From "Serpico" to "Wiseguy" to "Donnie Brasco," undercover cops continue to be one of film and television's core staples. Tonight marks TNT's first foray into the genre with "Dark Blue." From executive producer Jerry Bruckheimer and co-creators Danny Cannon and Doug Jung, the series stars Dylan McDermott as Carter Shaw, the leader of an off-the-books team of undercover police officers who try to take down LA's worst criminals... by any means necessary. McDermott, along with co-stars Omari Hardwick, Logan Marshall-Green and Nicki Aycox, recently took a break from production to chat about the series and their high hopes for it.
"I think this is the show that he's wanted to make for a very long time," McDermott says about co-creator/director Danny Cannon. "This has been something that's been inside of him a long time, to make something so gritty and so dark for television - which you don't normally get to do, especially on network television. This show would never exist on network. It would be homogenized and all the characters would be heroic and we're not heroic and that's the best thing about this show is that we're really human beings."
"As an actor, the idea of these guys breaking the rules is something appealing as well," says Logan Marshall-Green, who plays the ethically-challenged Dean Bendis. "Actors playing actors who break rules... that's how I approach [it]." Co-star Omari Hardwick, who plays conflicted family man Ty Curtis, agrees: "I think we were all excited about this career because you get to sort of step outside of yourself for a while so it's really rare to come across a character or a show or a movie that allows you to completely play maybe four or five different characters within a season, let alone a week."
It's a facet that helps stave off the usual weekly grind of making a television show. "That's the reason I did the show was to have that because, you know, sometimes if you do serialized television over time playing the same character kind of wears you down," McDermott admits. "So I thought in this show it would be interesting to play different characters to keep it alive so you don't feel like it's getting stale."
So how did McDermott come to "Dark Blue?" "Much of the time as an actor you sit around waiting, most of your life and career, you're waiting for your agent to call you, your manager to call you, you're waiting for good news somewhere. And the day that I got the call that Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to sit down with me was a great day. Because any time you're involved with him, you know that it's going to be a great project." He later adds that "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, again, to play different characters within a season would be a tremendous thing to do as an actor."
For Hardwick though "Dark Blue" marks a personal milestone. "Playing a cop goes a long way," he says. "You know, I had a lot friends that were working as actors and as soon as I started to play military characters or cops and not the actual criminal that we're chasing in the show, they all said you can actually have a career now." Marshall-Green also admits to his own transformation as of late: "I shaved my head I think like a year ago in April and all I've done [since] is play soldiers and cops. Before that I played the loudmouth, foppish asshole. And now I guess you shave your head, a career follows."
Nicki Aycox, who rounds out the quartet as rookie-with-a-past Jaimie Allen, sees the real draw as the unique relationship between the characters. "Our characters... they intertwine. They know each other's personal lives and things that are going on, our troubles, and so it's not always just about the case but it's also about how each one of them are dealing with their personal life and [about] being an undercover cop and how they help each other through it as well."
Since signing on McDermott has taken it upon himself to learn about his character's profession. "I personally hung out with the LAPD and undercover cops and talked to them and went on [ride-alongs], which was very interesting because we'd stop and talk to people. And this one instance we were talking to about 10 gang members, we got out of the car and hung out with them for like 45 minutes. And then we got back in the car and the cop said to me, 'You know that was a little uncomfortable for me because I killed his brother two years ago.' And I was just like, 'Oh, I wish you told me that before we got out of the car.' So you see in that moment, I understood that there's such duality in this, in these guys... it was all about what they weren't telling me, what they were hiding. And they would hide so much. They've learn to hide so much in their life and that's what I use mostly in my character is what am I not telling you, what am I hiding?"
McDermott is also quick to dismiss any comparisons to another LA-based gritty cop show, NBC's "Southland." "That's a really good show but that's a very different show, he says. "This is undercover police work but I think there's an emptiness to the way the show is filmed. There's a hollowness to LA, there's a vastness to it. It's not palm trees and Beverly Hills, it's more the downtown landscape and the smog and the filtration of that we enter. It's sort of like, a little bit of Michael Mann's 'Collateral' in there as well. I mean there's that LA that we're aiming for."
Marshall-Green hopes that viewers find that "LA is a character in this show, it's kind of the fifth character so there's iconic areas if you're familiar with LA you'll get a sense of it, which I think is great.
Here and there that character is there, LA's a big part of it."
The actor, best known for his work on ABC's "Traveler" and FOX's "The O.C.," also feels like the show is just starting to hit its stride. "It takes a while for writers to get to know actors' rhythms, not just as actors but what they're bringing to the character so, you know, I think it takes a few episodes for the writing room to catch up to the actors and vice-versa. One example is one of the writers came up to me during a scene. He said, 'You know... you're coming off a little misogynistic.' And I said, 'Good. I actually do think he's a misogynist.' Because personally I'm attracted to the flaws. He's still likeable, he's something of a charmer, but ever since then I've been getting more like, let's say, 'honey's thrown in there. And so that marriage starts to form."
It's Bruckheimer himself though that McDermott credits for making "Dark Blue" such a unique experience. "I feel a great protection working with him, like he loves the show, I feel like he's behind the show 100%... If Jerry Bruckheimer wasn't producing this show I don't know if we would have gotten the attention that we're getting now. I think with his name stapled on it, it just goes a long way, it just does."
And now that they're playing morally gray people in dangerous situations, is there anything they've done that felt as dangerous as their small screen exploits? While Aycox and Marshall-Green cite some safety scares in foreign countries, McDermott professes he's attempted the most dangerous thing of all: playing Jackson Latcherie in "Steel Magnolias."
"Dark Blue" premieres tonight at 10:00/9:00c on TNT.