Donal Logue and Damian Lewis talk NBC’s ‘Life’

NBC’s “Life” is the best detective drama you are not watching. 

It’s an excellent under-the-radar series that doesn’t get a whole lot of coverage, and that should change.  NBC gave a full season order to detective drama “Life.”  Despite suffering from less than optimal ratings, “Life” just got its 2nd-season order boosted to 22 episodes. 

The show’s new Wednesday night slot holds promise for increased viewership.  This a great show worthy of a big audience, and now that FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” finale is next Wednesday, tune in and make the effort to add “Life” to your regular viewing.
“Life” debuted last year and was affected by the shut down from the writers’ strike and has been shuffled around the schedule by NBC. 

Damien Lewis Crews NBC Life - photo from NBC

Damien Lewis “Crews” NBC “Life” – photo from NBC

‘Life’ is the tale of officer Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) as he rebuilds his own life that was marred by a false accusation that imprisoned him for twelve years.
Charlie went Zen instead of bitter or angry in his bid to keep his sanity.   He was subsequently released and exonerated, with a golden multi-million payout parachute and returned to his work as a homicide detective.

Crews’ objective is to simply “get on with his life,” but his inner circle suspects that he had ulterior motives for returning to the force, and some people are still convinced that he did commit the murders, including Lt. Karen Davis (Robin Weigert).

Life cast- photo from NBC

“Life” cast- photo from NBC

Dani Reese (Sarah Shai) is Crews’ damaged goods partner, an ex druggie who this season finds herself being drawn to Tidwell (Donal Logue) a Manhattan cop who runs a bit roughshod over his more chill LA underlings. 

Ted Early (Adam Arkin) is a white collar criminal Charlie met in prison, who is helping Charlie with adjusting to his windfall and life outside again.  The cast also includes Charlie’s old partner officer Robert “Bobby” Stark (Brent Sexton).

The quirky cop show investigates homicides not easily solvable; Charlie’s knack for viewing the facts from a completely off-kilter, third eye point-of-view ends up netting major case-breaking clues, but the show also dips into the hedonistic side of Charlie who relishes both tucking into a piece of juicy fruit and curvaceous female flesh.

“It’s actually great to be able to explore [Zen] a little bit through Crews,” Lewis told Monsters and Critics on a conference call recently. “With this job, as I find with many jobs, art imitates life imitates art.”

Monsters and Critics spoke to Damian Lewis and Donal Logue about this terrific series.

Donal, you don’t do many interviews and I’m happy to talk to you. My question for you regarding Tidwell – I notice that you’re playing your character, it seems, like this mix of bemusement and reigned in antagonism, almost like a passive aggressive vibe.
It’s a very interesting blend of conflicting things that I see in your character.
Talk about your character’s relationship to Charlie Crews and also with Sarah’s character, Dani Reese. There’s a tension there, too.

Donal Logue: You know, it is interesting because this is one – Tidwell is a character that probably least – I understood least of anything I’ve ever – of any character I’ve ever played.

I think that there was a broader kind of antagonism that I was supposed to show either me – the city of Los Angeles, the department, the character of Charlie Crews.
But at the same time, I can’t help but (throw) myself in the character (having) a lot of respect for Charlie Crews and liking him, and liking his quirkiness, and liking his sense of humor.

I feel  I have my foot on the brake and on the gas simultaneously in different (ways). And so it’s kind of interesting that you picked up on that. But, it’s also a trajectory that I follow that’s just written for me.

There are times that I’m just kind of surprised in which direction I go as well – and which direction the character goes.  He’s (Tidwell) got his whole fish-out-of-water story going which is this abrasive, un-PC, Manhattan cop landed in PC LA. So there are a lot of fun dynamics there.

The stuff with Dani Reese, honestly- I think within a couple of weeks of the season starting I realized oh okay, there was supposed to be this story happens between us. 

I don’t know where it’s going. I actually kind of wish I did know some big spoilers or I wish that Tidwell played some huge role in the broader kind of conspiracy arch that the show is about.

But it’s interesting because I myself look forward to the scripts.
I’ve never been involved in something where you couldn’t have these like little bombs dropped in the (quad), especially in regards to the Crews conspiracy stuff.

I didn’t know necessarily how it would unfold. But I think he walks a really delicate line between being too overbearing and a little bit too smarmy and then we have these moments where I think he can kind of — Tidwell that is — can redeem himself enough to make all of this stuff really plausible.
But, it’s been an interesting kind of balancing act for me as well.

You’re this citizen of the world.  You’re Canadian, you’re Irish. You’ve been all over – living all over the United States. Where are you happiest?

Donal Logue: Where am I happiest?  Up in my place in Oregon.

But I am a citizen of the world, 100% Yankee which is probably why it’s annoying to Damian for me to always pester him with questions about my brief time living in England.

It’s been a super blast to work with Damian, I’ll tell you for sure.    I think I actually enjoy really playing comedies and I enjoy playing the comedy in a dramatic setting because it’s, generally speaking, more realistic and it kind of comes from a more honest place as opposed sometimes to straight comedies where you’re always trying to motor or engine some kind of fake comic energy.

Damian is pretty hysterical. And I actually kind of wish that some more of the kind of play that we have just while we were working found its way into the dynamic between them.

I think it’s working out really well this way and like the quirkiness. And I like the fact that I’m amused by Damian – by Crews and by Reese, and by the world probably in general.  

I’m sure that they brought me in – that there was some thought as to the fact that we would be doing something of a – there would be some comedy in it.
You just get to play scenes and if there’s kind of funny moments that’s great, but it doesn’t have to be the focus.

Damian Lewis: Donal spent a few years working in a pub that has alternately been a strip joint and a gun smuggling place. It was – it was a really gnarly place.

Damian, you’re English, correct?

Damian Lewis: I’m English, yes I am.

How did you come to this accent? It’s almost – you sound like House, Hugh Laurie, It’s a very clipped American accent. And I was wondering how you came to that?

Damian Lewis: Well, I’ve played a lot of American roles and I – now starting off with ‘Band of Brothers’ which was six or seven years ago.

I’ve found an American persona that I’m happy with where there was self consciousness to start with and a constant watchfulness over my accent.
Now I actually find myself at weekends ordering coffees in an American accent. And, I just have kind of settled into a persona that I feel comfortable with.

Having said that,  the rhythms of Charlie Crews are very particular and he’s (by terms) maverick and — the word of the moment or as well the last few moments anyway — and eccentric, and a little bit cracked and damaged, and (brought) with a strange, sort of feminine intuitive quality.

All those things will affect rhythm that I choose. And that’s why I’ve ended up with this sometimes rapid fire, quick fire sort of form of delivery because a lot of the time is – these observations are quick and intuitive, and spontaneous.
They’re instinctive. And that’s just the way it comes out.

Donal – you do a great job with your New York accent.  How did you come across that?

Donal Logue:   Oh thank you.   I lived in New York for so long, but I lived in Boston as a kid, which is quite different. But, I don’t know it just kind of – that one feels like an easy one for me, but I was talking to Damian because I’m so impressed with Damian’s work.

I had done like an English accent. I had lived in England, and I kind of stupidly assumed that I could just jump into anything without any preparation and always jump into an accent, and I think I failed at it miserably.
And, as an American, it’s always easier of course jumping into regional American accents, but what Damian does is really, really, really difficult.

In fact, when he breaks and if over the weekend we’re going to like a soccer match or something together, it’s always amusing to see him. I’m like, “Oh, look at Damian put on an English accent to talk to his wife.”
I lived in New York a lot. A lot of my best friends are kind of New Yorkers and firefighters there and stuff, and so, I actually miss New York an awful lot.

How you bring humor to the roles and how much is on the page?

Damian Lewis: Well we’re both unintentionally funny. That’s a problem. Now – well I don’t know. Sort of from my part, it’s an interpretive skill, acting and as is directing.

Together you collaborate and give your interpretations of a script which I have to say is already very funny. And so Rand and his writers actually make our jobs easy for us, I think. But that’s really what I would say.

Damian, how caught up do you get in the mystery of the show?

Damian Lewis: Well actually as time has gone by I’ve wanted to know less and less. I’ve enjoyed the novel aspect of doing serious TV.   Each week you read a new chapter and much like reading a novel, and it unfolds for you.

There are things where it’s important – there are times when it’s important when I know what might be about to happen that might relate to something in my past. But on the whole, I’m happy to discover it each week.

I think it’s why the show is loved by people because of this series and serial element that we’re able to run these two things concurrently so people can come and watch one hour and come away with something, and have a story with a beginning, a middle and an end as the crime is solved, but also constantly dipping into this ongoing mystery which is the biggest crime in Crews’ life.

This is the biggest investigation of his life is, why did he go to prison? So it – yes, it’s fun. I think it’s really working on those two levels.

Charlie’s love life getting complicated with Jennifer and Connie, and Tidwell and Reese’s complicated relationship?

Damian Lewis: It’ll never be easy for either of them. I think they’re both, in their own way if I can just speak for Donal for a second, they’re both damaged characters.
They both bring an enormous amount of baggage.

Tidwell brings three wives – three ex-wives with him and I think responds to Reese on that level because she has her own demons that she’s wrestling with.

That’s why they find an unusual connection through their initial antipathy towards each other, you know.

The show is a lot about Crews’ healing and a lot about wish fulfillment. And I think we still want to see Crews having more fun.

I think it won’t be an end to the random bubble gum blondes that fall in his lap, metaphorically and literally.   Also clearly his ex-wife is the love of his life or has always been.

Connie was his salvation. So while he was in prison they served slightly different – sort of (slight) different purposes. But, you know, we’ll see. I think there’s still more fun for him to have before it all gets too serious.

Donal Logue: It’s interesting because — and I love what you said — the antipathy question, and I’ve always said it to my friends. And we’ve always joked around in my circle.

It’s like beware if your girlfriend comes back from work and someone has really pissed her off. She always keeps talking about someone who really got under her skin.

That person is the threat. But what’s interesting about Tidwell is that he so casually, I think, has started to plot out this broader trajectory for their relationship, almost without even discussing it with her.

I think it takes her to a really kind of unstable place. So I’m as interested as anyone to see kind of where it goes because it’s in this fledgling kind of stage.
But yeah, even though he has all these ex-wives, he kind of oddly doesn’t seem too tortured by the whole, the kind of whole process in relationships as much as probably I am in my own personal life.

So I don’t know – he’s an odd bird.

I think one thing about Tidwell, though, regardless if I think he comes off as antagonistic or – he has a real respect for Charlie Crew’s abilities.

Even from the very first episode, he may have said a couple of offhand things like referred to him as kung fu or grasshopper or something. But he wants to hear what he has to say and he knows he’s incredibly bright.

He knows that he’s incredibly effective in his police work. So I think maybe it comes off differently and Damian could correct me.  I think we have a really kind of interesting back and forth that’s based on a little bit of mutual admiration even though I think it’s starting to get tested around now in things that the public hasn’t seen.

I hope it doesn’t come off as terribly antagonistic because I always think that there’s like a little glimmer in his eye when he’s kind of joking with him.

Talk about the fruit that Crews loves to eat in the show.

Damian Lewis: I’ve eaten some pretty exotic fruit in the last year. It’s, the staple – apples, bananas and oranges has been left behind for African-Horned Melon and strange pears, and kumquats and passion fruits, and papaya and guavas, and all sort of fun things.

Papaya is my least favorite fruit. It just – there’s something about it that smells of (weed) and I can’t put my finger on it. But I love fruit. I eat a lot of fruit and I eat fruit, when I’m just between takes. I go to craft services and I eat more fruit. So it’s lucky.

Talk about the Zen aspect of the Crews character.

Damian Lewis: Oh.  it’s very attractive when you’re running around in your life and the world we all live in to find lots of stillness and, you know, whether it’s through Yoga or, you know, and meditation.

It doesn’t even have to go that far but just mostly when you sit down and you stop, and you just embrace, you know, the moment you’re in rather than projecting forward always or harking back to something you should’ve done or should’ve said.  The day before which I do chronically.

So it’s actually great to be able to explore it a little bit through Crews and find – with this job, as I find with many jobs, art imitates life, imitates art.
That’s why acting and going from job to job like this can be very therapeutic.
You find things in your character that you like, enjoy and help you understand a little bit more about what’s around you.

I love that aspect of Crews because I’m constantly and unsuccessfully looking for those moments in my life – those more Zen moments. And I know that when I find them I’m actually much happier.

But as a person, predisposed to just behaving like a headless chicken and just running, running in 15 directions at the same time. So I really enjoy it – that aspect of the character is awesome.

Zen is helpful not just because its fun in itself, but it’s helpful in counterpoint to his – the anger and the rage that must sit deep in Charlie that he so successfully suppresses.

And when it’s most fun to see the Zen is actually at a point when he’s on the verge of being his most violent and his most vengeful.

So I think we’ll see some moments like that and we’ll see just how kind of polarized Charlie is in his life, and how really the Zen is actually at best for him. It’s really just an anger management tool.

He’d like it to be a more profound experience, but it’s at its most practical when it’s just stopping him killing people, I think.

Donal, you’ve played so many different characters on TV and in films – What character do fans just automatically recognize you from when they see you out and about?

Donal Logue:  There are other people who really liked the movie Blade or probably Grounded for Life, or I guess –  Grounded for Life was interesting because it’s the first time I was on a television show that was on for a long time.

It kind of had a weird afterlife in syndication and in different countries and stuff.

Damian, talk about Arkin’s Ted.

Damian Lewis: Oh well I think they will for the time being remain firm friends. Ted has a financial acumen that Crews does not have. And, I think there’s potential for Ted to be set some kind of challenge which may affect his relationship with Charlie.

He may be asked to make a choice. People might try and get to him in order to get to me. Already we’re seeing a little bit of that with his return to prison, which will be coming in upcoming episodes.

Don’t give that away to the viewers just yet, but – there’s possibility there, because he holds so much of Charlie’s money and is really a trustee of Charlie’s money. So there’s potential there. But otherwise I think they’ll remain good friends. And, you know, they’re kind of Oscar and Felix.

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