Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Interview: Catching Up With Tim Griffin

Tim Griffin is one of those actors who you’ve probably seen in just about everything. The classic “Everyman,” Tim has been on "General Hospital," "24," “Party of Five,” “Grey’s Anatomy," "Cold Case," "Bones," Lie to Me" and ”ER.” He's also starred on the big screen, most recently in “Abduction,” “Fair Game,” “Super 8,” and “The Men Who Stare at Goats.” And now, you can catch him weekly on NBC’s “Prime Suspect” as Det. Augie Blando. I spoke with Tim recently about Det. Blando and how much fun he and the rest of the cast are having working on “Prime Suspect.”

Daytime Dial: When you first heard that the British hit “Prime Suspect” was going to be remade for American audiences, were you a bit apprehensive about how fans would receive the new show?

Tim Griffin: It wasn’t really until we started doing the initial press work that I realized, “OK, this is a sacred institution,” because I was a huge fan of the British series, too. It’s almost like a trial by fire that you have to go through. Can it be envisioned, reimagined with an American voice? Our partners are the original producers of the original “Prime Suspect,” so we have that entire canon of scripts at our disposal, and we have Peter Berg [as the executive producer and director]. It’s like its own new animal.”

DD: That’s very smart to do it that way, rather than trying to remake the British series, verbatim, you create your own niche with the original as your guideline.

TG: Right. That’s when it’s successful. If you look at shows like “The Office.” You can’t get more beloved than Ricky Gervais and the original “Office.” But I’m a huge fan of the American “Office.” I did “Leatherheads” with John Krasinski for four months. I think he’s one of the funniest people on the planet, and he’s not even one of the funniest people on that show. It’s just like they’ve created this quirky animal that’s so them. I can’t imagine it not set in Scranton, Pa.

And it’s the same thing with our show. This thing was such a perfect fit for Manhattan Homicide, but I think it’s also brilliant as a fan of the show. It’s not like they just used the title “Prime Suspect” and threw away the entire canon. There was an episode where the remnants of a murder in a storage facility were discovered, which was registered to the killer’s mother. Well, that’s right out of the original “Prime Suspect,” where you had this crazy, Joan Crawford-type mother who’s protecting her son. The son seems completely normal on the outside, but he’s got something about him — both Helen Mirren’s character in the original and Maria Bello’s character in our show can see something is off with this guy. When I see that, I can tell as a fan of the original show that they used that plot device, but they retold it in such a way that it’s almost like you’re not even aware that you’re watching sort of a tribute to something that came before. I am very happy that they are our partners, and that we have access to those brilliant cases and scripts.

DD: Tell me about your character, Detective Blando.

TG: The funny thing is, this wasn’t even the part that I was originally read for. And now looking back on it, I can’t imagine playing any other character. He is sort of like the class clown of the squad. All of these people have a dark humorous streak to them, because there is no way to do this job without a sense of humor. It doesn’t mean I’m any less effective as a homicide detective, just the guy who will always employ my natural personality. As an actor, I am normally brought in to do the heavy dramatic lifting or just outright comedy, so it’s nice to do a nuanced character like this. I’ve rarely gotten to do something that really sort of blends both. I don’t know if it’s because they saw that character in me or they tailored the character to fit my personality. It’s probably a little bit of both. I originally read for Kirk Acevedo’s character, who was originally named Detective Carter, but I can’t imagine anybody else playing Detective Calderon.

DD: The entire cast that Peter Berg has assembled for “Prime Suspect” is really phenomenal. What is it like working with them?

TG: We were amazed that they had assembled that cast, because normally you’ll get a couple of luminaries — you’ll get an Aidan Quinn and a Maria Bello, and they’ll populate the rest of the show with nonthreatening pretty people. But Pete was adamant that he wanted every single character to hearken back to shows like “Hill Street Blues” or “NYPD Blue,” where everybody has a distinct voice. So they went out and hired probably the most accomplished cast I’ve ever been a part of. Pete Berg and Alex Cunningham were given carte blanche to hire the best actors. Hopefully they’re not sitting there thinking, “We should have gotten more pretty people.”

DD: What is life on the set like?

TG: We had an episode that aired a few weeks ago where we’re trying to destroy the killer’s ironclad alibi. He checks in at this restaurant at, let’s say, 10 minutes past the hour. He makes a call from his phone, and then it’s surmised that he might have made it from the restaurant to the murder site where he dumps the body. Is it physically possible to do this with New York traffic? Maria speculates, what if he ran it? Then they have me, Kirk (Acevedo) and Maria all run the route. That was such a fun day. We were all just riffing on each other all day long, and then we go into a bar afterward and have a few cocktails.

DD: You’ve been fortunate to have had quite a varied acting career so far. Has that been your intention, or the luck of the audition?

TG: I will tell you, I didn’t go out to do it intentionally. I think it comes with the volume of work that I’ve done. I do strive to not be pigeonholed. But I’ll tell you, there are certain characters that if you are going to be known for something, you’d better be proud of it, and this is one of those characters. Hopefully in five years I won’t be like, “If one more person calls me Augie, I’m going to punch him in the face.”

You know who I love, who I feel is absolutely brilliant? Jared Leto. I am a huge fan of all of David Fincher’s films, and when I saw Jared in “Panic Room,” I was like, “This is the kid from ‘My So-Called Life’?” Can you imagine if that was the only thing he ever did, and everybody called him Jordan Catalano? When I saw the video for “The Kill” (by Jared’s band, Thirty Seconds to Mars), I was like, this better not be that pretty boy. Do you really have to be an amazing rock ‘n’ roll musician too? There are certain people who are just ridiculously talented, and God bless him, he’s one of them. Let him go conquer every arena in the world. I’m just going to stick to acting.