Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander talk "Rizzoli & Isles" (by Jami Philbrick)
Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander discuss their new police drama.
Actress Angie Harmon has a habit of choosing TV projects about tough, independent female cops, which are based on popular crime novels. It began in 2007 when the former Law & Order actress starred on the critically successful but short-lived police procedural, Women's Murder Club, based on the books by author James Patterson. She now returns to television and the genre with a new series entitled, Rizzoli & Isles, which is based on the series of novels by author Tess Gerritsen. On the show, Harmon stars as Jane Rizzoli, a no nonsense Boston police detective that juggles her professional life along with her over-protective family, which includes her mother Angela played by Lorraine Bracco (Goodfellas). Harmon's co-star on the show, actress Sasha Alexander from NCIS and the feature film Yes Man, plays Rizzoli's best friend and medical examiner Maura Isles, who in stark contrast to Jane has a flare for fashion. Together the two solve crimes and stop bad-guys much like the classic female TV detectives from the '1980s, Cagney & Lacey. The new series begins tonight, July 12th, on TNT and will air immediately after the premiere of the sixth season of TNT's extremely successful crime drama, The Closer starring Kyra Sedgwick. We recently had a chance to sit down and talk with the stars of Rizzoli & Isles, Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander, to discuss the new series, their characters, the cast, Boston, TNT and comparisons to Cagney & Lacey. Here is what they had to say:
To begin with, Angie are there a lot of similarities between you and your character Jane?
Angie Harmon: I think with Jane, she probably has the same kind of drive that I do but she is a lot different than I am. She's a Tomboy. She hides what she looks like, tries to duck down and blend in. I'm more like hair and dresses and heels! I love fashion. She clearly has no idea. Of course I'm very jealous of Mora (Sasha's character). She gets all the good outfits. She gets all of them! I'm like really? I'm over here like with a sensible boot and a belt.
So you are you jealous of Sasha's wardrobe?
Angie Harmon: No because I have all of that at home. So that's what I'm saying. There are not a lot of similarities between Jane and me. With that being said, it makes it so much fun as an actor and doing all the things I get to do. That's what I think sort of attracted me to the show. I get to make a The Sopranos reference because we have Lorraine Bracco who plays my mom so I get to say things like, "Rizzoli and out." Remember how you love to watch Tony go to work it's like," Oh god it's going to be creepy and awful. Something terrible is going to happen. It's going to keep you on the edge of your seat."
Then you love to watch him go home because you never knew what that family is going to throw at him. The woman; the wife; the affair; the son's trying to kill himself, all that has sort of a comedy aspect to it because here he is a guy in the mob with a conscience. You watch him go to work and you're like, "Oh god there's going to be murder. It's going to be awful!" Then you watch him go home. (On our show) you got Lorraine Bracco, who's making marshmallow fluff sandwiches (for me) to take to work. You know, Mora's always trying to set me up on a date. It's kind of that same thing you know what I mean? We've got a procedural thing like that, but then we do have our characters.
Sasha, what characteristics do you relate to in your character?
Sasha Alexander: None, I am not good at math or science and do I analyze people? Okay, I do a little human study. I'm interested in people but I wouldn't diagnose a date or anything like that. I love clothes. Absolutely! I wouldn't wear heels as often as she does, but otherwise we are very different.
Angie, the show is not unlike your last series, "Women's Murder Club." You play another tough and stubborn female cop, who confides in her female co-workers, is haunted by a former case that threatens her current safety and both series are based on popular crime novels. So did you have any concerns when taking this role? Are you worried that since "Women's Murder Club" never really found its audience that "Rizzoli & Isles" will suffer a similar fate?
Angie Harmon: I think this is a perfected version of that. Well it is. It's a perfected version of that and I feel that "Women's Murder Club" was also a dress rehearsal for this. You know, (to answer your question), no because you know there are only two women (on this show). It's more like Cagney & Lacey than Women's Murder Club. Actually, I said Cagney & Lacey to someone (the other day) and they were like, "What?"
So are you two the new "Cagney and Lacey"?
Angie Harmon: Yes! Yes we are! Yes! We are the new Cagney & Lacey!
Sasha Alexander: I hope so. God, if we can get the success of Cagney & Lacey, those women were fantastic actors. They did great work. People loved them and still talk about them. I hope that we have that kind of success absolutely.
Angie Harmon: Me too. I remember one scene from that show, I was little and I remember looking at them while they were in a car and they were talking. Their body language, their gestures and everything, and I remember thinking," I want to be like those women. They are strong; they are tough!" To have it ironically come full circle like this and now be on a show that people are comparing to Cagney & Lacey is very flattering. It's pretty neat.
Sasha Alexander: Or we could be the new Captain Kirk and Dr. Spock?
Angie Harmon: Set your cell phones to stun!
Was there immediate chemistry between the two of you when you first met?
Angie Harmon: I think so? I mean we have mutual friends, our families have vacationed together and our kids love each other. You sort of have to have that. If you're a mom working with a single girl you know, there's going to be some kind of problem somewhere because the single girl is not going to understand why the mom wants to get back home to her kids? So this has just been wonderful because Sasha's a mom too. She's a working actress. She knows what it's like to come in, give one hundred and twenty percent and then go home. We only have to do this for five months because we are on TNT, the most wonderful network in the world! I mean literally the show's exactly what I prayed for. I wanted to create an outlet. I also wanted to be a mommy. This let's me work for five months and I work my tail off. I have so much fun doing it. I love my show. I love the people that I work with and then I get to take the rest of the year off and go be a mommy while Jason (Sehorn) plays football.
Angie, you mentioned TNT and they have some of the best series on cable with shows like "The Closer" and "Leverage," so how do you think your series will fit in on this network with those other great shows?
Angie Harmon: We are the closer to The Closer. You know we were very flattered to be put in the time slot that we are in. We come after The Closer. It's all about strong women, women in the workplace and women that get it done. It's interesting because not a lot of networks celebrate that and TNT does. When this script landed on my doorstep I was just like, this is exactly what I want! You never get exactly what you want! Really? How do you say no to that? It's been wonderful.
Angie, since you play a Boston police detective on the show, did you do any first hand research and travel to Boston?
Angie Harmon: Absolutely, I went to Boston and I hung out with the homicide unit. They are incredible people. I almost denounced my Texas citizenship to become a member of the Boston clan! That is a fantastic city. Oh my God, you don't understand these people are fantastic! I have a sick sense of humor so I totally appreciate their humor. There's nothing off limits in Boston. They jive each other over everything, everything's a joke, its awesome!
I was at Union Oyster House and stayed there from noon to 11PM at night, ate, drank, talked to people, hung out and literally that was probably some of the best character research I could have ever done. I get that if you crack they know they got you, so that in it self creates a whole character's sense of humor. Nothing's off limits, so everything is politically incorrect which I love.
Were you concerned about having to do an authentic Boston accent?
Angie Harmon: No because that's that generation. Another thing that I learned was that with our generation, the accents are not that strong. It only comes out when you're drinking and when you're upset. Well I'm so scared that those who don't know that are going to be like, "Oh...Angie Harmon's an actress, I don't know. She can't really uphold the accent because it's not in there all the time." But it's correct, you know?
Sasha, did you talk to a lot M.E.'s for research on your character's profession as well?
Sasha Alexander: I did. I learned a lot when I worked on NCIS for a couple of years. I had to go through a lot of training so I felt comfortable going into this, but we have a coroner on set that helps with the specifics of the scene and it's a real LA coroner.
There seems to be a shortage of shows on television that feature more than one female lead, with the exception of say "Desperate Housewives," so what do you think are the benefits of having another female as your lead co- star?
Angie Harmon: I think what this show does is ... well remember when they did that study where they said that ninety-five percent of kindergarten kids said they wanted to be famous? It was so alarming. The thing that was alarming was the subject, but they didn't really say how? If you want to be a famous director or actor or a famous news anchor or something like that, that's fine. The fact was they just wanted to be famous. I think what this does is sort of put back in the mainstream that women can do anything if they put their mind to it. That's what I teach my daughters. If you want to be a veterinarian, be the best veterinarian. Go ahead and do that I mean I obviously I don't want my kids to be homicide detectives cause I don't want anyone shooting at my children, but outside of that I want them to know that they can do whatever they put their mind to, you know? Fame has its downside too, as every job does. It has its ups and downs. I try to look at the positive of it, it's putting it back out there. Be a homicide detective, be an M.E.
Sasha Alexander: The other thing as well is it's unusual to work on a series. The books were written by a woman and treated by a woman with two very strong female characters. For me it's different because I feel like, and that's not to say that I don't think there aren't fabulous writers that write women different ways, but these two women can be all things. We can be silly, vulnerable, sexy, strong and angry. I've worked on a lot of stuff where they said, "Don't be too angry. Don't get too pissed." We're not given that. We are both a lot and these are two different women with two different points of view from different backgrounds who can express that with all those sides to themselves. We have scenes where we're really silly! I got peed on the other day by a dog! I mean we laugh a lot. We have a fun time. It's not like it's just these straight women. The other thing that's great is that I think Jane and Mora are not competitive with each other. They respect what each other does, I think Jane gets very frustrated with Mora because she wants answers and Mora's not willing to settle, I think in general they're strong women, not fighting over anything. They're supportive (of each other), definitely.
Angie Harmon: Well they have to. They are the only two women in the entire unit. In real life, a certain detective will have a certain M.E. that he always works with. They help each other and that's how they solve cases. These two recognized you know, look we're in this together. There are only two of us here and we can actually do a lot more if we work together as opposed to working apart.
You have some amazing co-stars on the show and guest-stars lined up for this season including Donnie Wahlberg and Mark Paul Gossler, can you talk about what that's been like for you to work with such talented actors on a series like this?
Angie Harmon: We're not going to talk about Mark-Paul Gosselaar's butt. He has an amazing rear end! There, I said it!
Sasha Alexander: He's going to be in a pair of Speedos!
Billy Burke from the "Twilight" films appears in the pilot, will he be returning throughout the season?
Angie Harmon:Billy Burke is coming back, yes. You know Jane does have a lot of chemistry with Joey Grant, the Donnie Wahlberg character, but we'll see. It's not like we want to get girls on a great show and get them hitched. So I think the fun thing about this is watching them sort of struggle through these days. I mean this one sets me up with a male nurse!
Sasha Alexander: There's nothing wrong with male nurses, she had to face the fact that he was needy and way to nice to her. For Jane, that doesn't work but Mora convinces her to go on some dates, she's trying to like, open up her point of view.
Angie Harmon: Which I have no interest in doing. If I was in a relationship the first thing they'd want me to do is quit my job which she loves doing. So I get the male nurse, I get the lactation specialist.
Sasha Alexander: I get her into Yoga to meet men. I mean it's fun to get to do all that stuff cause you're talking about it over a dead body.
Angie Harmon: She makes us run the Boston Marathon in our unitards!
Sasha Alexander: That's the unitard episode.
Angie Harmon: Yes and there's also the lesbian episode. I have to go undercover as a lesbian, we have the dark scary crime but it is funny. I mean I'm running the Boston marathon in a unitard!
It is really fun you know, the caliber of acting that we're bringing and also those we already have like Lorraine Bracco and Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects). Chazz plays my father and Lorraine plays my mom. Bruce McGill (The Last Boy Scout) is a regular, he plays my ex partner. We got Brian Dennehy (F/X) on the first episode. All the people we just mentioned. I think the words in the scripts speak for themselves. If we didn't have great scripts, obviously we wouldn't be pulling in great actors. By the way when we get these scripts we say yes or no whether we want to do it or not. So all of these actors have read these scripts and said, "Hell yeah! I want to do a show this great!" That is a testimony that speaks for itself. I'm telling you it's a testimony to our writers.
Sasha, will we have a chance to meet Mora's family this season?
Sasha Alexander: We will meet Mora's family later on in the season. We start to unravel a lot of mystery of her background.
Angie Harmon: It's very clear as to why it's a mystery. Did they cast the father yet?
Sasha Alexander: I believe they are in the middle of casting who my father will be now.
Finally, are we going to get some more insight into the background of their friendship this season? Will we get to see any flashbacks to when these two friends first met?
Sasha Alexander: The thing I'll say is this; I feel that a lot of times with girls, they make you want to love them both like they were best friends since they were young or they're sisters or whatever it is. We don't have that. These two women met at work and they're in a point in their relationship where they're learning a lot about each other and that's what is kind of interesting to me. We're not forcing the audience to say, you got to love these women because this is what's going on. You are experiencing it as we are. There are a lot of things that are happening even in the episode we are shooting now where Jane finds out some stuff about Mora that makes her question Mora's loyalty to her just strictly from her background. A lot of stuff is interesting because we're learning about the friendship as we're shooting it and I personally like that. I find that unpredictable. I find that it's not forcing you to have to love something. It's organic and that's what to me makes the relationship work. You're discovering it and you're getting to make that natural.
Angie Harmon: But in 80's clothing!
Sasha Alexander: Yes, I would love an 80's flashback too!