Kathleen Robertson Interview: "Murder in the First" Star Declares, "I'm an Actor. I Don't Want to Run Around with Guns"
Image attributed to Kathleen Robertson
Kathleen Robertson currently stars in Steven Bochco’s TNT hit drama Murder in the First as homicide detective Hildy Mulligan opposite Taye Diggs (as Inspector Terry English). The actress and producer is also known for her roles in the Canadian sitcom Maniac Mansion (1990-1993) and as Claire Arnold in the Fox teen series Beverly Hills, 90210 (1994-1997).
Other television appearances include My Secret Identity, Burke’s Law, Medium, CSI: Miami, Rookie Blue, Boss, Cracked, Torso: The Evelyn Dick Story (TV movie), Last Exit (TV movie) and Bates Motel. Films include Scary Movie 2, I Am Sam, I Love Your Work, Until the Night, Control, Hollywoodland, Player 5150, Losing Control, Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden and The Vatican Tapes (released in theaters July 24, 2015).
"I told Steven [Bochco] about how Boss was cancelled and how I was bummed out about it. He said to me, 'Good work lives forever. That work you did will be around forever, and people will always be able to see it.' That was it. The next day my agent called and said, 'They think you’re the girl and really want you to do this.' It was actually kind of a great moment in terms of helping to get me out of my funk after the cancellation of Boss. It was a totally difference role. It was the first time for me ever playing a cop, and of course, working with Steven was a huge plus. So, yeah. That’s how it happened."
The second season finale of Murder in the First airs on TNT August 24, 2015.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I am enjoying Murder in the First!
Kathleen Robertson: Oh great, thank you!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you audition with the legendary Steven Bochco?
Kathleen Robertson: Yeah. It was interesting. I was on a TV series called Boss with Kelsey Grammer, and it was an incredible show. I loved doing it. Kelsey won the Golden Globe, and the show was nominated for a Globe, so we were expecting for it to go on for a while. All of a sudden, we got news that the show was cancelled. It was very upsetting and shocking. We were all sort of devastated, and I thought, “Oh this is ridiculous. I can’t believe this.” Then I got a call about the new Steven Bochco show and thought, “I don’t even want it. I don’t even want to look at anything else right now.” But I read it and thought it was really good. I loved the role and said, “Alright. I’ll go meet with Steven and Eric Lodal (co-creator)." I had a really nice meeting with them. We talked, and they told me about the show.
I told Steven about how Boss was cancelled and how I was bummed out about it. He said to me, “Good work lives forever. That work you did will be around forever, and people will always be able to see it.” That was it. The next day my agent called and said, “They think you’re the girl and really want you to do this.” It was actually kind of a great moment in terms of helping to get me out of my funk after the cancellation of Boss. It was a totally difference role. It was the first time for me ever playing a cop, and of course, working with Steven was a huge plus. So, yeah. That’s how it happened.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What did you learn about the character of Hildy Mulligan in that meeting?
Kathleen Robertson: Well, they had seen me in Boss, and the role I played in that show was very different from Hildy. They were fans of my work, but they were skeptical, before meeting me, if I could play blue collar. They wanted to meet with me, have a chat and hang out to figure out who I really was because with actors you really never know what you’re getting since they play so many different parts.
I’m from Hamilton, Ontario which is a steel city and very much a blue collar kind of town. It’s referred to as the Canadian Pittsburgh. My brother-in-law has been a cop forever. I think after talking to me about where I grew up and my upbringing, they thought, “Okay. Yeah. She can do it.” I’m like, “Yeah. I’m from Hamilton, Ontario. I can do blue collar. I know blue collar.” That was part of the conversation. They just explained to me how the show was going to unfold, and how each season there was going to be a new story and new cast, but Taye and I would always remain throughout the series. There would be new characters every season almost like a brand new kind of energy and feel every year which I thought sounded really great.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I found it interesting that the show follows a single case through the entire season. Is the whole season written all at once so that the actors can see the scripts in advance, or is it still one script at a time for each episode?
Kathleen Robertson: We definitely don’t have any sort of advance warnings or advance knowledge of what’s going to happen from week to week. They like to keep the scripts very much to themselves until they have to give them to the actors. They like to leave us in the dark (laughs). We don’t really get the scripts until the week right before we start filming. A lot of that has to do with rewrites and changes. They don’t want actors to fall in love with a scene and then have it cut.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Even though the concept is different each season?
Kathleen Robertson: At the beginning of each season, I have a meeting with them where they explain and say what’s going to happen, like what Hildy’s going to go through. For season two, Hildy’s arc is going to be her questioning whether or not she still wants to be a cop and whether or not she has the stomach to keep doing it. This season it’s about the wear and tear that the job takes on one’s soul.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The second season opened with a bang! Cops and kids were everywhere on the streets after the shootings on the school bus. Were those scenes difficult to film logistically speaking?
Kathleen Robertson: It was very ambitious of them (laughs). When we read the script, I think we all were kind of like, “Wow! This is really ambitious to try and complete in the time frame that we have.” We weren’t given any extra time necessarily to do those sequences. We ended up, of course, having to block on extra days. It was just a lot to try to tackle. There were very long days, and extra days were added on at the end to get things that we missed and make sure that it all made sense. It’s very different this year. The second season is very different from the first season, but that was the intention.
Every season is going to have its own feel and flavor. For me, when I read the first script this season, my biggest concern was that this was going to be an action show now. I don’t want to do an action show (laughs). I’m an actor. I don’t want to run around with guns. I like sitting in a room having conversations with people. That’s what I love to do. I’m not really an action person, so luckily, that was just the way the season started. It very much folds back into a little bit closer to how the show started out in the beginning.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We’ve now met Hildy’s family, and her father appears to be a racist. Will this be woven into the storylines of upcoming episodes?
Kathleen Robertson: Yeah. I think definitely part of the introduction of Hildy’s family in season two was to shed light on how Hildy became who she became and why she became a cop and just to give the audience a bit of her backstory and her upbringing. Hildy’s introduction of her brother, Junior, who’s now working alongside in her department, is a cause of definite conflict for her. It’s a complicated relationship. Her relationship with her father is one that’s very difficult and one that she has avoided for many years. The whole family relationship is pretty fractured.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you want to become an actor, Kathleen?
Kathleen Robertson: I always knew that I wanted to do it, and I don’t really know why because no one in my family was in the entertainment industry. I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario which, as I said before, is a steel city, and there’s no aspect of that town that would lead one to believe you could ever see me doing what I’m doing now. It is kind of amazing. I still sometimes, when I’m on set, look around and think, “How did I get here? How did this happen?” But from the time I was very young, I just always knew I wanted to do this. Now I have a seven year old, and I just can’t really understand why because I was not an outgoing kid.
I was not the kid who was in school plays and really popular like the big outgoing kid. I was not that way at all. When I first started out as an actor, I would go to auditions and be so shy that I would come out of auditions with a big red rash from nerves. I would get so nervous that my parents would say, “Are you sure you want to do this? This maybe isn’t for you. This is really difficult.” There were so many rejections. But there was just something in me. It was this weird thing in me, and I’d go, “No. This is what I want to do.” I just kept at it year after year. It wasn’t an easy thing for me.
I wasn’t one of those people that just booked every job I went on. I would go out on a lot of auditions and not get anything, and then all of a sudden, I would get something, and it would usually be something good. I would do that, and it would fuel me to the next job. Then there’d be lots and lots of rejections, and then I would get a job, and that would give me hope like, “Okay. This is the right thing. This is what I’m meant to do.”
I’ve been doing it for a really long time. It’s still kind of like that for me. I have great years where I work nonstop, and I have years where I don’t really work much at all. I think that’s the life of every actor really. Everybody has those ups and downs. But I’m really fortunate that I’ve been able to make a living doing what I love for so many years. I’m really lucky.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you have that certain role along the way that actually made you feel successful as an actor?
Kathleen Robertson: It’s weird because you kind of get those roles … those “roles.” You get those roles every few years, and you think, “Oh! This is huge!” Then of course, life unfolds the way it’s going to unfold. I’m a writer as well. When I really turned my focus away from acting and started really focusing on my writing was, of course, when my acting career really took off again, and I started working nonstop again. It’s always that funny thing. The minute you surrender to something and go, “You know what? This really doesn’t mean everything to me,” or “This doesn’t mean as much to me as it used to,” that’s when everything comes flooding in (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That seems to be always the way that works (laughs). The Vatican Tapes just recently came out in theaters. Was that your first horror film?
Kathleen Robertson: First horror film ever (laughs). First, and probably not the last. But I like to do different things and play different kinds of roles. I thought it was interesting and sort of more of a psychological thing. I don’t think I’d ever do a slasher movie. I don’t like those kinds of films, just not a huge fan of them. This movie’s much more psychological and much scarier on that level. So yeah, I think it’s scary just like all those types of movies hope to be (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You husband (Chris Cowles) was involved in production?
Kathleen Robertson: My husband was one of the producers, and that’s the first time we’ve ever worked together. That was cool.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So that went well?
Kathleen Robertson: Yeah. Yeah (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve now played a cop and starred in a horror film for the first time, so do you follow in Taye Diggs’ footsteps next and sing on Broadway?
Kathleen Robertson: Definitely not singing (laughs). I don’t know. I have so many things that I want to do before that, so I don’t think that will make it. As I said, I’m a writer. I’ve sold a couple of shows in the last year, and that’s really my focus next. I want to be having my own content out there. I don’t write for myself. I like to keep it separate.
I have a show that I just sold to Lionsgate that Christina Applegate is attached to star in, and then I have another show that I just sold to E! called Shooting Stars. It’s about a girl who’s a paparazzi. That’s my big focus. When I’m not acting, that’s where I put all my focus. I just love writing. I love it a lot.
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