I recently had the chance to talk to both stars of TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles. Angie Harmon, who plays Detective Jane Rizzoli, has been on television for years. You probably know her as Assistant District Attorney Abbie Carmichael on Law & Order. She then starred in the lead role on the short-lived Women’s Murder Club.
Rizzoli & Isles follows Boston detective Jane Rizzoli (Harmon) and medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander), complete opposites and good friends who solve crimes and bust some of Boston’s most notorious criminals. Growing up at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, the two remain strikingly different from one another in many ways. Jane, the only female detective in Boston’s homicide division, is a tough and gutsy cop who doesn’t let her guard down (except with Maura), dodges her overprotective mother and is better at basketball than her brother.
The show premieres tonight on TNT at 10/9c. Jump with me to read Angie’s interview!
Since you’ve obviously played a lot of detective and law people before, what made this one stand out and what past experience might be drawn for her?
Angie Harmon: I think the thing that made this stand out the most was just the fact that you know it’s – there’s a lot more character to these characters. I mean you know we see their back stories, we see their present situations you know and I think that to me was a lot more interesting than just the regular procedure you know or – it’s like four heads standing around a body spelling it out for you. And you know I mean it’s a lot more of a roller coaster ride. It’s definitely got a lot more grit to it.
And you know we don’t pretend to be the smartest people there. We don’t – you know we’re not like, and this is how we did it and now we’re just going to show you how we go catch them. It’s – you know the audience gets to figure it out with us. But also, I mean, with the caliber of actors that we ended up getting, I mean you know we’ve got Lorraine Bracco plays my mom, Chazz Palminteri plays my father, Brian Dennehy, Donnie Wahlberg in the first (episode). I mean, we’ve just got Billy Burke from ((inaudible)). We got all kinds of fantastic actors.
And I think that you know speaks for itself – Bruce McGill you know and Sasha and it’s just like – I think that kind of shows that it’s not just a typical procedural show, that you know we have these actors because they can come here and actually act and show the different colors of actual you know people. I mean, no person is just one color, no person is just who they are at their job 24/7. And that was really you know what I was excited about. (Plus being) on TNT I knew we’d have a lot more creative freedom you know to tell the stories that we wanted to tell.
And you know I went and – I’ve spent a lot of time with the actual homicide unit in Boston and it was just – it was amazing, and I thought OK, well you know I can’t play a homicide detective, then I’ll just be one, and now I have the best of both worlds.
It’s great to see a great show. But what’s so great about it is the chemistry between you and Sasha. Did you know the first second that you all got together that it was going to be you know great chemistry and that you all were going to work great together?
Angie Harmon: I think so. I mean, it’s – you know we had such a great time. You know when we were trying to find the woman to play Maura you know it was kind of like a no-brainer when Sasha came in, and we just – you know we knew it was her and she did such a fantastic job, and you know – and, I mean, she got the job right then and there in the room and it was – it was great.
We actually played a little joke on her, and you know she’s a great lady, and we’ve had a really, really fantastic time. I mean, it’s – you know you don’t often get what you ask for and I got exactly that. I got a show, it was on cable that I could you know shoot 5 months a year and go be mommy the rest of the time, and to have a cast and crew that I really, really love and adore and respected, and I got all of that. And it’s just – we just had the most amazing time.
And every now and then we’ll come across a review like the person didn’t like it and we’re like, what, really, how could you not like it, because I think all of us like it so much and we have such a great time at work it’s you know we’ve just really, really been blessed, and we’re all kind of like standing here going, wait a minute, how did this happen? And it’s – you know it’s been awesome.
Jenny Rarden: In the books, Rizzoli and Gabriel Dean fall in love and their relationship progresses. I adore Billie Burke. Do you know if they’re planning on or how closely they’re planning on following that storyline?
Angie Harmon: I do. I mean, I think this (stuff) – like I just finished “The Sinner” and it’s just been so great because coincidentally enough you know we’re shooting a couple of episodes with Billie right now. So the story has a lot to do with Dean and Jane and all that. I mean, do I think they’re going to get these girls hitched first out of the gate?
Absolutely not you know and I think it’s more fun to watch them date and watch them scramble and try and figure out you know their relationship and things like that. And – but I do – I kind of almost felt like this was like a prequel to Gabrielle and Jane. I almost feel like I’m sort of seeing them before the stories take place. You know what I mean?
You always play intelligent characters and that really shows in Rizzoli & Isles. What is your interpretation of the character of Rizzoli? What are some of the things that you found out about that character?
I (think there) are things – you know some of them that I really enjoyed playing that with her you know. I mean, she’s witty, she’s funny, and a lot of people you know don’t – they don’t I guess see me as a funny character because I don’t usually get to play them you know. I’m usually cast in the more dramatic roles, and it’s been a really, really fun time playing her humor and playing her attitude.
And you know she’s a complete tomboy so I did sort of a really intense study on men and how they relate to each other in the way they walk and the way they hold themselves and the way they sort of position themselves in the hierarchy just in something as simple as a conversation.
You know some of them are threatened by another one. Some of them aren’t. Even with you know my costar Lee, I keep trying to figure out how do they know which handshake to do? You know they ((inaudible)) and it’s just sort of this thing that they just get. They know if they’re going to do this handshake and then the finger grip and then the gun, and turn it into a snap and a chest bump, and they’ve got that whole figured out, and cannot figure it out to save my life.
So that’s actually – I think the things that I like the most about you know playing her is she is such a tomboy and that’s you know very different from me and from how I am and her humor. Those are the two things I love about her the most.
How did you come about hearing of the show, and even the books when they first came out?
Angie Harmon: TNT offered it to me. I was actually – I don’t know if you’ve already heard this story. If you have I apologize. But you know I was – I was pretty much getting ready to retire and thinking that you know I’m going to move back East with my kids and raise my little girls and go be mommy, and you know I just – I wasn’t really finding the roles that I thought were – that I wanted to play really.
And so I just sort of you know made a deal with God, and I was like, OK, I would love something on cable, shoot 5 months a year, and then I get to be mommy the rest of the time, I like to be funny and strong and intelligent. And literally the next day it was on my front porch because my manager lives down the street. So you know it was – it was very, very lucky, and I feel very lucky, and I feel very blessed because you don’t often get exactly what you wanted and hoped for. And you know working with Sash and with Bruce and Lee and Jordan and you know every (guest star), and Lorraine and Chazz Palminteri plays my father. You know it’s just the caliber of actors that we’ve had come through here. I mean, all of us are just sort of pinching ourselves thinking you know how on earth has this happened, and it’s – this show is just – it’s just been fantastic.
I mean, I would love to say that I’m you know waiting for the anvil to fall, but I’m not. It’s like I think I’m in a place in my life where I can really accept good you know things and – I don’t know. I guess you know when you – you really should be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. And I’m thrilled that they offered it to me. I’m thrilled that you know it’s with TNT. And you know they understand what it’s like to be a working mommy, and it’s just I cannot say enough good things about this project. It’s just been – it’s just been awesome.
I’ve been a fan of Bruce McGill for years and I’ve only seen the pilot. His character is sort of left in a rather precarious situation at the end of the pilot. I’m assuming that he’s going to recover, but how does – how does that sort of affect the course of the season?
Angie Harmon: I mean, I don’t want to give too much away just because you know it’s – I don’t know. I want you to enjoy the roller coaster ride. You know it’s not one of those little bumper boat ride. It’s a good one. It’s a roller coaster. It’s got its ups and its downs and it’s a precarious situation, and you know it’s – that’s one of the things I think I love the most about the show is that it’s the characters, and they truly are characters in their relationships with each other, and you know – and that’s life. That’s how people truly are.
I mean, when you’re at work you’re not that same person when you’re at home. So I love the fact you know that my character with Bruce we have a relationship – the two characters have a relationship that is as close as partners you know knowing that each other’s lives is in each other’s hands, and then Bruce and I are you know pretty close as well.
I mean you know we’re both from Texas, we both understand each other, we both get each other – like when I’m having trouble with a scene I’ll just go over to him and be like I have no idea what’s happening here, what are we doing. And he’s just – he’s been such a wonderful sounding board, and obviously, he’s a tremendously talented actor.
And you know we were just so lucky and blessed that he said yes to this because obviously. I mean, you being a fan of his you know what he brings to the table. And I think you know when you take him, you put him next to Lorry Bracco and Chuck Palminteri who plays my father and Brian Dennehy’s in the first episode, and Billie Burke and Lee and Jordan and you know me and Sash, it just becomes this giant pot of fantastic and rich characters and it’s like watching people.
And that to me is what good television is.
Well, we’ve discussed the books the little bit already and, of course, your show Women’s Murder Club was also based off a series of novels. Does it influence your portrayal of Rizzoli (any) knowing there’s the character on TV and then the character in the book?
Angie Harmon: It does. I mean, to be – you know I hadn’t read any of the books of you know the Rizzoli character, and I have since we started. And it’s so funny because you know in some sort of serendipitous way I keep reading – I keep reading one – like, for example, Billie Burke is in this episode right now and I just finished reading “The Sinner” and it’s so interesting because you know first of all I’m reading a book of a person that I’m playing.
And then here’s this person that she’s in a relationship with, and what we’re shooting now we’re not in a relationship. So it’s like I’m getting like a prequel and a history to these people in the book. It’s very odd. It’s very weird because it’s like – it’s like the Twilight Zone because here I am shooting the history of these two characters and I’m reading their future. You know what I mean? So it’s interesting. It’s almost like our head writer Janet is writing things that happened before the books.
So I think that’s kind of a really cool and interesting aspect of the story of the characters for our viewers because anyone that does follow the books, you can – you’re sitting here watching these two characters live, but if you know the books you’re knowing what’s happening so you’re watching them – you know what happens to them before they know what happens to them, I guess is what I’m trying not say.
And it’s been very interesting having that happen you know in each episode that we do because the episodes they don’t follow the books exactly. I mean, the characters are pretty dead on. But you know I mean, we would run out of episodes and we would run out of things to do, plus not to mention the fact that you know we want our audiences to enjoy what’s happening not already know what’s happening.
So yes, it’s been really, really fun. I’ve never actually had that happen before in a character that I play. So you know here I am acting with Billie and we’re doing our thing, and all I keep thinking about is do you know what happens, and it’s very funny. But yes, it’s been really, really interesting and really fun.
There’s Angie Harmon online, there are already Twitter pages for Rizzoli & Isles, and you know a lot of buzz going around the Internet and social networking sites about the show. How important is getting the word out through Web sites like Angie Harmon online and through Twitter to the promotion of the show?
Angie Harmon: I mean, I think it’s huge. I think it’s smart. You know it’s funny because there are a couple – I’m from the South so I’m very old-fashioned, and you know – and plus, I’m not very computer savvy at all but you know I’m getting it. I understand you know that if you’ve got information and you want it out there (this) is how you go about doing it. Now having my face on like the dry cleaning bag is not my favorite. I get very embarrassed about things like that.
I’m like, what if I go to the dry cleaners and they hand me a bag and it has my face on it? What am I going to do, what am I going to say? I’m just going to run to my car I mean, so embarrassed. But it’s funny. I mean you know I get it. You know when it’s all said and done I’m very, very glad to work in this business but that’s exactly what it is.
It’s a business you know and I get to do the fun half of it. I get to – I get paid to pretend. I get to play really great characters. And we have such a wonderful writer, and she just knows people so intricately, and it’s so fun to be able to act out her words and things.
That being said, I totally understand you know the promotional aspect of our show and what – you know the business end of it, but I can also say you know that I – and I think I speak for the rest of the cast and for our producers and our writer and Tess you know we’re putting out there something that we’re really proud of you know. I mean, it’s not like we’re putting out there, hey, come watch our show because it sucks. I mean, we’re all pretty proud of it, and I think we’re also sort of standing around scratching our heads going, wow, this is – this is really good.
I mean, obviously, like I said, with the caliber of actors that we have you really can’t got wrong, but I think even all of us are standing around just kind of going, wow, this – not only is it fun but it’s good you know. So it’s been really, really great in that aspect. But you know I totally get what they’re doing, and you know it’s kind of like, oh, OK, really, OK, great. But you know if somebody hands me my face on a – on a dry cleaning bag I’m going to freak out.
Aside from Tess Gerritsen, who asked me say hello to you, are you a mystery fiction fan and who do you read?
Angie Harmon: Oh, I love her. Isn’t she fabulous? I am. I love – I mean to be very honest, I hadn’t read Tess’ books until we started playing the characters and now I’m obsessed. Like I come home, I’m exhausted, and I just finished “The Sinner”, and I’m getting ready to start “The Keepsake” you know.
And it’s been interesting because, like I was saying you know Billie and I are shooting together and here I am reading about our future. And it’s so – it’s so fun you know because I can walk up and (stop) him, or we get in a big fight, or you know we kiss and he leaves or something. It’s so – it’s so fun playing this out for the audience.
That being said, I do – I mean you know my top – in my top five favorite movies two of them are “Alien” and “Aliens” so I do. I love you know – I love to laugh, I love to make people laugh, I love comedy you know but I also love the darker things in life. I think those are the things that I’m – I mean, I don’t know. I guess I’m an extremist. I’m an adrenaline junkie. So you know just sort of cruising along at a normal capacity really doesn’t do anything for me.
I mean, I like things to be really, really funny or really, really dramatic, and those kind of books are certainly the ones that grab me you know. And I like the exercise of reading through a paragraph and it’s just torture. And so I try not to have my eyes dart to the right. So you know try and figure out does (Maura) get away from the killer and get to her car safely, or you know that kind of thing; does Jane get away from the bullet you know? It’s that stuff – that’s stuff I love.