As dedicated Assistant District Attorney Justin Patrick on USA's new original series Fairly Legal, Michael Trucco has turned my head to the point of being near show-stealing. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking to the former Battlestar Galactica star to find out what makes the character of Justin tick, about his own Northern California upbringing, and how he has more in common with his on-screen alter ego than you might think.
I feel like I should apologize. I have realized I'm probably the only person on the planet who hasn't yet seen Battlestar Galactica.
Whoa. We’ve got something to talk about, then. All right. Let’s go.
I will say I'm starting. I just started because I was watching Jamie Bamber in Law & Order: UK. So I do own the series, I just haven't seen it yet.
Oh, cool. Well, enjoy the ride. You’re going to love it.
Speaking of love, I have to say I've really loved your work so far on Fairly Legal. Justin seems like he might be a tough role to play, though, because he'd be the protagonist of any other legal series but he's presented from a whole other angle here. So how do you approach him?
There is a certain aspect of taking a second seat in playing Justin. The show is centered on the character of Kate Reed, and you know that she’s been dealing with the other characters [like] her assistant Leo and her stepmother and her ex-husband, who I play. I think you have to reconcile with that as an actor. I don’t think it has presented any problems; there are advantages. My workload is considerably less than Sarah [Shahi]’s. That poor girl is in every shot of every scene of every day of every hour that we shoot. I definitely have a more cushy schedule.
But, in terms of the character, I don’t really see it as a deficit or a disadvantage. I think we explore the stereotypes of male and female characters on its head in this show. And that could make a certain challenge in playing a character that is the male prosecuting attorney, who would be the driving force behind the show, having to take a step down in the presence of Kate Reed.
You and I have something in common: we both studied criminal justice in college. Did that background help you at all in approaching this role?
We’re going a ways back there. I don’t really retain much from the first couple semesters of my criminal justice studies. When you [go] to college, you take some very general classes and I never got into the specifics of criminal justice because I changed my major so early into the process. Once I discovered the theater at Santa Clara and once I got into the theater program, I never got into specific criminal justice studies. I would say it has more to do with growing up in an atmosphere of law, being in the household of a police officer, that informs my role more than anything that I started to study in college. I’m [the] son of a police officer, and so the aspect of law and prosecution interests me greatly.
So would you say this role is particularly close to home, or close to who you are personally?
I think that has always been part of my DNA, the fact that my father was a police officer for my entire life growing up. Before I pursued acting full-time, I had every intention of going into some form of law enforcement work. So I think [it's] poetic. I’m close to it in this role as Justin Patrick. There’s definitely that aspect of law enforcement, but I think [one of] these days I would love to [put on] the police uniform, play a beat cop, on patrol, in the car, on a motorcycle, whatever the case may be. That would be great. I’ve never done that and I’d like to.
One of the things I learned during my experiences in criminal law is that lawyers, myself included, can be vastly different inside the courtroom than they are outside of it. What do you think Justin's courtroom personality is?
Well, hopefully we’ll get a chance to see it. I think Justin’s at where he is for a reason and I would venture to say—based on what we know about the background between Justin and Kate, they’re two type A personalities that are constantly butting heads—he’s a bit tenacious in the courtroom.
I have a feeling—what I bring to the character is that for Justin, unlike for Kate, the law is black and white. There is right and wrong. There is yes and no. There are winners and losers, just as long as I’m always the winner because as a prosecuting attorney, if I put you on trial, then you’re guilty or else you wouldn’t be there. So there is no ambiguity. There is no gray area, and I think that’s that a facet that Justin brings to the courtroom. Absolute clarity, absolute purpose and losing is not an option.
The other major storyline for Justin is his on-again, off-again relationship with Kate; though their marriage is ending, they're still involved with one another. It seems like he's not exactly content with that. What's going through his head?
They still have a relationship that would be considered "friends with benefits," so these two end up in bed together several times. Oftentimes, for the male in a relationship, that arrangement seems to be okay. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I think what’s challenging here is that the writers of the show have given Justin the sort of moral perspective. He’s not copacetic with this relationship. He doesn’t like the way things stand. He wants some sort of [resolution]. I find that a unique perspective and one that is challenging in this character.
You're from the San Francisco area, and here you are shooting in Vancouver doubling for San Francisco. How's that been for you?
It’s funny. I’ve been reading a few of the reviews prior to the pilot airing and they said [something about] "with gratuitous use of CGI, the San Francisco background was put in,” but in actually, we shot, I think, three or four days in San Francisco for the pilot. So, what you see, at least in the pilot, that was Sarah on the port at San Francisco on a boat and that was the Transamerica Building and those were cable cars. There was a lot of production value that we brought to the pilot simply because we did have - albeit a few days, but they got a lot of work out of those few days in San Francisco for the exteriors.
I would love to shoot in San Francisco permanently. It would be such a joy to come back home full circle. I hope that if we continue on the series that there will be episodes in which we get to return to San Francisco for a couple of days just to shoot some more exteriors.
Vancouver is such a beautiful city; it doubles so well for San Francisco that I don’t mind it all. I mean, I love Vancouver, don’t get me wrong. Being there for Battlestar, it had become a home to me. I think Vancouver doubles great for San Francisco.
You led right into my next question - you've done a lot of projects in Vancouver. Is that coincidental or do you particularly enjoy shooting in the area?
It’s by request. I only take jobs in Vancouver. [laughs] No, it is complete coincidence. It’s not unknown that Vancouver is a huge destination for television and film. It has been for many years. It just seems to be that I’m drawn to the show that shoots in Vancouver.
I have to say, I like swore to myself in the last couple years that after Battlestar I would batten down the hatches and take only work in Los Angeles where I live, simply to stay a little bit more grounded. The one city outside of Los Angeles that would be the exception to that rule was Vancouver, simply because I have the history there, being there so often, and I just really like it there.
It’s beautiful and it’s an easy flight. We’re [in] the same time zone as in Los Angeles, so it’s not as taxing to travel back and forth, and I do travel a lot. I come back home almost every weekend or my wife comes up every other weekend to Vancouver. So, in that sense, we make it work. It’s just a great city. It’s a great country. They’ve been good to me and I have no problems being up there.
How exactly does one follow up working on a show as legendary and popular as Battlestar Galactica, anyway? This is about as far removed from that series as you can possibly get, as is your recent work on Castle last season.
[It's] probably fair to say that there is a certain amount of pressure to deliver your next role when you do have a fan-base as potent as the Battlestar Galactica family. Oftentimes, actors don’t have the luxury of picking their part. You go from one project to the next and you hope that you find one that fits you and that you’re suited for, and then they see that you’re fit for it. This one came along and—I don’t know. It’s so early in the run, and it’s so early in the season, that I don’t know what the feedback is and if it’s going to be embraced by the fanbase, but I'm hoping it will.
My thanks to Michael Trucco for this interview. Check him out on Fairly Legal, which airs Thursdays at 10 PM ET/PT on USA. If you need to catch up, check out my review archives.