CBS has become the (nearly official) home of the hour drama. From CSI to The Mentalist and countless other hits in between, the Eye has perfected the art of the procedural and prospered each and every season by bringing audiences new characters to love and narratives to follow. The network's latest project to garner a huge fan-base and critical praise is Person of Interest, a crime drama with a touch a science fiction that becomes more intriguing as each new episode unfolds.
I recently got the chance to chat with one of the show's principle players - Kevin Chapman, who plays Detective Lionel Fusco, an unlikely ally of Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson) who aids them in their crusade to prevent violent crimes from happening. We talked about the joys of working with executive producers J.J. Abrams and Jonah Nolan, his take on his character and what it's like to be the everyman in a story filled with superheroes.
Let’s talk Person of Interest. I’ve got to tell you: in terms of hour dramas, it’s really, I think, the best one that has come out in the last television season. So let me just start out by congratulating you for being a part of it. We love the show. I think it has got a long life ahead of it.
Oh, thank you! Thank you very much. It’s got the right pedigree. It’s got J.J. Abrams. Jonah Nolan, who I think is just brilliant. His movies—Memento is just fabulous…
Memento is just unique. There’s nothing else like it.
I’ve never seen anything as unique as that film. That movie had me hooked right from the beginning. You just kept wondering, ‘Where is this going? Where is this going? Where is this going?’ You know? But yeah. To work with Jonah, and of course J.J. Abrams, and Greg Plageman, who I worked with on Cold Case. Greg...was a fan of mine from a Showtime series I did called Brotherhood.
Which didn’t have a long enough life, might I add. That was a great show.
You know what’s funny? I have more people approach me—more specifically in the eastern region of the country—they come up to me, and they’re like, ‘I just saw it online! When is that show coming back?’ And I have to tell them, ‘Watch my new show now!’
Right! And that’s interesting, because that brings me right into one of my first questions: you’ve played cops and detectives and these kinds of law enforcement roles before. Part of the question is, do you enjoy doing that? And also, what was it about Person of Interest, when it came along, where you’d be playing another New York City cop, that attracted you to it and made you say, ‘This is the project that I want to do?’
I’ve never played a New York City cop. You’re the second person who has said that to me—the second person who has interviewed me—who has said, ‘You play cops all the time.’ And I started to think…I did it on Rizzoli & Isles, I played a cop. It actually wasn’t even a cop, though…
You were an agent, or I think a detective, something like that.
But then I was an FBI agent on Criminal Minds…On The Practice, I think, years, ago, I played a cop…but I haven’t really done a lot of it, I don’t think. Anyway, regardless, the thing that brought me to this role, first of all, was the pedigree. You’ve got J.J. Abrams, Jonah Nolan, Greg Plageman, who I worked with on Cold Case. David Semel directed the pilot. April Webster, who has been a fan of mine for quite some time, and had been looking for something to put me in. When I read the script, I just fell in love with the character. And then I talked with Jonah Nolan, and he kind of laid it out for me. I enjoyed the sense of duality that Lionel Fusco has. I love to play characters—whenever I work on a piece, I never judge the characters that I play. I feel that, in my process of work, if you judge the character you play, it’s a recipe for disaster. And Lionel had such a sense of duality that I felt that this was something that I could play and leave to the viewer. You know? Let the viewer decide whether they thought he was a good guy or a bad guy. Because there are times that he does things that are on the wrong side of the law, and then he does things that are on the right side of the law.
What’s interesting about that is that he operates in this grey area, in this morally grey area.
Exactly! It was that grey area that drew me to the character of Lionel. At times, he’s kind of the comedic element of the piece. There are other times you kind of feel bad for him. It’s a character that has so many different levels. That was the thing. And as I said before, the series has the right pedigree.
Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s an absolute dream team, and I’m going to come back to them shortly. But I want to continue to talk a little bit about your character in particular. We feel that he might be the most human and relatable character on the entire show, because he’s operating in a world with, for lack of a better world, superheroes. Reese is this CIA spook. Finch is the mad scientist behind this whole thing. What do you think the everyman qualities that Lionel Fusco has added to the show, in contrast with Carter’s and Reese’ and Finch’s characters?
Well, I think the thing with Lionel is that, because I play the character as very blue-collar and very grounded, I think that it really is kind of the glue that brings it all together. Does that make any sense? You have these three individuals, these three characters, who could work in a world of make-believe. But yet, you have this guy—this very blue-collar New York cop, doughy-looking guy—who kind of pulls and sucks it all back in and anchors it all.
He’s filling the void between all of these other character traits—
He’s in, but he’s not. I refer to myself sometimes as the fat girl at the prom. [Laughs] It’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re in the club, Lionel…but, eh, not really.’
You know I’m going to be using that quote somewhere in the body of the article now! That’s too good not to!
So, Fusco was forced into his position by Reese, but he seems to be slowly developing a loyalty to him and an understanding of where he’s coming from and why he’s doing it. It’s feeling more like he wants to help him. What do you think he’s come to think of his position on this team? And what does he think of Reese?
I think Fusco thinks of his position as far more advanced than it actually is. Here’s a guy. He’s a cop. I hate to use the old cliché, ‘falling in with the wrong crowd,’ but he did kind of fall in with the wrong crowd. He fell in with Stills and all of the other corrupt cops. And I don’t think it was in his love for that lifestyle as it was him wanting to be a part of something. He has his first encounter with Reese. Reese says to him, ‘I’m going to give you the opportunity to basically redeem yourself.’ And Fusco realizes that he can’t get rid of Reese. And then he starts to come around to the idea, ‘Well, maybe what he’s doing is good.’ And I think what it does is, it brings Fusco back to life. It brings him back to what, initially, drove him to become a police officer. There really is somebody out there who cares.
There really are good guys.
There really is somebody who wants to be good, and who wants to help people. That still exists. Maybe not the whole world is as cynical as [he] thought it was.
I like that.
And I think that’s the thing that is kind of bringing Lionel back. ‘Wow! It’s not as bad off…we’re not in as bad a shape as I thought we were.’
Now, we’ve seen a few glimpses into Fusco’s home life, and for a character like him, that’s kind of the defining element of who he is. Can you tell me a little bit more about his character off-duty? Have you come up with any stories for the character to help you define him?
Yeah. He’s divorced. He has the son, who we saw Lionel play hockey with. But he’s a guy that is probably most dangerous to himself. He’s that guy that just kind of says all the wrong things at the right time. And just basically can’t get out of his own way. That’s how I kind of view him. He’s a guy who is constantly trying to prove himself, a little bit. He’s constantly seeking that gratification, and constantly looking for a pat on the head. Like, ‘Hey, Lionel, you did good.’ He’s just constantly seeking that. But unfortunately, he creates this level of self-destruction, almost. And I think that’s why he’s unable to sustain a relationship with his wife. He’s a big dope. He’s dopey.
He’s kind of like the Baby Huey of the crew.
Yeah, he’s really not a bad guy…he’ll go with the crowd. He’s definitely a follower, not a leader.
Maybe that’s what got him into trouble in the first place.
Yeah, that’s exactly what got him into trouble in the first place. When he hooked up with Stills and the rest of that crew. That’s basically how he got in. That’s why Reese allowed him to live. Lionel was bringing Reese out to Oyster Bay to dispose of him, and Reese turned the tables on him said, ‘Look, you can be of value to me. I’m going to allow you to live. But if you ever hurt anyone, I’ll be the first one to kill you.’ And that’s kind of my backstory with Lionel. That’s how I created it. When we had the episode— I forget what episode it was—when Lionel is playing hockey with his son, I talked to the writers about it. I said, ‘I would really like Lionel to be divorced.’ I just think his moral compass is so twisted that it would be hard for him to have a normal home life.
Given all the stuff that he’s done, you would think that if he got himself into it, it’s reflective of what he’s doing on the other side.
Exactly. I just think that people who have a normal home life—when I say ‘normal,’ I mean [that he] comes from a loving home with a wife who loves him, and his family is a unit—I don’t think that individual’s moral compass can become so jaded. So that’s what drove me to create this backstory with Lionel. I just felt that he couldn’t be that off-the-mark if he had a normal life.
I don’t know how much you can speak to this, but has Jonah Nolan discussed any of the philosophy about the machine with the cast, with you? Because that’s the greater mythology that we love about J.J. Abrams. His television products are kind of vast, ongoing narratives that suck you in. I’m just wondering, what’s your take on that phenomenon? And can you give any insight onto where that is going?
First off, I’m not an actor likes to know—I like to take the journey.
With the audience.
I love to take the journey with the audience. When I get my script for the next episode, it’s like Christmas for me. I want to run home and I want to see where we’re going. I’m not an individual who brings a lot of suggestions to the writers, or talks about future storylines, or [asks] ‘Where is this going?’ I enjoy the journey. Because I feel that if you embrace the journey, then your performance is true. And that’s what I seek. When I perform, I try to seek truth in the character. I try to make them as truthful and believable as possible. Nothing would irritate me more than to have somebody watching at home go, ‘Oh, come on! He wouldn’t do that!’ There are individuals that are able to do that and make that work. For me, it doesn’t work. That’s the thing that I really strive for. In anything that I do. Whether it’s Person of Interest, or Rescue Me, or whatever it I’m doing. I don’t really get too far down the road with that, so I don’t really have any insight to that kind of question.
Let me flip the script on you then. We were kind of tossing around ideas when we knew we were going to get this interview with you, do you think—and this is just your opinion—do you think it would be a cool one-off storyline seeing Fusco’s number come up in the machine?
Yeah, definitely! Much like we did with Carter—in 'Get Carter,' her number came up. Yeah, absolutely. I think that would be great. There are a number of different storylines, I think. I would love to see a storyline where Reese goes off the rails. When we initially found Reese, he was this drunken vagabond living under a bridge. I would love to see him when something flipped his switch and he’s back to that.
I’ll tell you what else I think would be cool, and this is something I’m really starting to think about after the last episode, that maybe there is some kind of flip side to Finch’s character. Maybe he’s not really the crusader that we think he is. Maybe he’s got some kind of ulterior motives. Tell me what it’s like working with Michael Emerson, because he also seems like such a genius.
The whole cast is great. Everybody we have. People that were cast in this pilot, I feel, personally, did a great job. Everyone is so spot on. And one of the beauties, I feel, of this cast is that if you line the four of us up, and you have four very different individuals. You’ve got me, this blue-collar cop. You’ve got Taraji [Henson], this very strong woman, beautiful—
She’s a real ass-kicker.
Yeah, she’s an ass-kicker. Takes no shit. Then you’ve got Michael Emerson’s character, who is this real intellect and visionary. And then you have Reese, who is this classically handsome trained assassin. And you throw these four people in a pot and see what comes out every week.
Every single week, it’s just gold. It’s really one of the most exciting, unpredictable, engrossing programs that’s on. I can’t wait to see more. I know I’ve probably taken up a lot of your time already, but I want to just end by asking—again, I know that you don’t know too far out in terms of the story, but just the network of the production company, has there been any indication that we’re going to be seeing this continue on in 2012, 2013 and beyond?
Nina Tesslar and Les Moonves have been very supportive of the show. They give us a Thursday night at 9 o’clock timeslot. You can’t be any more supportive than that. I think that we just won a People’s Choice Award last week, which was a great shot in the arm. It let us know that people are watching it. I can feel the momentum of the show. I can feel it even when I’m out in the street. Over the holidays, we showed three or four repeat shows, because of holidays and the way they fell. And it was amazing to see how many people would come up to me in the street and say, ‘Hey! You’re they guy from Person of Interest. Are we getting a new show this week?’ And I’m like, ‘Wow. I don’t know, to be honest with you.’ Because we’re so far in advance—I think we’re working on episode fifteen—you’ve only seen episode twelve or ten or something like that.
Yeah, that’s kind of general television, Production 101, I think. You guys are always three, four episodes ahead.
Yeah, exactly. So, I feel that the future looks very bright for us. I think that we will have somewhat of a long life here. But in this business, you never know. I’ve worked on these other shows that we’ve won awards for, and they went away within a year. You just don’t know. That’s why they call it show business.
Well, we’re strong supporters. Everything we write about the show works very well, based on our analytics. So, we’re going to keep writing about it if you keep making them.
Thanks a lot! I really appreciate the support. I really do. And it’s great to hear that people are into the show, because we love working on the show so much.