We take a look at another TNT favorite during our day of set visits

After our visit in Sylmar for the Saving Grace set visit, we all hopped back on the bus back to Hollywood and met up with the cast of The Closer, the immensely-successful series starring Kyra Sedgwick. We were watching the season premiere on the bus, but I had already seen it. It's quite a fine season premiere that deals with an immense fire that stars in Griffith Park, with an old face from the end of the first season showing up. They led us into this nice little cafe-type thing on the studio lot where we all sat down at different tables and were greeted by various members of the cast. It was musical chairs after that, as the cast members rotated from one table to the next until all the roundtable interviews had been conducted. It should be noted that there are portions of these sessions that were omitted simply because they were inaudible with everyone in the same room. The first table I sat down at just happened to be the one that Kyra Sedgwick, who plays the hard-hitting Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson, Corey Reynolds, who plays Sgt. David Gabriel and Jon Tenney, who plays Johnson's wife and FBI agent Fritz Howard. Here's what this talented group had to say about this program.

Kyra Sedgwick, Corey Reynolds and Jon Tenney

Some of the press material talked about this season being about power and loss. Can you talk a little bit about what you meant by that?

Kyra Sedgwick: Well, last year was about family. These are subtle themes. These are fun things for the audience to know about because every episode will deal with power in some way. It will deal with how we feel when we're powerful and when we're not, when we are powerless and we actually don't think we have any power. The first episode, there's a fire and Brenda is just completely out of her league. She's from Atlanta and there aren't fire like this in Atlanta. Everybody around her is sort of overwhelmed and out of her league too. There's very little to go on and then Croelick (Jason O'Mara; from Season 1) shows up, who's the one who got away. I know that Brenda feels that way and I think everyone feels that way. There was this weird connection with him that when he's in her life, she gets really spun around. That is witnessed by the end of the last scene. She feels culpable and some shame that she brought it on herself. It's something that's totally out of her hands, out of her control. The idea of keeping everything in boxes is a way to sort of compartmentalize her life. Of course, it's the craziest thing every. She feels out of control in that first episode.

How far into the season are you and did you guys start any earlier?

Corey Reynolds: We started later because there was the writers strike. We were about seven weeks behind.

So what kinds of things did you do in those two months to kind of fill the time?

Jon Tenney: I actually did work on a couple of movies that were already greenlit and were going. They did a remake of a movie called The Stepfather, Dylan Walsh and I. I did another movie, also for Sony actually, called Legion. Those are going to come out in 2009.

Were you the Stepfather?

Jon Tenney: I was actually the real father, who pieces it all together and then dies (Laughs).

In Kyra's character arc, it seems like you guys switch roles, with Kyra being harder to deal with and Corey being easier to deal with. Jon, you seem to be the rock and are more challenging to her. Is that intentional?

Corey Reynolds: I've theorized for some time, with some people, there's a duality to their life. A lot of times, a relationship you have at home with a loved one, is emulated or reflected on the relationship you may share with someone at work. I think, in a lot of ways, I become her at-work Fritz and in some ways he's her at-home Gabriel, in a sense that we provide different things to her for what she needs at that moment. I think we both take on that role, me at work and Jon at home. I think the difficulty comes, in the beginning Gabriel didn't have much experience to pull from and in the course of these three years, what he's seen and what he's been a part of, he can create an opinion. Sometimes, his opinion isn't always the wisest one, especially when it challenges her opinion, in particular. It's a matter of growing, just like a family.

Last season, Corey, you looked angry at Brenda's character and I was wondering if your anger is going to continue this season?

Corey Reynolds: I think some new things arise this season that creates the tension between Brenda and my character. I don't think it's so much anger with her, as opposed to the situation. I don't think he's ever angry with her. I think he might be disappointed or frustrated with how she might be handling something, versus how he might have handled it, but I don' t think it's ever anger. Ultimately, he knows that she's going to do what's best, and I think he supports that.

Kyra and Jon, will there be a lot more deepening of the ties with your two characters as well in this season?

Jon Tenney: Yeah, definitely. A lot more tension arises too.

Kyra Sedgwick: A lot more tension, a lot more honesty. I think it's just going to be a constant slow boil.

Jon Tenney: We had a big fight that we never ended.

Well, your biggest one was you not telling her about AA.

Jon Tenney: Yeah, well that whole dynamic continues. I like to look at the fact, personally, that this is two addicts. One person is trying to be conscious of it and the other person is trying to be not conscious about it (Laughs).

After that it was time for the musical chairs to get into swing and we were then joined by the foursome of Tony Dennison, who plays Lt. Andy Flynn, Gina Ravera, who plays Detective Irene Daniels and the love interest of Corey Reynolds' Gabriel character, Phillip Keene, who plays the squad's surveillance expert Buzz Watson and G.W. Bailey, who plays the cranky Detective Lr. Provenza. Here's what this interesting group of actors had to say.

Tony Dennison, Gina Ravera, Phillip Keene and G.W. Bailey

The fans are really responding to this show. How does that make you feel?

Tony Dennison: It's really nice to be appreciated and it's a very hot show, as far as cable is concerned. We have a really tremendously large audience. They've said if we still didn't have half our audience, we'd still be the number one show on cable, by leaps and bounds, so that's how popular we are and it's great to be a part of it.

What do you get recognized most for, since you've done a bunch of different things over the years?

Tony Dennison: I've been getting a lot of notice from The Closer, but I used to do another show that I can't mention, but I get a lot of notice from that and Playmakers, the football series. OK, I think we can mention it, Crime Story. It's nice to be a part of some really good shows. The Closer is very quickly going to become legendary, if for no other reason than how greatly it's been received.

G.W., are you as cantankerous a person as you are a character?

Tony Dennison: Hell yeah!

G.W. Bailey: Today, in particular.

Because of this?

G.W. Bailey: No, it's just some days you get up on the wrong side. I have been cantankerous today, haven't I.

Tony Dennison: Have been? Have been? Still are (Laughs).

Jason O'Mara, I know there's no definite return of him...

Tony Dennison: Yes, Bill Croelick, yes.

Did you enjoy his energy on the set?

Tony Dennison: Oh, this is the second time he's been on the show.

G.W. Bailey: He's great.

Phillip Keene: He was really great.

Tony Dennison: It was great to have him back. He's a terrific actor. He's got a series he's shooting in Newark.

Phillip Keene: That's the one thing about our casting director. He finds a lot of really interesting people to bring in. It's not the usual people you see on other shows that are just rotating from network to network.

Do you want him to come back on the show?

Tony Dennison: I wouldn't mind having him back again. It would be fun. The thing that's really cool about this show, for many of the guest stars, I would say about 99% of them, whatever they do on this show is worthy of putting on their reel. It's that kind of scene when you're the guest star or the guest murder, or whatever.

Phillip Keene: I think generally it's a very good place just to come in to work. Everybody is accommodating and very nice to our guest stars. On other sets, I hear, maybe it's not the same experience.

Gina, you're one of two female cast members. Having so man men around you, do you like the way your character has gone over the course of the four seasons?

Gina Ravera: Yes, I am the only other female and the writers have said that the relationship between the other woman functions more like most women. They observed in the professional environment, if it's male-dominated, women actually choose to distance themselves from one another, rather than create some bond because they're behavior is being observed. This is a show about a woman being in a man's world and Brenda's character chooses the most efficient manner, which would be to not bond with the other female. Most of the cases you see on the show are real. The fans responded to the show the first year because it was seeming to be a place that everybody lived in, rather than in the plastic world.

G.W. Bailey: One of my favorite lines in the first three years was about this relationship, in a quirky way. Brenda had found out that her lipstick was way too bright...

Gina Ravera: I remember that.

G.W. Bailey: So she finally asked a personal question of Gina's character. She said, 'Did you know that it was too bright?' Gina nodded yes and Kyra said, 'Why didn't you tell me the truth?' And Gina said, 'The same reason I never told you about the sweaters you wear.' It was such a wonderful line.

Gina Ravera: But I was very apologetic. But, working with the boys, no, I don't have to start anything. I'm as bad as they can be. I grew up with a bunch of guys and I know more than I should know.

Tony Dennison: There's one thing I'd like to add. Most cop shows or detective shows, they have a technical advisor and we have one as well. His name is Detective Mike Birchem. Now, the interesting thing for us is not only is he great at what he does as a detective, as Gina was mentioning before that a lot of them are from real life, he's got some of the most incredible cases, that he's shared with the writers. They've dramatized and condensed them but we've got some great stories.

Gina Ravera: I have to say that as a person and as an actor, that's the most difficult thing on this show. I'm working on, what is a great story, but this is something that actually happened in the city that I live in. I do not live my life the same way because of this show. I'm always urging people to look in their back seat or look around the corners when I used to be not like that.

G.W. Bailey: This second episode is actually based on a case from this past year. These two old women who pick up these indigents.

And at that, our time was up and the musical chairs continued to our last table with the last and biggest group of the day. Joining us in this packed table were actors J.K. Simmons, who portrays Assistant Police Chief Will Pope, Robert Gossett, who plays Commander Taylor, Michael Paul Chan, who plays Lt. Mike Tao, Raymond Cruz, who plays Detective Julio Sanchez and series creator James Duff. Whew. Thankfully this was the longest segment and everyone had a chance to chime in. Here's what this quintet had to say.

J.K. Simmons, Robert Gossett, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz and James Duff.

Juno 2!

J.K. Simmons: Yeah, I don't know. I mean, how many times do you wanna get knocked up? (Laughs)

So what do you get recognized more for, J.K.?

J.K. Simmons: Actually, at this point, it's spread out quite a bit now. It sort of depends on what's airing. Right now, it's a lot from Juno but I think that when our episodes start airing in a week or two, that it will go back to being a lot of recognition for this.

Do you think there will be a Spider-Man 4?

J.K. Simmons: There will, I'm told. Nobody's signed anything on any dotted line yet and I don't think there's an actual script yet. You know what? They make the deal first, they're working backwards. They've announced that Spider-Man 4 will be a Memorial Day 2011 and they start the marketing campaign from there and that at some point, theoretically, they will write and cast the movie and maybe Sam (Raimii) will direct it again.

Tell us a little about this season of The Closer.

James Duff: Well, this season we're doing several different dramatic riffs off that main theme. Kyra vs. the fire, the squad vs. the fire, two different law enforcement agencies in the same county going head to head. I suppose Tony and G.W. told you about their little experience losing the evidence.

No, they didn't.

James Duff: Oh, we called them the "Flynn and Provenza Episodes," where things go terribly wrong, "Rocky and Bullwinkle" style. It's sort of the "McHale's Navy" episode where things go wrong and Brenda tries to hide it and everybody gets involved. This time they're involved in a detective murder sting and Provenza puts all the evidence in his car and while he and Flynn are treating the suspect to a final lunch, someone steals his car, with all the evidence in it. So they're forced to let her go.

That's the entertaining side of law enforcement.

James Duff: You know, we did an episode once where we open a garage and we found a dead body in there. They were like, 'Well, should we go to the baseball game or...' Actually, a guy from New Orleans told a story about this place with a canal. One side is a New Orleans parrish and the other side is another New Orleans parrish. It was late and they found the body on their side of the canal and they pushed it off so it landed on the other side. It's just like any other job, really, and that's what I think is really good about our show, in what we're trying to achieve anyway, is treating this like a real job.

J.K. Simmons: And to show the characters - there's a certain nobility to doctors, teachers, firefighters, the people who are speaking for the victims, the police officers and the detectives. There's an inherent nobility in that, but I think, as James said, sometimes we have to back off and say, 'You know what, they don't like coming to work every day either.' Not everybody is 100% dedicated to their job and it's real life, so lets have fun with that.

James Duff: And not all murderers are terrible people.

J.K. Simmons: Yeah, there are gray areas.

James Duff: There are gray areas and we deal with that. We call it "respect for the devil" on the show. Sometimes you're sitting there and you're hearing their side of it and you're almost agreeing with it. You had a point, up until the murder.

Do you have actors that can do the funny when you need to?

James Duff: Oh my God, yes. I'm thinking of a scene that Michael Paul Chan did recently. Actually, it's one of our lighter episodes, but it's not a light episode. They find a dead body in an alley and he pulls back the sheet and Brenda goes 'What the hell?' and Michael Paul Chan just goes, 'Maaagarrritas!' (Laughs). It was just written as "margaritas" but the way he said it was 'Maaagarrritas!' We laughed so hard. The way he did it was just wonderful. You find moments like that. That's how his character expresses humor. Raymond's character is tougher. He's funny and threatening at the same time. Then J.K. and Robert both have, even in that same scene, she complements Robert's tie.

You've got such a great lead cast. Do some of you guys get jealous if you don't get to do as much?

Robert Gossett: You can become frustrated.

J.K. Simmons: The ball gets thrown around a lot. You can find in any given episode, there will be one or two of the ten or 11 supporting actors in the cast. One of the benefits of this job, frankly, is that most of us aren't coming to work five days a week, unless your initials are K.S. You get some time off to be home with the wife and kids and then when you come to work you get some fun stuff to do. I always look at it as the glass is always half-full. If I had a lot to do, that's great, if I had less to do, I'm living my life.

How hard is it to keep all these plates spinning, with such a large cast? Do you have a giant white board?

James Duff: We do have a lot of giant white boards, but we don't have a lot of stuff written down on them. Fortunately, we're not a soap opera, so the characters, you can tune into an episode of The Closer, without ever having seen a previous episode, and enjoy the show in that episode. Hopefully it's not Episode 9 from our first year (Laughs). But you can sit in and watch an episode and you'll get it. That's the nice thing. Another great thing is having this abundance of talent just around the room. It's an amazing group of people to be working with.

J.K. Simmons: On both sides of the camera too.

Are there crew members that have been there from the beginning?

Raymond Cruz: Cameramen. I think the camera operators have been.

James Duff: Greg LaVoi is our costume designer and he's been in on every episode of The Closer. Andy Sachs, who's our line producer and who I really feel is like an executive producer. His official title is line producer but his unofficial title is camp counselor.

J.K. Simmons: We've got grips that have been here, electricians.

Robert Gossett: What's different is with the cameras. We're never off camera. Even when you think you're off camera. If you reach for something, they grab it, so you're never off camera.

J.K. Simmons: And that's (cinematographer) Brian's (J. Reynolds) style.

What jobs had you previously done that had most prepared you for this?

Robert Gossett: Working off of Broadway in New York.

Raymond Cruz: Yeah, theater. A lot of theater.

J.K. Simmons: It's one of the few casts in L.A., I can't think of an exception, where you'll find so many actors with a theater background.

Michael Paul Chan: Theater training permits you to act all in a group.

Was that deliberate, having so many theater actors?

James Duff: Absolutely. I come from the theater myself. I think there's just a sense of pace that theater actors learn to develop, interior pace, the sense of rhythm. I'm thinking, if they can sell Shakespeare, than they can sell me. Shakespeare is hard to do, so my feeling is if they can get that across, then they're ready.

What would be your dream Shakespeare role to play?

Raymond Cruz: Lady MacBeth

Robert Gossett: Hamlet. Hamlet.

J.K. Simmons: I'd have to pick at least two, because I'd have to pick a comedy and a tragedy. I'd like to do (inaudible) and I'd like to do the Scottish play, the Scottish King.

What are your thoughts on the possible actors strike?

James Duff: I'm knocking on wood. I'm thinking there's a good chance that it gets settled. Whatever SAG decides, I'll support.

J.K. Simmons: We're a long way from where we need to be.

James Duff: I feel that SAG supported us, very very strongly, and I feel that we have an obligation to support each other. I'm hoping they work it out, but there's no question in my mind as to what side I'm on in this. Here's the big problem. These are giant corporations. These are not studios, they're all entertainment divisions of giant corporations and they don't care about us as individuals. We have no power as individuals. If they wanted to flip, and this is really what the last strike was about, if they wanted to flip everything and shoot it all for the web and ancillary markets, and make up the prizes as they go along, there is absolutely nothing we could've done about it. Nothing. When you say, 'it's a shame for these crews,' that's certainly why I worked so hard on the strike. We have a great crew and they are being beaten up every which way to Sunday. This is union work and it's one of the last union, profit-making areas of our economy, and I'm not yet ready to surrender it to the corporations. I think, if they're willing to screw us, the writers, just think what they're going to do to the people in the make-up room or props. We don't want those jobs to go away, we don't want those people to go away.

We know the end of June is coming, there's no way to speed it up. You can't do twice as many shows in the same amount of time, or the quality will suffer.

J.K. Simmons: That's why our show and our writing staff, we had 11 weeks between the end of the strike and before we started back to work, because, they weren't actually sitting at home writing, they were actually on strike, honoring what all writers should've been. I was, frankly, appalled at how quickly some shows were back on the air after the strike ended. That's what's put us in the position that we're in and we're coming up on a hiatus week now because we've caught up to where the writers have been able to get out six quality scripts.

After that our time was up and we were through with all of the interviews and it was time for a nice lunch. Lunch on a set or a studio is always one of the perks of the job because it's always just amazing food. When we were done with the amazing lunch, line producer Andy Sachs was showed us around a few of the sets. We got to see the interior of Brenda and Fritz's house, the exterior of which is in the Fairfax District of L.A. and I was particularly shocked by the bathroom, because it is easily bigger than the bedroom of my one-bedroom Hollywood apartment. Insane. The whole house has to be pretty huge, actually, to accommodate all the equipment and such, so every room is probably a little less than double the size of a normal room, even though it looks normal on TV. After that we went into the police station and just walked around many of the different rooms of the precinct. While it would've been cool to see a few scenes being shot, it was still very cool just to be on these actual sets, where all the magic happens, so to speak.

Well, that about sums up Part II of My Day With TNT on the set of The Closer. The fourth season premieres on Monday July 14 at 9 PM ET on TNT. This premiere, entitled "Controlled Burn" gets the season off to a blazing start (pun intended) and any fan of the show, new or old, should get a kick out of it. Also, be sure to keep an eye out for my last segment of My Day With TNT, where I go on the set of Steven Bochco's new legal drama, Raising the Bar, which should premiere on TNT sometime this fall, and stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Gloria Reuben, and Jane Kaczmarek. Until the next time, my friends. Peace in. Gallagher out!