“The first day is always, ‘What the hell am I doing here? Who am I kidding? They’re gonna see. They’re gonna fire me!'” – Shawn Doyle on First Day Nervousness
Shawn Doyle stars opposite Anna Paquin in WGN’s Bellevue, about a small town with some big secrets. Doyle plays Peter Welland, the Chief of Police of Bellevue and the fact that his character has some dark secrets that contributes to the mystery of the show is what ultimately made him say ‘yes’ to the role. “I knew there was going to be a lot of interesting relationship dynamics that are gonna play out,” he said.
Doyle (Fargo, House of Cards, Frontier) chats about his role and working with Paquin, if he still gets nervous and the craziest audition he’s ever been on.
I watched the pilot and I really, really liked it. The show is so well written and you see that the characters relationships are so fully thought out, thanks to the cast. Did you guys seem to jive pretty quickly?
Shawn Doyle: Yeah, we did, very much so. I remember the first day when we all met in Montreal for the first day of read through and table-work and whatnot, rehearsals, I remember Adrienne Mitchell, our creative director, basically said that it was their intention to make sure that they didn’t hire any jerks. No jerks allowed policy. That’s not the word she used, of course, but anyhow.
So I think that everybody who was cast were cast not only because of their ability but also because of their willingness to jump right in and work as a team, as an ensemble, and really just go for it together, like a real sense of family.
And I know that for Anna and I, as I’ve said in other interviews, we didn’t necessarily do a lot of talking about that relationship, like the depth of it, or the history of it … but we were both willing to just dive right in and find it on its feet right away … and we did. It happened very naturally for us, I think. Which is always bleak when it happens, if you will.
You’ve played a lot of cops in the past. But, your character and Anna Paquin’s character seem to have more of a father-daughter relationship as opposed to the typical detective-chief relationship. Is that one of the reasons why you wanted to take this role?
Shawn Doyle: Yeah it was described to me as I’m somewhat of a father figure for her … that I’ve chosen to take care of her once she lost her father at a young age. For me, I knew it would be interesting not only to play that relationship, but also I was briefed that there were many secrets that I was withholding from her. And so, kind of the mix with this dynamic or the swing between being a father figure and yet hiding secrets from the past. That kind of dynamic was interesting to explore.
The fact that I played a lot of cops was the thing that made me resist it for a long time. As we all know, on procedurals on television, often the least interesting characters to play, the regular cops on TV shows. So much of it has to do with procedure and being the person who’s asking the questions as opposed to the guest actors who come on and get the real acting challenges. And so, because of that, I was reluctant to sign on in the beginning.
But, after having conversations with Jane [Maggs], the creator and writer of the show, I began to understand that the show really was going to be about the characters, the history between them, how it evolves in the show and how that drives the show. There’s obviously the mystery element which is very important to how the show moves forward.
But, for me, I knew there was going to be a lot of interesting relationship dynamics that are gonna play out. And that was ultimately what made me say yes.
Did you know the whole arc of your character before you said yes?
Shawn Doyle: No, I did not. It was hinted to me that there were going to be some deep, dark secrets that were gonna affect both the investigation and my relationship with Annie. And how that was teased down to me from Jane was enough for me to say ‘yes.’
And also, I trusted her because I’d read four scripts, and the writing was so strong that I just … believed her. I believed the character was going to progress as she said it was.
And then I think what happened was once we got on our feet and Anna and I began acting together, our work informed where the relationship went. I think the chemistry between us allowed Jane to augment what they had already envisioned … to make it more nuanced or finessed or deeper or more exciting, what have you, you know?
But no, I did not know ultimately where the character was gonna end up, other than the fact that I trusted Jane, that it was gonna be exciting.
You mentioned earlier you guys had rehearsal. That’s kind of unusual for TV shows.
Shawn Doyle: Yeah, well, when I say rehearsal I mean a couple days. You know, you get together and you do, as you well know, you do a read-through and then you go off and do your different pairings, your different character pairings and talk about those relationships, maybe put a couple scenes up, just playing around little bit. But no, there was no extensive rehearsing.
When you sign onto a show as a series regular, on that very first day, before your very first scene, do you ever get, like, a twinge of nervousness?
Shawn Doyle: Dude, I get nervous every time. Every time I start a new show, yeah.
You know, I just went back to shoot my first day on season three of my Netflix show called Frontier. That’s my third season on that show, and I play a very powerful character. And, yeah, the first day is always, “What the hell am I doing here? Who am I kidding? They’re gonna see. They’re gonna fire me!”
Yeah. This show is no exception. In fact, this show is worse because I didn’t shoot the very first day of shooting. There were, I think, two days … I think I came in on the third day, and I was after lunch — my first scene was up. But during lunch, our director, our creative director, Adrienne Mitchell, had to be rushed to the hospital with anaphylactic shock.
Shawn Doyle: Yeah. That was my first day. So, she was, so everything was obviously put behind schedule and by the time we got to my scene, which was a night scene, it was very rushed because we’re running out of time and the scene was very intense. It was a scene where I had to be taking fingerprints off a window, while at the same time I’m just tearing the script up with Annie.
So, it’s a very emotional scene, but there’s also a lot of physical props — procedure. You know, props like dusters and flashlights and this and that. And there was very little time to get it, and so I was struggling with trying to get all the prop action together, and you know what that’s like. It’s become a thing that you need some time to get it in your body to make it feel natural and everything, but there just wasn’t the time.
I remember after we did the first take, which was just a, a mess … we went off camera and Anna and I didn’t know each other that well at that point, but she turned to me, she said, “I’m really loving watching you screw up all that prop action.” And that was when we became friends because clearly she saw that I was, you know, uncomfortable on my first day. So she decided to tease me in order to make me feel more comfortable. It was a gamble on her part but it worked out. Then that kinda relaxed me and then we just got on with the scene.
What is the worst audition you’ve ever been on?
Shawn Doyle: The worst audition I have ever … Oh my God. I remember I auditioned for a movie called Bulletproof Monk. Do you remember that movie? Chow Yung-Phat?
Shawn Doyle: My audition for it was to have an orgasm on camera. So I was in the room, just me and the casting person. I mean, these days I don’t even know if that would even be allowed. But, yeah, that was a severely humiliating moment in my career.
I don’t know if that’s something where you’d wanna have a drink before or after the audition.
Shawn Doyle: Probably both.