From groundbreaking TV series such as The Shield, Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me to Damages, Sons of Anarchy and the recent hit Justified, FX has been on the cutting edge of cable television for over a decade now. Premiering this week on the network is a new series from The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, Screenwriter Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven) and director Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow) called Terriers starring Donal Logue (Life), MichaelRaymond-James (True Blood) and Rockmond Dunbar (Prison Break).
The series is set in Ocean Beach, a community near San Diego, California and revolves around an ex-cop, Hank Dolworth (Logue), who partners with former-thief Britt Pollack (Raymond-James), to form an unlicensed private investigation company. As the series unfolds, Hank realizes that something is not right in his small beach community and he and Britt dedicate themselves to getting to the bottom of it. But as the bodies start pilling up, the clues lead Hank to believe that there may be connections between these crimes and his own discharge from the police force. Reluctantly helping Hank and Britt in their investigations is Hank's former-partner Detective Mark Gustafson (Dunbar) and his attorney Maggie Lefferts (Jamie Denbo, Yes Man). We had an opportunity earlier this summer to travel down to San Diego to visit the set of the new series and speak with some of the members of the cast.
Upon arrival we spoke to actor Michael Raymond-James who plays Britt on the series but is probably best known to television audiences for his role as serial killer Rene Lenier on the first season of HBO's bloody-hit series True Blood. The actor began by explaining why a former-criminal like Britt would team-up with a former-cop like Hank. "My character used to be a small-time, non-violent kind of a criminal, a breaking and entering type thief. Donal's character, Hank, has a drinking problem and was kicked off the force for that amongst other things. We had had a minor run in some years past, so when he got booted off the force my name popped into his head as someone who could potentially help him with the private investigation thing because of my ninja skills. So that's kind of where it started for Hank and Britt," explained Raymond-James. We followed up by asking the actor to go into more detail about his so-called "ninja skills." "Man, they haven't invented a jail that can keep me," he replied. "I break in and break out of just about everything, every apartment and house. I'm very stealthy and sneaky."
After he left True Blood the actor actually appeared on an episode of Logue's former series Life so we asked the actor if working together in the past has helped him and Logue in creating the relationship between the characters on this show? "That's where he and I first met. So we worked together on Life. He was carrying around a book, Jack Kerouac's "Big Sur." He was doing an adaptation of it for a screenplay and when I saw that we sort of hit it off. We just started discussing the beats, Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg; it was always very easy. We became fast friends and then we moved in together down here when we were cast in the series," Raymond-James explained. He went onto to discuss the moment when he realized that he wanted to be a part of this series. "Well, the moment in the pilot where I really knew that I was really part of the show was when Craig Brewer called and said, Welcome aboard. I wanted to be part of the show when I read the script and thought it was great. Also because I knew Craig, I've worked with him before as well and he's one of my favorite directors of all time."
Admittedly, the series has an unusual title and Raymond-James explained what the title means to him. "I think that terriers are not really the prettiest dogs. But they're scrappy, they're loyal, and they get it done, you know what I mean? There's a point in one of the episodes where we sort of explain it a little bit. We're talking about getting business cards and I suggest that maybe we have a logo to go on it and neither of us have any ideas. It's something that is tenacious and stubborn once it's on a case. It won't stop until it gets results. I think that sort of informs the title." The tone of the series is reminiscent of detective shows from the '80s and '90s so we asked the actor how he would describe the tone of the series and what past shows inspired him while shooting the first season? "I would describe the tone of the series as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, only in 2010 and in San Diego. As far as inspiration, I get plenty of inspiration from the scripts and working with the other actors, mainly with Donal. So I can't point to any TV shows in particular, and point to it and say, "That's been an inspiration for me on this show." Maybe the writers have theirs, but once I get the script they are inspiring and I just go with it."
The actor continued to discuss the tone of the series and in particular balancing the shows comedic and dramatic moments. "I would say that it's a drama that's funny. There's too much heart in it. We deal with some serious stuff in this, aside from things like violence or mental health issues and things come up in the first season, which are dealt with by not making fun of them. It's done pretty seriously, which doesn't mean that there aren't opportunities to laugh along the way. But I would definitely call it a drama with an infusion of comedy and hopefully you'll laugh." Finally, Raymond-James talked about FX and his hope that Terriers will find the same success that some of the networks other groundbreaking series have. "I hope it ranks up there with those shows. I hope that it's mentioned along side Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Sons of Anarchy and Rescue Me. That's an honor. All of those shows were pretty groundbreaking and fantastic. I don't know if we're groundbreaking or not, to be honest with you," the actor admitted. "I have no idea how it's going to be received. I'm not sure that's for me to answer. We do our job and then it'll be put out for the world to decide how good it is. I have no idea. I had no idea that True Blood was going to be the phenomenon that it was. I knew it was good, but I had no idea. I just grab my lunch box and clock in."
After the actor finished speaking to us it was time for him to go back to work. We had an opportunity to watch some of the filming of the show while we were waiting to speak with the series' star Donal Logue. On the day that we were visiting the set the crew was working on the season's final episode and while we can't say to much about what we saw them shooting, since it would give away major plot points, we can say that it involved Logue's Hank getting in and out of a police car. Logue was kind enough to chat with us between takes and even let us take a look inside the police car and have our pictures taken with ourselves handcuffed to the famous actor. Once they were done shooting the scene Logue accompanied us inside the location where we sat down and at length spoke to the actor about the new series.
Logue began by telling his side of how he and Raymond-James first met on Life and how that helped them create the characters for this show. "That was huge. You know, he did an episode of Life with actress Rachel Miner, who also appears in the pilot of this show. They were kind of this Manson duo that had a museum of the macabre and serial killing. We started talking that night and he was one of those guys that over the course of an eight-hour day, you feel like a life long friend. So he was the first person who auditioned for this show and when I saw him at the audition it was kind of like bad news for the other actors because we already knew each other," Logue explained. "He won the part but there was a little resistance at first because they had always envisioned Hank a little older and had envisioned Brit a little younger. But there was something about us together that carried this weight that was almost too much. We are similar to each other in a similar way but it was his performance that won everything out."
Raymond-James had mentioned that he and Logue had decided to live together in San Diego while shooting the series so we asked Logue how that was working out for him and if he thinks that it has helped build the dynamic between the two characters on the show? "We are roommates and it's been fantastic. I said, look I know this area. I'm going to rent a house and live at the beach. We could spend twice the amount of money staying at a hotel or we could live at the beach. We work so hard and we are in every scene so it's been really good to do that. We really said ... look if I'm going to be down here away from my kids then lets just give our selves a hundred percent to this thing so we kind of prepare for the days work at night and in the morning before work. It's been good. It's been helpful living together. He's like the easiest person in the world to kind of share a space with," explained Logue.
Logue, who is well known as a supporting actor in such feature films as Blade, Ghost Rider, the independent film Tao of Steve and recent films like Zodiac and Charlie St. Cloud also has a very impressive TV resume having starred on the hit Fox sitcom Grounded for Life for five seasons as well as the critically acclaimed yet short-lived series The Knights of Prosperity and Life. Not to mention that fans of MTV probably recognize him best as "Jimmy The Cab Driver" from their popular marketing campaign in the early '90s. Logue joined the cast of Life for their second and final season and had mentioned publicly that he took the role because he was looking forward to not having the pressure of feeling like he had to carry the series himself, as he had in the past, since he would be sharing the spotlight with the series' current star actor Damian Lewis. Since Logue is back in the spotlight with Terriers we wanted to know if he was feeling the pressure of carrying a brand new show again?
"Yeah it's a welcomed pressure," he explained. "But definitely the success of the show will hinge on, do you like these two guys? It might be a resounding no but its like any sport or something, you do it because you want the ball and its more fun. But there are different kinds of pressures too because guys like Damian (Lewis) or more ensemble shows like George Clooney, Noah Wyle and Anthony Edwards in the ER days, its like they set the tone for the culture of the set, if it's a happy work environment or if it is going to be heavy. If that person is difficult than it's like everyone has a license to be difficult. So there are added responsibilities too. Damian on Life was kind of like the General. Executives are like the Gods but that day-to-day person who you look to on the set is someone like Damian so it's a welcomed responsibility for me," Logue stated.
"That being said, the most important thing in television is the writing and good actors can be made to look silly by bad shows," continued the actor. "So if this show does really well the only addition that Michael and I bring to it is being lucky that everyone thought we could carry the show. We make this weird widget of American television shows, and we make them better than anyone around the world and they demand a workhorse crowd. So I think the writers on this show are amazing. I've always wanted to work with Shawn Ryan and Adam Arkin, who also starred on Life, directed two episodes. I've done a couple hundred different hours of TV at this point and I like guys like Adam because they are smart, unflappable and diplomatic. It's really important that you have quality around you to make the environment safe." The actor also went on to discuss the network that he is now working for. "John Landgraf is not only one of the brightest executives I've ever encountered he's one of the most nicest human beings that I've ever met in my entire life. He doesn't make stupid, arbitrary decisions. He's really smart and also very kind and he has a real vision for his thing. I think FX is thriving. They know what they want and they don't need a focus group to tell them what they want. FX seems like the right place to be," finished Logue.
In talking more about the characters on the series we asked Logue to explain how his character was kicked off the police force? "I was asked to leave. I was fired basically. But it's interesting, it only really come to light in the last couple of episodes (even for me) why it happened. It's been interesting because as an actor you always have to ... whether you've established it in the script or not, figure out what's happening in a season on television. Every actor has to have a secretive little toehold and foothold on that wall. So, I had my own kind of scenario of why I was fired and it turned out to be quite different," he explained. We followed up by asking the actor how often that happens in episodic television? How often he creates a scenario for his character only to have the writers change that idea later in the series? "In a way, it's not untruthful. As long as you have something specific to hold on to, it's this nebulous grey area that leads you," he began to answer. "I know everything about this guy, whether it plays, it's discussed or, it becomes part of something. It's similar to the characters we play here. I draw upon a lot of things to stabilize myself while remaining flexible to however the storyline goes."
I hope that there's a camaraderie between Michael and myself and there's an ease between us that reflects onscreen," he continued. Look, on one level or another, I've always felt that everything is One Life to Live. Whether it's One Life to Live or The Sopranos, there's always an element of soap opera in serial drama and comedy. It's just the quality of how you deliver that and how much you fight to make those moments real." Finally, we asked the actor about working with Rockmond Dunbar who plays his former partner Detective Mark Gustafson. "I love working with Rockmond, who is just a great guy and a super duper actor. Our characters have a big history together. It's like we were a couple. You know what I mean? He feels like I betrayed him, which in a way led to my dismissal from the police force. He's crucial to us as an officer who can operate within the law. We're crucial to him to do things that allow us to operate outside of the law. But he's just been fantastic to be around," finished Logue.
With that Logue went back to work and ironically actor Rockmond Dunbar walked in next and sat down with us to talk about the show. Dunbar is best known to audiences for his role on the hit series Prison Break as Fox Rivers inmate Benjamin Miles "C-Note" Franklin but he also appeared on the Showtime series Soul Food as well as the feature film Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. We began by asking the actor if after Prison Break it was nice to finally be on the right side of the law? "It's really interesting, because for the longest time I would always play the husband or the Dad, and I'm not married and I don't have any kids, which is funny. So yeah, it's something different. I did a number of pilots before where I played a detective, nothing ever really stuck, but this is sticking and it feels good. I love the character and it's lots of fun. I love that they let me keep Gustafson as the last name. It's the first thing that they asked me when I jumped on board the show. Donal and I hit it off right away and had great chemistry. He asked me if I wanted to keep the name and I said, yeah. It's fucking hilarious, a black guy with the last name Gustafson," Dunbar joked.
Since Logue had told us a little bit of the history between Hank and Gustafson, we asked Dunbar to give us his character's side of the story. "It's really interesting because everyone has a certain point of view or perspective on how they see the characters and mine is just a little bit different. But from the very beginning he has his demons that he's dealing with, I have my demons that I'm dealing with, and I'm telling him, control your demons. Control your demons. I'm controlling mine. I'm holding mine down," the actor explained. "He doesn't control his well enough and that's where it gets to the point that I'm pissed at him because he didn't control his demons and now I feel like he abandoned me. So now he's gone, he's doing his thing and I still have a little bit of animosity but we're helping each other." The actor continued to discuss one of the show's later episodes, which might shed some light on their character's past. "It's the same thing as Prison Break. It's the same thing where we have the flashback episode but it really only gives you tidbits of information, where the characters come from, how did they get here, what really happened, and I like that more. It gives us a chance as an audience to use our imagination instead of spoon-feeding them with exposition."
Dunbar also discussed the classic television series from the past that Terriers reminds him of. "There are impressions stuck in my head like Starsky and Hutch, Bo and Luke Duke and every superhero that you can possibly name. Sanford and Son and Miami Vice also come to mind. As far as my character on this show, I've always looked at The Rockford Files and said, I'm Dennis." Finally we asked the actor to tell us what he thinks the show's title really means? "I didn't title the show," Dunbar joked. "I just don't get it. Maybe it's because the characters are very resilient people? Terriers are very resilient. Maybe it's because of their tenacity? If you stick to something, you really stick to it and that's what we're doing. We're doing this thing that's not necessarily going to give us anything back. It's like a bouncing ball for a terrier, I guess?"