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The Man Behind 'The Shield'

Shawn Ryan, creator and executive producer of the acclaimed FX drama, The Shield, discusses his involvement in the series.

16:11

Other segments from the episode on September 5, 2008

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 5, 2008: Interview with Michael Chicklis and Shawn Ryan; Interview with C.C.H. Pounder; Review of the television show "True blood."

Transcript

DATE September 5, 2008 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Michael Chiklis, star of "The Shield," on the new
season, episodes he's directed, and "The Shield"'s upcoming end
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross, and I'm
so burned out from watching two weeks of convention coverage I can't tell you.

(Soundbite of "The Shield" opening credits music)

BIANCULLI: Today on FRESH AIR we're going to step away from the politics,
attacks and fierce rivalries regarding the presidential contest and relax by
wallowing in the politics, attacks and fierce rivalries in the TV drama series
"The Shield." This cop show from the FX network began its seventh and final
season this week, bringing to a boil an exciting and unpredictable story that
has been simmering for years.

Today we'll feature Terry's interviews with Michael Chiklis, who stars as
rogue cop Vic Mackey; Shawn Ryan, the writer/producer who created "The
Shield"; and C.C.H Pounder, who co-stars as Vic's one-time colleague and
current boss who doesn't trust him at all. No wonder. Vic Mackey stunned
audiences in the series pilot by shooting a fellow officer in cold blood. In
this season, another member of his elite strike force, a guy named Shane,
played by Walton Goggins, is becoming an increasingly deadly threat himself.
Shane and Vic are circling each other, each aware of the other's darkest
secrets and deadliest deeds, and every conversation is full of tension, anger
and suspicion.

(Soundbite of "The Shield")

Mr. WALTON GOGGINS (As Shane) Hey. Hey! You want to give me a clue what all
this is about?

Mr. MICHAEL CHIKLIS (As Vic Mackey): Here's the key to defusing the Armenian
time bomb you laid at my family's doorstep. He's the keeper of the intel the
Mexis are using to blackmail their way to the top--or was, until I helped
myself.

Mr. GOGGINS (As Shane): And you made it look like this prick sold out to the
Armos.

Mr. CHIKLIS (As Vic Mackey): Which lit the fuse for the blood feud we're
stirring up between...(unintelligible)...and the Mexicans.

Mr. GOGGINS (As Shane): Nicely done.

Mr. CHIKLIS (As Vic Mackey): (Unintelligible)...is the only one that can put
my face to the grab.

Mr. GOGGINS (As Shane): So he's got to go away.

Mr. CHIKLIS (As Vic Mackey): I need you to hook him up with the coyotes we
were using to get Len set up down in Mexico.

Mr. GOGGINS (As Shane): Who's he working for?

Mr. CHIKLIS (As Vic Mackey): I want him gone by tomorrow night.

Mr. GOGGINS (As Shane): Look, getting him out of country is not a problem;
setting him up on a goat farm with money and contacts, it would be nice to
know who and what I'm dealing with.

Mr. CHIKLIS (As Vic Mackey): Working with you to protect my family? I'm
down with that. Trusting you? Not there yet.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Vic Mackey is a character who is both charismatic and terrifying.
He gets confessions out of suspects by beating and torturing them. Yet on
this show, he's still somehow sympathetic. Terry spoke with Michael Chiklis
last year and asked him what it was like to film scenes in which he had to
convincingly pretend to torture another actor.

Mr. CHIKLIS: From a playing standpoint, it can be quite miserable, to tell
you the truth, Terry. I mean, you know, you're in a room for 12 hours with an
actor that you really, really like hanging by a chain and you're slashing him
with a--now, albeit a fake chain, but you know, I mean, you're, you know, you
want to make it viable and everything. And it's all about a trust exercise
and, as actors, being able to give each other permission.

TERRY GROSS, host:

How does this affect your relationship with that actor? Do you feel, you
know, bad about putting him through it?

Mr. CHIKLIS: Well, yeah.

GROSS: Do you ask him every so often in between takes, `Is this OK for you?
Am I hurting you?'

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yes, it's fraught with apologies and, you know, it really is.
You just can't help but look at a guy and just go, `Oh, man, listen. For what
is about to happen to you, I am truly sorry.' You know, `what you're about to
go through.' And, I mean, like I said, you have to--it's a weird sort of
bonding where you're excited as actors because you know the material is great,
and there's a potential, at least, before you even start shooting, for a great
piece of drama.

GROSS: Do you have like a safe word so if things--do you know what I mean?
If something hurts too much.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Well, yeah. I mean, oftentimes it depends--yes, it depends on
the scene. I don't recall exactly what it was on that scene, but yes, you
have safe words. You can just say--usually it's "stop, stop." You know, but
sometimes, the guy--it would sound too much like in the context of the scene,
so he'll say--usually it comes in the form of saying the real actor's name,
you know. They'll say like, `Chiklis, stop!' You know? And that will jar you
and go `Wait, OK, now we're in the real world here.' You know? So you have
to, you know, you have to create those barriers before you even start.

GROSS: How familiar were you with the multi-ethnic inner city streets of LA
that Vic Mackey works?

Mr. CHIKLIS: Oh, I wasn't really, honestly. That's been a big eye-opener
for me. You know, I knew a little bit about it because I was involved with,
and have been involved with, the Children's Lifesaving Foundation, which I'm
the spokesperson for, which is a, you know, a wonderful charity that helps
with children who are in homeless shelters in the Los Angeles County area.
So, you know, I had been to shelters, I had visited certain areas. But we
shoot in some of the hardest-core neighborhoods in Los Angeles, whether it's
in Rampart or East LA or in Compton, and, you know, I really didn't know that
there were places like this in the United States of America. They're
downright Third World, you know, just abject poverty. And it's been a very
eye-opening experience. And you find yourself really, really appalled, and I
find myself, you know, oftentimes, you know, driving into my beautiful home
and, you know, looking at my wife and children and just having such a far more
deeper respect and appreciation of the world and my life and so many things.

GROSS: So you actually shoot on location on streets...

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yes, yes.

GROSS: ...in LA?

Mr. CHIKLIS: Ninety-nine percent of my show is on location. We have one
working set, which originally was on location, as well. It was the church,
which was converted into a precinct. That was originally, you know--in the
pilot, that is a live location. But they replicated it on a soundstage, and
that's the only like stationary set that we have. Everything else pretty much
shoot on location.

But as far as the neighborhood's concerned, I mean, when we first started
shooting down there we had a couple of odd encounters where, you know, where
one night we had a crew from a major LA gang show up and say, `Hey, what are
you doing here?' And we were like, `We're shooting,' and they said, `No you're
not. You haven't paid rent.' You know? So we had to work out a little
arrangement and get permission to shoot there.

GROSS: You've directed several episodes of "The Shield" in addition to
starring in the series.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah.

GROSS: And, first of all, I want to play a scene from an episode that you
directed. And this is a scene--you're not in this scene--this is a scene
where, you know, Captain Aceveda has been raped and...

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah.

GROSS: And was forced to perform sex on the guy who raped him.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah.

GROSS: And he's very, like, broken up and ashamed about it. He hasn't told
his wife. His wife knows that something's wrong because he hasn't been
behaving like a husband, and there's a scene in which she confronts him. And
he just kind of breaks down and confesses, and she doesn't accept it. She
doesn't accept that he allowed this rape to happen.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah.

GROSS: It's a terrific scene. Can you talk about directing it? It's a
really important turning point in the character of Captain Aceveda.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah. Well, first of all, you have to be particularly
sensitive to the actor's process. And again, a lot of it boils down to trust.
If your actors really know that you're on their side and you want them to
flourish and you want them to be able to be accessible and touch that pool of
emotion--I mean, that's a very, very deep scene, and it doesn't take the turn
that one might expect it to. And, you know, when you have someone like Benito
Martinez, who's a, you know, very heterosexual, proud father and husband
having to sort of face that potential sort of humiliation and rejection, you
have to talk to him and allow him to feel comfortable enough to touch that
pool and go to that place. It's a very ugly, dark place.

GROSS: So can you talk about what you did to make everybody feel safe to get
out these emotions, or what advice, if any, you gave the actors in this scene?

Mr. CHIKLIS: With Benny, I just basically said to him, `Hey, Benny, I know
this is tough, man, but you got to go there.' And he's like--he knew it, and I
said, `Listen, we're going to be here till we get it, so just know that, you
know, don't feel any pressure like you that have to get it in a few takes
here, you know. Just, you know, do what you need to do and get to the place
you need to get to.' And that allows an actor to go, `OK, you know, look
I'm'--you know, nine times out of 10, that will give an actor enough latitude
to go through their process and get where they need to go.

GROSS: So why don't we hear that scene from an episode of "The Shield"
directed by Michael Chiklis, and this is Benito Martinez as Captain Aceveda
and Camille Sanes as his wife, and she's about to find out that he was raped.

(Soundbite of "The Shield")

Mr. BENITO MARTINEZ: (As Captain Aceveda) Those guys I fought? One of them
assaulted me.

Ms. CAMILLE SANES: (As Aurora Aceveda) But you're OK now?

Mr. MARTINEZ: (As Captain Aceveda) He tied my hands and he made me get on my
knees.

Ms. SANES: (As Aurora) They made you--both of them?

Mr. MARTINEZ: (As Captain Aceveda) Just one of them.

Ms. SANES: (As Aurora) You didn't--oh! Hey, you're a cop. You're trained
in..

Mr. MARTINEZ: (As Captain Aceveda) I was alone. I was in--I...

Ms. SANES: (As Aurora) No, David! How? How could you let that happen?

Mr. MARTINEZ: (As Captain Aceveda) Because I wanted to live for you. I
wanted to live for you and Sophia.

Ms. SANES: (As Aurora) I can't talk about this here.

(Soundbite of door closing)

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: It's a scene from "The Shield," directed by my guest Michael Chiklis,
who plays Detective Vic Mackey on the series. He's the star of the show.

GROSS: Your father ran a hair salon or a barbershop?

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah.

GROSS: Which was it? Was it...

Mr. CHIKLIS: A beauty salon. Yeah.

GROSS: For women?

Mr. CHIKLIS: Unisex...

GROSS: Unisex.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Well, it was unisex beauty salon.

GROSS: OK.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah. He's a very interesting guy, my father. He's very sort
of a macho kind of a guy. Very old school, new England Greek guy--by heritage
that is. American by birth, by the way. And he's primarily retired at this
point. He's sort of semiretired and just watches the books.

GROSS: Does he approve of you shaving your head?

Mr. CHIKLIS: Well, you know, what he didn't approve of is what I did to my
hair. When I--little anecdote here. When I--I played a 65-year-old man in
college, Mr. DePinna in "You Can't Take It with You," and I shaved my head in
male pattern baldness at 20 years old. And instead of being smart and using
powder on my head, I used Ben Nye grease paint, like I did on my face and
didn't remove it properly--I would just use soap and water--and it essentially
killed the follicles of my head...

GROSS: Oh my gosh.

Mr. CHIKLIS: ...so my hair never grew back the same. Yeah, it was a very
traumatic experience as a young actor, and it actually kind of was--shaped my
career in a lot of ways. It's interesting what happened to...

GROSS: Because you had an older man's hair...

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...line.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Yeah. I was--yeah. So I was sort of forced to, you know,
either start wearing hairpieces, which I basically--I did, in "Wired." I wore
a hairpiece on top of my head during "Wired," ironically enough. Or to sort
of just be the person that I was and, you know, and that's what I wore--I wore
my hair normally, you know, on "The Commish," and it was really just a train
wreck of a hair situation for me. And very traumatic for a while. But you
know, I have no regrets because it very much shaped my career, which has been
very sort of interesting and eclectic, and I'm glad.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

BIANCULLI: Michael Chiklis speaking with Terry Gross last year.

Coming up, "Shield" creator Shawn Ryan. This is FRESH AIR. s

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Director and producer Shawn Ryan on "Nash Bridges"
and "The Shield"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Shawn Ryan not only created "The Shield," but has stayed aboard as its
executive producer since its premiere in 2002. In preparation for planning
this seventh and final season, he went back and watched all the old episodes
of "The Shield." There was no need, though, for Shawn Ryan to revisit the
previous cop series he had written, "Nash Bridges," the CBS series starring
Don Johnson.

Terry Gross spoke to Shawn Ryan in 2006 and he told her "Nash Bridges" was
much more of an entertainment show than a realistic portrayal of police work.

Mr. SHAWN RYAN: That was very much a hero show. So Don Johnson's character,
Nash, you know, really couldn't screw up very badly. He always had to have
the right intentions. You know, so if something went bad, it wasn't because,
you know, any human foible of his caused it to go bad. And, you know, the
shows, you know, ended happily, and the crimes were always solved, and he was
a straight-up hero. And if there was any problem with Nash, it was that he
just couldn't quite make whatever his current relationship with a beautiful
woman quite work out because he couldn't commit. That, you know, that was
like the one big "character flaw," quote/unquote. And, you know, it was a
very successful show. It ran for six years, and that's the way that show
needed to be for what it was. But, you know, there was a hierarchy that, you
know, Nash was the one that needed to solve the crimes. He was the one that
needed to swoop in at the last second. You know, one of his underlings was
never the one that, you know, was the hero of the day and would save it. So
it was those kinds of things. And especially the intentions. You know, these
were cops to look up to and, you know, and they always had the innocent
public's best interests at heart. So...

TERRY GROSS, host:

OK, now you can't say that that happens in "The Shield." I mean, some of the
cops at the center of "The Shield," particularly the star of the show, the
character played by Michael Chiklis. I mean, he's not only corrupt, he's kind
of sadistic. He really enjoys violence. He's...

Mr. RYAN: He has a few flaws. You know, I wanted to write in the gray
areas. You know, I'd written a very black-and-white show for three years and
been successful doing it. And the show was successful. And it was my job to,
you know, to service my bosses in presenting them with the material that they
wanted. And I worked hard to do that. There were just a lot of sacred cows.

You know, for instance, on almost every TV cop show I'd seen in the '90s, or
in the late '80s, the heros would be like the detectives and the boss, the
captain, would be a minority. And it was television's way of saying, you
know, `Well, we acknowledge that its a multi-ethnic universe, but we're not
going to, sort of, put them forefront. And additionally our minority captain
is going to be above reproach and, you know, isn't going to have a bad quality
at all.' I looked at Edward James Olmos' character in "Miami Vice." I looked
at James McDaniel's character in "NYPD Blue," Yaphet Kotto's character in
"Homicide." All these shows sort of had the thing, and so my first thing was,
`Well, you know what? I'm going to have a minority captain, but everyone's
going to hate him. And everyone's going to think that he's a quota baby that
got the job, you know, because of his race, not because of his talent, and not
everyone's going to look up to him.'

GROSS: You know, you're talking about trying to break the rules of some of
the shows that you really admired. Now in shows like "Homicide" and "Law &
Order," there's some, like, fabulous interrogation scenes. And you really
admire how brilliant some of these cops are at interrogating. In the
pilot--and excuse me for going all the way back to the pilot, but, you know,
although I've been watching this series for some time, I never saw the pilot
until last night on DVD. So it's really a brilliant episode. It's, like,
maybe the best pilot.

Mr. RYAN: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: But anyways, there's three separate interrogation scenes in that, and
each of them are really different. Each of them serves a different dramatic
purpose and reveals something different about the person doing the
interrogating. Would you just talk about how you used each of those
interrogation scenes to do a whole lot of dramatic work?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. "Homicide"--like I said, "Homicide" really was my favorite
show and I was always impressed with their interrogation scenes, especially
the ones involving Andre Braugher's character. And really what I took from
that show was the interrogation scenes in good dramas are about the
detectives. They're not about finding out the truth of the case. They're not
about just furthering plot.

So I wanted to find out, you know, Dutch has a few scenes with this pedophile
where he just goes along and sort of shows empathy for, you know, for how you
can be attracted to young girls. And it showed this sort of gamesmanship and
mindset that he was willing to get into to break this guy. And then we had,
you know, a very sort of infamous scene with Vic Mackey and another pedophile
kidnapper near the end, and we saw just sort of how ruthless he could be. But
those scenes were designed to get into the characters of our detectives and
find out who they are, which are far more interesting interrogation scenes
than just browbeating people until they tell you that they did it.

GROSS: Well, yeah, and, you know, Dutch, the cop who's interrogating the
child molester, the first time he really gets into the guy's head, and he's
basically saying, `Say, do you believe there's a gay gene? Do you believe
that, like, people are born gay? Well, if people are born gay, maybe people
are born to be child molesters, too. I mean, I understand. I understand what
you're going through.' And that's very effective. But then he does it again
on another child molester, and the child molester's attitude is like, `Hey, I
know the game you're playing, and it's not going to work on me. I'm smart,
too.'

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. Well...

GROSS: And then the third time, like, Vic Mackey, the Michael Chiklis
character, goes in and just, like, beats the confession out of him. And the
contrast between those three interrogation scenes is so interesting
dramatically and in what they reveal about each of the characters.

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. Well, there's a time for each of them, I think. And, you
know, what I was really trying to get at is that, yes, it is tempting to
resort to brute behavior at times, and sometimes it can be even effective.
But is that what we want?

And what I wanted, through the other story with the interrogation with the
pedophile, is to see how it's tempting to give law enforcement people sort of
unlimited power to do anything to solve these heinous crimes, because there's
a slippery slope at the end of it, because when you give them power to act on
your behalf, don't be surprised when they take that power to act on their own
behalf.

BIANCULLI: Shawn Ryan, creator of "The Shield, speaking to Terry Gross in
2006.

We'll continue their conversation in the second half of the show. I'm David
Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, of Broadcasting & Cable
magazine and tvworthwatching.com, in for Terry Gross.

The FX police drama series "The Shield" just began its seventh and final
season. And today we're featuring several of Terry's "Shield" related
interviews. Right now we're continuing Terry's conversation with Shawn Ryan,
who created the series.

In season five, Forest Whitaker guest stared as an investigator with Internal
Affairs. He was looking into whether Vic Mackey killed a cop on his strike
team after learning that cop was cooperating with Internal Affairs on a
corruption investigation aimed at Vic and his crew. In this scene, Whitaker
is interrogating Mackey's ex-wife. The actress is Cathy Ryan, who in real
life is married to Shawn Ryan.

(Soundbite of "The Shield")

Mr. FOREST WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) You know Terry Crowley?

Ms. CATHY RYAN: (As Corrine) Sure. He was on Vic's team.

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) Do you remember any change in Vic's behavior
leading up to Terry's death?

Ms. RYAN: (As Corrine) No. But he was pretty torn up afterwards. We all
were.

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) I'm sure it was terrible. Terry was working
for Justice, investigating your ex-husband's team for corruption, planting
evidence, extortion, kickbacks, laundry list of things. When Vic made Terry
as working for the feds, we believe that he and Shane Vendrell murdered him.

Ms. RYAN: (As Corrine) Vic's a lot of things, but he's no killer.

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) He's a survivor. He'll do whatever it takes to
protect himself, his team, and his family. Are you really trying to tell me
after 12 years of marriage you don't think that that man is capable of pulling
the trigger on someone who's trying to take away everything from him?
Everything?

Ms. RYAN: (As Corrine) You need to stop this?

Mr. WHITAKER: (As Kavanaugh) Don't cry! I don't want to see you shed one
single tear, because tears imply that you didn't know. And don't you sit here
and tell me that you didn't know, Mrs. Mackey.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: A clip from season five of "The Shield" when actor Forest Whitaker
was a season-long guest star on the show.

Let's get back to Terry's 2006 interview with Shawn Ryan, creator and
executive producer of "The Shield."

GROSS: Forest Whitaker's just really extraordinary in his performances each
week. I know at first he's really kind of ingratiating and likeable to people
who he wants on his side, who he wants to win over. And then he can just,
like, on a dime just, like, turn around and be, like, so, just kind of tough
and mean and unpleasant.

Mr. RYAN: Manipulative and--yeah.

GROSS: And what?

Mr. RYAN: Manipulative...(unintelligible)...

GROSS: Manipulative. Exactly. Manipulative. Yeah.

Mr. RYAN: yeah.

GROSS: But it's...

Mr. RYAN: What you have is you have a guy who's an Internal Affairs
detective, who plays by the rules, who's trying to bust a cop who killed
another cop and who beats suspects. And yet who does our audience root for?
They still root for Vic. And they have found themselves justifying that by
really hating Kavanagh, the character that Forest Whitaker plays. It's been
fascinating for me to watch. And what's been so unique about this, I mean,
you know, it's easy to get bored after a number of years working on a TV show
if you're writing the same thing. And we're always looking for what's
something new to write. And what has been fascinating for us is we have this
great anti-hero in Vic Mackey, you know, who you root for some of the times,
root against other times. You know, you like what he's doing and then you
don't like what he's doing. But we've brought in this character played by
Forest who, I've heard somebody term him as an anti-villain. He's trying to
destroy your hero. He's doing what he can to do that, and yet, under most
circumstances, he would be the hero and Vic would be the villain, in almost
any other piece. And so we've been able to sort of take him and show his
flaws and show his good side and his ugly side. And yet, it's completely
turned around for the audience. You know, people want Vic Mackey to get away
with this. And it's just intriguing for me to see that.

GROSS: Now you were explaining before how when you worked on "Nash Bridges"
there were certain rules as a writer that you had to follow to keep the
character consistent and to keep him appropriately heroic, and you broke a lot
of those rules when you created your series "The Shield." Does "The Shield"
have its own rules that you have to present to new writers who come on board?

Mr. RYAN: Yeah. There are certain things. You don't want to box them in
too much. You know, what's interesting is that no matter--and this really his
a credit to Michael Chiklis, who plays Vic. You know, Michael has such
charisma and is so likeable that what I've found over the years is there's
almost nothing that we can have Vic do that many of our viewers won't find a
way to forgive him or apologize for him. And I found that fascinating. The
audience has become an enabler of Vic Mackey in that they will provide the
excuse for why he had to do something for which there really is no excuse.
And it's one of the reasons why in this current season, this fifth season,
that we only have, as we talk, we only have two more episodes still left to
air, I wanted to bring back that murder. Viewers, I think, had sort of driven
it to the back of their mind, and he's done so many good things and closed so
many cases, and brought so many violent criminals to justice. You know, in
the interim, it's easy to sort of forget that, well, yes, but, this guy also
did this. And, you know, wanted to bring that back to life.

GROSS: Shawn Ryan, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. RYAN: My pleasure, Terry. Thank you very much.

BIANCULLI: Shawn Ryan, creator of "The Shield," speaking to Terry Gross in
2006.

Coming up, actress C.C.H. Pounder who plays Claudette Wyms on the show. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Actress C.C.H. Pounder discusses her career, her life,
and her current work on the FX TV series "The Shield"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

As the seventh season of "The Shield" began this week on the FX network,
C.C.H. Pounder's character of Claudette Wyms, an honest cop who use to work
alongside Vic, is enjoying her second year as Vic's boss. Well, maybe
enjoying is the wrong word. She knows that Vic and his strike team are dirty
and brutal, and has known for a long time. Much earlier in the series, before
she was the captain, she interrogated a vicious drug dealer who has huge burns
across one side of his face from the burner of an electric stove. He's tough,
but she's tough, too.

(Soundbite of "The Shield")

Ms. C.C.H. POUNDER: (As Detective Claudette Wyms) You've got a lot on your
plate. Where'd you find the time? Drug trafficking, consolidating a Mexican
power base, murder. Am I leaving anything out? Oh yeah. Juvenile rape.

Unidentified Actor: So you say.

Ms. POUNDER: Let's hope that genius IQ means you know how to help yourself.
We've got you on tape making a death threat.

Actor: That could be anyone's voice. I'll challenge it in court.

Ms. POUNDER: What about the testimony of a cop with his own grill mark. You
going to challenge that too? What happened to your face? You used to be so
pretty.

Actor: I'll only give my confession to Detective Mackey.

Ms. POUNDER: You don't make demands, not to me.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: Actress C.C.H. Pounder first became known for her starring role
in the 1988 film "Baghdad Cafe." Terry Gross spoke with C.C.H. Pounder in
2006, when Pounder had just learned her "Shield" character of Claudette was
about to be promoted to captain.

TERRY GROSS, host:

That must be really good news, not only for your character, but for you as an
actress, because you're going to be at the center of the show.

Ms. POUNDER: Well, actually, more for my public because I was trying to be
captain for quite a while, this character, and when I didn't get it the first
time and Glenn Close's character got it, I tell you, the news, the letters,
the e-mails, were amazing. I had no idea that it would have such an impact,
but it went to the bottom line of American racism and...

GROSS: Oh, really. Like they gave it to a white actress...

Ms. POUNDER: ...how people perceived themselves...

GROSS: ...that kind of thing?

Ms. POUNDER: Absolutely.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. POUNDER: I couldn't believe it and, you know, you really forget that out
in the world there, somehow it translates to a sort of real place for many,
many people. So that was about being shoved aside, just like it is in the
real world, and people were quite angry and very pissed off. And so they have
been sending letters going, `If they don't give you that job, I'm gonna...'
`If they don't do that'--and they were very clear. I'm leaving the blanks
out.

GROSS: Right.

Ms. POUNDER: But they were very clear about how they felt.

GROSS: Now, I wasn't sure you'd make it through this last season.

Ms. POUNDER: Right.

GROSS: You know, we've learned that your character has lupus. You collapsed,
and things weren't looking good. I wasn't even sure you were going to come
back. Did you worry that you were going to be written out?

Ms. POUNDER: Well, I had suggested that if--I had suggested in season five
that perhaps Claudette should just boil off because I get frustrated when
brilliant people or bright people or fairly intelligent people cannot take one
particular person down. How do you dismantle someone like a Vic Mackey? And
they keep coming up with fairly clever reasons for me to stay. And one of the
things--in the very beginning I always felt that perhaps Claudette was the one
that would take Vic Mackey down, and now it might not necessarily be that.
But in looking to my character's future, I always thought, `Well, if she took
him down, how would she do it? And just, dear God, just don't let him be shot
in the streets. I want to have him dismantled.' And that's one of the big
challenges I've had is having intelligent people around us and that man still
surviving.

GROSS: How did you get the part on "The Shield"?

Ms. POUNDER: Clark Johnson, the director of the pilot, I had just finished
doing "Boycott" with him. I had one of the best experiences in filmmaking,
and so I said to him, `I don't care what you're doing next, please could I
work with you again?' We did have a wonderful time. Anyway, eventually he
called me and said, `Well,the next thing is sort of "Seven Guys and a Blonde,
so no luck.' And I went, `OK, fine.' I mentioned it to my agent, Judy Page,
brilliant woman, who said, `Well, why can't you be one of the guys?' And so I
went, `Whoa!' I don't--I don't--I don't know how to do that. And so she just
made the arrangements. My se--I went up with several gentleman, I was the
only woman there, and I got the role that way. They kind of went, `Ah.'

GROSS: So you read a part that was written for a man.

Ms. POUNDER: Yes. And it was written in the male vernacular, and in that
testosterone driven sound, but he was an old, sort of gumshoe, been around the
block quite a few times, and he was on his way to retirement, and I read that
role. And I remember Scott Brazil who is our--was our executive producer, I
said to him, `Well, it was kind of masculine. If you let me come back and
read it again, I'll decide what sex I want to be.' Because I think I sort of
got a really low voice, and I was trying something. And they said, `No, it
was actually pretty interesting.' So...

GROSS: So the part was rewritten for a woman.

Ms. POUNDER: Almost. One of my requests was is that they didn't rewrite it
for a woman, is to write the woman as one of the boys, and I think that's what
gives Claudette her edge, is that sort of no-nonsense, that tiny lack of
sympathy for people really helps her to sort of portray herself as one of the
guys, and therefore a person to be reckoned with and certainly somebody that
Vic Mackey would not cross the line over, especially when you see him in this
series with other women.

GROSS: Now, in addition to your regular part on "The Shield," you've done a
lot of the crime shows. You've done "Law & Order" and "Cagney and Lacey " and
"Hill Street Blues," and--I mean, so have you done a lot of victims and, you
know, perps on those shows?

Ms. POUNDER: In the beginning, I did. In the beginning, I was the sniveling
wife with the crying baby, selling crack for medication for her children or
being accosted by her husband, abused by her husband. I spent a couple of
years, literally, just crying on cue, and I think it was actually "Miami
Vice." "Miami Vice," I played a mother on crack who sold her child for crack
cocaine and, at the end of it--I had a marvelous time, by the way, in terms of
acting, I had a great time--and at the end of it I looked back and I went, `I
never want to do this again,' because I had, by this time, discovered how
powerful television really, really is. Television is this incredibly powerful
medium that people blur the lines between reality and fiction and take it as
gospel, so I decided that after that I'm going to play some women of worth, of
character, of strength, of authority, educated. Because the people who are
watching me needed to see something that was far more uplifting than what I
had been doing.

GROSS: So what did you do, like, sit home and wait for people to offer you
uplifting roles?

Ms. POUNDER: I did, and I starved for about a year and a half. And I
remember distinctly calling my agent and saying, `OK, well, I'm really sort of
six cents in the cookie jar now, so whatever comes next, I'm going to have to
take it.' And it was a script for not "Law & Order," "Hill"--"LA Law," the
very first one, "LA Law." And I got the entire script, and there was a
miserable little person that I was meant to read for, and then there was the
character of the judge, and I said, `I want to read for the judge,' and I was
told that no black woman had read for the judge yet, and they didn't think
they would let you in to do it. And I insisted and my agents backed me up,
and I went and read for the judge, and they were all like, `Oh, I guess, yeah,
she could be a judge. She could be a judge. There are black judges, aren't
there?' That was one of the quotes I heard in the room. `There are black
judges out there, I mean that are women.' And somebody said, `I'll look it
up,' I remember, a young kid. And I got that job.

GROSS: Well, you know, since we were talking about different accents before
and different voice placements, I'm wondering if, like, in your years as a
victim, on TV shows...

Ms. POUNDER: Mm-hm.

GROSS: ...on crime shows, was there a certain kind of voice that you would
use for that?

Ms. POUNDER: (In character) Well, it was up, kind of voice high and whiny
and then, `I'm not quite sure where she went, but she was over there and I had
the children down. They were like down two stairs, and, well, I just don't
know where they are right now but'...

It was kind of like that. An endless parade of that, so, you know, after a
while you get really nasally.

GROSS: Now, in your role on "The Shield," you use a very deep version of your
voice.

Ms. POUNDER: Right. I like the professionalism of that. I like the fact
that...

GROSS: Oh, it's power. Isn't it?

Ms. POUNDER: Yes. Yes. It is. It is a maleness that I don't have
physically, but I try to ground the--that maleness, that boys' club in the
sound of her voice. And by doing so, she gets almost instant authority. And
I'm always trying to lose weight, and they're always happy when I'm heftier.
And so it's sort of that sort of hefty look with the deep voice and piercing
eyes is like, `Yes! That's Claudette Wyms.' But you know, it's a part of
human nature that we certainly recognize signage, and that really is signage.

BIANCULLI: C.C.H. Pounder speaking with Terry Gross in 2006. "The Shield"
has just started showing his final badge of episodes.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Michael Chiklis, star of "The Shield," on the last
season
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

To wrap up our "Shield" package, here's a little more of Terry's interview
with the star of "The Shield, Michael Chiklis.

TERRY GROSS, host:

So how do you think you're going to feel when "The Shield" ends?

Mr. MICHAEL CHIKLIS: Oh, you had to ask me that question! You know, right
now, it's like the five stages of death. I'm in denial at the moment.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CHIKLIS: You know, I'm really--I have to be in denial because I actually
have to put my best foot forward and really do the best work that I can come
up with for this coming year.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CHIKLIS: But I know it's going to be very, very hard. It's going to be
very said. Again, it's been one of the most extraordinary experiences of my
life and--you know, one thing that I can say that I'm really happy about is
that it's not going to be a situation where I wake up 10 years from now and
go, `Wow, I really didn't appreciate what that was when it was happening.'

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CHIKLIS: One thing that I'm very proud of is my wife and I have known
from day one what this was and how great it's been and how sweet it's been.
And you know what? I don't want to be a person to move forward in my life and
sort of rest on that laurel. I'm so thrilled to move forward. I feel like
there's so many wonderful characters to play and I'm really, really actually
excited at the brave new world aspect of it.

GROSS: I'll be really sorry to see "The Shield" end. I want to thank you so
much for talking with us. It's really been a pleasure.

Mr. CHIKLIS: Ah, Terry, thank you. Right back at you.

BIANCULLI: Michael Chiklis talking to Terry Gross in 2007.

Coming up, I review "True Blood," the new vampire drama series from HBO. This
is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: David Bianculli on HBO's "True Blood"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, TV critic for tvworthwatching.com and
Broadcasting & Cable magazine.

Ever since "The Sopranos" cut to black, HBO has been searching for the next
big thing. The show that replaced it, "John from Cincinnati," sure wasn't it.
Not only was that David Milch series a big disappointment, but its appearance
meant the disappearance of Milch's "Deadwood," the HBO series that at the time
was the best drama on television. Showtime, meanwhile, captured lots of
attention--and deserved every drop of it--with "Dexter," its creepy, funny
bloody drama about a serial killer who kills other serial killers. So it
makes sense that HBO, which was in need of a creative transfusion anyway, went
with its own creepy, funny, bloody drama series and went back to one of its
successful producers, Alan Ball, who had spent on "Six Feet Under" surrounded
by death and the dead. Now, in "True Blood," which premiers Sunday, he's
surrounded by death and the undead.

Adapted from a series of novels by Charlaine Harris, "True Blood" is set in a
small Louisiana town, small enough to be near both bayous and rundown
plantation mansions. It's based on the premise that vampires two years
earlier finally admitted they were real, not myth, and started to mainstream
into regular society. They came `out of the coffin,' as one character
describes it, because of the invention of a synthetic blood that could sustain
vampires so they no longer had to drink human or animal blood. They can even
go into bars and diners and order some, which is just one vampire does in the
opening episode of "True Blood." His name is Bill. He's played by Stephen
Moyer, and he's served by Sookie, a charming young waitress played by Anna
Paquin. Sookie has her own secrets and hidden strengths. She's telepathic,
for one thing. But Sookie can't hear Bill's thoughts at all, so when he
enters Sam's diner she knows he's different. And she's not scared, she's
fascinated, and as excited as a pre-teen girl meeting a Jonas Brother.

(Soundbite of "True Blood")

Ms. ANNA PAQUIN: (As Sookie) Hi. And what--what can I get for you tonight?

Mr. STEPHEN MOYER: (As Bill) Do you have any of that synthetic bottled
blood?

Ms. PAQUIN: (As Sookie) No. I'm so sorry. Sam got some a year ago, but
nobody ever ordered it, so it went bad. You're our first--vampire.

Mr. MOYER: (As Bill) Am I that obvious?

Ms. PAQUIN: (As Sookie) I knew the minute you came in. Can't believe nobody
else around here seems to.

Mr. MOYER: (As Bill) He does.

Ms. PAQUIN: (As Sookie) Oh, don't worry about Sam. He's cool. I know for a
fact he supports the Vampire Rights Amendment.

Mr. MOYER: (As Bill) How progressive of him.

Ms. PAQUIN: (As Sookie) Well, anything else you drink?

Mr. MOYER: (As Bill) Actually, no. But you can get me a glass of red wine
so I have a reason to be here.

Ms. PAQUIN: (As Sookie) Well, whatever the reason, I'm glad you are.

(End of soundbite)

BIANCULLI: If you were a fan of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"--and I hope you
were--you're already comfortable with the idea of mixing terror and humor in a
vampire story. Buffy was better, and actually a lot more subtle, but "True
Blood" approaches things differently. Buffy, like a David Lynch drama, was
about finding darkness hidden in the sunniest of places. It was set, after
all, in Sunnydale. And more than anything else, Buffy was about the epic,
endless struggle between good and evil. "True Blood" has other things on its
mind. It's big on allegory, and the tension about accepting vampires into
society is an obvious play on civil rights in general and gay rights in
particular--sometimes too obvious, but it's interesting anyway.

Even better is the idea that, just as vampires can feed on humans, certain
humans in "True Blood" like to feed on vampires. They either seek them out as
exciting, dangerous sexual partners, or synthesize vampire blood as a potent
new black market drug. So while some outlaw vampires continue to hunt humans,
there are some outlaw humans hunting vampires; while others, like Sookie and
Bill, just want to get along.

But what chance to you have to love one another till death do you part when
loving a vampire means it's death at the start? "True Blood" explores that
question and others in a show that builds, slowly but surely. Stay with it
for a few episodes and you'll be craving your weekly dose of "True Blood."
It's not going to replace "The Sopranos," but as a synthetic substitute, it'll
do for now.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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