For Jeremy Renner, playing good cop/bad cop is just another day at the office.
The Modesto native and Beyer High graduate is one of the stars of the new ABC cop drama "The Unusuals," which follows a squad of New York City homicide detectives.
But as the name might suggest, the hourlong series isn't your average crime procedural. Instead, it's a mix of intense drama and quirky humor.
In the pilot episode, airing at 10 p.m. Wednesday, the detectives investigate both a cop killer and cat killer.
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Like I was saying, different.
Renner stars as Detective Jason Walsh, a veteran on the force who is both tough and mysterious. Walsh is partnered with rookie Detective Casey Shraeger (Amber Tamblyn from TV's "Joan of Arcadia" and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" movies) after his partner is killed.
The show also stars "Lost" alum Harold Perrineau and veteran actors Adam Goldberg, Terry Kinney and Kai Lennox.
The series is Renner's first major TV role as a series regular. But the 38-year-old has a long and critically acclaimed track record in film, particularly independent film.
He has earned two Independent Spirit Award nominations -- first for his breakout role as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in 2002's "Dahmer" and earlier this year for his heroic role in Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker."
The latter, a film about a military explosive disposal team in Iraq, is set to open in New York and Los Angeles in June and nationally in July. Renner plays Staff Sgt. William James, the new leader of the squad. Veteran action director Kathryn Bigelow ("Point Break," "Strange Days," "K-19: The Widowmaker") helmed the project.
In the past, Renner has also starred alongside Colin Farrell and Samuel L. Jackson in the big-budget action thriller "S.W.A.T." and Oscar-nominated actress Charlize Theron in "North Country."
Renner just finished filming the 10-episode first season of "The Unusuals" in New York this week. He spoke with The Bee from New York.
Q: This is your first regular TV show. Why TV and why this show?
A: I've actually never been interested too much in television. But I really liked the cast a lot. Most of them were film actors anyway. I thought the character was complex for TV. So I did television because I wanted to try something different.
I've been really fortunate to work in film, but unfortunately, I've never been too close to home. So I kind of wanted to park it and work. This show is filmed in New York, so I kind of defeated the purpose there. But the cast is so fun and the writing is terrific.
I had finished another pilot, called "The Oaks," for Fox that didn't end up going. So I heard who was already attached when I first read the script (for "The Unusuals"). They came back around a month later and made an official offer, so I was one of the last ones cast.
Q: What attracted you to the role? He seems kind of mysterious.
A: Mystery you can't really play as an actor. But there are a lot of layers and complexities to the character; nothing is what it seems.
Q: I've watched the pilot, and it's a mix of kind of gallows humor and interpersonal drama. That requires good chemistry with the cast; how it it working Amber and the rest?
A: It's been great. I mostly work with Amber and Kai Lennox, who plays Detective Eddie Alvarez. We're all paired off. It's all been really great. Each person brings out different qualities to the character they play. It's fun working with someone different. The material allows us to grow and reveal as it goes along.
Q: Is that balance of funny and serious hard to find?
A: To be honest, we're all trying to find that tone. That was the struggle for all of us, the writer, the show runner. It's not an easy tone to get across, especially to the actors and directors. When is it OK to be silly and uncop-like?
The biggest thing we learned from talking with actual cops was their sense of humor. It's a little dark, a little twisted. They play jokes on each other. They take their jobs very serious, but they don't take themselves very serious.
It's not a sitcom by any means. It's certainly not "Scrubs." It's more like "M*A*S*H" and "Barney Miller." It's got great character drama with the backdrop of New York City. All these crazy things are going on that are usual for N.Y., but not for everywhere else.
Q: Everyone seems to have some sort of secret. What can you tell us about the upcoming season?
A: You watch the characters grow and start following the characters, not the cases. We have other dramas, fun things happen. But as the season goes on, we stay true to the tone. It never stops being funny, being dramatic. There is always some quirky "B" story of an unusual thing and then the "A" story is more procedural.
In the second episode, we have a naked streaker. So it's about doing this job and not taking it too seriously. It's a good balance, good fun. And it gets more and more eccentric.
If you just want to watch a cop drama, there is "CSI" and "Law & Order." This separates us; you care about the characters, not the crime.
Q: How about for your character?
A: I asked the creator, "Am I going to become a bad cop? Please don't have me become some crooked, bad cop." You know, I could do that anytime. I am trying to change people's perceptions here. So I am not a bad cop. I am a more seasoned good cop, with Amber's character as the brand new gal, the rookie.
Q: How does TV compare to film?
A: I think the biggest difference is the hours. It moves very fast. I usually like to prepare a lot more. The first few episodes, I spent a lot of time with the script, trying to break it down and the character. But as the episodes went by, we were shooting two, three at a time. I just had to remember the lines for the scene I was in right now.
There is almost zero creativity for an actor in it. You do the material and realize you are a fraction of something much, much bigger. It's running a marathon and never knowing if it's a 10K or where the finish line is. That is the frustrating part. I'd certainly like to have more of an idea and create. But it has been an interesting shooting experience.
Q: You've got a good spot, following "Lost" on Wednesdays. Are you excited about your chances?
A: The plan that ABC has is to air the first five episodes, then May sweeps come along and then look at the numbers. We're behind "Lost." It's nice to know that ABC is confident that it's something cool or original or different. I think we can pull our own.
Q: You recently received your second Indie Spirit Award nomination. Are you still going to keep your toes in indie film?
A: Absolutely, I am waiting to see what happens with the show. If the show goes again, I'll take a break for the summer and hang out in Modesto. I've got another house I'm building in Modesto. I have to be more selective in time off. But in my time off, I still want to work. So I'll never abandon independent film. It's the most collaborative and creative medium out there.
Q: You've played many memorable bad guys, how does Detective Walsh stack up in your antihero lineup?
A: Yeah, you know, it doesn't really change for me. To be honest, it doesn't play any different. I don't play a bad guy thinking I'm twisting my mustache. You play it as honest as you can. Antiheroes are great; I love them and will play those until the day I die. I don't like the whitewash hero thing. People are flawed, everyone is flawed. It makes people interesting.
Q: How often do you get back to Modesto? Is your mom's house all fixed up? (Renner's mother's house was hit by a tree while he was visiting in January 2008.)
A: My mom's house is all fixed up. We're doing more work to it now. Her birthday is the 11th, so I'll visit her. I am there quite often; I was there, more often than not, than in L.A. I'm bicoastal now, essentially. New York is a wonderful city. If I was 10 to 15 years younger, I'd love it. But I want grass, sunshine. Life doesn't have to be this hard. It's the best city on the planet, essentially. But living here in the winter, it hurts
"The Unusuals" premières at 10 p.m. Wednesday on ABC.
Bee entertainment writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.