It’s been 10 years since Donnie Wahlberg won praise for his performance on Boomtown and since then, he’s portrayed characters on both sides of the law. In the new CBS series, Blue Bloods, he’s back playing good guy, ‘Detective Danny Reagan’.
The show revolves around a family of New York City cops that’s headed by Tom Selleck as the police commissioner. Donnie plays his son; Bridget Moynahan is his District Attorney daughter Erin, and Will Estes (American Dreams) is Jamie, a Harvard Law grad who decides to become a beat cop.
I got a chance to talk to Donnie in a conference call where he talked about his character, his off-screen relationship with the cast and more.
How does the cast interact with each other – do you find that you have taken on those familiar characteristics like your characters? Is Tom [Selleck] the ‘dad’ on set? Do you and Will [Estes] have a brotherly relationship?
Donnie Walhberg: Yeah, it’s ironic how things usually turn out at least when people do a good job of casting. Bridget [Moynahan] and I have a very, very great relationship and it definitely – while in my opinion she’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met – it is a very, very trusting, brotherly-sisterly kind of relationship. We’re both single parents, we talk about all types of stuff off camera and we help each other a lot as well off camera. I think it flows very naturally onscreen when we work together. Will – sometimes I look at Will and it’s like looking at myself 10 years ago on Boomtown. I see him wanting to explore certain elements of his character’s story the way I did on Boomtown. I remember walking around for the first 11 episodes saying, “When am I going to get to talk about my suicidal wife?” and carrying that with me into every scene that I did and I see Will doing that. And like an older brother, I’m able to identify it, see it, recognize it, and sometimes help and encourage it depending on what the situation calls for.
And of course with Tom he really is like…he sort of is like everyone’s dad. I’m sort of a nutty kid on set but Tom knows I’m professional and I come to play hard every day. Much like Frank knows that that’s what Danny is. Frank puts up with Danny sticking heads in the toilet the way Tom puts up with Donnie tweeting in between takes and letting fans know to watch the show and stuff.
What was your feeling of the police when you were a kid?
Donnie: Well, when I was in Boston growing up I pretty much knew all the cops in my neighborhood cause they had all arrested my brothers. [LAUGHTER] I’d see them around, they knew me, I knew them.
Now that the show’s off and running and people are tuning in, does it take some pressure off you or does it actually add some pressure?
Donnie: Well, if I think about it it only adds pressure so I try not to think about it cause in reality I control none of that. I just control what I do. For actors, for anybody dealing with numbers and polls and things like that, the more you look the more pressure you put on yourself. Cause if you get 20 million viewers on day one, if you look at the numbers on day two and they’re down to 19 million you suddenly start going, ‘Well, what happened?’ The reality is, I think we’re a couple million viewers more than I think anybody thought we’d get, and that’s good news.
What we do on set and what the cast talks about is really trying to control what we can control and that is finding the right mix of what works for our audience. Identifying who they are and servicing what they want, and also servicing our characters as best we can. It’s tricky but the pressure never goes away. There’s so many things at stake with every episode and we treat every episode very important. I don’t take days off and I think my cast mates are the same way. They know that I come to play every day, and to me it’s like a concert every day or a movie every day…a challenge every day, and I want to be as good as I can be every day.
Can you talk about the challenge of playing a cop hunting for a cop killer?
Donnie: I think the challenge is respecting what’s on the page but also respecting the character and where he comes from. What his choices may be in a situation like this and finding the balance, not going too far
What’s your favorite part about playing Danny?
Donnie: I think the freedom that I have with him. I think a great day playing Danny is when I remember to be free and try something different every day.
Sometimes things are written a certain way that they kind of guide an actor down a certain road and my favorite days are the days that even though I’m being guided by the script down a certain road, I’m still able to make discoveries and try things that are completely free and off the cuff. Today on set I kind of did like a quasi Colombo moment and it was really fun and it didn’t feel false. It felt within the realm of Danny and it’s what attracted me to this role. There were a few other opportunities for me to work in other shows and do other things but this part… besides the fact that I love the cast, I love Tom, and I loved the pilot script, I really loved the freedom that this character presented for me as an actor.
What makes this cop-drama stand out as opposed to others?
Donnie: Well, I think the audience is going to have their own opinion on what makes it stand out. For me personally what attracted mentioned the three things. I think the cast was amazing, the script was amazing, and my character in my eyes is a kind character that I don’t get to play very often. I can play an emotional beat if I want with a suspect, I can play an angry beat, I can play a fun beat, I get to really explore the different colors of this character. And the family stuff is what works for the audience and it’s a big part of what works for the cast as well.
I knew I was gonna have a good time doing it. I knew it’d be tense, I knew it’d be fun. When you’re doing television and it’s a grind and you’re working 5 days a week, I know personally, I look for something that’s going to make me feel alive. I think to feel alive a few days a week during episodic television…it’s a gift, sort of like electricity. I get to feel it I think more than most.
Can you give us a little teaser about what we’re going to see from Danny coming forward?
Donnie: I think my TV experience has sort of put me in a position where I’m really…I’m really kind of taking this show as it comes. If you’d asked me this question 10 years ago on Boomtown, I would tell you where I think he’s gonna go. But with this show I don’t press the writers to find out, I’m not pressing to know the answers myself. I want to discover it when I get there. I think I have a good grasp on this character, I think I know who he is and I’m connected to him and I think…I don’t think there’s anything that’s really gonna surprise me that they might come up with or that I will feel can’t be played honestly. And that’s what I mean by surprised, I hope they surprise me, I plan on being surprised but at the same time I don’t feel like I need to be thinking in week four about what’s going to happen in week 20. So, I feel I might as well let it be a surprise to me and see what happens when I open up that script one day hopefully.