Tony Denison Interview: TNT's "Major Crimes" Returns with Greater Focus on Character Relationships
Fan favorite Tony Denison is a Prism Award winner for portraying Lt. Andy Flynn on the TNT series The Closer (2005-2012) where he starred alongside Kyra Sedgwick for 7 seasons. The Closer’s spin-off series, Major Crimes, premiered on TNT August 13, 2012, and Denison reprised his role of Flynn in the fictional Major Crimes Division of the LAPD.
The New York native is well known for his role as mob boss Ray Luca on the NBC crime drama Crime Story (1986-1988), guest starred in Wiseguy, City of Hope and Charmed, starred as Joey Buttafuoco in The Amy Fisher Story (1993), as John Gotti in Getting Gotti (1994) and as head coach Mike George in ESPN’s series Playmakers. He had a recurring role as Aldo Burrows on the Fox series Prison Break (2005-2009), and in 2000 played the role of a killer for hire in Walker, Texas Ranger. Denison also starred in the 2012 feature-film Trattoria, a dramedy set in the exciting San Francisco restaurant scene.
“What I understand is that more relationships between us all will be more of the focus on the show next year while we’re in the middle of solving crimes. Again, I don’t know what it means. I just know that’s the language G.W. was talking to me about. I know one year we had Lt. Tao’s family. Maybe we do an episode where we travel home with him again. Maybe Flynn’s kids will show up … his married daughter may show up or his ex-wife. I really don’t know, but I imagine that’s some of the stuff they’ll consider doing.”
All new episodes of Major Crimes are slated to return November 25, 2013 on TNT.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tony, you and I spoke a couple of years ago when The Closer had about 6 episodes left, and Major Crimes had not started.
Tony Denison: Right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I didn’t think I’d like Major Crimes as well as The Closer, but I was pleasantly surprised. What has been the fans’ response?
Tony Denison: We experienced a little dip in the beginning but not much because people were curious, and then the next week in the first year, it just started to climb. Not only did we do better numbers than The Closer, we grew in a demographic that The Closer had been weak in which is a male demographic between 18 and 35. I’m not too familiar with the demographic age specifics, but we went up in that.
The thing that’s the most significant is that in the people who DVR the show, that number has gone through the roof! It’s so high up that if it were extrapolated out to a network show, it would be like #4 on the network. Even though our numbers, in terms of overall people, are not as high as a #1 show on the network, relatively speaking, it’s awesome how many people are taping the show or watching it later on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Very cool. What can we look forward to in the upcoming winter episodes?
Tony Denison: We’re on track to try to straighten out the situation with Phillip Stroh and protect Rusty. There’s a beginning of more conversations between Flynn and (Sharon) Raydor. But beyond that, I’m apparently sworn to secrecy. I’m not kidding. They sent me a release saying that there are certain things I couldn’t talk about in specificity (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I totally believe you (laughs). Flynn made some subtle overtures to Sharon in earlier episodes, so it appeared that relationship might be explored in the future.
Tony Denison: What I understand is that more relationships between us all will be more of the focus on the show next year while we’re in the middle of solving crimes. Again, I don’t know what it means. I just know that’s the language G.W. was talking to me about. I know one year we had Lt. Tao’s family. Maybe we do an episode where we travel home with him again. Maybe Flynn’s kids will show up … his married daughter may show up or his ex-wife. I really don’t know, but I imagine that’s some of the stuff they’ll consider doing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): One of my favorite Closer episodes was titled “To Protect and to Serve.” Flynn and Provenza have tickets to go to a Dodgers baseball game, but they get delayed and end up in some trouble (laughs).
Tony Denison: Oh, the dead body in the garage, yeah (laughs). Skybox tickets. You know that turned out to be the most favorite episode of all the 7 ½ years of The Closer? That was the #1 favorite, and then the next favorite would be like #5 (laughs). It’s just awesome. On a list of 1 to 10, that episode was like 1, 2, 3, 4, and then there was the 5th one. It was fun. I love working with G.W. I like the fact that they write such cool stuff for us to do.
Det. Mike Kerchem is a producer and an adviser on the show. When G.W. and I first started dealing with the humorous side between these two guys, Mike said, “In real life, if you don’t crack wise or find a way to let the steam out, you’ll go crazy. Think about it, Tony. Look at the crime scenes that we recreate here and how gruesome they are, but we know the person lying on the ground is going to stand up and walk away. But in real life, you go to some of these murder scenes and they are horrific.” Mike said that if you don’t find a way later when you’re driving back or that night go out and have a couple of beers and try to unwind, you’ll go out of your mind. So when G.W. and I started doing that, Mike said, “That’s exactly what cops would do.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do the writers ever give you two any leeway in the script for making the characters more colorful?
Tony Denison: In the very beginning in the first year of The Closer, on or around episode 2 or 3 or something like that, we were rehearsing in the “murder room.” I went over and plopped my butt on the top of G.W.’s desk as I’m listening to Brenda Lee Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) give notes on a murder. G.W. looks over at me and goes, “Get your ass off my desk!” I looked at him and said, “Are you kidding?” He says, “No. Get off my desk!” I said, “You can’t be serious!” G. W. goes, “Look, I don’t care if you sit on my desk or if you dance on my desk, but Provenza does!” And I went, “Oh! Okay, great!” Immediately I knew and thought, “Let’s play with this.” So I went over and sat on the desk again, and he goes, “Get your ass off my desk!” That’s when we started in with the looks at one another.
James Duff just went crazy and loved that, and on the basis of that, he just really started to expand more and more. One day, 2 or 3 episodes later, we were on a crime scene, and James was on the set, and he said, “I want to do an episode where Flynn and Provenza find a dead body in a garage. I just get this feeling that is what I want to do. And they get in some sort of a scrape.” That’s all he said to us. This was a whole year before he wrote the episode, but that’s what he was thinking at the time. The next year he wrote the episode, and it became the favorite episode with everybody.
I remember when he told me we’d find a dead body in the garage, and thought to myself, “Oh. He’s flipped!” But he’d had this in his head the whole time from that moment based on the fact that he just loved the chemistry of our relationship. Peter Roth, the head of Warner Bros. Television, refers to us as the “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” of TV. He just loves what we do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The looks on your faces were priceless when you turned to each other after raising the garage (laughs).
Tony Denison: Oh I know (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Graham Patrick Martin (who plays Rusty Beck) is a fine young actor.
Tony Denison: Yes he is a very talented boy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How has Graham blended in with the rest of the cast?
Tony Denison: He’s just great. He fits right in. I think Graham is about 21, and it’s almost like how we treat the character. We all treat him like we’re his uncles and stuff like that. He’s a super good kid, and he’s super talented. When he’s in a scene, he smacks the ball out of the park.
Graham brings as much as he can bring to whatever scene he’s in, and it’s good because he’s interwoven in and out of the story. When the plot sort of turns the attention to him, he’s ready to bang at it real hard.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I heard that Jon Tenney (Special Agent Fritz Howard) was returning for a few winter episodes and possibly to direct.
Tony Denison: I don’t know if he’s going to be returning as a regular or still going to be recurring. I don’t know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who’s the funniest guy on the set?
Tony Denison: Hands down, G.W. is the funniest storyteller I’ve ever come across, and I’m not saying that because I’m prejudiced about my affection for the man as a friend. He is just hilarious when he’s recounting a story. He does a lot of charity work because he’s the Executive Director of the Sunshine Kids Foundation. But he’ll talk about something as simple as some drunk was sitting next to him on the plane or something like that, and he’ll have everybody in stitches (laughs).
Second is Jon Tenney. Jon can take one of the simplest, worst jokes in the world and make it hilarious! If you or I told a joke, somebody might go, “Yeah. That’s funny.” And that’s it. But when Jon Tenney tells a joke, everybody is screaming! It has always been a pleasure on the set especially when those two are working on the same day. Lots of stomachaches from laughing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tony, are you a real chef, or do you just play one in the film Trattoria?
Tony Denison: I played one in the film, but I do have a couple of signature dishes that I make. Interestingly enough, I want to constantly learn new things in life all the time. So when I was doing the movie, I learned so many different culinary techniques that I did not know with the chef who owns the restaurant called Wolfdale’s in Lake Tahoe. His name is Douglas Dale. He’s the uncle to the director of the movie, so he was also the inspiration for the character.
If you ever saw the guy, he looks like me, or I look like him. We both have salt and pepper hair, we’re around the same age, and there’s the same pair of glasses around in the neck in the loop (laughs). I learned a lot of really cool things that I didn’t know and also learned a couple of new dishes that I didn’t know. Like with anything else, it’s like following something out of a recipe book, and you just add a little bit of flair to it. That’s all.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are the dishes?
Tony Denison: Well, people love my French toast Sicilian style, and everybody loves my eggplant Parmesan. Those are the two significant ones I cook.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds delicious. Anything else going on other than Major Crimes?
Tony Denison: My partner, Joel Bess, and I have a production company called Jucilian, and we’ve been producing some sizzle reels to take around to production companies and networks. We haven’t sold one as yet, but we’ve gotten pretty close a couple of times.
Persistence is the key operating word in this town, so we just keep persevering. My agent tells me I’m right for a couple of movie projects that hopefully start in January (because we go back in March), so we’ll see if I get an offer or a reading. It’s almost impossible for me to do anything else full time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m still hoping you’ll turn up on Criminal Minds as a serial killer (laughs).
Tony Denison: I was on that show as a SWAT Commander about 5 years ago, not that anyone remembers seeing me. But as it turns out, Jim Clemente, a retired FBI Agent, is talking about doing something like that and asked if I’d be interested. I said, “Yeah. Of course, I would.” I’ll play a clown who’s a spy. I don’t care … as long as it’s well written with interesting dialogue.
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