How many more cop shows does TV need? Well, Battle Creek—debuting March 1 on Global (10 p.m. ET/PT)—is pretty damn hard to resist. Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad and David Shore of House are at the helm, and the duelling police are played by Josh Duhamel and Dean Winters (a.k.a. the Beeper King on 30 Rock and Ryan O’Reilly on Oz). There’s the fish-out-of-water scenario, sure—pristine-haired Zen FBI Special Agent Milt Chamberlain arrives in the tiny town of Battle Creek, Michigan, to help out the local police force in fighting crime—as well as that old mismatched buddy cop trope that kicks in once Chamberlain is partnered up with Detective Russ Agnew, Dean Winters’ grizzled old hand with a wisecrack always at the ready. But there is something remarkably special here, from the wacky, well-detailed band of coworkers (led by the wonderful Janet McTeer) that surround the two and the strange crimes they investigate (including a maple syrup caper) to wonderful performances from Duhamel and Winters that show vulnerability and nuance not often caught on cop shows. FLARE sat down with the rascals during a press stop in Toronto where they showed off banter just as crackling as they have on screen.
What exact moment in the pilot script convinced you that this was something special and not just your usual cop show?
Josh Duhamel: There was something about the irreverence of the script that I really liked. It didn’t feel like a cop show, it felt more like a group of detectives working in an office and it was more about the relationships inside the office than it was about the crimes itself. If it wasn’t them writing it, I wouldn’t have trusted that my character was going to be as complex as he turns out to be. Because on the surface he’s very together, very by-the-book, polished, he does everything right—and that wasn’t exactly exciting. I knew there was more to him than that. It was more about the potential than what was actually on the page reading it.
Dean Winters: There was a moment when Josh’s character was talking to all of us in the precinct and I’m looking at him kind of like, Who is this guy? We’re in the middle of Michigan and he’s like, “I grew up in a small town, too,” and I’m like, “You grew up in Michigan?” and he’s like “No, Monaco.” And that was the moment in the pilot when I just hated him.
JD: There are good people who come from Monaco.
DW: Name one.
I heard you guys had good chemistry right away. What was a moment on set when you guys felt you clicked well as this duelling pair?
DW: I think with Josh, there is a lot more to him than what you see. Josh has twinkle in his eye that you just know that he’s trouble.
They’re both taken in real life, but if you were to describe David Shore and Vince Gilligan to me, like I was going on a blind date with them, how would you describe them?
DW: Don’t do it.
JD: It’s probably going to be a late night of interesting conversation. Don’t expect to be wearing a dress at the end of the night.
DW: Vince Gilligan is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing; don’t let the doctors and Brooks Brothers shirts fool you.
What stretched you the most as an actor in these roles?
JD: I knew where he was headed, so the biggest challenge for me was not to tip it; they had to pull me back quite a bit, because I was like, “I want to make sure this isn’t too square” and they’re like, “Trust us.” I do believe that Milt believes that he’s got the best intentions: he believes that he can outrun his past and start over. It was committing to that, knowing that there was a lot more coming, because in the beginning, it didn’t feel that interesting just to play this guy that was what everyone was going to be expecting of me, and I’m trying to shed that. So it was about showing as much restraint and commitment to this too-good-to-be-true guy and convince people that’s who he really was.
DW: For me, in my real life, I was a little bit stuck in a rut and I wasn’t immediately jumping at this show, because I knew I’d have to leave my comfort zone and I didn’t see this back then, because I’m not that smart, but I see it now, but I was kind of the same way the character was. This is a guy who didn’t want to acquiesce, he didn’t want to change, he didn’t want to improve: he just wanted to keep doing what he was doing. So by me coming to California from New York, it took me a couple of episodes to realize, “Oh, there is a similarity here,” and then I started to use that. Milt is the one that gets me out of my rut at work. What people will see is that he makes my character a much better detective, and I didn’t see that coming as the character.
JD: I’m his muse.
The wardrobe for each of your characters is very different. Did that help you get into character at all?
JD: My character is much more fashion-conscious than Russ is. Those tailored suits are some expensive suits for an FBI agent. It leads me to believe that he’s in the Mexican mafia or something.
If you could pair up with anyone in a buddy cop show, who would it be and why?
DW: James Garner in The Rockford Files. Talk about the King of Banter.
JD: Christian Bale in American Psycho. He’s sociopathic serial killer.
DW: Do you want me to chase you naked with a chainsaw?
JD: Sure. That’s not entirely joking. I would love to see this guy go some place where nobody expects him to go. He’s not just hiding a couple of secrets: he’s hiding some seriously dark sh-t!