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Interview: James Duff

Fans of the TNT hit series Major Crimes were rewarded recently when the network announced it had renewed the series for a sixth season. The second half of the season returns on Wednesday, February 22nd at 9/8c.

The mid-season cliffhanger left fans shocked and saddened by the loss of one of the series long time characters.

Creator James Duff sits down with the Pop Culture Principle to talk about that character’s death and its importance to the show’s story, what fans can look forward to with the second half of the fifth season and how the series is going to change in the future.

Pop Culture Principle – How confident were you that Major Crimes would get another season renewal?

James Duff – Not very confident. It’s not because the show isn’t popular because the show remains popular, but because TNT has a new plan that they really want to put into place. They are seriously committed to their new strategy and we are not really part of that strategy yet. I think they are trying to figure out how to use us in a way that doesn’t harm what they are trying to accomplish and keep the audience satisfied. So, it’s a very delicate dance the network is doing while they are trying to change their brand identity and not lose one of their more popular shows in the process.

Pop Culture Principle – When did you make the decision that you were going to kill off Chief Russell Taylor?

James Duff – Well, there were a lot of reasons to do it. One of them was Robert was chaffing a little. He’d been playing the role a very long time and the role was larger in The Closer than it was in Major Crimes. He wanted to do more, that was part of it. Another part of it was that we needed to shake up the squad a little and we needed to dramatize what is going on in the country with shootouts and ambushes which are very real. I also wanted to demonstrate that the reality of terrorism in America generally comes from white guys in t-shirts and not from minority groups and Muslims. We did not mean for the show to be relevant and became accidentally relevant, even though we weren’t aiming for that.

I wanted to show the police are really endangered. I wanted to show it is less racially based than the media makes it out to be. Terror comes in all shapes, sizes and colors and that Robert could actually go off the show and feel good about his death and continue to do the good work that he does. He’s a phenomenal actor and it was really unfair to keep him in that small role just because I could.

Pop Culture Principle – What was the mood like on set when filming his final scenes and what was the reaction from the cast finding out the news?

James Duff – Well everybody knew a very long time in advance what we were going to do. A couple of times he entered scenes and announced dead man walking and everyone would just crack up. We had a cake for him and we had a huge standing ovation for him after his last shot. He did a great job every step of the way because he knew how important it was and it made that story very personal to the rest of the cast. The scene with G.W. and Graham were Provenza is telling Rusty that he knew Taylor from his first day on the job and it was a much more emotional scene I think for G.W. and Graham than it otherwise would have been because they did know Robert for so long and had worked with him for so long.

Pop Culture Principle – Now that Chief Taylor’s job is vacant, there are several possible candidates including Sharon Raydor. What can you tell us about the upcoming vetting of these candidates?

James Duff – Yes and you are going to see more candidates. Camryn Manheim is a candidate and then we have a mystery candidate coming in later. Nobody wants the job except Camryn’s character and she is a cop’s cop and she is someone who believes that Major Crimes is receiving specialized treatment that the rest of the department doesn’t get. She is up in arms about the change about to come which is her mantra essentially. Chris wants to go back to SOB, Sharon wants to stay at Major Crimes and then there is the mystery candidate. I will say that the actor who is the mystery candidate is a fantastic actor with an amazing voice.

Pop Culture Principle – Andy Flynn seems to suffer a heart attack in the last episode before the break. What can you tell us about his condition and why that was written into his story?

James Duff – The character didn’t really take his last health scare very seriously and now he’s going to have to reconsider what is going on in his body and how he wants to move forward in life and everything he believes in he needs to reconsider. He may not be going out again and may be tied to a desk for the rest of his career and he needs to think about how he wants to handle that, if he wants to handle that. Andy has emotional stuff coming out of next season that starts in the middle of our run here of eight and plays out in the first nine episodes of next season.

Pop Culture Principle – Sharon Raydor is the one who kills the shooter in the courtroom, but is really affected by the shooting not in a way you would expect. What can you tell us about your thought process in writing her reaction to the shooting?

James Duff - Well everyone seems to believe that police shoot bad guys and just go home and have dinner and feel like it was a job well done. Honestly, that’s not how most police officers feel. Taking a human life is a big deal. It’s a crime that we punish with the most severe penalties the law has to offer. Even when we are doing the right thing by pulling the trigger, even when it’s necessary and there is no other choice, taking a human life really weighs on someone and especially if you met that person and have seen their face. You believe that in the heat of the moment, there is some terrible human being that you can shoot, but when push comes to shove, a lot of people can’t do it.

I wanted to show and demonstrate the psychological toll it takes on a police officer who is trained to hold down their emotional response to something like that. She’s not having the emotional response she wants and she has to dig for it because she doesn’t want to be the type of person in life who has to think twice. I wanted to show that police are not just machines trained to kill and just go about their business because they are not. It’s a very, very complicated thing to do in life and I thought we should really look at that aspect.

It allowed us to thread an entire episode through her POV and as she was coming to terms with that moment and then Dwight’s mother basically took her off the hook a little. That was a really interesting episode for us to write and Mary did a spectacular job in that episode.

Pop Culture Principle – We also see Julio Sanchez end up losing the child he was going to adopt. Will he get another chance in the near future to adopt another child and will this be something that truly affects him the rest of the season?

James Duff – Wow, you are asking me to give you a spoiler and I can’t do that. LOL. I can tell you that Sanchez’s quest to be a farther is not over and he will ultimately prevail at his goal if he keeps at it. That young actor, Henry Kaufman, was fantastic and I have known him all his life. His sister, Gracie, is on the series Man with A Plan and they are both prodigies. A little trivia there for you. 

Pop Culture Principle – We see Buzz bring some closure to case of his father and uncle’s murder, but he’s somewhat struggling with the arrest of their killer. What questions do you feel are still unanswered and will he be able to get over the guilt of his arrest?

James Duff – I think he always pictured the guy that killed his father as a stock villain and that he would find this stock villain and he would obtain justice for his father. There are people who are left out of our calculations in the procedural world and we spend a lot of time talking about material witnesses. We don’t ever examine the survivor’s in the murderer’s life. So, this is an opportunity to look at how the murderer not only destroys the lives of others, but those closest to him as well and what remedy is there for that.

The justice system doesn’t care about these issues. Buzz is also interested in stopping the cycle of lost fathers in which he got caught up and in which these two children are caught up right now and that is a story that will play itself out to in the course of our back eight episodes.

Pop Culture Principle – It looks like Wes Nolan will be joining the Major Crimes team. How do you see him fitting in with the team?

James Duff – Well, he’s trying to figure out how to work as a team member because he was a solo act for a long time. He’s going to be testifying in court for years and so he’ll be there some and he won’t be there some. Once he finds his footing there, you’ll see he gets a little more aggressive than some of the other people. He’s quicker to pull his gun and he’s quicker to be in your face about something. I mean, Julio can get in your face, but it’s after some suspicions have been levied at you and some questions have been asked, but Wes doesn’t wait for that. As he said, he was deep in with drug dealing Nazis for five years, so he’s had different experiences and has seen different things.

Pop Culture Principle – Rusty has really come into his own this season. Will we see his continued growth not only personally but romantically?

James Duff – Yes. You are going to see a lot of growth in Rusty over the next eight episodes. He’s determined now to become a lawyer which from where he started Is a huge, huge change. We’ve also had indications that Gus’ boss might be more interested in Gus then just as a terrific employee and we will have conformation of that in the last episodes. There is upheaval in Rusty’s life caused by this man and he has the ability to cause drama in Rusty’s life and he knows that but doesn’t care.

Pop Culture Principle – What can Major Crimes fans look forward to with the second part of this season?

James Duff – I think the fans can look forward to a last run at Major Crimes as it has been for the last five years because there will be changes after this. These episodes, most of which are stand-alone episodes, are going to be some of the last stand-alone episodes that we do. The changes will sometimes be dramatic, but they will all be part of the ongoing process of policing inside the LAPD. We aren’t going to do something that doesn’t always happen. These will be the last stand-alone episodes for a while.

A big thank you to James Duff for chatting with us about the upcoming second half of the fifth season of Major Crimes. The series returns this Wednesday, February 22nd at 9/8c only on TNT!

**Photos courtesy of Eddy Chen/TNT**

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