CARTER Season 1 Scoop: Interview With Jerry O’Connell

In this summer’s latest drama series CARTER, a Hollywood actor returns to his home town and finds himself volunteering to help out a friend who now works as a police detective in her criminal investigations. Jerry O’Connell stars as Harley Carter, a Hollywood actor who wishes he was a detective, and Sydney Tamilia Poitier co-stars, as his friend Detective Samantha “Sam” Shaw, and Kristian Bruun co-stars as their friend Dave Leigh, a coffee entrepreneur who also gets swept up in their police activities. In a press conference call, Jerry O’Connell talked about the appeal of this comedic role and the fun it was getting to give homage to some of his favorite police dramedy series.

An “actor who plays an actor” seems like an interesting role for you. Did you use any kind of experiences from your own personal life as an actor? Like with people like Dean Cain joining the Idaho Reserves, is there any interest in law enforcement someday down the line for you?
JERRY: That’s great for Dean Cain. [Laughs] There’s no way in real life doing anything remotely close to doing anything in law enforcement. I have the upmost respect for them and I couldn’t handle it. I’m not smart enough to be a cop in real life, so I tip my hat to him. It’s a lot more fun playing a guy who thinks he’s a guy because he plays a guy who’s a cop on TV. It’s funny — CARTER — I spent six years on a show called CROSSING JORDAN, where I played a cop, and it was a real procedural. There was a dead body at the beginning of the episode and then we went through a bunch of suspects and maybe got a clue at the end of Act 3. Then there was a chase scene at the end of Act 4. I loved working on that show. I loved the whole cast. I loved our star, Jill Hennessy. But it’s funny, after about four seasons a lot of the people start to move on and you’re sort of like, I don’t want to complain because you’re getting paid and people hate actors who complain about their jobs because it really is a cushy, great life, but you do artistically feel like, man, I’ve done 100 episodes of this and it’s the same thing. It was really fun when I read CARTER because it’s about a guy who plays a cop on TV who gets a little disillusioned with that life and then finds new life in helping out his high school sweetheart, who is a real-life detective, helping her solve crimes, and it sort of invigorates him. It really made me laugh. There’s a lot of inside jokes, like trying to explain to the real cops the five-act structure of television and how we’re getting close to finding out who the real killer is. Admittedly, it’s a lot like CASTLE, except Castle was a novelist. It’s almost like CASTLE on steroids because this guy’s a TV actor, so if you’re a fan of the LAW & ORDER’s and the MONK’s and the CASTLE’s, this is going to be your show because it sort of makes fun of that world.

I’m kind of curious as to the arc of Harley Carter, in his story on the show. Is he looking to rehab himself as a person, like his character’s personally, or is he trying to just rehab his image in the public? What motivates him to kind of go down this path?
JERRY: It’s funny, I don’t think it’s a way to rehab his image. He hasn’t done anything damning, I don’t think. I think it’s more rehab for his soul, to sort of go home. I will say this: where we shot in Northern Ontario — oh, man, it was almost like rehab for my soul — it’s so gorgeous. It’s just “lake country” in Northern Ontario. It’s a town called North Bay. It’s super gorgeous and calming and soothing, and everyone was so happy that we were shooting there. I’m just not used to that. I’m used to shooting — not to call out cities — but I’m used to shooting in the city where people are always yelling at you for shooting in front of their store or blocking their driveway with a camera truck. It was just so refreshing to film in such a non-hostile environment. It really became sort of like a character in the show, the fact that we were shooting in a small town — and North Bay is just such a cute, quaint place. But I don’t think my character’s trying to fix his image. I think it’s more about him getting his head straight.

I’m a huge SLIDERS fan. I know it’s a bit of a dated reference, and not really applicable to what we’re talking about today.
JERRY: Actually, SLIDERS —it’s funny. I was trying to get on a flight and I was a little bit late, and I was like, “oh man, I’m going to have to take the next flight,” and the guy at the desk said,” no, we can get you on this flight.” I mean literally the flight was leaving in 35 minutes. He put me on that early flight and then I made it through the security and I finally got to the gate, and it was the same guy who was at the ticket counter at the gate. I gave him my ticket and I said, “Hey man, thanks for getting me on this flight. You didn’t have to do that.” He went, “Hey man, I was a huge SLIDERS fan!” I can’t believe SLIDERS is 20 years later getting me on flights. It really made me laugh. . . Hey, there might be a reboot. There’s been a couple of phone calls made. . . [Laughs] No phone calls returned, but a couple phone calls made.

Regarding CARTER — I’ve seen you in a lot of different roles — from SLIDERS and you have a recurring arc on BILLION and a number of different things. But CARTER is a little bit different. How much of you is like Harley Carter?
JERRY: It’s so embarrassing to say, but a lot of Carter is like me. Thankfully, I’m not as vain as the character of Carter is. He’s always worried about how he looks in situations, or that could just be my version of Garry Shandling’s old joke, “How does my hair look?” Harley Carter is a television actor. I’m a TV actor. I like to think Carter is a little more obsessed with himself than I am. I’m not wearing makeup right now and I have a feeling that Carter is always wearing, not a lot, but some form of makeup when he leaves the house — at least concealer.

What is it about this series and the character in particular that appealed to you when you looked at the project?
JERRY: I think it’s just because I’m a fan of all these procedural shows. I’ve admittedly seen every episode of MONK. I loved CASTLE. I thought Stana [Katic] and Nathan [Fillion] just had the best rapport. I’m a huge MOONLIGHTING fan. Dave [Bruce Willis] and Maddie [Cybill Shepherd] were the best. I think CARTER pays homage to all those shows, but it’s even a little more inside, because it’s: what if someone who works in and grew up watching all those sort of procedural homicide shows, what if they helped solve crimes? It’s just the jokes really made me laugh. When [Carter is] explaining to the cops that the one who did it is going to be one of the suspects that we met earlier that we didn’t think did it, that’s always the case, and then it doesn’t turn out that way. Then everyone’s like, “see, it’s not all like television.” But then in the twist, it does turn out that it’s them and [Carter goes], “ha-ha, I told you.” It just really made me smile and I thought it would make a fun hour of television.

You mentioned earlier the grueling pace of doing like 100 episodes for a series. Was it a ten-episode kind of season, was that something that played an influence in you, or is that just not that important, or how do you approach taking on a full season that we’re used to versus more and more shows going down to the ten-episode season?
JERRY: I don’t know. I wish I could answer that for you. It’s the new way of doing things. I mean it’s just above my pay grade, but it does seem to me that that’s more the way TV shows are being made this year is ten-episode seasons. I don’t know why that is, streaming services, maybe they change it up in schedules more. I don’t know.

Does it feel different while you’re filming? Of course the duration is longer, but does it feel tighter?
JERRY: Yes. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve worked on shows where we did 24 episodes a season, and that’s crazy. There is no end in sight. With ten episodes, I can be more energetic in it. I can definitely be more energetic. I can’t explain it. It’s just being able to see an end-date that is do-able, it’s cool. I like this new sort of 10-episode system — just doing ten episodes at a time. But why they do that, I don’t know. You’ve got to ask Bob Iger that. That’s like a media mogul question.

I like the premise of a group of friends getting together to solve crimes where your character has gone back to his hometown with Sydney’s [Tamilia Poitier] character Sam. Can you talk a little bit about the relationships they have working together?
JERRY: It’s really funny. First of all, Sydney is gorgeous — Sydney Poitier — and she is the most important character in the show because I can be goofy and talk about TV, and how everything works in TV, and how we find a killer in TV, and how Columbo would do it, and that’s fine. If there isn’t actual stakes — if you’re not actually really invested in the show — then it just doesn’t work. Sydney’s ability to ground our show, that’s everything. That’s what makes our show, so we’re all forever indebted to her and her ability to do that. Kristian Bruun — for you ORPHAN BLACK fans — is just so fun to work with as well. Getting to work with those two is just a dream. We have a good old time on set. We approach every scene like, “let’s have fun making this,” and I think it really comes across. I don’t think we had one fight, and it’s crazy because all I do is fight with co-workers. Oh, we did have one fight. Kristian got mad at me. It was really late in the day and our director was yelling at us to come and they were yelling for Kristian and he was talking. I didn’t want to say his name in front of the boss because I didn’t want — you don’t want to call out another employee in front of your boss — so I was like quietly snapping at my leg, like, “yo, yo, yo, he’s calling for us.” So I was like, “yo, yo, yo” and I was snapping. He jumped up and he said, “Don’t you ever snap at me again.” So, Kristian and I did get into one fight, but you can ask him about that. I apologized profusely for snapping at him, but I was doing it because I didn’t want to say his name in front of my boss, who was freaking out.

You are one of the bosses [on CARTER] as well. As one of the EP’s, do you approach the series differently than you did just on a show that you weren’t involved on the other side in?
JERRY: No. First of all, I was shocked that they did that. I think it just happens. When you get older, I think they have to do it eventually. I didn’t even ask for it. To be honest, I didn’t even know what was happening until it happened. I think it’s just because I’m on set all the time. I’m just there and I don’t really do anything with that position. I think it’s just something they give you when you get old. It’s like a participation trophy. I wish I could tell you how busy I was and how this is all part of the plan, and I sit down and we really map out the entire season. I’m not sure why they gave that to me. Sorry, I wish I had a better answer for you.

I really liked the rapport that the characters had on the show, and I wondered what the relationship was like between the writers and the cast and if there was any give-and-take with the script, if you got to improvise and have fun with the writing, or if they wanted you to be strict with what they had written down on the page.
JERRY: It’s funny. This is a procedural show. I know we make fun of procedurals because I’m a TV cop who’s telling the real cops how to solve crimes, but we stick pretty close to the script. I wish I could tell you this was like THE OFFICE and we just go there, and just have fun and games in the scenes every week, but when you write a procedural it’s pretty mapped out. Yes, we stick to the script. Our boss, Garry Campbell comes from the KIDS IN THE HALL world, so the scripts are pretty funny as they are. We don’t really have to add anything to them. It’s kind of a relief. It’s fun to just go there and find the meat in a scene, in a written scene. Also, I know I said it before, but working with Sydney and Kristian, and all the stars, Brenda [Kamino], Varun [Saranga], Dennis [Akiyama] — God rest his soul — they’re so good and they sort of find their own things. A lot of my part is also trying to make sure that everybody else around CARTER gets their turn to shine. We have a really fun, diverse, super talented cast and when you have that you sort of don’t have to make it up as you go along because there’s a plan and a procedure that’s been put in place.

I was really curious about the dynamic that arises between Harley and Dave. Obviously, they’re childhood friends and all, but it really seems like they’ve had some time away from each other, so what kind of connects them now? Why do they kind of gravitate towards each other in this?
JERRY: I don’t know. Our boss, Garry Campbell, really wrote a funny role. Look, when you’re up there acting in a show, it’s all about the relationship of who you’re acting with. Everything is what’s going on with this relationship. Garry Campbell just wrote us the funniest relationship. It’s really funny, too, because in real life Kristian Bruun and I have a really funny, weirdly co-dependent relationship. I text him every day, sometimes twice a day. It’s funny. He’s a lot like his character. He tries to be cool. I would say I’m a little more dependent on him than he is on me, but we text each other at a minimum a couple times a day, which is — I hope I don’t get in trouble for this — but it’s more than I text my wife. We’re pretty tight and I think that’s what’s so cool about how Garry wrote the characters. My character goes to Hollywood and he becomes this big star and then he moves back home. They pick up the conversation right where they left off. It’s so fun for me watching CARTER because I’m such good friends with all those people. It really makes me smile just watching those scenes. In no way am I comparing CARTER to the amazing hit that SEINFELD is, but you know when you watch SEINFELD and you see Jerry almost about to crack up in every scene, when I watch CARTER I can see myself about to crack up in every scene. It really makes me laugh. It makes me really enjoy the experience of watching CARTER and we have a good time. Hey, but on top of it, Kristian Bruun and Sydney Poitier are just top notch actors. We’re really fortunate to have them around us. It really classes up the joint.

To see all the zany adventures that Harley Carter and his friends Dave and Sam find themselves caught up in as Sam’s criminal investigations, be sure to check out the premiere of CARTER, which airs Tuesday, August 7th at 10:00 p.m. on WGN America. It is a delightful, breezy mystery-caper drama and it will make you smile and laugh along with Harley, Dave and Sam — so sit back and spend your summer Tuesday nights in “cottage country” with them as they catch a criminal or two along the way.

CARTER Trailer:

CARTER – The Making Of Trailer: