From Vince Gilligan and David Shore, the new CBS series Battle Creek is a drama with a wry sense of humor. Russ Agnew (Dean Winters), a gruff, hard-boiled detective, is paired up with handsome, charismatic Special Agent Milton Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel), but their polar opposite views of the world and crime-solving do not spark a bromance, rather breeding frustration and disdain between them. As they work long hours together in the economically distressed city of Battle Creek, Michigan, they will either develop a respect for each other’s methods or become true antagonists.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Dean Winters talked about why he signed on for Battle Creek, not worrying about living up to people’s expectations when they hear the show is from the creators of Breaking Bad and House, making a buddy cop show where the two cops aren’t buddies, the kind of guy Russ Agnew is, how Special Agent Milton Chamberlain compliments and challenges Detective Agnew, and who he thinks would make the perfect partner for his character.
Collider: How did you come to this?
DEAN WINTERS: I got a call in New York. I had just finished doing a movie (John Wick) with Keanu Reeves and I told my agents, “I don’t really want to do a TV series this year. I want to take a little time.” I had gotten involved with a show the year before, and I wasn’t crazy about it. And then, the next day, they called me and said, “Vince Gilligan is doing a new show and they want you to fly out and meet with Bryan Singer and David Shore. And I was like, “Okay, you’ve got me.” It was a no-brainer. I’m such a fan of Bryan Singer’s, that how do you not get on that plane?
Does it feel like there’s a lot to live up to, when you’re a part of a show from the people behind Breaking Bad and House?
WINTERS: I haven’t felt that, at all. Obviously, David [Shore] probably has pressure because House was such an amazing show. But I try not to go into these jobs, thinking that I have to live up to people’s expectations. If you do that, you’re just dead in the water. I’m afraid to take on that responsibility. When I was younger, after I did Oz, I put that pressure on myself. I was like, “What’s going to be the follow up?” But, that’s a lose-lose situation. I got lucky with Rescue Me. That was my first job after Oz. How do you live up to Breaking Bad? You can’t. It’s impossible. That could be the best show in the history of television, or the top 5, at least. There’s really no comparison. It’s on CBS. No one is getting their head cut off, and no one is smoking meth. The only thing that might be a bit of a kerfuffle is that people might tune in to this, thinking that it’s the next Breaking Bad. But it’s not, so they have to be aware of that. This is not Breaking Bad 2. I think people will tune in that first week, wanting to see Breaking Bad. They won’t see Breaking Bad, but they’ll be curious. And then, the next week, they’ll be like, “What?!” There’s a different feel and tone to it. This show is a fun, different romp. There’s nothing on television like it. It’s a buddy cop show, where the two cops aren’t buddies, and it’s light. When you have people like Kal Penn and Janet McTeer in the ensemble, how do you go wrong? You could go wrong, but hopefully, we won’t. I’m excited.
What kind of guy is Russ Agnew?
WINTERS: Russ Agnew is a straight-up Midwest guy. I see him as someone who might have come to the Midwest when he was younger. Maybe he wasn’t born and raised there, but he has strong American values. He sees the state of Michigan collapsing around him, and he’s just trying to hold it together. I think he’s a really altruistic guy with a really huge heart. He probably cuts corners, probably for the good of his country, his city and his state. Without sounding too corny, he’s really that guy. He’s very afraid of technology, and what’s around the corner. He’s very comfortable and set, in his own ways.
How does Special Agent Milton Chamberlain compliment and challenge Detective Agnew?
WINTERS: I told Josh [Duhamel] this on the first day, but I see him as that super cop that I always wanted to be, but didn’t really think exist. You don’t really think The Terminator exists, but you want him to exist. And then, all of a sudden, The Terminator shows up and you’re like, “Oh, fuck, now what?!” That’s the way I’ve been treating this. Here’s this guy who’s 6’4″, and he looks like he just walked out of the store window at Barney’s. He’s like, “Fuck, this guy really exists, and not only does he exist, but now he’s my partner. This sucks!” That’s the way I’ve been looking at it, and I think it works. It’s a buddy cop show, where we’re not buddies. I really want to make that very clear to everybody. This is not one of these things where I’m going to fall in love with him, in the third episode. I’m hoping that we’ll get into a major bar fight, or something is going to happen.
Who do you think would be the perfect partner for your character?
WINTERS: A young Rockford, who hits first and asks questions later. I love those ‘70s cop show. Columbo is one of my favorite shows of all time. I loved The Rockford Files. I loved Starsky and Hutch. I loved Mannix. I loved all that stuff. When I first read this, I saw a little bit of that flavor in there. Without stretching too far and saying that this is a ‘70s show because it’s not, that’s the kind of relationship that I want to build with Josh, and build for myself, in the series.
What’s it like to work with Josh Duhamel on this?
WINTERS: We’re very different, and it works. Our different approaches add the flavor.
Women seem to throw themselves at Special Agent Chamberlain. Will we see how Detective Agnew interacts with and reacts to women?
WINTERS: Yeah. Josh’s character has women just dropping at his feet. I’m not sure a woman has ever recognized my character.
Battle Creek airs on Sunday nights on CBS.