Continuing our chats with the cast of ABC's police drama Rookie Blue, actor Ben Bass dropped by Wednesday to talk about what's in store for Sam Swarek in season two, and if not being the "rookie" on the show is all it's cracked up to be.
If you missed them, you can check out my earlier interviews with Rookie Blue stars Enuka Okuma (Traci Nash) and Missy Peregrym (Andy McNally).
Let's start with the basics: what are some of the things in store for Sam in season two?
There's more action. It's more intense. What goes on between Sam and Andy starts to heat up, even though Luke is in the picture, and that's complicated by the addition of a new character - so the triangle becomes a quadrangle. There are some serious twists. Sam's life is in danger. He gets into a specific type of trouble which is very rare. The last episode of the second season has been my favorite, in terms of doing it. It was very challenging.
Of course, everyone wants to know about the love triangle between Sam, Andy and Luke. But there's so much emphasis on romantic subplots in TV - how do you service that story without losing sight of your individual character?
It's a bit of a hazard with large ensemble shows. You've got so many characters, you have only so much time to deliver a story. To a certain extent, especially with our show - it's also about the procedural. For an actor, if it's not necessarily in the writing or in the story of the week, how you convey character is through how you do your job and how you interact with people. The writers try as much as possible to inject all the various parts with personal details and interesting elements, but they always have to keep the relationships moving forward. One of the ways that you reveal character is by getting a character into a situation and seeing what they do. That's always very interesting for an actor to perform and in terms of revealing more about this guy and what he does.
Were it up to you, where would you like to see the character go?
For me, I really like off the wall. I like unexpected, quirky, bizarre. I like twists that you really don't expect. It'd be interesting to see the cops get involved in some really strange cases [or] some challenging, ongoing cases. I don't know how much scope there is for that in this particular show. It's the structure of the show to create a story that is encapsulated in a single show, although they have expanded in the second season, but I'd love to see storylines that continue. The Wire's a great example; an aspect of one of the storylines continues over three seasons.
As an actor, how does it feel to have a season with Sam under your belt? Did you learn anything in season one that's influenced you in season two?
You always learn things as you go. Speaking for myself, I sort of expected it to be an easy slipping into the second season and it took a few days. I thought it was just going to feel pretty comfortable, but that took more time than I anticipated. Once we got underway, I got into a groove again. The thing that was different for me was that I was able to go on ride-alongs and do more research that way. It's very helpful in a sort of interior way, intellectually and emotionally, to connect with the guys and women who work in law enforcement.
You're playing one of the characters that's not part of the titular group of rookies. On other shows, like a Law & Order, that might be a marginal or less developed role. What's your secret to keeping Sam away from stereotypes?
The way to avoid the stereotype is if you do your homework. I would argue that you can find a human reason for doing what you do and saying what you say. If you do your homework and you have some ability, you can do something that can be worthwhile to watch. When I feel good about my own work is when you've done your emotional background work [because] it's genuinely motivated. There's a lot of writing in television that can sound like it's taken out of a package and the way to get around that is to not allow yourself to deliver it that way.
How much training did you get for the part? I've been told some of your castmates had just days.
I've played officers before, so you draw on your past experience in preparation for doing another cop show. I was able to talk with some people. I was able to do many more ride-alongs the second season. You have to read. Biographies are helpful. Books about law enforcement. People's stories. It's helpful to watch documentaries [and] quality television shows that relate to the subject matter. There's always a way to do your homework.
Your character's a Field Training Officer. We've all heard that maxim that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Has your character's position helped make things easier for you to understand?
When you're given a scene where you're supposed to instruct someone on a certain thing, I think it's helpful to do historical work on your own experience with whatever it is that you're teaching. It gets it into your body, your imagination, and the ideas that you're sending. I've never been a cop, but having done that homework, you can understand it and then be it.
What's been the biggest challenge with the role?
I wish we had more time to prepare [but] it just doesn't work that way. We're all doing our best, but it would be wonderful to have the season kind of written before we start and make tweaks. You get an episode and we start shooting it in four days, and a day or two before you start shooting, you get a completely new script. It's just not enough time.
What TV shows do you watch?
The Wire's definitely one of them. The Sopranos is one of my all-time favorites. Those are two big ones for me. I can watch things over and over again. A lot of my favorite movies I always come back to. I love the Mildred Pierce miniseries. I liked Deadwood.
If you had a dream role, what would it be?
I love Shakespeare, [or] I'd love to play a lawyer who gets very involved in a very complicated case.
My thanks to Ben Bass for this interview! Rookie Blue returns to ABC in just about a week - on June 23 at 10 PM ET/PT.