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Southland’s Tom Everett Scott on Poker, That Thing You Do!, and the Joy of Getting Shot

In the final shot of Southland’s first season — SPOILER ALERT — Tom Everett Scott’s character, LAPD detective Russell Clarke, was shot in the chest by an irate neighbor. For months, fans weren’t sure if he — or the critically acclaimed NBC show — would survive. Fortunately, TNT picked it up in fall 2009. In Southland’s third season, premiering tonight, Scott returns as Detective Clarke, who is still recovering from the physical and emotional trauma of being shot. Vulture talked to Scott about Southland’s guerrilla shooting style, his first job on the sitcom Grace Under Fire, and his distinguished poker career.

When your character was shot at the end of season one, did you have a period of time when you thought you were dead?
Yeah, it was like, Which writer did I say something inappropriate to? Whose parking space did I take? No, I didn’t think that was the end for me. And I was reassured that it wasn’t the end for that character. And it’s fun to get shot. People were like, have you ever done this before? And I was like, not since I was a little kid diving into the pool, pretending to get blown away. It’s a rite of passage.

Wikipedia says that NBC didn’t like your character.
That could be. Yeah, I don’t know — I heard that as well. So NBC. Yeah, well you know, they were batting a thousand back then, right?

Southland is reminiscent of Law & Order, in that you seem to be shooting in the heart of a very active city. What’s that like?
Yes. Like this season, I was shooting a scene with Regina King in the Farmers’ Market, which is this kind of crowded indoor-outdoor space with restaurants and coffee shops and all these little businesses. So we just went in there with a small crew and shot the scene; we used the people who actually really work at that coffee shop to serve us our coffee. And we really don’t tell any of the other people until it’s over that we’re shooting. And then I guess they get the proper releases from those people? I don’t know. They don’t fuzz out anybody’s faces on these things, but that’s not my job so I don’t worry about it. And no one yells “rolling” — we all just kind of know that we’re shooting.

Was there any police skill that you had to be corrected on a lot?
I’m not very coordinated, so cuffing someone while talking was difficult for me. We did a lot of cheating where that was concerned.

At the start of this season, Russell is still behind a desk. Are we going to see him getting a little more engaged in field work than he has been since the shooting?
Well, I guess the key thing that happened to Russell is that he’s no longer able to do the police work like he could before. So that’s gonna create a dramatic shift in his character, and you’ll just have to wait and see what happens after that.

What about Russell’s relationship with Lydia? I know that a lot of fans are hoping it turns romantic; can you lay odds on that?
I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I have heard that people are interested in that idea; I think that’s a great idea. It would be a really cool thing to see on television, because they seem to be such compatible characters. We’ll see. Regina King and I get along great, and we’re lucky that a lot of that comes through in the characters.

You had a lead in the Broadway show Little Dog Laughed in 2006, with Julie White …
One of my first jobs ever as an actor was working with Julie White on a sitcom called Grace Under Fire.

Have you two been in therapy together ever since?
We have definitely commiserated over the experience. She got the brunt of it. I only had to recur in a handful of episodes. But we would take our lunch breaks together and go hit golf balls and vent.

Your first high-profile role was in That Thing You Do! and everyone commented on how much you look like Tom Hanks. But you don’t, so much, anymore.
I look totally different now, right? I look way better than Tom Hanks?

Please tell us people don’t mistake you for him on the street …
No, no one ever really did. It was just that, at the time when we did all the press for the movie, all the things that were said were put down on paper and recorded on video and now have been cemented in my bio. It was Tom Hanks’s directorial debut, so there was some focus on it, and he cast a guy who was similar to him. It was a thing he was concerned about in the beginning, but luckily, not really concerned.

You were the first celebrity to make the finals of the World Poker Tournament. Are actors better or worse poker players than non-actors?
Oh, because it’s all about “lying” and doing a little “performance”? Actors should be better poker players. But I think there’s actual skill and crazy guts that you need to play poker, this ability to put all this money on the line inside of that game of cards. There’s this whole different set of skills that doesn’t apply to acting whatsoever. Actors, we like our little cups of cappuccino and our personal umbrella-holders. Poker players, they’ve gotta be a little bit tougher.

Southland’s Tom Everett Scott on Poker, That Thing You Do!, and the Joy of Getting Shot