INTERVIEW: Tony Denison talks about closing ‘The Closer,’ opening some ‘Major Crimes’
On Monday night, Aug. 13, more than 9 million viewers watched Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) close out one more case for the history books. TNT’s successful series The Closer may now be over, but that doesn’t mean the team of detectives will fade to memory. Following The Closer’s much-hyped series finale was the season premiere of Major Crimes, the new spinoff show featuring many of the same characters, plus Mary McDonnell as Captain Sharon Raydor.
The one-two punch of The Closer and Major Crimes has the potential of providing TV audiences with 14 years of entertainment, a success story only matched by a select few, including Cheers/Frasier.
One steady presence throughout the seven-year run of The Closer and the new season of Major Crimes is Lt. Andy Flynn, played by veteran actor Tony Denison. Recently, Hollywood Soapbox talked with Denison about his old show and his new show. Speaking a few hours before viewers said goodbye to The Closer, Denison opened up about the many lessons he’s learned on the TV police beat.
(Questions and answers have been slightly edited.)
Are you excited for tonight’s The Closer and Major Crimes? Do you have a party set up?
Well, there’s a party being put together by one of the producers. I can’t stay for the whole party, but I’m going to drop in. Fortunately I’ve seen the first episode of Major Crimes. Not only am I very happy, I’m very impressed by it. It’s going to be great. I’m sure that the fans of The Closer will love these episodes of Major Crimes. There’s something in it for everybody, I hope. Or at least I think there is.
Is it a bittersweet moment? Do you have to say goodbye to a lot of the people from The Closer?
Everybody switched over except Kyra (Sedgwick), Corey Reynolds and J.K. Simmons. But otherwise everybody shifted over, and then we added two new characters: Kearran Giovanni and Graham (Patrick) Martin. Otherwise everybody else is there, and you get the opportunity to play these characters again, hopefully for another seven seasons or even more. I’m happy with that. It’s been fun, and it hopefully will continue to be fun.
Because you’ve been with The Closer for so many years … is it really a family feeling on set with the cast of characters?
I can only give you my opinion, which everybody is going to think is biased because I’m on the show. But every guest star that I’ve ever talked to, whether I know them or get to know them when they were on the show, have all said at some point throughout their period of time guesting on the show that it’s one of the nicest sets. They really love the fact that people make them really feel welcomed, that the actors are very generous with them in the scenes, that the actors are willing to rehearse with them. … Do your stuff. Do it well. We’ll do our stuff around you, and then take care. We really do make them feel welcomed. And so it is like a big family. It’s like a neighborhood party.
Talking to some TV actors, it seems that the scheduling can be quite difficult. Has it been difficult the past seven years?
No. The best answer I can give you is my dad, God rest his soul, he drove a tractor-trailer around the streets of Manhattan. That was his job. That is difficult. … What we do here is we get the opportunity, maybe there’s an emotional expenditure of energy and what have you, that could be somewhat tiring from time to time, but it’s not.
If they said to me, ‘Tony, we’re going to do 30 episodes of the show a year, I’d be happy.’
What was the experience like working with Kyra Sedgwick for all those years? She seems like a leader and someone everyone got along with.
Yeah, of course, it’s sad. You know you work with somebody for seven years. Six or seven months out of the year you’re hanging with this person, almost daily, except the weekends obviously. And then even on weekends sometimes there’d be some Sunshine Kids event that we would all attend. You know lend a helping hand to a charity. There’d be parties in people’s homes and BBQs. So, yeah, you spend that amount of time with somebody and then when they say they’re going, you’re like, ‘Oh, OK, I’m going to miss you.’ But then because we’re able to continue doing the show, so the majority of the family, in a sense, is still together. And we get to continue to dance to the music. The music plays on, so to speak.
The show is rooted in police work. There are times with jurisdiction problems and so forth. Have you learned personally a lot about police work?
Oh God yeah. It’s funny Mike Berchem (former Los Angeles detective) … he was an advisor, now a producer and writer on the show. He’s still there. He still advises sometimes, to make sure we do it right.
It’s amazing how I will be in a store. Like I was in a supermarket … I was walking down and I saw this guy standing there, looking at some of the stuff. And there was something about him. … He was an oddball guy. There’s something really strange about this guy. I don’t know why. … But you just got this sense that there’s something odd … And sure enough 15 minutes later in the store, this guy was creating a big disturbance, and he was a completely disruptive character. … He wasn’t dressed funny, but you know you get this sort of, you start to see people and you think, something’s wrong, something’s wrong here.
I mean I’ve always been the kind of guy who if somebody’s hurt, I run over to them and try to help them. Again, I’m not putting my life in danger like the real cops are and do. But I’ve learned a few things. Again my life as Lt. Flynn exists between ‘action’ and ‘cut,’ and then after that it’s like it’s all my own time. When you’re a real police officer or detective, your life when you wake up in the morning, basically the universe is yelling ‘action’ and then when you go to sleep at night, it’s saying ‘cut.’ All in between that time you don’t get any coffee breaks where you sit to the side and tell the criminal, ‘Hey, hang on a second. I want to smoke a cigarette.’
Talking about Flynn for a second, it’s great that you’ve been able to work with the character for so long. How do you see Flynn? Is he a lot like yourself?
You try to bring as much of yourself as you can to the character. But yet at the same time the character can’t be dictated by you. James Duff had a particular idea in mind, or ideas in mind for what he’d like to see Flynn say and do. And sometimes there are things that Flynn did in The Closer and has done in Major Crimes, which I can’t really talk about, because I don’t want to spoil any of the episodes, that at first I was kind of like, really? It doesn’t make any sense that I would do that.
And a lot of that was just because I was bringing Tony’s take into it. But then they would say, ‘No, no, no. Believe me, this is going to work out this way and it’s fine. This is what Flynn would do, and I know you know that.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, I know.’ … I’d play what they asked, and then later on when I would see the episode, or get a response from it, I’d think, oh, my God, they were so right. So I stopped questioning them a long, long time ago.
How has it been working with Mary McDonnell? You had the chance to work with her back in seasons five and six, before full time on season seven.
When I heard she was coming to the show back in seasons five, six and season. Season five, I think it was. I was thrilled, because I’m a fan of this business. Not only am I in the business, I’m a fan of it. And I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time. When they told me she was coming to the show, I was like, oh my God, that’s so cool. … I was kind of like, this is great. A couple times now, working with her on Major Crimes, I look over at her, watching her work when she’s not necessarily addressing me, maybe she’s addressing another character. She’s so cool. It’s Mary McDonnell. Yeah, it’s great. Like I’ve told people before. She was nominated for Academy Awards twice. They didn’t nominate her because they felt sorry for her, or she had won a lottery. They nominated her because of the works she did.
Where are you in the shooting schedule for Major Crimes?
We literally finished the first season Friday night (Aug. 10) at 1 o’clock in the morning. We just finished episode 10. It’s going to be 10 episodes this year, because there’s six episodes of The Closer that preceded it. So we only did 10 this year.
Hopefully you get a little bit of a break now.
Yeah, I’m going to do some things that I’ve been wanting to do. I’m going to try and produce some reality shows. I’m an amateur carpenter, and I build these cat litter boxes that are lined with cedar. And I’m going to build a whole bunch of them and donate the proceeds to Sunshine Kids, G.W. (Bailey’s) charity.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Major Crimes airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. Click here for more information.