It was a pleasure and an honor to be in on the digital media junket with half of Common Law‘s explosive duo, Michael Ealy. Michael plays Detective Travis Marks on the new USA Network series, which premieres Friday, May 11th, at 10/9c.
In this Q&A Michael talks about working with Warren Kole, who plays his partner on the show, Wes Mitchell. He also reveals an unknown fact about himself when he talks about the similarities between himself and his character.
Q: What do you think the most interesting or entertaining part about your character, Travis, is?
Michael Ealy: Okay. I would say one of the more interesting parts about Travis is his fear of commitment and abandonment. Those two make him a little bit more complex than he seems. So it was more interesting and fun to play him, because there were more layers than just what we see on the surface.
His dating life is so much more fascinating than mine. And, you know, he just, you know, a lot of that stems from, again, both his fear of abandonment and his fear of commitment, so kind of a catch 22 with him. It really is.
Q: You have played some really wonderful roles. Sleeper Cell is still my favorite, but I mean you’ve been on the Good Wife and now you’re doing this. I was curious what is it that you look for that makes you pick a role?
Michael Ealy: Good question, you know, for me I’ve always wanted to play a role which impacts. And if you look at a show like Sleeper Cell, obviously, you know, he was, you know, Darwyn was the first African American FBI agent who was a Muslim, who infiltrated a terrorist cell, but his father was a Black Panther. And it was so many layers and it was such a powerful show that was so timely when it happened that, you know, ultimately for me, the role and the show just resonated with impact. And that’s what’s important to me.
The Good Wife, it was important for me to step into a successful show, clearly, and play such a pivotal character. You know, I didn’t come in as an associate. I came in as someone who was responsible for acquiring a firm in a merger and, you know, that was important. That was important. He shook things up in that office and that was important to me.
So, you know, at the end of the day, it’s the same thing with Common Law. You know, for me, you know, Travis, who’s a major part of this show. You know, and he is a part of the (unit). And I think ultimately, you know, he was a cop, but he is also a detective. He’s a hardnosed detective, but also has a lot of heart and he knows how to deal with people. And he is, you know, one of the most likeable characters I think I’ve ever played.
Q: The timing on this seems to be so perfect coming off of Think Like A Man being such a huge hit. When you take parts do you think about making things so that your fans follow you from project to project? Because if half the people who went to see Think Like A Man watched this, this is a definite hit.
Michael Ealy: Yes, you know, I don’t. I don’t try to plan how things are going to line up because ultimately I don’t have any control over that. If things had gone according to plan, Common Law would have come out first.
So, you know, it’s the studio and the networks pushing and then, you know, all that happened beyond my control and I think it actually worked out better this way. So, you know, I just try to bring my A-game to every single project. And at that point, what happens with the distribution of that project, that’s kind of beyond my control. So I learned a long time ago, don’t try to control what is beyond your control.
Q: Travis and Wes, you both have a really great rapport, you know, on the show and you’re very funny, because I really enjoyed the pilot as well. Did that come easy to the two of you? I mean did you kind of instantly click or did you have to work at that?
Michael Ealy: I hate to say it. Yes, it came easy. We didn’t go on like a retreat, anything like that. We didn’t, you know, go play basketball for a week or anything like. I mean we had nothing in common other than we were both from the, you know, Eastern Maryland-Virginia area, and we were both Redskins fans. And ultimately, you know, but it’s not like we went to a game together and hung out. We just clicked.
I think there’s a certain connection that we both have to the material and our respective roles that end up somehow lining up perfectly and we just clicked. Hats off to USA for casting both of us together and recognizing the chemistry in the room, because it was a long process to find the character of Wes and to find the actor to play the character of Wes. And, you know, Warren and I, it was just easy. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. It just kind of happened. And so, yes, hats off to USA for that.
Q: You know, a lot of people have talked about how funny the show is, and it is very funny. And I think it’s the funniest I’ve seen you on TV. And I was just wondering was it an adjustment for you to be this funny, because usually your roles are so intense and serious, so that’s how I think of you is more intense and serious. Was it an adjustment for you as an actor to be funny?
Michael Ealy: I love you. I love you. It was an adjustment for me. Thank you for noticing. You know, two years ago I decided to diversify my body of work and it was important to try other genres. You know, I did Underworld. I got into the sci-fi. I did Think Like A Man, I got into romantic comedy.
And then, you know, Common Law came along and it was an opportunity for me to broaden body of work in television because I pretty much done mostly drama in television. So it was a big challenge for me and the idea that, you know, it was given to me is false. I had to audition for this role. I had to show the network and the studio that I could do comedy because just like you, no one really thought of me as funny, because I hadn’t shown it, really, in TV or film.
So it was a job that I was actually able to earn and I’m proud of that. And, you know, the comedy has made it the most difficult job I’ve ever had. Because being funny five days a week for 15 hours is the most difficult thing anyone could ever ask of anyone. It’s so hard. It’s harder than any other job I’ve ever had.
And so I’m thrilled that you noticed. I’m thrilled that you thought I was funny. And hopefully people will, you know, begin to open their eyes and see that I have some range, you know, if given the opportunity I can show that.
Q: So is there anything you did in the audition process to kind of show like, “Hey, I can be funny.”
Michael Ealy: Well the good thing about the audition process, and I credit (John Trove) a lot for this, is the audition scene, at the end of the scene he said, “Feel free to continue.” So, you know, I just improvised or I made up a story or I just kept it going. And I think a lot of that helped kind of (sell) the funny.
Q: There are so many women that love you, and so what in Common Law do you think you’re going to be able to provide for them?
Michael Ealy: Well, you know, I’ve always been told by all of my female friends and even the women in my family, that comedy, making a woman laugh, is sexy. So I hope that ultimately, you know, that will be what works for me in Common Law. You know, at the end of the day, listen, Travis is not dominant. So I need people to understand that this is a different role.
But ultimately, you know, Travis is a lovable guy and he’s very sincere. And his fight is can he (unintelligible) to commit. I think people will find him charming and lovable. And at the end of the day, I think, hopefully the laughter will still be sexy. I hope so. We’ll see.
Q: Besides the comedy, what do you find the most challenging about the role?
Michael Ealy: I find that dealing, like for me, the most challenging thing was trying to play Travis’s fear of abandonment and his fear of commitment, trying to play it like a Travis way. And that’ll make more sense at the end of the season. But it’s, you know, does have some issues and those issues come out in therapy. And it’s so hard to be vulnerable, especially when you’re a tough detective. But this show is about character. It’s about the characters and Travis has to open up and, you know, I think that was probably the most challenging, is to have those issues kind of just under the surface of every decision that he makes.
Q: What’s it like as an actor to explore a character’s flaws directly in the story through therapy. Is that weird for you?
Michael Ealy: Eye opening. You know, I said earlier that I never thought therapy was for me, you know, despite maybe 80% of my actor friends do (live in) therapy, I never thought therapy was for me. I never really saw the value in couple’s therapy or any kind of therapy, personally, unless under duress of rape or something like that. But, you know, I think that, you know, discovering Travis’s flaws or his weaknesses or, you know, whatever his issues are, you know, with his childhood and growing up in the foster care system, to discover them through the course of all these couple’s counseling sessions, it was eye opening to me. And ultimately, it had opened my eyes to therapy, and the value of it.
I was under the assumption that therapy was, you know, you sat on a couch and somebody tells you what to think and how you’re all messed up. But it’s the complete opposite of that. And you kind of talk and talk and talk and they ask questions that make you talk. And ultimately you’re kind of able to see for yourself where you’re going wrong. And so it was interesting and helpful, but definitely eye opening.
Q: Well since Travis and Wes are at odds with each other, how do you think the confrontation helps them on the job?
Michael Ealy: Good question. Wow. You know, I think both of them have pretty healthy egos. I think the confrontation grew competition. And anybody who, you know, has a job, including probably his other coworkers. Travis has an ongoing thing that he’s constantly competing for the attention of the captain. So, you know, it just kind of makes it fun, but at the same time, it does lead to them not getting along. They see things differently from time to time.
Q: What kind of research went into doing this role initially? Did you talk to any cops or therapists or people that have been doing couple’s therapy?
Michael Ealy: Okay, we worked, we had a consultant with an LAPD detective, 25 years as a detective, who gave us all kinds of hell, and you know, insight and he’s very helpful and helping us understand the difference between what a detective does and what a police officer does.
And also the fun part of the research though was going back into the archives and watching all the great funny top comedies, action comedies, party comedies, from Trading Places, to Stir Crazy to Lethal Weapon to Bad Boyz, to 48 Hours. It was non-couple’s. That was probably the most fun that I had in terms of research because that enabled me to grasp the funny. It enabled me to grasp the rhythm of funny and how you’ve got to keep the tempo up as an actor. You cannot get sluggish with the dialogue, because that’s not comedy.
Yes, and as far as therapy is concerned I went in like a blank sheet of paper. I had no knowledge of therapy. I had my own hang-ups with therapy and I used that as like Travis’s hang-ups with therapy.
(NiceGirlsTV) Liz Henderson: Hello, Michael. Thank for taking some time with us today. I appreciate it.
Michael Ealy: Liz. How are you doing?
Liz Henderson: I’m good. I’m good. You know, USA has a track record producing some great television, great casting. Are you excited about that or how do you feel about being a part of all that?
Michael Ealy: You know, when you sign on to a USA show I think you know you’re going to be a part of a certain pedigree that has established itself as the Number 1 cable network. So I wouldn’t say there’s pressure, but you definitely feel like you don’t want to be the one show that doesn’t live up to expectations, you know what I mean? But I think we’ve got a good one here. I think we’ll fit right in and I think ultimately the fans of USA will be very happy.
Liz Henderson: Well I agree with you 100% after watching the pilot episode. After the first scene I was sold.
Michael Ealy: Where are you…Oh, that’s great.
Liz Henderson: I totally enjoyed it completely. I do want to know how much of Michael Ealy is Travis or vice versa?
Michael Ealy: Probably more. You know, Travis’s silly side is definitely me. And that’s the thing that I have not shared with the world, yet. You know, my family can’t wait to see Common Law because they’re like, “Okay. This looks like Michael. Okay, finally. This looks like…” Because I’m a practical joker in my family. I just am. And I am very silly around my family. You know, but they’re very excited to see that side of me and they’re excited so see that side of me in this show.
Liz Henderson: You looked very comfortable in the part so that’s why I wondered about it. And I’ll be looking forward to hearing later on down the line about some of the practical jokes on set.
Michael Ealy: I appreciate it. Thank you. If I look comfortable, it’s because that was my intent. That was my intent, you know what I mean? I always try, like I model this character after…I made him a mix of Axel Foley and John McClain. And when you watch Eddie Murphy and Axel Foley, he’s in control at all times. Like he’s just laid back and cool and comfortable in his own skin, and I really tried to bring that to the character of Travis. So I’m glad you saw it. I’m glad you liked it. And I think you’d really love this first season. I do.
Liz Henderson: Okay. Thanks, Michael.
Michael Ealy: Thank you, Liz. I appreciate it.
Q: So when you come into the pilot and the first thing that you see is the two of you are sitting there and you are both kind of uncomfortable, although Warren seems to be much more uncomfortable to be in that space. And you volunteered to share and you know that you two were detectives. You’re not in a partnership, but everybody else is sitting there thinking that you guys are together. Where do you guys go from there?
Michael Ealy: Yes, that’s a good one. You know, I think from the very first scene (we’ve) established that these two guys are drastically different. But, you know, it’s a big roller coaster from there. I mean to really answer your question, you know, the therapy sequences, and I didn’t know this when you shot the pilot, but the therapy sequences, and I learned this while we shot it the first week, it really does become the great chorus of the show.
And ultimately, you know, it’s one big roller coaster for these guys and it’s therapy begins to affect the way in which they solve cases. And that just becomes a whole different monster. And I can’t wait for people to really see those episodes, you know? And the way that Travis is in that first scene is, no, he doesn’t want to be there, but the therapist is hot, and that’s all he needs to put a smile on his face. You can’t go home with him. You’ve got a hot therapist.
Q: So would that all become more reflective of who you are? Well obviously the series is pretty much shot.
Michael Ealy: Yes. Would it become more reflective of who I am? What I can tell you is Travis is pretty consistent. He’s pretty consistent. At a certain point we just had, like when you live in this character for 15 hours a day, 5 days a week, you know, the structure starts to come naturally. It really does. It just starts to come naturally and that was the joy of shooting this show, was I never really got out of character. So being consistent was somewhat easy. And I just, man, you have made my day. Thank you so much and I can’t wait for you to see other episodes. I really do.
Q: USA network is really becoming known for its dynamic duos with shows like White Collar and Psych. Can you talk a little bit more about your duo that you’re now a part of? For example, like what makes you two work so well together even at the height of their dysfunction or anger with each other?
Michael Ealy: I think, I’ve got to say it’s a deep, dark USA secret. Chemistry is key. Chemistry is key, and I think the chemistry is what really makes the show. It just does. Even when we’re like at each other’s throats, if you’re still rooting for us, that is the USA way. So I don’t know how it happens, but somehow when you see the final product, I works. God bless them.
Q: Obviously, we don’t know sort of how they got to this point in the relationship where they are forced into couple’s counseling. Will we eventually see what the foundation is that made them friends and really great partners?
Michael Ealy: Yes, yes, yes. Everything kind of comes out in the first season. Everything comes out in the first season, yes.
Q: In the pilot, which I thoroughly enjoyed, it mentioned that Travis went through something like 18 foster homes. And I thought, “Wow, that’s more foster homes than birthdays as a kid.” So what I’m wondering is with this kind of background, what was your entry point into playing that aspect of him as an adult?
Michael Ealy: You know, the first thing you do as an actor when you start preparing for a role is figure out the character’s background. And one of the things that I do is work real closely with the producers in determining what was Travis’s background. And obviously the 18 foster homes was crucial.
And one of the things that was explained to me is that we’re going to meet a lot of Travis’s foster family members, and that was just beyond exciting for me. Because, you know, I’ve never seen a character like that. I’ve never seen a character with that many mothers. I’ve never seen a character with, you know, so many brothers. And the scene with Money, his Samoan brother, that’s just one small portion of his childhood. And it makes for a much more interesting character, I think, to come from so many diverse backgrounds. The amount of languages that he understands and, you know, you might not be able to speak them all, but you can understand them because he was there long enough.
All of that, to me, makes for a much more interesting, complex and compelling, but also lovable character.
Q: And what’s it like working with the amazing Jack McGee and the ladies, Sonya Walger and Andrea Parker?
Michael Ealy: Let me start off with Jack, because he is the king. Jazzy Jack is what I like to call him. And he was a phenomenal cast mate and friend and brother to have on this journey because his seniority, his life story, all of that weighs heavily into who the captain is and who Jack is as a person. And his ability to have the set in shear hysterics in every scene that he does. I mean he just has everybody laughing, off camera and on camera, the outtakes of Jack are phenomenal.
And so I really, you know, as the lead of the show, I really, really enjoyed having him as kind of the senior guy. You know, he was pops. He was the one who, you know, we kind of went to as our father figure. Really, we did, both on an off the show, and off camera.
And Sonya Walger, words cannot express how I feel about this woman. This is our third project together. And I take pride in the fact that I was instrumental in her being on the show. So I mean she is a force to be reckoned with and she brought a certain amount of credibility and strength to this character these derelicts (need baggage) in their lives. So she helped give us balance and that was so refreshing.
And then Andrea Parker, I mean (Andy). That’s my girl. I mean she was just on fire in the pilot. She really was. So I hope to work with her again.
Q: With a role like Travis, not really playing towards the stereotypes that you typically find of African American males on TV, what do you think the role of Travis will take to the future of how African American males are portrayed on television?
Michael Ealy: Oh, okay. Well, I don’t think that, and I’m going through the entire season here in my head right now, I don’t think Travis is…I think there’s only one scene where Travis’s color is kind of an issue. And the way in which he takes control of the situation is pretty funny and powerful at the same time. So I don’t think. I’ve got to be honest with you, I don’t think that race was really an issue in this show at all. And I feel like, you know, the portrayal of Travis, I don’t know if it would, to me, the affect it would have on African Americans in television.
I mean I think it’ll have a positive effect, because there’s not much that’s stereotypical about it. He’s a bit more complex than, you know, other characters I’ve played. So I’m just happy to see what the people say, you know? I don’t want to really speculate on stereotypes, but I don’t really see any in this one.
Q: Can you share anything that Wes and Travis get into later on in the season and their therapy sessions?
Michael Ealy: Sure. You know, ultimately, like I’ve said before, the therapy sessions really become kind of like the Greek chorus of the show, and you know, we begin to work on our cases with whatever therapy is going on in our heads, you understand? Whatever therapy lessons are going on in our heads, and so, you know, that to me is the biggest impact of therapy on these guys later on in the season. And I feel like, you know, as far as the other cast mates in therapy, they’re very helpful in helping us kind of find our way. And, you know, there are times when we all team up on Wes, you know? And it’s hilarious. And they end up, you know, there’s times when we have to choose sides, which is, you know, one couple. You have to choose a side and it just gets a little funny. It gets kind of funny, but it’s probably what people are thinking when actual couple’s counseling sessions that they just can’t say. But on this show we just blurt stuff out.
Q: And also can you talk about any of the guest stars we can see this season?
Michael Ealy: Yes. Greg Germann. Henry Simmons. And Ed Begley Jr., oh my goodness, and I think it’s later in the season, but he is a scene stealer. He just comes in and just blows — I mean we were laughing so hard. I am good at not breaking, when somebody does something funny. I was really good at it. But Ed Begley Jr. had me break up many times, to the point I felt terrible because I was ruining takes. And he is so funny.
Other guest stars, Jeff Fahey. Jamie Hector. Yes, that’s just to name a few right now. I’m going a little blank on the other ones. So those are some of the guest stars.
He’s a sweetheart, a charmer and I can’t wait till you all see him in Common Law.