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Wingman Wednesday

Sheaun McKinney

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Photo By: Gerard Sandoval

There’s no denying that we live in divided times. Regardless of the subject – politics, social injustices, judicial appointments – we all could use a moment away from the noise, a reprieve from the back-and-forth to smile and escape. That’s where a show like “The Neighborhood” comes into play according to series star Sheaun McKinney. The CBS sitcom, which also features Cedric the Entertainer, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs and Tichina Arnold, is tackling hot button talking points, but doing so in a disarming way.

There’s a sickness in this country that we’re all sharing in, and perhaps in the end, laughter will prove to be the best medicine. (Take a dose of “The Neighborhood” tonight and feel better in the morning!)

We recently sat down with McKinney to discuss the Miami Dolphins, the silver lining we should look to, and the reason those things that make us laugh are the steps we need to take to enter a bigger conversation.

TrunkSpace: We know you’re a Miami Dolphins fan, so for full disclosure, we thought it would be a good idea to let you know we’re a stones throw away from Gillette Stadium and Tom Brady.
McKinney: This is no longer off to a good start. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: The Dolphins haven’t had a terrible start this year.
McKinney: It’s fool’s gold with the Dolphins, because this is what we do. I’m going to play out the rest of the Dolphins season, ’cause this happened for the last 35 years that I’ve been on the earth. This is what’s going to happen. We are going to lose four of the next five games. Then, they’re gonna make a valiant effort to possibly make the playoffs so we can get a middle-of-the-round draft pick that won’t pan out, à la DeVante Parker, and we’ll be stuck in this scenario until the curse of Dan Marino beats us.

TrunkSpace: So wash and repeat?
McKinney: Yes. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Well, like in the NFL, this industry has no guarantees and yet something like “The Neighborhood” seemed like it was put on a path to find success. Did the popularity of the premiere take you by surprise at all or did you see it coming?
McKinney: That’s a good question. I’m a person who tries to stay out of what the ratings are, what reviews are, what people say. I try to treat every project just like it’s theater… I go and do a play and I leave it. I think what we all felt was that we were sitting on something really cool because everybody really gets along so well, and every script that we’ve had, we’ve all come together. The way that we communicate with each other… it doesn’t happen like that all the time. The things that we discover about each other on and off set have been really cool and enlightening. The show is naturally topical with everything that’s going on in our country and certain topics naturally come up. I think we all just thought, like, “Man, there’s something really cool happening here,” and I think we’re lucky because our show is able to deal with these things through humor, and humor is very disarming. So we’re able to approach certain topics without being in your face and also without being too over-the-edge… without trying to be forceful. I think a lot of things that are out right now… we push the bar so far, and I think our show sits in this very unique pocket where we’re able to deal with these things in a funny and a somewhat non-aggressive way.

I heard that the show did great, obviously, and I think that’s just people responding to needing something to go and watch when they don’t have to either think so much or when we can let our guards down a little bit and laugh.

TrunkSpace: We live in such divisive times, but especially with comedy, it’s a way to bridge the gap, to tear down those figurative walls and bring people together without them even realizing it.
McKinney: Absolutely, and if you approach somebody with humor, you can get into a conversation about anything before you know it, and our walls come down. Everybody has an opinion today. Nobody can tell you what anybody else’s opinion really is because you’re just worried about getting your own out or defending whatever your own is, and rightfully so – whatever it is you’re passionate about or whatever it is you may be defending. We’re only gonna get somewhere if we start listening. I think that’s the key point of our show… it’s communication.

TrunkSpace: Is it a scary time for somebody like yourself who is in the public spotlight to put yourself and your opinions out there, especially in social media where things can turn so quickly?
McKinney: I think it’s a double-edged sword in that I’ve had to realize that the one thing with, whatever celebrity truly is, is that you don’t really get a chance to make a mistake in the moment, if that makes sense. What you say, people are gonna take that, harp on it, pounce on it, and, in our country, people will forget three years later or whenever they feel like you’ve suffered your penance. Depending on what you’ve done, people will forgive you. The silver lining, I think, about the climate that’s going on right now is that nobody should be silent. Nobody should be afraid to speak. The fact that a lot of people who are speaking out against people that are speaking out… those points are played, because all the bullshit they’ve gotten away with for years is coming to light.

I’m 6’1 and I’m dark. I’m African American, so I deal with a lot of stuff on a daily basis, and I’ve had to deal with racism in this climate. That’s gone on for years. Even I had to take a step back with the issues that are going on with women in this country. I have to take a step back and be like, “Holy shit.” I was enlightened. Of course I was aware of gender equality, but when you really looked at it and started listening to women and what they had to go through, it boggled my mind. As it pertains to that, I can only listen before I have any type of opinion on that. I think the silver lining about this climate… it’s recognizing that we need to speak up. We need to address these issues, but we also have to be cognizant of the fact that we’re speaking up to find the solution. We’re not speaking up to create walls and divisiveness, and I think that’s where we are in the country right now. It’s like, “What do we do now? What do we do with all these issues?” We have to find that solution.

TrunkSpace: That silver lining makes a lot of sense and it’s one that musicians – artists – seem to be jumping on. There’s a sense that people are saying something, not just saying anything.
McKinney: Exactly. Yeah and, as African Americans, most of our exemplars are people who were prominent in the arts and sports because that’s all we had. So just getting back to that mindset, when you look at Kaepernick and you look at LeBron, and you look at all these people who are using their platforms to effect change, it’s the one thing about this whole time that’s going on… we should all pay attention to the people who have spoken up on certain sides of the arguments. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate about how you feel, but whatever your stance is on anything, if that, in any way, has an infringement upon the mass populace, that’s wrong. We need to find a way, I think, to have some type of solution. Obviously, you can’t please everybody, but what can we do that’s gonna please most of the people or get equality started for now?

Photo By: Gerard Sandoval

TrunkSpace: And that’s the beauty of something like, “The Neighborhood,” which is streaming into all of these different homes, and there are all of these people from different walks of life, different points of view, watching it, finding common ground in it and not even realizing it.
McKinney: Absolutely. 100 percent! And I’ve had people, already, that have texted me about just little cultural differences that have… like in the second episode where they’re discussing white people not using washcloths and black people using washcloths. We laugh at little things like that, but those little things are the steps into a bigger conversation. That, to me, is what’s important.

TrunkSpace: We spoke about the divisiveness in the country right now, but sometimes comedy can be divisive, too. One person’s trash is another person’s treasure in terms of comedic tone. You come from “Vice Principals,” and that’s, obviously, a much different type of humor than “The Neighborhood.” As an actor, how do you adjust performance and delivery in comedy for tone?
McKinney: I was telling somebody the other day, when I came off “Vice Principals,” obviously, being on cable, being on HBO, I was able to improv and you’re able to curse and you’re able to use different language. Actors, we love cursing. We love to do it. But I remembered when I left “Vice Principals,” and I came back to LA, I had an audition, like a network show, and I went in and I was like, “Oh, I’m a pro now. I got this.” I started improving and ad-libbing and cursing, and they looked at me like I had choked someone. I was like, “Oh, okay. Lesson learned. I can’t do that.” (Laughter) I had to realize with network, I have to trust the writers a little more and the overall point of what they’re trying to articulate.

I have young family members, young cousins and nephews, that can’t watch “Vice Principals” because of the language, but I can sit them down in front of “The Neighborhood,” and they can watch it and it can resonate with them. I think, as the actor, that the learning curve is trusting a little more the words that are coming from the writers, trusting your scene partners more, and trusting the overall point of what you’re trying to say within a sitcom.

TrunkSpace: Well, from a career standpoint, too, it must be so nice not to get pigeon-holed into one particular type of comedy because it certainly has happened to people in the past. To be to able to branch out and try all of these different avenues opens up the career in ways you can’t plan for.
McKinney: Absolutely. It’s funny because when I first came here… I’m a part of a theater company back home in Miami, and all we do is intense, dramatic work. I had an improv background, doing improv and guerrilla theater, and just whatever, so I was used to comedy, but my intent was always to come to LA and be, like, this serious actor first. Then comedy took off first and, for a second, I would tell my reps, “I don’t know, man. I don’t know if I wanna go through a sitcom. I don’t know if I wanna do this because I want to get into Art House, indie films.” I had to realize, it’s much easier for an actor to segue from comedy to drama because when people identify you with dramatic work, and they see you do comedy, it’s like, “Oh wait. I don’t know…” Whereas, they may see you be funny and then be dramatic, and they’re impressed by it.

TrunkSpace: Your career as a whole is a great example about how people can never really plan for things in this business, because from what we understand, you were heading back to Florida to pursue an entirely different career when “Vice Principals” happened, correct?
McKinney: That’s life in general, and me being a person of faith, I have to trust my faith. Yeah, I had moved back to Miami for about a year and half. I was gonna be a police officer, and I had taken all the preliminary tests so that you can get into an academy and I was just working at some law office and waiting to see if I could get into an academy. I came back to LA for what I thought was gonna be a weekend and things, sort of, unfolded. Within two months “Vice Principals” happened and I’m still here.

TrunkSpace: Which is a great lesson for people, to never turn your back on an opportunity or find an excuse not to do something that has the potential to change your life.
McKinney: 100 percent, brother. I would not be sitting here right now. I wouldn’t, and I’m glad I did. I’m glad I just trusted my faith and sometimes, you gotta get out of your own way and let these things unfold, and really just dive into ’em. I was listening to a pastor the other day, and he kept saying, “Just do something. Just do something. Just dive in and don’t give up. Just dive into it and you might be able to just figure it out as you go.”

I actually would’ve been content back in Miami, but I definitely wouldn’t have been as happy as I am now and as excited as I am now about the future.

The Neighborhood” airs Mondays on CBS.

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Wingman Wednesday

James Chen

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Photo By: David Zheng

This is shaping up to be a defining year for James Chen’s career. Outside of his ongoing work on “The Walking Dead,” where he plays Hilltop resident Kal, the Yale School of Drama graduate also joined the Marvel Universe as Sam Chung in Season 2 of “Iron Fist” for Netflix and will be recurring as Ian Lentz in the new Dick Wolf-produced drama series “FBI,” which premieres September 25 on CBS.

And somehow that’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

We recently sat down with Chen to discuss how “The Walking Dead” prepared him for his super future, why the introduction of Blindspot is so topical, and the reason on-screen Asian stereotypes may finally be a thing of the past.

TrunkSpace: As far as Septembers go, yours looks like it will be one for the history books!
Chen: (Laughter) My man, it’s been an amazing year, I’m not gonna lie. You’re correct, September has been very busy and productive, and we just recently added another gig… I’ll be playing a billionaire race car driver on “Madam Secretary.” So yeah, I’m very grateful. It’s been very awesome. It’s the product of a lot of hard work and not giving up.

TrunkSpace: With so much of that hard work being released into the world this month, is there a different type of personal excitement at this stage of a project as opposed to your first day on a set?
Chen: Oh, it is, it is. Yeah, that’s a good distinction. I think like any first day – of school, first day at work, first day at a TV show – there’s excitement. I guess you could say it’s nerves, but I just like to call it excitement, because you’re meeting a lot of new people and going into a new space. Invariably it’s always wonderful, because everyone’s extremely collaborative, and at the end of the day we’re just playing. So that kind of thing facilitates just sinking into a good ease. There’s also a lot of technical things you’re doing in addition to meeting a bunch of people. You’re kind of just getting the lay of the land, and having conversations with the director about the scene structure, and stuff like that. But, something like the past couple weeks, “Iron Fist” being released last Friday, “FBI” coming out next week… yeah, you’re still working hard, having conversations with great people like you, just to basically tell your stories about what it was like on set.

TrunkSpace: When you joined the Marvel Universe for “Iron Fist,” obviously it must have been an exciting thing, but at the same time you kind of have to keep that excitement in check . Marvel projects are so shrouded in plot point secrecy that you’re really in a conversational holding pattern about it until it’s released.
Chen
: That’s right. I got to be honest though, I’ve been on “The Walking Dead” for four years, and they’ve got the best secret police game going on. They put the fear in you with those NDAs and stuff. (Laughter) So I was kind of trained and had some experience with that. But, it was tough, because you’d be gone for a while, and  I would run into my co-workers from set outside of work with other people, and it was like we’d be catching up and we’d have to kind of shield the conversation from people who are not in the know. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: With a show like “Iron Fist,” which releases all at once, that must help ease that loose lips sink ships vibe, because once it’s out, everything is fair game. If the audience is willing to put in the work, they could view the entire season in one sitting.
Chen: That’s right, yeah. I like that idea though, that the viewer has to put in the work too, but it’s true. That wasn’t around four years ago… five years ago. I like it, personally, I guess from a sharing point of view, because we can talk about bigger picture stuff, like arcs, or how different parts from different episodes connected or didn’t connect, or what it means. I like that part of the conversation as opposed to it being drawn out over several months from installation broadcast. I like people having the full context of Sam Chung, talking about “Iron Fist,” to see how he and Colleen work in a bunch of different scenarios.

TrunkSpace: While the viewers understand the full context of Sam Chung, those who read the comic know that there’s so much story to tell there, should Netflix choose to go down that road.
Chen: Right. We know for sure that there’s just tremendous, exciting, tremendous, one more tremendous, potential in the development of Blindspot and his back story. And it’s so topical these days, illegal immigrant, right? Also, it’s extremely topical with him being an Asian male character, an Asian male superhero. I mean, after Asian August, with “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Searching,” “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Awkwafina is getting her show green lit – it’s time!

TrunkSpace: And to be a part of this moment in pop culture, influencing the next generation, it has to be an amazing feeling.
Chen: It is, yeah. It’s so true. It’s interesting also, because growing up and initially my first phase in the biz, that wasn’t around, so it’s almost like… it’s hard to describe what it’s like. A part of me almost can’t believe it’s happening, because the stereotypes have been and are really awful, and degrading, and they’ve been so solid for such a long time, so it’s so refreshing. It’s so invigorating. And, kind of like what you said about as far as the next generation, I mean, you really feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution to the image of your people, which is so satisfying. It’s not like I’m selling soap for a commercial.

Photo By: David Zheng

TrunkSpace: The path of actors as a whole seems to has changed as well. If we went back 10 years, it would be a rarity for an actor to be talking about so many different television projects at once. It just seems like there’s more freedom to spread your wings and be involved in more projects than there used to be.
Chen: Right. I think with so much programming out there, there’s a lot of opportunity. I’ve seen an increase in both the quality and quantity of auditions in my particular demographic, for Asian men, which is kind of what I see as far as the auditions that come down the pike. But, it’s been encouraging and exciting too to see that they’re opening up casting and auditions for roles that aren’t specifically written to be Asian. There were a few of those back in the day, like a couple a year, but now it’s like we’re getting closer to that place where ethnicity doesn’t have to define who you are. You’re a person and you happen to be of a certain ethnicity.

TrunkSpace: Jumping back to Sam as a character, what was it about him in the early stages, the audition days, that you liked on the page?
Chen: Well, I loved kind of how Sam’s dialogue was very… this is going to sound weird, but it’s very casual and conversational. It was very everyday. He’s just simply having a conversation with someone, as opposed to… he’s not talking about something super Asian or stereotypically something or other, if that makes any sense. He’s just having a conversation with another person who happens to be Asian as well. There’s no commentary on the fact that we’re both Asian. Colleen is Asian and I’m Asian and we’re just talking about helping her solve a problem. So I love that aspect of the fact that we don’t need to comment on it, it just is.

I love how there is history in that opening scene in Season 2/Episode 2 of “Iron Fist,” when we first meet Sam. There’s just some great history, and backstory, and rapport between Sam and Colleen. It’s not heavy, but you can tell that they’ve worked together for a while. They’ve got great rapport. They tease each other. I’m fishing a little bit, and they share a little bit about their private lives and what they’re doing, just some teasing. So that’s exciting, and I think you can see that in the series. Obviously certain plot emergencies come through that maybe don’t make it a priority, but it’s one of the layers of their relationship, which I think is great.

TrunkSpace: And that is one of the things that Marvel Studios is so great at, which is building out the world so that the viewer feels like they’re a part it as opposed to being on the outside looking in.
Chen: Right. And I like that idea, because Sam has more of a management, supervisory responsibility for the community center and it shows, because I know where everything is and what’s going on. I feel like I have an ear to the ground and a hand on the pulse of what’s happening in the community, because the community center is like a hub, more or less. So I thought that was pretty exciting to kind of be right at the brain of the nervous system of what’s happening in Chinatown, or in our community. I thought it was great how the community center became a hub for us to meet a whole bunch of other characters who also happen to be Asian, like Mrs. Yang, or Danny’s boss at the moving company, played by my buddy James Lai.

So I thought that was great, the inclusion of more Asian faces, and culture, and depth in the series.

Chen in “The Walking Dead.”

TrunkSpace: From TV superheros to superheroes of TV, your next project is Dick Wolf’s “FBI.” Obviously Marvel is a big brand, but in the world of television, Dick Wolf is a brand unto his own.
Chen: Sure, it is. That man is a genius. He’s kind of like the Stan Lee of procedurals. (Laughter)

This is not a joke. I grew up and “Law & Order: SVU” was my favorite show on TV. God, man, everything about that, from just the “dun dun,” it was so just clicked for me. I loved it. I loved Mariska Hargitay and Chris Meloni. Then I actually got a chance to play a recurring character on SVU for Dick’s show a few years ago, CSU Adrian “Andy” Sung, and I got to meet and work with Mariska, and Chris, and Ice, and it was just fantastic. A lot of the directors on that show are repeat directors, so it was just awesome to build the rapport, to be on that set, to work on a show that I loved so much for so long. That said, I kind of feel like I’m returning home in a way. Maybe like the same family/different house, kind of feeling. You’ve got the feel of all the same things, and obviously, Dick’s running the ship, it’s just with a twist… an FBI twist.

Iron Fist” is available now on Netflix.

FBI” premieres Tuesday on CBS.

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Wingman Wednesday

Madison Smith

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Photo By: Courtney Paige

Had Madison Smith stayed the course he set for himself early in life, we would have needed a different list of questions  for this interview. In an alternative universe, he’d be playing baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays after working his way up through the minor leagues – a dream he had since he was a kid – but after purposefully setting himself on a more creative career path in college, he’s now staring down the end of planet Earth as we know it.

Well, sort of.

As the star of the CBS series “Salvation,” the Canadian-born actor is not only wrestling with the fate of humanity, but also enjoying his biggest television role to date.

We recently sat down with Smith to discuss his recent roller coaster ride, discovering patience, and his new web series “NarcoLeap.”

TrunkSpace: This is shaping up to be a pretty exciting summer for you. Not only are you recurring on CBS’ “Salvation,” but you have a new web series from KGP Films that launched on July 15th called “NarcoLeap.” Do you feel like the road that you’ve traveled is leading its way to you seeing your dreams fulfilled? Is this the path you were meant to travel?
Smith: Oh wow. So far 2018 has been a fantastic year and it’s only halfway gone. It’s been a long, hard road so far, but I always stayed positive and hoped that things would someday look up. I definitely think my journey has still just begun, but like a roller coaster getting to the top of an apex, I’m picking up momentum!

TrunkSpace: You attended college on a baseball scholarship. Was a career in the MLB, working your way up through the minors, one that you actually saw yourself pursuing as well?
Smith: Absolutely. I had my early 20s all mapped out. I would play two years of college baseball at Okanagan College, which I found out would only count as one year at an NCAA school in the U.S. Then after I got my degree in business and had played five years of college ball, I would start to make my way through the minors with a hope to get to the MLB. After my first year of college ball though something made me feel that I wasn’t on the right path. I discussed this with my parents, who have always been supportive of my life goals, and they were the ones who suggested that maybe I give acting a try. Immediately, I felt that was what I should be doing with my life and within six months I had uprooted my life to Vancouver, B.C. to pursue acting.

TrunkSpace: In the world of acting, is there an equivalent to the minors of baseball? Is there a place where you felt like you had to pay your dues until you got the call to the big show?
Smith: The first five to maybe 10 years in the acting business is all about paying your dues, very much like a minor league baseball player. Every audition you go to isn’t about booking that job, because there are tons of factors outside your control that go into that, but booking your next audition. Hopefully that casting director sees something in you and wants to bring you in again. And at the start, those auditions may be very small. I remember an early audition of mine was for “flower delivery guy.” I had one line and still didn’t book the role. But I got my next audition. Cut to six years later, I booked “Salvation” with that exact casting director. So patience and hard work is key.

TrunkSpace: As far as opportunities go, does it feel like “Salvation” is your biggest foot in the door yet? What did you take from the experience that you’ll carry with you through the rest of your career?
Smith: “Salvation” is definitely my biggest foot in the door and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity. Through “Salvation” I’ve learned the joy and camaraderie that comes from being a part of a TV show. It’s my first experience with something like that and I always hoped it would be this great. They say the grass is always greener on the other side. Well, the grass is pretty damn green over here.

TrunkSpace: In the series you play Nate Ryland, a guy who is trying to get a handle on not only his own fate, but the rest of the planet’s as well. When you’re playing a character who has no future, at least not in his own point of view, is it even more important to play him in the moment?
Smith: Nate is a pretty interesting guy. He is fully aware of his circumstances but he is, for some reason, keeping a very level head about everything. He still lives life to the fullest knowing that there are things outside his control. He doesn’t let that get him down. So in terms of playing a character like that, it’s been a blast. I wish I was as positive as Nate is. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: People tend to take more risks – find new versions of themselves – when they’re living like they’re dying. Does Nate have that quality? Do you think he has changed dramatically from who he was before discovering that an asteroid was headed for the planet?
Smith: I think Nate had a bit of a spiral downwards when he learned the news of the impending doom. But he looked for outside help to change his perspective. We may learn more about this in upcoming episodes…

Photo By: Courtney Paige

TrunkSpace: If you woke up tomorrow to discover an asteroid was headed for earth, do you think you’d approach your last days differently? Would the world see a different side of Madison Smith than you share with people now?
Smith: Actually I think the world might not see much of me because I’d grab my girlfriend and head up to my parents’ cabin. I’d enjoy my last bit of time in this world surrounded by the people I love in one of my favorite places. Oh, I’d also try and go see one last MLB game, but it would all depend on how much time I had.

TrunkSpace: “NarcoLeap” sounds really interesting. From a concept standpoint, there’s nothing else like it out there. How exciting is it right now to be an actor, not only due to how innovative the content is that’s being created, but because of the quality as well?
Smith: It’s such a great place to be in as an actor when the content is, for lack of a better word, cool! We are in a platinum age of television where shows are being made that pull you into a world almost like our own, but way more fantastical. To be a storyteller in one of those worlds is a dream come true.

TrunkSpace: Do you think you would have enjoyed being a professional actor as much as you do now if you were coming up in the 70’s and 80’s when everything in television was episodic and wasn’t necessarily character-driven? Storytelling is so different now, do you think it has altered the experience for actors?
Smith: No, I don’t think I would have. I think this day and age is the greatest to be an actor. The stories we get to tell now are so dynamic and have so many levels it makes reading a script or watching a show such a pleasure. Those in the ‘70s and ‘80s were pioneers for us now, but I’m much happier enjoying the fruits of their labor.

TrunkSpace: Finally, Madison, we know you ultimately chose a different path, but if you did continue to play baseball, what team would have been your dream team to play for? (Full disclosure, we’re Red Sox fans!)
Smith: Ah, part of the Red Sox Nation I see. Well, there’s a lot to love with a team like the Red Sox but my heart will always stay north of the boarder with the Toronto Blue Jays. In fact, I drive down to Seattle every year to watch them play the Mariners. So if I could choose a team to play for it would be my Jays!

Salvation” airs Mondays on CBS.

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Wingman Wednesday

Steven Schirripa

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Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When you sit down to have a conversation with Steven Schirripa, you know with absolute certainty that you’re getting the genuine article. In a business where the line between reality and make believe can often become blurred, the separation between who the man is and what the man does is crystal clear. It is this real McCoy quality to Schirripa that translates to his work and makes him the most likable person in any given scene, including memorable performances as Bobby ‘Bascala’ Baccalieri in “The Sopranos” and as Detective Anthony Abetemarco on “Blue Bloods,” which returns this Friday on CBS.

We recently sat down with Schirripa to discuss first pitch milestones, why he’s happy not chasing down every opportunity these days, and the reason millions of people are watching “Blue Bloods” week after week.

TrunkSpace: Before we get into the meat and potatoes of our chat, as baseball fans, we’ve got to ask… where does getting the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at a Yankees game rank in terms of life moments for you?
Schirripa: That was a great day. George Steinbrenner invited us. We had met him, and he invited us and gave us his box. We could take our families, and then I think there were five of us that threw out the first pitch. Jamie-Lynn Sigler sang the national anthem. Yeah, that is right up there. That’s a good one. We were in the dugout – the players wanted to meet us, we wanted to meet the players. Torre was there. 
I also threw out one at the Cubs game and the Tigers game, and I’m proud to say I haven’t bounced it yet. A lot of pressure.

TrunkSpace: One of the things we always loved about you, Steven was, well… you. Every appearance we have ever seen you do, whether it was with Conan O’Brien or on “The Tonight Show,” your segments were always real and conversational. Nothing seemed scripted.
Schirripa: Listen, I can’t fake it, who I am. I’m not a Hollywood guy, so I can’t fake it. People, even when I used to do all the talk show appearances, and I’ve done just about everything, they would say, “Let me give you a joke.” I said, “I can’t tell a joke. I gotta tell stuff that is real, for me, part of my life.” I’m not a comic. Listen, I’m a regular guy that has had some really good jobs. That’s how I describe myself. I’m just a regular guy, man. I’ve gotten lucky, I’ve worked hard, and it’s all worked out, but I see things a different way. I was on the other side of the business where I bought acts and I produced stuff, so I was on that side. I look at things kind of from that side as opposed to the acting side where sometimes you talk to an actor, or a comic, and they have no idea what’s going on, or it’s, “I gotta talk to my manager.” I know what’s going on. I know how the business works. I’m a realist about the business. I don’t rely on anyone to make decisions for me. I’ll take advice, but in the end, it’s my decision.

TrunkSpace: Everybody talks about how the business is changing, but it’s more the front end that’s changing – the distribution if it all. The business is still operating as it always has.
Schirripa: Well, yeah. I mean, of course, you have all these different places and outlets, and the funny thing is, there seems to be so many more shows, but I don’t know… at one point the reality shows kind of took over, do you remember that? That’s maybe 10 years ago or so, and so, that was replacing everything and then that kind of went by the wayside a little, and then you got Netflix and Amazon, and there’s some really good stuff on there.

Listen, I’m 60 years old, I’ve been making a living for 18 years as an actor. I had a whole ‘nother life before that. I like what I’m doing. I like where I’m at right now. I’m not as hungry as I once was and running around and selling and trying to pitch. I’m just enjoying this job on “Blue Bloods,” which is a great job. It’s here in the city, and I’m just kind of taking a step back because all through the years, “The Sopranos” years, it was like pressure. You got on “The Sopranos,” it’s THE show. The show’s getting massive, bigger, bigger, bigger… you want more material. You have all these actors, and everyone wants to do more on the show. And then you want to sell stuff because you know it’s just going to end, so you do this, you do books, and you sell this. It was like a whirlwind. If I didn’t do something two days in a row it was like, “What the hell?” I needed to do interviews, or “The Tonight Show,” or writing the books. And now, I’m just kind of happy where I am.

TrunkSpace: When something like “The Sopranos” hits though, there’s got to be a part of you that must know it’s necessary to capitalize because that opportunity might not be there tomorrow?
Schirripa: Oh, absolutely. Look, I knew it was going to go away. Some guys didn’t, some guys thought they were kind of stars and that was gonna be it and we’ll ride this train forever. That is not true and I knew that wasn’t going to be true. I knew that from being on the other side of the business, that everything is going to end. That’s the one thing we can be sure of. So, me, I’m doing appearances all over the country and some of the guys are going, “Where are you going? Where are you going this weekend?” And I’m going, “Hey, I got three young kids, man. I gotta put them through college.”

So, without selling my soul, and I could honestly say I did not because I have been offered every reality, every piece of garbage along the way, and I would not dip my toe there. I did game shows to help my income at one point. “The $100,000 Pyramid” and “Hollywood Squares” and stuff early on, but I can honestly say, I knew it would go away. I’ve written six books, turned one of them into a movie. I was on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” which was a really good job and a really good show that I enjoyed. So, you gotta cash in while you can, and I don’t think I left anything on the table.

Schirripa in “The Sopranos”

TrunkSpace: When you’re working on a show like “Blue Bloods” or “The Sopranos” where you’re on them long term, does it start to feel like those periods are defined by those shows? Is it like, for you, “These are the ‘Blue Blood’ years. Those were ‘The Sopranos’ years.”?
Schirripa: Yeah, absolutely. The thing with “The Sopranos” years, and listen, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved it, and without “The Sopranos” I have nothing, but you were, seriously, always worried about getting killed off. That was a serious concern. You were always worried, “Oh, you’re gonna do one more season.” Or, “We need two years off.” It was like you got two years off from work. I think one time the longest was 15 or 16 months. That’s a long time to sit on the sidelines. We did okay. We weren’t getting stupidly rich – I wasn’t anyway. So, there was always pressure there.

Listen, I didn’t buy an apartment in New York until the show ended because I was always worried that I was going to get killed off or it wasn’t going to work out, or whatever. I had a house in Las Vegas and the first thing I did when I made money, I paid it off. I figured if all else fails, I get my wife and my three young kids and we’ll go back to Vegas and live in a house that’s paid for. At least I’ll get that covered. So that was my mindset there. Obviously, it all worked out with “The Sopranos.” It was a once in a lifetime thing, believe me – a moment in time that will never happen again.

TrunkSpace: And it’s a moment in time that has helped to define what television is today.
Schirripa: Absolutely, but I’m just talking the whole experience. The guys, the fellow actors and producers, the crew – it was a moment in time where it really was a family. We traveled together, we went through stuff together. I go to the set, “How you doing? Good to see you. How you doing?” We do the thing. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Just like most people with their every day jobs. “The Sopranos” was different. We vacationed together, we hung out together. It was like kind of playing on the Yankees, 2003, 2004 and 2005. We’re going out, we walk into a restaurant, you get a standing ovation, six of us. We enjoyed each others’ company, we traveled together, we did a lot of appearances, so we were together a lot on and off camera.

TrunkSpace: Which you must be able to appreciate even more now because as you have surely experienced, not every job is like that.
Schirripa: No, absolutely not. And I can honestly say everyone is very nice. I’ve very rarely worked with someone that wasn’t pleasant. Everyone’s very nice, and you work, and you go home, and you have a few laughs on the set, and that’s the job. And that’s 95 percent. But “The Sopranos,” there was always… listen, this wasn’t “Friends” where they had six of them and they’re not going anywhere. You were really concerned that every year somebody was going. You don’t want to be that guy. One, you’re gonna be out of work and number two, you’re gonna miss a good time.

TrunkSpace: Obviously “The Sopranos” was a huge hit, but with something like “Blue Bloods,” that’s a show that continues to be the most watched show in its night. As every cable show and streaming series becomes a part of the water cooler conversation, are network procedurals getting overlooked?
Schirripa: The show is a really, really well written show, and a really well acted show. For some reason, you know how it happens, I don’t know who makes these decisions, but it gets overlooked. It gets thrown in the pile. It’s not nominated for anything – not writing, not acting. I mean, are you kidding me? Bridget Moynahan, Donnie Wahlberg, Tom Selleck – they’re as good as it gets. I’ve worked with a lot of great actresses, Bridget Moynahan is as good as any of them.

They do get overlooked, but not by the audience where 14 million people are watching the show. 13 or 14 million, with DVR, and they’re watching the show week in and week out. “The Sopranos” never got those numbers because not that many people at the time had HBO. Then you see some shows that get all the hype, “Girls” being one of them. You didn’t get a half a million people watching that show. No one got more publicity than “Girls,” no one… cover of every newspaper, magazine at the beginning. “Mad Men?” Cover of everything. Hey, great shows, all the hype, but not that many people watching them. This show gets watched.

It’s also not unlike the Emmys. One year a show is nominated for five Emmys – all the actresses, actors – they’re all nominated. And a year later, the show has cooled off and no one is nominated. What? They forgot how to act? They’re not good anymore? And that’s exactly what happens. They’re on here, they’re off here. You go cold. All “Blue Bloods” does is it just keeps on going, keeps on getting viewers. The show is a really, really good show.

TrunkSpace: Well, that’s what’s so great about a show like “Blue Bloods” is that it keeps its head down and gets the job done. It doesn’t try to be something that it’s not.
Schirripa: Absolutely, as it should. People love the show. It used to be always, “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby…” when I walked around New York, but now, it’s, “Anthony, Anthony, Anthony…” Everybody’s watching this show, man. If they don’t catch it on Friday nights, they catch it On Demand, or certainly in syndication. It’s all over the place. Plus, what I love about it, not unlike “The Sopranos” where New Jersey was like another cast member, the streets of New York are another cast member here. And that I like very much, shooting in Brooklyn and in Queens, and here in Manhattan. That I like. There’s nothing worse than a show supposedly in New York, but they’re really in Toronto. There’s nothing worse.

Blue Bloods” returns from a month-long hiatus Friday on CBS.

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Wingman Wednesday

Albert Tsai

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Photo By: Wes Klain

Albert Tsai may be considered a child actor, but this young adult displays more maturity than most of the actual adults we know, and that’s not excluding ourselves. With an impressive career that has already spanned half a decade, the 13-year-old has mastered the art of making people laugh, which he has done opposite industry heavyweights like Malin Akerman and Ken Jeong through his early work in “Trophy Wife” and “Dr. Ken.” His latest project is the Mark Feuerstein-created sitcom “9JKL” airing Mondays on CBS.

We recently sat down with Tsai to discuss his love for entertaining, how he’s always absorbing knowledge while on set, and why individual episodes represent their own contribution to a show’s overall story.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been acting professionally for a long time now. What is it about entertaining that you personally enjoy most?
Tsai: I love making people laugh, making people happy, and that’s why I love doing comedy. I love acting because I feel like I get to play different roles and be in different lives, almost like being a different person, and playing different kinds of characters. That’s what I really love about it, and also, exploring the different stories and scripts that I get.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned getting to play different types of roles. With that said, what is your process for finding a character? How do you connect with them?
Tsai: Whenever I get a new character, I always like to look at the little description, kind of a breakdown of what the character is that they give me. I’ll look at that and then read the lines that I have in the script and just imagine what the character would be like in real life and form his personality almost. Then, after I meet with the director or producers or writers, I will take in their notes and kind of mesh it.

TrunkSpace: Do you ever get into a situation where you think you have a character figured out, and then you meet with the creative team and they give you insight that you didn’t consider?
Tsai: Yeah, of course. I always like to incorporate what the director or writers think because they have a hand in also creating the character. It’s just a medley of all of our notes and who we think the character is.

For example, for Ian in “9JKL”, a major part of his personality is that he is a precocious latchkey kid who sits in the lobby a lot. He’s quite mature because he talks with all the adults that come in and out of the lobby. Also, he’s a cinephile, a movie buff, so he always likes to talk about different movies or plays or whatever.

TrunkSpace: “9JKL” is another sitcom in a series of great sitcoms over the course of your career. Do you wish to maintain your path in the comedy space or do you hope to branch out and do some serious drama?
Tsai: I love comedy, like I said earlier, and making people laugh, but I think also it would be great if I could do maybe some action or adventure stuff, like a feature film. I think that would be great, and it’d be a new experience for me because those characters are different. I feel like they’re developed more heavily also, so that would be a very interesting experience for me.

TrunkSpace: And we would imagine that the timing is different? You’re not having to find a joke within the dialogue.
Tsai: Yeah, like it’s not taken beat by beat. I feel like dramas or action and adventure, feature films in general, they’re more plot driven. It’s all about advancing the story and getting to the resolution.

TrunkSpace: We actually saw that you’re producing a project right now, which is not something you tend to see a lot of 13-year-olds doing. Is that something you’re hoping to continue doing in the future?
Tsai: I’ve always been interested in the behind-the-scenes part of things. Ever since doing my first show, the ABC family comedy “Trophy Wife,” I’ve been interested in how the entire production team – the director, the writers, the cast – how we all put together a TV show and we all do our part. I’ve always loved learning about directing or producing, and I think that would be great for me to do in the future. It’d be a lot of fun.

Pictured Albert Tsai as Ian Photo: Eddy Chen/CBS ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

TrunkSpace: “Trophy Wife,” “Dr. Ken,” and now “9JKL” are all shows with incredible talent both in front of and behind the camera. Do you look at your jobs as an education as well, having the opportunity to learn from all of these successful people within the industry?
Tsai: I’m very curious about what happens on set, so I always like to learn from everybody and everything that’s happening during my projects. For example, “Trophy Wife” was a single-camera comedy, and “Dr. Ken” was a multi-camera comedy. They both had different aspects to them that I learned from. I think it’s great that I’ve done different types of projects and I’m very grateful for it.

TrunkSpace: In terms of “9JKL,” how does the show and character differ from other work you’ve done? What is exciting about it for you?
Tsai: Well, my previous shows, they’ve both been family comedies, and I’ve been part of the family. I played the main characters’ son. Now I’m outside of the family, so it’s kind of a different character perspective and almost a different experience when delivering the lines and how this character, Ian, interacts with the other characters.

TrunkSpace: Would you say the comedy itself is tonally different from previous comedies you’ve worked on?
Tsai: A little bit because I feel like because the main family is all adults, it’s slightly more adult-driven even, but there’s still those family dynamics that are really fun.

TrunkSpace: You worked on “Dr. Ken” for over 40 episodes. Over 20 on “Trophy Wife.” Is it fun for you to play the same character over an extended period of time?
Tsai: Because I feel like, especially with comedies, how each episode is kind of its own isolated story – I mean, they all interlink, but they’re their own story arcs – I feel like even though I’m playing the same character, getting the script every week is really exciting for me because it’s a completely new story. We might find out a new part of the character’s personality, or something really fun might happen. I feel like each episode is its own piece of the entire TV show’s story.

“9JKL” airs Mondays on CBS.

Featured image by: Wes Klain

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Wingman Wednesday

David Lim

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Photo By: Gary Fitzpatrick

The upcoming CBS series “S.W.A.T.” has a number of factors going for it that puts it in a position of achieving network success. It has a built-in brand without being based on an existing group of characters or universe, a rarity in a landscape where every great idea has been mined ten times over. It is tackling topical subject matter that is prevalent in the daily conversations of viewers. And quite possibly best of all, it has David Lim, the California-born actor who brings an indefinably cool James Dean-like presence to every scene he’s in.

We recently sat down with Lim to discuss his premiere plans, how it feels more like a movie than a series, and why his contribution to “S.W.A.T.” will hopefully inspire a future generation of Asian-American actors.

TrunkSpace: “S.W.A.T.” premieres this week. What’s going through your mind – nerves, excitement, a combo of both?
Lim: You know, not really nerves, more excitement. We filmed the pilot, it seems like, ages ago – back in April, so it’s been six months in the making. I’ve seen some of the rough cuts of some of the upcoming episodes and how great these episodes are turning out and so I think for all of us, we’re just very excited to finally be able to share it with audiences.

TrunkSpace: Do you have any premiere plans?
Lim: Yeah, a couple of the cast members and myself, Jay Harrington who plays Deacon and Alex Russel who plays Jim Street, we’re going down to Santa Monica at Rock’n Pies. Jay’s buddy owns the place, and we’re just gonna bring out a bunch of our friends and they’re gonna shut down the restaurant for a couple hours and we’ll be able to enjoy it with each other and all our friends.

TrunkSpace: That sounds awesome. Great way to celebrate the launch of a series that could have easily taken a more standard procedural approach, but instead, it feels a bit like a hybrid between a network series and a cable show.
Lim: Yeah. I think it’s really gonna set itself apart from just your standard, let’s say, network procedural. I think there’s gonna be times when you’re like, “What am I watching? Am I watching a movie or am I watching network television?”

TrunkSpace: And you’re tackling some pretty heavy, relevant subject matters throughout.
Lim: And we’re excited about that as well. From the get go we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, we get into human trafficking, we get into cyber bullying. I think it’s stuff that’s very topical and relevant to what’s happening in the world today. And we’re not gonna shove it down anyone’s throats, how you should think about the matter, but we’re just gonna approach it from both sides – the police side and the community side. And that’s what’s exciting and hopefully we’ll be able to start some discussions.

TrunkSpace: And you mentioned that it will feel like a movie, which is helped along by the fact that Justin Lin’s creative fingerprint is definitely on the project. You can see it in the action sequences.
Lim: Yeah, when we were shooting the pilot it definitely had that kind of cinematic feel. You have Justin Lin directing this thing and I have so much respect for him and what he’s done. I’ve been a fan of his since “Better Luck Tomorrow,” and obviously “The Fast and the Furious” franchise and “Star Trek: Beyond,” and so when we’re working with him, when we were shooting the pilot, it never felt like television. It felt like we were on the set of a movie. At times it felt like we were doing “The Fast and the Furious” when we’re doing some of those car chases and when we’re blowing up cars. I definitely think his fingerprints are all over the pilot and you’ll kind of see it throughout the series as well.

TrunkSpace: Can you walk us through where your character Victor Tan falls into things and what his journey is?
Lim: You’ll sort of find out more about him as the series goes on. They created this role for me. There wasn’t a Victor Tan in the pilot when it was originally written, so they created this character. I was originally on as kind of a recurring role and then a few episodes in they bumped me up to a series regular and then they really could start delving into my character and writing for my character. So come probably later December or early January, when we get seven, eight, and nine episodes in, you’ll really start to get a sense of more of who this guy is. It’s kind of blue sky because they didn’t have him initially in the pilot, so we could really go anywhere with him. I’ve had a few conversations with the writing staff and where we want to take this guy. He’s got some kind of former CI’s in the community that he deals with who may or may not also be love interests – just some really interesting stuff.

TrunkSpace: Because you started as a recurring and then your role was expanded, were there things that surprised even you in terms of how Victor has progressed?
Lim: How they originally wrote him was as a guy who grew up in Venice Beach – a surfer/skater who eventually became a part of LAPD. As we started filming and they got more of a sense of who I am and what I brought to the role, I think they kind of went away from this surfer/skater thing because we haven’t touched on that at all.

We’re filming an episode right now, which is going to be the ninth episode of the season I believe, and we’re really starting to get into Victor Tan’s backstory, which like I said, kind of involves a former CI who could be a love interest as well. I’m very curious to see where they take him.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, is it interesting to to get the scripts each time out and sort of learn about Victor as you go?
Lim: Yeah, I think it’s great. When each new script comes out, you’re looking for little bits and pieces, the little clues, and you’re like, “Okay, well I had originally kind of created this backstory for this character and now I’m getting this new piece of information…” And it’s really cool because as the scripts continue to come out, I think all of us are really starting to settle in to the characters as we get more pieces and more of our backstory. Obviously you know you can do a ton of homework and make stuff up for yourself, which a lot of the actors do, but it’s nice to get a new script and see what they write for your character.

TrunkSpace: Now that you’ve seen the inner workings of how police and specifically, S.W.A.T., operate, do you have a different point of view if you’re driving and you stumble upon an officer or team in the midst of an operation in your day to day life? Do you look at things differently now?
Lim: So differently. As we’ve worked with some of these guys and got to know some of these S.W.A.T. officers, just the level of respect – I already had a great respect for law enforcement and what they do, but it just ups the ante in terms of respect for what these guys do. We went down to LAPD S.W.A.T. just to take a tour of the facilities and they got a call when we were taking the tour and we got to actually see them roll out. It was like a caravan of 10 vehicles going out on a call and it was unbelievable to see. So now, definitely that we’ve been dealing with these officers or we’re filming all this stuff with the vehicles, every time you pass a situation or something you’re like, “Oh, there’s S.W.A.T. right there and there.” But just huge respect for what these guys do and we want to do our best to try to bring the authenticity and the realism to the show.

TrunkSpace: We saw that you had a degree in Electrical Engineering. Is that something you hope you never have to use?
Lim: When I graduated college, I knew I wasn’t really cut out for engineering. I didn’t really have an interest in getting into it. When I started to pursue acting and got into my first class and really fell in love with the craft and realized that this is something I want to do as a profession, if I could do it until I retire, that would be incredible. But in the back of my mind I’d always tell myself, “If acting doesn’t work out and if I’m not able to make a living at it, I do have this engineering degree that I can always fall back on.” So that’s always there. Do I hope to fall back on it? No, I hope I don’t have to get a job as an engineer. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It’s a nice safety net though, right?
Lim: It’s not a bad safety net, but it’s been like 10 years since I graduated. (Laughter) I don’t even know if companies would still even look at that and take that seriously.

I love acting and I hope to continue to be able to do this and tell interesting stories and play interesting characters. I think “S.W.A.T.” is such a great vehicle. It’s got the name brand and I just think it’s such a great vehicle for me in particular to bring a cool, bad ass Asian-American character to television because growing up I never saw any. We didn’t have a lot and we still don’t have too many. And to be able to do that and maybe start a larger discussion – maybe people see this and they start to bring more cool roles for Asian American guys.

TrunkSpace: And perhaps a young Asian-American kid will be sitting down to watch the show, see your performance, and be inspired to pursue is own dreams.
Lim: To me that’s what it’s all about – if I can inspire some kid or if he can even just see me on the screen and say, “Hey, maybe acting is possible. Maybe I can become an actor.” When I was growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me playing a cool role, so I didn’t think it was possible to become an actor. And so if we can do that and at the same time entertain, because at the end of the day it’s about entertaining, and people can get lost in our show, that’s awesome.

“S.W.A.T. premieres Thursday on CBS.”

Featured image by: Gary Fitzpatrick

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Wingman Wednesday

Kathrine Herzer

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Photo by: Jacob Jonas

Kathrine Herzer is one of the coolest people working in television. Want to know how we know? Because we ruined “Game of Thrones” for her and she did not hang up on us. In fact, after our uncomfortable awkwardness subsided, the conversation went smoother than an Arya Stark execution as Herzer shared amazing insight into her career and her work on the hit television series “Madam Secretary.”

Seriously. We completely screwed the White Walker pooch on this one. (So be warned… SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD!)

We recently sat down with Herzer to apologize profusely, to discuss how she learned so much from her talented costars, and to discover why you’d have to proceed to fisticuffs in order to keep her from working towards positive change.

TrunkSpace: We saw on your Twitter page that you are a “Game of Thrones” fan. Thoughts on a White Walker dragon?
Herzer: Oh my god! I’m not caught up!

TrunkSpace: Oh no! We are so sorry! Nooooo!
Herzer: (Laughter) Oh my god! Spoiler alert! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: We take it all back. That never happened. Totally rewinding this conversation.
Herzer: (Laughter) Oh my god! It’s already burned from my brain.

TrunkSpace: Seriously… so sorry!
Herzer: It’s okay. I already don’t even know what you said. I don’t even remember.

TrunkSpace: We’ve actually never seen “Game of Thrones,” so we don’t even know what we’re talking about.
Herzer: You had a dream last night and that’s what came to you.

TrunkSpace: That’s right. All a dream!
Herzer: (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Soooooo… moving on to the non-GoT portion of this conversation, you’re still at such an early stage in your career and yet you’ve already experienced playing the same character for over 60 episodes. What has that experience been like for you, essentially growing as two people in front of an audience of millions?
Herzer: It’s so cool to see how someone develops over that amount of time. Three or four years with someone, they change so much, especially at this point in my life and this point in Alison’s life. I’ve really loved the moments where our lives have crossed paths, like when I’m struggling and I’m feeling down and it just so happens that episode is written the same way and I get to bring so much of my own life to it.

At the same time, Alison and I are completely, completely different people. Sometimes she makes me slow down in my real life and say, “Maybe this isn’t as black and white. Maybe it’s not as simple.” Because she looks at things from a not-as-jaded perspective. She’s really willing to look at things and learn about things and it’s a really nice contrast to me as a person. I love to learn too, but I’m a little bit more stubborn. (Laughter)

Photo by: Jacob Jonas

TrunkSpace: You mentioned bringing yourself into the character on those days when you’re feeling down, but does it ever work the other way around? Does something that Alison is going through ever carry over into your life?
Herzer: Definitely. It’s hard because when you have such a fun set, and I love all the people that we work with… the camera guys are like my best friends as are the wardrobe people… we’re all so close that we joke around so much, so sometimes when I have to come down and get into a more calm state or a sad state it can take a minute for me, but they’re also really supportive and everyone’s really respectful.

Most of the time we’re laughing and we’re having fun and that’s usually easier because the environment is so great. Even when I’m having a hard day I go to work and I love it. I see people that care about me and I care about them so much. People always say, “Sets are like families” and I just can’t imagine that anyone’s family feels like mine, but I guess everyone feels that way.

TrunkSpace: The great thing about your set is that it’s filled with all of these iconic actors and industry veterans. There must be a sense of, “This is not just a job, but also an education?”
Herzer: Oh my god, absolutely. My greatest education comes from Téa and Tim and just seeing how they work and seeing how they deal with material and people. That was the great part about the first year. I got to watch and learn and see different styles, and then the older I get I get to incorporate it more and become my own person and see how it fits with me and learning how to take on all of these different things I’ve learned from all these incredible people.

Like Bebe Neuwirth. She’s just such a legend. She was one of those people when I got on the show that I was just like, “Ahhhh! I can’t believe that I’m going to get to work with her because she’s just such a talent.” And she was one of the first people that just made me feel so good about my work and so proud of myself. I’m so sad she’s not coming back this season.

TrunkSpace: And the series also always has such great guest stars and directors.
Herzer: Morgan Freeman! I worked a lot with him in the episode he directed for season 4 and the first episode. That was the most time we had spent together. He’s just so full of wisdom and just being around him, being in his presence, you feel it. He enters a room and the hairs on your arm stick up. I don’t know how else to describe it, but he really is this presence and you know it. Téa’s is the same way. She walks into a room and she commands this force. I don’t even know how to describe it.

We have a powerful group of people that care about the world around them, so I’m getting to hear all of these really interesting conversations because of what’s going on politically and how that’s reflected through our show. Barbara (Hall) does such a beautiful job of feeling the pulse of what’s going on in the world and figuring out, “How can we make this digestible?” We have so, so much going on today in politics and I love that our show is giving people just a glimpse of hope.

TrunkSpace: And that’s the amazing thing about the world right now. You’re on a fictional drama about politics, but it’s probably grounded more in reality than the actual reality we’re living right now.
Herzer: Exactly! We talk a lot about “fake news” and I can’t wait for our audience to see that because it is so hard. It is so hard to figure out what’s real and what’s not in this political arena and it feels like such a game. I hate watching the news at this point. I am so sick of all of the bullshit that’s being thrown at me that I can’t even do it anymore, so I can’t imagine someone that maybe doesn’t enjoy it as much as I do or isn’t as focused on it as I am.

Photo by: Jacob Jonas

TrunkSpace: And therein lies the current draw of scripted television. Escapism. We can get away from everything that is terrifyingly real.
Herzer: Totally, and our show perfectly works with that because you’re not totally out of it and you really get to learn something. You have a full toolbox after watching our show to figure out the world that is the real world.

TrunkSpace: Obviously the buzzy place for viewers to land is cable and streaming platforms, but “Madam Secretary” is proof that networks can put out content of equal quality and draw a committed audience.
Herzer: Yeah, it really is an honor for us and especially because our show really gets better and better every season. We gel so much and it just becomes more and more every year. The writing gets better. We dive into the characters more, so it’s a shame to see all of these other shows that are getting cut so early because maybe if they had the same time that we got, things would have been different.

I love hearing how many young people are watching our show now. All of the time I get stopped and girls my age, guys my age, they say, “I love your show. It’s so fun.” There’s so many different elements, so it’s important not to brush-off network TV. I think network TV is still really the heart of television. Yeah, we love “Game of Thrones,” but we love it so much and that it…

TrunkSpace: We don’t even know what you’re talking about. What’s “Game of Thrones?”
Herzer: (Laughter) You’ve never heard of it.

But at the end of the day, we’re hitting a lot of people. A lot of people are watching our show and it’s very cool, especially now with the reach of Netflix. We’re getting the best of both worlds.

TrunkSpace: Has being seen by all of these people via the series altered your social life in anyway? Has it made things difficult, particularly when you hit college?
Herzer: It’s funny because I never put that upfront. I’m never like, “I’m on a TV show,” so it’s afforded me a lot of freedom. I get to experience a really normal college life for the most part because people don’t expect to see anyone. It’s a big campus. It’s a lot of people. I’ll be a parties and it’ll be like, “I was just watching TV and then all of a sudden I saw your face.” I feel very grounded and in a very normal world. I don’t feel like anyone’s watching me or anyone knows who I am or looks at me differently. I’m very lucky for that.

TrunkSpace: You star in a show about politics. You’ve previously interned for Al Gore. You’re involved in community programs. Is there a future for you in politics? Do you anticipate being drawn to trying to spearhead change?
Herzer: I think you’re going to have to fight me away from not trying to help and bring some sort of change. I’ve always been a really hands-on person. It’s so funny because I feel like a lot of people shy away from the word “activist,” but that’s such a shame. I think it’s the same sort of stigma that goes with calling yourself an “actor” or calling yourself an “artist.” Even if you paint, no one wants to say, “I’m an artist,” but everyone calls themselves, “a golfer.” That’s something we talk about a lot with the Creative Coalition that I work with.

I am absolutely going to do whatever I can, and I hate the news right now, but I’m not going to stop watching. I’m never going to stop watching and I’m never going to stop talking about what I feel like is injustice and what I feel like I can do to help.

Season 4 of “Madam Secretary” kicks off October 8 on CBS.

Feature image by: Jacob Jonas

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