Michael Raymond-James co-stars in FX’s Terriers [Wednesdays, 10/9C] as half of a team of low-rent PIs who frequently get in over their heads. The series, which looks to be garnering the kind of acclaim that other FX shows – like Justified and Rescue Me – have gotten, but hasn’t generated the kind of ratings of those shows. After you’ve read the Q&As with Mr. Raymond-James and Donal Logue [posted earlier], give the show a chance. You’ll be amply rewarded for your time.
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Michael Raymond-James: What drew me to the role? It was the writing. It’s always about the script and initially I didn’t know too much about attachments or anything like that I just opened it up and started reading and was drawn to the writing and the opportunity to play a character that people may actually root for was sort of a nice little change. But once it was sort of – I was told that it was going to be Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin and, of course, Craig Brewer and Donal it was just sort of a no-brainer.
I’ve known Donal and Craig for a while and the opportunity to work with those guys again and then to jump into bed, so to speak, with Shawn Ryan and Ted Griffin was just something I didn’t want to miss the opportunity for.
Your character, Britt, I just love how thorough you make him. You hop over walls instead of going through the gate like a human. You’re very thorough in your approach to Britt and I don’t buy that Britt has got the criminal element out of his system. I’ve watched five episodes and I really feel like if, man, if there was like an opportunity and no one was watching you, your character would be on it like in a second. I really feel like you’re struggling with that and if you could talk about that.
Raymond-James: Well, that’s interesting. That’s a cool point. I think, yes, first of all there’s this sort of breezy freedom to Britt and Britt is certainly the kind of dude who just lives on his impulses and there’s a sort of forced march towards maturity that we’re undertaking for my character in this first season, which inhibits some of that. But I think it’s one of those things where the skill set was analogous to what I used to do as a B&E thief.
I’m able to use some of those skills and get that out of my system by taking my ninja powers to the good side. You know what I mean? So I think that while you may very well be right that there is sort of this perpetual draw to the dark side, even if its just for kicks as opposed to any sort of nefarious; I don’t think either of these two guys, Hank or Britt, ever want to hurt anybody, but there’s certainly a high associated with the high jinks of breaking into a high security situation.
Yes, but to me you’re like the terrier. You move like a dog. You’re very low to ground, you’re very physical in the role where Donal is sort of, he’s like—he walks upright, humanlike and you’re very physical. It’s interesting how the two of you, your physical acting differs.
Raymond-James: Thank you I think that’s; I’m like a dog? That’s cool.
You know what I mean.
Raymond-James: I know what you mean.
You’re instinctive. I think—
Raymond-James: Yes, he’s a very impulsive dude and that’s sort of what can get Britt into trouble sometimes and it’s like that for a lot of people who sort of wear their emotions on their sleeves. You can see a lot with athletes, too. Guys like Rasheed Wallace or whatever who can let their emotions get carried away but it’s all just because their hearts are so big, you know?
Yes. A quick follow-up. I enjoyed seeing you on the True Blood finale last night. Are we going to see you next season?
Raymond-James: I’m not sure. I’m so sort of in Terriers mode right now and there’s been no sort of discussions of any sort regarding True Blood from here on out. I would imagine it’s possible that it could come up at some point, but I’m really just sort of focused on the Terriers now.
What is it like working with the cast of Terriers, including Winston? And can you share any funny stories from the set with us?
Raymond-James: Oh, God. Well, first of all, the cast of Terriers is fantastic, such great, great people and really talented actors. Donal and I’s sort of bromance has been well publicized, but other actors like Laura Allen is just brilliant and she’s so good in the show and as the season goes on she gets to go pretty deep and it’s just amazing to just sort of watch as another actor, as somebody who really digs acting it’s really cool to be in that kind of presence.
Rockmond Dunbar is so solid and he’s another really great actor and just so smooth and so solid and always knows what’s going on and where he’s going and what he needs to be doing. Jamie Denbo is just a firecracker who’s always cracking me up. She’s so funny and so good at the role of Maggie. Kim Quinn is just so free. Such a sort of hippy, spirited actress where she just sort of—she’ll show up on set and it just seems effortless for her. But everybody associated with the show like Michael Gaston and Karina Logue just, man, everybody just steps up to the plate and hits it out of the park.
Winston? We had this sort of weird little love affair, man. The actor’s name is Buster; I think it’s important to point that out. His character’s name is Winston, and Buster immediately sort of—you know they placed him in the truck for the first scene in the pilot and he immediately starting humping my leg. No, Hello, or anything, just there it is, man. This is how we’re going to do it. He was a lot of fun to work with.
Animals are great. I love hanging with animals and that dude is crazy. We would in a rehearsal just set up his mark and he would come around the corner and hit the mark, hit the mark, hit the mark and then once we yelled, “action,” he would walk right past the mark and just take his spot somewhere else. I can’t, off the top of my head, I can’t think of any funny stories that I could share necessarily. You may have to get back to me on that one. I’ll keep thinking about it.
Okay. Now in this week’s episode you have a bedroom scene with Katie?
It says, “And a third party,” so can you talk about what it was like filming that scene?
Raymond-James: That scene was crazy. First of all, there’s sort of a little, weird little nervousness stuff about doing a scene that is intimate in a sexual way for the characters, not that the actors go anywhere approaching that, but you want to make sure—for me it’s important that Laura’s comfortable with everything we’re doing and she’s concerned am I comfortable and so everybody wants to make sure everybody’s comfortable and then the little dog is just so nervous, too and God, he was so sweet and such a funny little dude and it was really kind of weird. There’s a dog; me and the dog are under the covers and at a certain point the dog is fetched out by his trainer with some noise and he just comes walking between my legs also underneath the covers and just sort of exits the room and it was my first threesome on film.
You mentioned the bromance earlier and I just am wondering about how you guys cultivated this incredible rapport that you have. You guys really seem like you’re very comfortable riding around in a beat-up Ford Courier. There’s probably some fast food wrappings there in the foot wells and stuff and I’m just wondering, I spoke with Donal a few weeks ago. He said that you guys had rented a beach house, I guess, for a little while. What was that like? Were you guys going over scripts? Can you maybe illuminate a bit more about how you guys reached this very tangible kind of relationship that we can see?
Raymond-James: Yes, sure. First of all, it required zero effort. Donal and I hit it off immediately when I did a guest star on an episode of Life and it was just one of those moments for me where it’s like no matter where my journey takes me through life or whatever, this is some dude that I’m going to be close with for the remainder of it. And it doesn’t mean that this is somebody I’m going to necessarily see every day or hangout with every day but it’s going to be somebody I know our paths are going to cross at some point and we’ll pickup right where we left off and that’s actually what happened.
And when we got the pickup to go to series we were going to shoot in San Diego so we were trying to figure out living situations and the network gives you like $7,500 for a relocation sort of thing and we decided to take the money and rent our own house together just because a) we like hanging together and we thought it would be helpful in the show with the amount of hours we were going to have to work.
And we both play guitar and like a lot of similar sort of literature and poetry and music and movies and just sort of kindred spirits, man, and it did help a lot with the work. Every day when they would call wrap we’d get the call sheet for tomorrow’s scenes and we would go home and we would run lines together. Sometimes he’d run a scene with me between me and Laura and he would read Laura’s lines and I would do it when he had a scene with Kim Quinn or Rockmond or whatever and it was great.
We just sort of work shopped stuff and the benefit was just that we were always prepared then the next day when we’d show up together even after a 15 hour grind and it’s just really I was—we are both really lucky to be in a situation where you a) have a friend that’s sort of with you on this journey and b) this is somebody that is going to really help you make the work better.
And aside from that, just having each other there as buddies is so huge, man. When you’re working on location for five months people like Donal and I can both start to get a little weird. As the time sort of drags on you sort of start to feel isolated in this weird fishbowl. But being there for each other and having a brother going through it with you is just huge, man.
I was just wondering about, I know that Hank and Britt are both struggling with maturity issues and you’ve already mentioned that. I just wanted to know if you could tell us a little bit more about what Britt is going to go through this season on his journey through that?
Raymond-James: You know, I’m a little hesitant to get into specifics, but I can say that there is a point where it becomes clear to Britt that the best and only way to sort of get out of a particular predicament is to stop running and pretending that things are not happening fast and to sort of step up to the plate and, for lack of a better term, man up and every action has a reaction and sometimes we’re not always prepared for what the reactions going to be.
When it’s not what we want it to be sometimes the best thing to do is sort of take it head on and that’s, I would say that best describes it without having to go in to too specifics. I don’t want to spoil where it takes us because I think it’s pretty well planned, well thought out, well executed.
I consider myself kind of a snob where I’m supposed to know everything, but you snuck up on me with this show and part of it’s because maybe I’m allergic to vampires or whatever, but I kind of want to get an idea as to a little bit of your background. I don’t know much about you and you kind of really came on the scene strong and it’s kind of thing where now I want to use you as my go to guy for all these dream casting gigs.
Raymond-James: Ah, cool. Thanks, man. So what was the–?
Kind of what got you here? A little bit about your background and what led you to this role.
Raymond-James: Well, I guess background, I’m from Michigan and acting’s not really something that’s really a possibility, but I sort of stumbled upon it at a certain point and it really was what I had been looking for all along, but it just wasn’t anything that I could’ve imagined was possible.
I went to New York and I studied here at the Lee Strasberg Institute and did a lot of theatre and then I was eventually invited to Los Angeles at the behest of a casting director, who put me in contact with numerous agents and executives and took meetings and so I kind of got a jump on the game and I really, at that point, didn’t really have any sort of a particular desire to go to Los Angeles.
I was doing small theatre in New York and waiting tables or building fences in Connecticut or whatever to sort of make the ends meet and I sort of figured I’d wind up in Los Angeles when I was in my 40’s or something and become some kind of character actor dude. So I’m betting house money now, man. It’s been great. I feel really fortunate. Stephanie Elaine had a great quote one time when we talked about all this stuff and it’s just hard earned luck. I love what I do and when I’m not working I’m at the Actor’s Studio three times a week just because I need to be doing this, otherwise, like I said before, I’ll start to get a little weird.
It’s got to help inform this character, though.
Raymond-James: What’s that?
The round-a-bout way and the kind of the work that you did kind of getting to this.
Raymond-James: Yes, the character really just; there’s certain roles that you say, “Wow, that’s nowhere who I am and there’s a lot of work here to do that’s interesting and I’m going to mine a lot of stuff within myself and sort of start to find where this whole thing lives.” Rene from True Blood is a character like that and this really didn’t require that much. There’s certain parts that just you feel when you read them that they’ve been written for you, you know? And this is one of those times where I really responded to the material and having worked with Craig before I knew it was going to be in safe hands because he’s sort of—Craig kind of put me on the map in terms of people really seeing my work like in Black Snake Moan. Even though like 57 people only saw that movie but yes.
You seem to be one of these actors who can play guys who are for all intents and purposes from the outside average guys who get in over their heads. What is it about those characters that draws you?
Raymond-James: That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure. Why do I like the Rolling Stones, other than they speak to me? I listen to Bob Dylan and I feel like he’s singing just to me. I don’t necessarily know the answer to that. It probably has a lot to do with both nature and nurture and it’s beyond my capacity to understand. There’s probably an element of being from the Detroit area, too, that’s sort of ingrained in me with regards to that. But yes, that’s an interesting question.
I was also kind of wondering in the one instance where you played Rene in True Blood, he seemed like an average character who was kind of a little over his head with this gorgeous waitress as his lover and then he turns out to be the psychotic villain. How do you play a role that develops from an apparently average guy into a psycho? What is the key there?
Raymond-James: Yes, I think in terms of Rene, Rene was always the psycho, but was trying to keep it hidden and so it’s a fun, really fun challenge to, alright, when do we choose to foreshadow and how much do we want to show because ultimately what you want to do is hopefully people will go back and if they watch it again they’ll say, “Oh, I’m starting to see things I didn’t pick up on before and I’m starting to see an arc develop where it sort of came out of the blue the first time I’d watched it.”
Because the eye sort of sees what it wants to see in a lot respects, but once a reality is sort of unveiled hindsight is always 20/20 and when you go back and see it again maybe sometimes things can stick out a little bit more and that’s the challenge and that’s a really fun aspect to playing a character like that is you don’t want to let them see you coming, but at the same time it’s all got to be natural and it’s got to be lived in and it can’t come out of nowhere even if it seems like that for the audience the first time.
Cool. Would I be correct in assuming that we will see interesting changes in Britt’s character, though not necessarily to that kind of extent?
Raymond-James: Yes, I was going to say—yes, sure, absolutely. And I hope they are interesting, however, not to the level—I’m safe, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get a call from Shawn or Ted or John Landgraf angrily when I tell you that Britt is not a serial killer in Terriers.
There’s a lot of different directors on this show and I know you worked with Craig in the pilot as well with Black Snake Moan. Was there another director that maybe you worked with in the first 13 episodes that made an impression or maybe we can kind of see a really unique style in these first 13 episodes?
Raymond-James: Yes, on both counts. I would say with regards to style, Michael Offer directs an episode, I believe it’s the fourth episode that sort of has some really cool unique little style flavors that without making it something that doesn’t fit into the Terriers cannon, but I would say him for sure. And Adam Arkin was such a great director to have on this. He’s also an actor and he really knows his stuff, man, and he’s really sort of giving to actors and knows what it is that we have to go through with heavy scenes or whatever and he’s a smart, smart guy.
All the directors were really great and really smart and talented. Adam did two episodes in the first season and so I had a little bit more exposure to him and so a higher degree of comfortability was just fantastic. Billy Gerhardt is another guy who’s a really fun director to work with and sort of had a stamp on his episode as well. Rian Johnson I would point to as well as having some style in the episode that he directed, which was right after the one that Michael Offer did; in fact, they’re kind of a two-parter deal, the fourth and fifth ones. But yes, they’re all great. They’re all fantastic. I would sort of—God, man, I feel horrible not mentioning some people who whatever, but I guess I got to stop it at some point.
Right. You’re on the screen with Donal and Laura almost 90% to 95% of the time. Is there, because there is such a nice group of casting on the show, do you ever—how can you maybe put into words when you find out when you get the script that you get to act with some of the other actors?
Raymond-James: Point out when I get the script, what happens?
When you get a chance to work with some of the other ensemble that you don’t normally get to because you’re always on screen with Donal or Laura.
Raymond-James: It’s great. The scripts will come in pretty late, like the day before we start shooting the next episode and you go through them and first of all, I love shooting with Donal and with Laura, they’re just awesome people and awesome actors, but it’s fun when you see—you know I got to do a couple scenes with Michael Gaston who is a great guy and just a really good actor and I worked with him before, too. I did a pilot in New York that didn’t go anywhere, but a David Milch show with him and so I’ve known him for a while, too.
But yes, it’s always cool when you see I’m doing a scene with this person or this guest star is coming on to do this scene and it’s going to be played by so-and-so and then if there’s time you may look them up and see if you recognize their work or whatever and sometimes you’re like, “Oh, yes, it’s that dude or chick or whatever,” and it’s cool, man, it’s good.
There’s a really unpretentious and old school vibe to the show which is kind of a breath of fresh air even though TV’s really good right now. There’s a lot of high concept stuff and all that and I kind of wanted to get did you guys realize that as you were developing it or was it something that kind of came together because of the people that are involved?
Raymond-James: Yes, the chicken or the egg. I think we certainly did recognize it and I think in part that’s kind of why they hired Donal and I. I think that we kind of fit into that world pretty easily, which isn’t to say; I think either of us could do sort of high-flying, fancy, high-concept whatever, but just as a natural walking out of your life and into a show this sort of fit us really well. But yes, we certainly recognized that and wanted to make that an aspect.
And one of the important things is we want to these are two guys for the most part that are going to be put out front and if you don’t, it can be kind of personal, where it’s like if you don’t like these dudes, if you don’t want to hang with these guys at all you’re probably not going to like the show. If you think that they’re kind of alright maybe it might be somebody you might want to have a beer with or whatever you probably will like the show. We wanted to kind of keep that pretty mellow, pretty breezy.
Well, Donal mentioned the Rockford Files in his interview and it was funny because I had forgotten about the show and I had forgotten that there was kind of an empty space where shows like that were in today’s marketplace but it really just felt like time and I think Terriers definitely fills that kind of empty space in TV right now.
Raymond-James: Yes, I think you’re right. It’s definitely a throwback to a lot of ways. In a lot of ways to those old sort of Rockford Files, even Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, and Ted Griffin in particular has such an affinity for those stories and that world and is so good at capturing that with his writing and the whole staff, Tim Minear as well. There’s just such a sort of affinity it’s almost like a tip of the hat from all of us to that style of movie making and television from the old days.