On the CBS drama series Hawaii Five-O, the elite federalized task force – made up of Detective Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin), Detective Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan), ex-Honolulu police detective Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim), Kono Kalakaua (Grace Park) and Captain Lou Grover (Chi McBride) – whose mission is to wipe out the crime that washes up on the Islands’ sun-drenched beaches. And in the episode entitled “Malama Ka Po’e (Care For One’s People),” a case from 15 years ago forces Grover to take his family on the run when a dangerous mob boss tracks him down to seek revenge.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Chi McBride talked about how much danger his character’s family will be in, getting to explore the work life and home life, getting to do film-level action on TV, how his character fits in with the team, the rarity of being a part of a show that’s been on for so many seasons, and why he also enjoys doing voice-over work for animation (he voices Nick Fury in the animated series Ultimate Spider-Man, Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. and Marvel’s Avengers Assemble).
Collider: Congrats on the Season 7 renewal for the show! As an actor in a profession where you never know what the next job will be, how does it feel to be a part of a show that’s accomplished something that not too many other shows do anymore?
CHI McBRIDE: What this show has accomplished is going to become rarer and rarer as time goes on, as the viewing habits of people change. There’s such a wide landscape for television to be produced that people’s choices are as such where a network cannot really afford to take the time to grow an audience. The landscape is very wide-ranging and there’s so much going on with the television business. And now you have Hulu, Amazon, Netflix and all of that now, too. You have to come out of the gate and have a lot of interest. So, to be able to have created the fan base of first generation Hawaii Five-O watchers, and now this new generation of Hawaii Five- watchers is quite an accomplishment. It’s nice to be steadily employed, and it’s nice to be able to work with the people you enjoy working with for a long period of time. We’ll see how far it goes.
And you get to work in paradise.
McBRIDE: Well, you know, worse things can happen that being in Hawaii. You still have to be away from your family for an extended period of time, but all things considered, it could be much worse than being in Hawaii.
We know that your character is spotlighted in this episode, when he has a case that forces him to take his family on the run. What can you say about that case and why it’s coming back up now?
McBRIDE: I can’t tell you too much, but like in any case, sometimes our past catches up with us. When you’re in the business of law enforcement, you’re not exactly getting satisfied customers. If you arrest somebody, they can end up spending the rest of their lives in jail, so there is a certain amount of backlash that can happen. But every crime isn’t punishable by life in prison, and people have long memories. Let’s face it, if you spend 30 years in jail, it’s not like spending 30 years at Club Med. Club Med and Club Fed are two different places. Most of the time, most people that spend their lives in the penitentiary don’t rehabilitate. They just learn to become better criminals. And the criminal mind is not a forgiving mind. So, given the rate of recidivism, you can pretty much expect that some things in your past may come up, especially when it’s a huge case. He was on a huge case, and it’s going to come back to threaten his existence, his livelihood, and the lives of his family. He’s gotta high tail it, so to speak.
We know that Five-O deals with a lot of dangerous and scary things, all the time, so how dangerous and scary does it have to be for him to be able to take his family on the run?
McBRIDE: It’s funny, if you’re planning on a Hawaiian vacation, it’s a good thing that most people understand the separation between reality and fantasy because if you plan a vacation based on watching the show, the only reason you’d come to Hawaii is if you want to get murdered. But when anything threatens your family, how big does the threat have to be? Anytime somebody calls you up on the telephone and threatens your family, in any way, it’s at least going to heighten your awareness. If it was just a situation where you have to deal with things yourself, that’s one thing. But when you have somebody threaten the most vulnerable part of your humanity – being your family, the people closest to you and the people you love – I don’t think it takes that much. The more you value something, the more heightened the fear is of keeping it safe and preserving its life against loss. I don’t think it takes an earth shattering situation to take your family on the run. It’s your family. If you’re in law enforcement, you wake up and leave the house, every day, completely aware that there is a possibility that it’s the last time your family will see you alive. So, if you can go and do that job, it stands to reason that there isn’t much that makes a guy scared to leave his house. But when you call someone’s family, that’s a different story.
A lot of the shows of this type tend to have trouble finding a balance between the characters’ work life and home life because so much of it is about the cases you’re solving, but this show has had some moments where we’ve gotten to go home and see the team’s families. Is it nice to get to be able to explore both of those things?
McBRIDE: Yeah, it’s great. I really like the actors that I work with, that play my family members. We spend a lot of quality time and some personal time together. It’s good to showcase that kind of family because you don’t really see that too much today. Usually, the father is an idiot and the kids are all wise-asses. It’s good to present something that’s counter to that.
When we see characters in these types of professions, they’re usually good at their job and not good at their personal life.
McBRIDE: Yeah, their homelife is in the toilet. They’re capable of taking some of the biggest, baddest criminals off the street, but they don’t understand their 14-year-old daughter.
This is a show where you also get to be a bit of a bad-ass. Could you ever have imagined that your career would take you to this point?
McBRIDE: I don’t know how to answer that question without sounding, quite frankly, like an asshole. The truth of the matter is that the only role you play in even having a career is that you have to be confident. It’s one of the reasons why I never read reviews. Even if a review is great, it’s only a matter of time before the same person says that you have no idea what you’re doing and that takes a shot at your confidence. When I used to have to audition for television more, you can imagine going into a situation like that with your confidence shot. So, I don’t want to look back at my career with any kind of retrospective attitude until it’s done. It’s not for me to consider myself a working actor. It’s up to the people who hire me. My job is to do my job, and your job is to love it or hate it. I just continue on until I’m finished with it. It’s how I feed my family. So, I don’t look at my job as anything different than a guy that goes to a construction site. We all have to make a living.
This show has some of the most film-level action on broadcast TV. What do you most enjoy about getting to do those scenes and sequences?
McBRIDE: It extends your career. I’m in my 50s, and I’m still able to do it and pull it off. The only time I really had a double do stunts for me was when I had to ride a horse. It’s not because I don’t know how to ride a horse – and I don’t – but the horse knows you don’t know how to ride, and then you can end up in the hospital or worse. But the fact that I’m still able to do it and pull it off, and need very little double work at all, it just extends your career. As time progresses, your skill set diminishes. There are some things that you could be considered for, and if you can’t move, there’s a problem. It’s always better if you can do the action sequence required than have a double. I just love it because it reaffirms the fact that I can still do this. It’s funny because I never did a lot of action, earlier in my career. It wasn’t really until Human Target that I started doing a lot of action-oriented shows. It’s a lot of fun. It’s just like being a kid and playing cops and robbers, or whatever you want to call it.
The episodes you had with Mykelti Williamson were great because they gave a really interesting glimpse into your character’s life, before and outside of Five-O. How did those episodes redefine the character for you, and what was it like to work with him?
McBRIDE: First of all, Ti is a friend of mine. We met quite some time ago, and we’ve seen become much closer. He’s a great guy to work with. We’re very like-minded about a great many things, including how we work. It’s always fun when you work with somebody who’s as accomplished and who has such a degree of longevity in this business, and he’s no exception to that. Really, a lot of the credit goes to Peter [Lenkov] because Peter thinks I can do this type of material, so he’ll write this stuff for me, which is really great. He is a wonderful boss to work for. He always takes my call, and we’re able to talk and create things in a collaborative fashion. I’ve always had that kind of opportunity with pretty much all the showrunners that I’ve ever worked with. Peter deserves a lot of the credit because, if it isn’t on the page, we don’t just make things up out of thin air. I’ll ad-lib some stuff and they’ll keep it, but primarily, it is the showrunner’s responsibility to put something out there that you can play and that people want to see. Peter is really generous in giving me the opportunity to showcase my skill set, and it’s worked out pretty well, so far.
Every time someone gets added to the Five-O team, they need to earn respect and find their place, and your character has done that. What does Lou Grover think of McGarrett and Danny, now that he’s spent a bit of time with them?
McBRIDE: Unbeknownst to people who watch the show, I never looked at Lou as really being an antagonist of McGarrett, even from the beginning. A lot of times, when people bump heads, it’s because of how similar they are, as opposed to how opposite they are. The truth of it is that the source of them not being able to get along was just professional jealousy. They both have the same objectives. The way I played it was that Lou felt like, “Imagine what I could do, if I could go after that criminal by any means necessary.” If you talk to many law enforcement officers, they think the most important thing is putting away the bad guy, and they view technicalities as a constraint on their function. I think Lou is the same way. He has a great deal of respect for all of the Five-O team, and being a part of that was something that he probably secretly wished he was, so when the opportunity presented itself, he jumped at it.
The audience knows about the secret investigation into the Five-O team, but they’re not aware of what’s going on. Do you think this team is tight enough to survive whatever happens, as a result of that?
McBRIDE: That’s why God made Season 7. Obviously, yes. I think that it’s very well-documented and well-established that these people have each other’s backs, they respect each other and care for each other deeply, and they’re a part of the team. I think the show showcases that quite well.
With Season 7 already locked in, is there anything you’d still like to learn about or explore, in this character?
McBRIDE: I don’t really think about it that deeply. When ideas pop into my head, I pick up the phone and call Peter and talk to him about it, but I don’t really think that deeply into it. Peter is a very, very talented showrunner, and he’s capable of coming up with those ideas on his own. That’s what he gets paid for. I pretty much leave that to him. If an idea pops into my head, that’s when I’ll pick up the phone and call.
Is it cool to also get to voice a character like Nick Fury, or do you ever get jealous that you can’t bring him to life in live-action form?
McBRIDE: I’m of the school of thought that what’s for you is for you. Not for a very long time, and probably not since I was in grade school, did I feel the emotion of jealousy. It’s just not for me. What’s for you is for you, and for nobody else. Jealousy is like trying to reach into somebody’s pocket and trying to take what they have. If you do that, sooner or later, somebody is going to be reaching into yours. So, I’ve just never been of the mind-set, “He has, therefore I lack.” Societally, we’re moving in that direction and it’s unfortunate, but I don’t really give anybody else’s career a second thought, in that way. I just don’t look at my profession in a possessive way. I’m grateful and thankful, as a means of making a contribution to society and as a way to feed my family through my job and my career. That’s about the extent of it. To look at other actors and wish that I was doing what they do is just pointless.
When you’re doing a show like Hawaii Five-O that is always so physical, is it fun to get to bring a character to life with only your voice?
McBRIDE: Yeah, it’s great. You have to value every single way you have the opportunity to make a living. Just by talking, if you can make a living and be successful, that’s great. I enjoy the time that I do the animation. I love it because you can have morning breath and B.O., if you want, and still do it. It’s a lot of fun because the kids get a kick out of it. When I was a kid, I watched these kinds of cartoons. It gives you a cool factor with the younger audience, which is always good.
Hawaii Five-O airs on Friday nights on CBS.