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Dylan McDermott on Going Undercover

Dylan McDermott is best known for his Golden Globe–winning role as attorney Bobby Donnell in ABC’s The Practice. Since then, he’s played a cosmetics exec on the short-lived series Big Shots and appeared onstage in The Treatment by Eve Ensler (his adoptive mother) and Three Changes by Nicky Silver. Now he’s back on TV as Lieutenant Carter Shaw, head of a team of undercover cops, on Jerry Bruckheimer’s new TNT show, Dark Blue. Vulture spoke to McDermott last week.

What was it about the script that attracted to you to Dark Blue?
I just like that whole world, that underworld of cops. I always thought it was a great backdrop for a show. I actually tried to develop one a couple of years ago that I wrote. And I don’t know, the idea of being a cop, playing different characters, the undercover stuff, Bruckheimer, TNT, cable — all those things were really appealing to me.

So was it the undercover aspect that stood out to you? Obviously there are a ton of cop shows on TV.
You’re right, I mean, there’s cop shows, there’s lawyer shows, and there’s doctor shows. Yeah, I think the undercover thing is definitely not the same as all the other cop shows.

It seems like we’re slowly getting clues about your character’s background, like about his wife. How much have the writers told you?
You know what? It’s kind of a work-in-progress. We go along through the season, and I’ll sit down and talk to them about how much is to be revealed, how much not to. But I will tell you, by episode ten, all that stuff is going to be sort of put to rest in terms of the wife. That’s the thing about TV — it’s kind of revealed along the way. I remember one time on The Practice, we must have shot 25 episodes or something, maybe even more, and all of a sudden I discovered I was having an affair with Lindsay. And that was in one script. So sometimes they drop a bombshell on you.

You mentioned that being on cable was a big draw. How different has it been being on cable versus network TV?
Well, the schedule is just so much easier. I mean, when you’re doing network television —I did 7 years of 24, 23 episodes a year, 10 months out of the year, and 12, 15 hours a day. That schedule takes a big toll on you. There’s nothing else but that. You’re so exhausted and giving everything you have to that job. So I really wasn’t interested so much in that as in ten to fifteen episodes a year, where I can work six months and have six months off. And I definitely wanted to do something different and edgier that you can’t do on network television. This show could never exist on network television — more language, darker material, more sexual stuff. It’s too sanitized on network TV.

According to IMDb, Jerry Bruckheimer has like fifteen projects in development. How much interaction do you have with him?
[Laughs] Does he have fifteen in development? Oh my God! You know, I’ve been known Jerry over the years. I would meet him and see him at different events, so we’ve been friendly over time. But is he on the set every day? No. I mean, he’s got to be in the office just working and working and developing so many projects. But I know that he’s 100 percent behind the show. So much of the time, shows get just a little run, you know — I mean, I was very fortunate that I had a show that ran for seven seasons, but now six episodes, and you’re out. It’s really difficult nowadays to sustain an audience. So, yeah, definitely, you want protection. It’s like going to prison. You want that protection because most of the time you’re going to get sliced up.

What type of research did you do for the role as an undercover cop?
I met with the LAPD. I hung out with them. I went down to the Newton division and interviewed cops down there. I went on ride-alongs with them. It was fascinating to hang around these guys because, like my character, it’s all about what’s hidden. Everything they’re saying, you have to kind of decipher and figure out what they’re really saying. There’s a lot of hidden stuff that undercover cops — they just live that world and it’s interesting because that’s what I try to use in my character. It’s what’s hidden, it’s what he’s not giving you.

It seems a little weird to me that they don’t really wear disguises. How do they not get recognized by these criminals?
Well, that was kind of an issue with the show, to not do disguises. Because I guess there have been shows before that have failed where people are wearing fake beards and mustaches and hats and what-have-you. I did talk to cops about that, and one of the guys who works for us said he never wore a disguise and no one ever recognized him in his, I don’t know, 25 years. So I just think that you’re running in different circles. You’re dealing with different criminals all the time. One episode, one person was made, and we dealt with that — I think that Dean [Logan Marshall-Green] knocked him out or something.

You have two pretty young kids. Are they allowed to watch it?
No. Actually, they came to the set the other day, and I was doing a scene where I had to pull a gun on a guy, and my kids were like off to the side, and I was like, “This is something they really shouldn’t see.”

Do you have any other projects coming up besides this?
No, this is it right now. I have a movie called Burning Palms — I’m not sure when that’s coming out — also about the dark side of L.A. Darker characters that live in the L.A. area.

Are you also a cop?
No. Now I’m going to get all cop roles. After The Practice, it was all lawyer roles.

And then you can play a doctor after that.
Yeah, exactly.

Dylan McDermott on Going Undercover