldn’t even look me in the eye. They were always looking down, and they didn’t want to make contact. That’s the way they’ve learned to live their life.
Did the man whose brother had been killed know that it was that officer who had killed his brother?
MCDERMOTT: Yeah. That’s why it was so tricky. And, some of them recognized me too. They were like, “Hey, that’s the guy from The Practice. What’s he doing here?” That was weird. I just didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire, frankly.
What’s the dynamic like between you, as actors? Do you get a lot of scenes where you’re working together, or are you each working on separate cases?
HARDWICK: The best days are when we get to work together, but that’s not necessarily in terms of excitement or what you’re bringing to the character. For example, we’re doing an episode right now where Logan’s character is away from us and he’s doing his thing, and that’s great because that’s what the show thrives on. Thematically, the show is based on us really being under and not knowing whether we’ll make it back. But, as actors, it’s a beautiful thing when the four of us can be a team and hang out. We laugh a lot together. It really is a very cohesive four, and it’s really nice to be a part of, when we’re together.
AYCOX: Our characters do intertwine. They know each other’s personal lives and things that are going on and their troubles. It’s not always just about the case, but it’s also about how each one of them are doing with their personal life and being an undercover cop, and how they help each other through it as well.
Do you actually film on location around Los Angeles?
MARSHALL-GREEN: We don’t necessarily shoot in bad neighborhoods, but we shoot a lot around downtown. East of downtown is a little gritty. We don’t shoot in neighborhoods so much, but more just areas that are more rundown but incredibly cinematic, like that power plant we shot in.
AYCOX: A lot of the areas aren’t populated. There’s not a lot of people that live in the areas we’re shooting. There are a lot of industrial areas downtown that nobody is living in.
HARDWICK: There are a lot of dilapidated buildings. Production and location has done a very good job finding places for us to shoot. Danny Cannon knows what he wants, and we have a D.P. who’s really, really good. His eye is great. The imagination of the creative aspect of Dark Blue, from the production and crew standpoint, can really stand out, in some of these locations. The people at the forefront of the show know what we’re going for, in terms of look, to make us separate from the other cop shows that you’ve seen in the past.
MARSHALL-GREEN: L.A. is the fifth character in the show. So, there are iconic areas that, if you’re familiar with L.A., you’ll get a sense of, which is great. Here and there, that character is there. L.A. is a big part of it.
Do you feel a responsibility to depict Los Angeles in a way that hasn’t been seen before? Is there a version of Los Angeles that you find it important to show?
MCDERMOTT: Yeah, definitely. There’s an emptiness to the way this show is filmed. There’s a hollowness and vastness to L.A. It’s not palm trees and Beverly Hills. It’s more the downtown landscape and the smog, and the filtration of that. There’s a little bit of Michael Mann’s Collateral in there as well. It’s that L.A. that we’re aiming for.
AYCOX: It’s a side that really hasn’t been portrayed.
HARDWICK: Besides in movies.
Have you been able to have input into your characters?
AYCOX: They give us a lot of freedom. They definitely ask us what we feel and what we think, and we can give our opinions on what we want to do. There’s not a lot of time. You have to make a decision fast.
Has anything changed because of something you thought of or suggested?
HARDWICK: We’re in the midst of it, right now.
AYCOX: Yeah, every day.
MARSHALL-GREEN: It takes awhile for writers to get to know actors rhythms, not just as actors, but what they bring to the characters. I think it takes a few episodes for the writing room to catch up to the actors, and vice versa. They allow us to ad-lib and put our own sheen on it, but one example is that one of the writers came up to me during a scene and said, “You’re coming off a little bit misogynistic,” and I said, “Good.” I actually do think my character is a misogynist. Personally, I’m attracted to flaws. He’s still likeable. Some people think he’s a charmer. But, since then, I’ve been getting more “honeys” thrown in. So, that marriage starts to form. You have to ebb and flow with it, with the writers. You’re doing it together.
Dylan, you’ve been lucky to work with both David E. Kelley and now Jerry Bruckheimer. How do those machines operate, when you’re just a piece within them?
MCDERMOTT: They’re vastly different. David E. Kelley is a writer/producer. I think that he wrote every episode of The Practice. Jerry Bruckheimer really is an executive producer, who obviously is the most successful producer in the history of film and television. They’re both experts at what they do. This show is vastly different from The Practice, which is the reason I wanted to do it. The good thing about television is that people get to know you, and the bad thing about television is that people get to know you.
Especially now, with the way television is, you really need a Jerry Bruckheimer to be successful because, so much of the time, they just pull you off the air. I feel a great protection, working with him. I feel like he loves the show. I feel like he’s behind the show 100%. We need him to protect us, in this world, so it’s been great having him and he’s only helped us. He completely believes in this show, and that helps a lot. If Jerry Bruckheimer wasn’t producing this show, I don’t know if we would have gotten the attention that we’re getting now. With his name stapled on it, it goes a long way.
Are there commonalities with the level of professionalism for the overall operations?
MCDERMOTT: They’re both highly professional. Jerry surrounds himself with the best people and the best crew. Danny Cannon is just so talented. And, David E. Kelley does the same thing. He surrounds himself with people who are just really efficient and know what they’re doing, so there’s no mystery. It’s no secret that they’re just both highly successful people.
Your characters are always in grave danger on the show. What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done in real life?
MARSHALL-GREEN: I drank this thing, called Shinto. I was in Africa and there was a beer garden in one of the refugee villages. There was this vat filled with maggots and flies, and it was called Shinto. I turned and, all of a sudden, there was a glass of it in my face, and I said, “Yes.” I drank it and I wished I hadn’t, and I think that might have been the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in my life. I drank Shinto in a South African refugee village.
MCDERMOTT: For me, it was Steel Magnolias.
AYCOX: I guess mine was when I spent a month down in Rio de Janeiro, working with some street kids, one year. I saw a little more than I expected to. It was danger for a good cause, but it was very sad. And, it was a little more dangerous than I thought, or I probably wouldn’t have gone, but I made it.
HARDWICK: Growing up in Decatur, Georgia, you do some dangerous things. I definitely did my share of dangerous things. I grew up with three boys, so I grew up dangerous. And, I ride a motorcycle now.