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Q&A Interview with Donnie Wahlberg of BLUE BLOODS

Maj Canton - October 21, 2010







TV Tango recently participated in a conference call with Donnie Wahlberg, who plays Danny Reagan on BLUE BLOODS. Donnie took the time to talk about his character, filming in New York, and his off-screen relationship with the cast. Plus, he dished about his partner (played by Jennifer Esposito) and his feelings about cops.






Question: Do you find that the cast has taken on the familial characteristics of your characters? Is Tom Selleck the dad on set? Do you and Will Estes have a brotherly relationship?

Donnie Wahlberg: Well, I think, yes. It’s ironic how things usually turn out right -- at least when people do a good job of casting.


Bridget (Moynahan) and I have a very, very great relationship. While she’s in my opinion one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met, it is a very, very trusting brotherly-sisterly kind of relationship. We’re both single parents. We talk about all types of stuff off camera, and we help each other a lot as well off camera and it flows very naturally onscreen when we work together.


Sometimes I look at Will and it’s like looking at my self ten years ago on BOOMTOWN. I see him wanting to explore certain elements of his character’s story the way I did on BOOMTOWN. I remember walking around for the first 11 episodes saying when am I going to get to talk about my wife when am I going to get to talk about my suicidal wife and carrying that with me into every scene that I did. And I see Will doing that and, like an older brother, I'm able to sort of identify it, see it, recognize it, and sometimes help and sometimes encourage it, depending on what the situation calls for.


And of course with Tom, he sort of is like everyone’s dad. I’m sort of the nutty kid on set, but Tom knows that I’m professional and that I come to play hard everyday, much like Frank knows that that’s what Danny is. Danny is a little nutty but Frank puts up with Danny sticking heads in the toilet the way Tom puts up with Danny tweeting in between takes and letting fans know to watch the show and stuff.

Question: Do we get to find out more about Danny’s background and his time in Iraq at all?

Donnie Wahlberg: Well, I think in time.


Like I said in using Will as a reference. When I was Will’s age I wanted every single part of my character’s story to come out in the very first episode after the pilot and in every subsequent script I would say, “Man when are we going to get to it?" The reality is, I guess, with age and with experience comes a little bit more patience. Of course I want to get to it, but I’m not desperate to get to it. In a perfect world we’ll have a couple of seasons to explore this stuff. The more we come up with good stuff, like last Friday’s episode "Officer Down", and not have to go there quite yet, the more we can save that for the when it’s the right time and it's really needed.


Obviously I want to go into a lot of the stuff that’s going on with a lot of these characters. Not just Danny. I want to know what’s going on with Will, and I want to see whether or not he’s going to investigate the Blue Templar. Obviously, that will have implications for my character, perhaps, but I want to see how it all goes. I want to see where a lot of this stuff goes. Fortunately, things are going great and hopefully we’ll have a chance to get to explore a lot of that stuff. It’s definitely what we all want -- the writers and the cast.

Question: What were your feelings of the police when you were a kid in Boston before you were famous and then in your wilder rock years?

Donnie Wahlberg: When I was in Boston growing up, I pretty much knew all the cops in my neighborhood because they had all arrested my brothers. I would see them around. They knew me. I knew them. We knew a lot of cops anyway. When you grow up in a city like Boston where I grew up, a lot of kids become criminals or cops.


I never really had a bad take on cops -- other than I hate when there is one behind me on the highway. I generally feel like I robbed a bank even though I did nothing. I don’t know why that feeling comes over me. I’ll never get used to that feeling of a cop being behind me on the highway.


Throughout the years I got to work with so many of them. While I think I’ve always had a certain level of respect for cops in general, it’s grown so much over the years. As in every part of life, there’s always some people who break the rules. They do things that aren’t right, and I think a lot of times certain guys make mistakes and the cops as a whole pay for it. I think 9 out of 10 guys -- maybe 99 out of 100 guys and women -- are out there trying to do the very best they can in very scary, very dangerous circumstances. Sometimes they make judgment calls and most times they want to do the right thing. Every now and again it goes awry and unfortunately all the times they do make a proper judgment call are very rarely recognized compared to the times they make a bad judgment call.


And for me, I get to explore that kind of stuff, that kind of feeling with my character.  He makes bad judgment calls sometimes. I think a lot of the cops who watch the show respect it because they know that it can happen. I don’t think they want to go around sticking people’s head in toilets, but I know they sometimes maybe wish they could in the right circumstance.


When that character in the pilot all but admits that he has that little girl, it’s at that moment that every person in the world -- the parent’s of a victim, the cops, anybody, friends of a victim -- would all want to be able to take the law into their own hands and do something to save a child. Unfortunately, we can’t always do that. In our pilot episode, it worked out for Danny and for the little girl, but it’s a tough spot to be in. imagine the burden of having to save a young girl’s life but having so many restrictions that you can’t do what it takes. You know its tough and everybody has to have rights, and that’s just the way it is. So we all have to deal with it.

Question: Is your partner from the episode "Officer Down" going to be back on some more episodes?

Donnie Wahlberg: She’s shooting her fourth episode now. Jennifer Esposito, who I’m having so much fun with, is really great. She’s bringing a lot to the show and certainly giving me room to play.


After "Officer Down," there’s an episode where I get to bring a lot of levity to my character and the situation. It’s not as intense of a crime that were investigating. And I get to have a lot of fun with Jennifer. I’ve been telling Will Estes, "You don’t know what you have with Nick Tuturro. You have gold everyday. You show up to work. You have the potential for magic with an actor of his caliber." And I feel like I have that with Jennifer Esposito.


Question: Does it take pressure off or add pressure knowing that you want to keep people tuning in to watch?

Donnie Wahlberg: If I think about it, it only adds pressure -- so I just try not to think about it. The reality is that I control none of that. I just control what I do, but for anybody dealing with numbers and polls and things like that, the more you look, the more pressure you put on yourself.


If you get 20 million viewers on day one and if you look at the numbers on day two and they’re down to 19 million, you suddenly start going "What happened?" The reality is, I think, we’re a couple million viewers more than anyone thought we would get -- and that’s good news.


It’s really what we do on set. What the cast talks about is really trying to control what we can control -- that’s finding the right mix of what works for our audience, identifying who they are, and servicing what they want and also servicing our characters as best we can.


It’s tricky, but the pressure never goes away. There are so many things at stake with every episode, and we treat every episode as very important. I don’t take days off and my cast mates are the same way. They know I come to play every day. To me, it’s like a concert everyday or like a movie everyday or a challenge everyday, and I want to be as good as I can be everyday.

Question: How does it feel to actually be in New York instead of on a sound stage pretending to be there?

Donnie Wahlberg: I’m sitting right now in a building that I live in that was built in 1885. I’m looking out the window at the Williamsburg Bridge and the cool breeze coming in and I’m just feeling lucky everyday.


We were shooting under the Manhattan bridge, and all these guys are up there working on the bridge and in between every take they would yell down "Donnie Wahlberg, we love you man!" It was so much fun. It was so great.


There is nothing like playing a New Yorker and being on the streets of New York and having New Yorkers give you a pat on the back. It’s been happening everyday. Just today waking down the street there were some guys doing some construction on a brownstone and they say "Hey, way to go Wahlberg." So for Bostonians -- we live in the shadow of New York -- so to be acknowledged by New Yorkers is really the greatest feeling.

Question: How do you view the real line between duty and vengeance for a police officer when one of their own has been killed?

Donnie Wahlberg: That’s sort of an impossible question to answer because I’m not really a cop in real life. I could tell you if someone in my family was killed and what that would feel like. I could probably answer it better if somebody violated somebody who was very close to me -- what I’d feel like and what I may want to do, you know?


I’m just Donnie and I’m playing Danny. And Danny’s want for justice I think is bigger than he even understands. I don’t think he knows really what’s pushing him. I don’t think Donnie knows what’s pushing Danny at this point.


There’s a lot to be discovered with these characters, there’s a lot of curiosity as to what happened to Danny’s brother in the show and what happened to the other son, Joe. You know he was killed in the line of duty investigating the Blue Templar, which Danny may be a part of. You know, there is a lot of mystery to that and I don’t know what exactly is driving Danny.


I know in this particular episode ("Officer Down") I play it the way I think Danny should. He will not stop and he will not sleep until he gets the guy who did it. As far as he’s concerned, if you’re involved, you did it. So they all need to be stopped.


In real life would I take vengeance on somebody? Hell no! I like to think I’m more of a forgiving person. If I were out there on the streets everyday risking my life, if somebody carelessly mowed down somebody doing the same, I’m sure I’d be driven to do all I can to get that person off the street.

Question: What’s your favorite part about playing Danny?

Donnie Wahlberg: I think the freedom that I have with him.


I think a great day playing Danny is when I remember to be free and try something different. My favorite days are the days that even though I’m being guided by the script down a certain road, I still am able to make discoveries and try things that are completely free and off the cuff.


Today on set I did like a quasi-Columbo moment [laughs], and it was really fun and it didn’t feel false. It felt like within the realm of Danny. It’s what attracted me to this role. There were a few other opportunities for me to work with other shows and do other things, but this part -- besides the fact that I loved the cast, I loved Tom, and I loved the pilot script -- I really loved the freedom that this character presented to me.


Question: What sets this cop drama apart from others?

Donnie Wahlberg: I think the audience is going to have their own opinion on what makes it stand out, but personally I think what attracted me to it were the three things I just mentioned -- I think the cast was amazing, the script was amazing, and my character in my eyes is the kind of character I don’t get to play very often.


Very few actors get to play [this type of character]. I can show up and I can play an emotional me if I want with a suspect. I can play an angry me. I can play a fun me. I get to explore the different colors of this character.


The family stuff is a big part of what works for the audience, and I think it’s a big part of what works for the cast as well. When I read the pilot, I could see my sister sitting across the table in real life and saying these lines to me. My sister and I in real life had many similar arguments as Bridget (Moynahan) and I have got to play in the show. When something is like that, so truthful, there’s definitely an attraction. When I did that dinner scene, I knew I was going to have a good time doing it. I knew it would be tense, I knew it would be fun, and I knew it would be alive.


I think when you’re doing television, it’s a grind. You’re working five days a week. Me personally, I look for something that’s going to make me feel alive and my character has a lot of freedom, which makes me feel alive. And the family scenes have a lot of truth in them and that makes me feel alive. I think to feel alive a few days a week during episodic television -- it’s a gift to feel that sort of electricity and I get to feel it more than most.

Question: Did you research your role and spend time with members of the NYPD?

Donnie Wahlberg: I did spend time with them. And I have spent time with them before on another project when I actually played a hostage negotiator on a show called KILL POINT as a guy in Pittsburgh. I worked with Jack Cambria who is the head of the hostage negotiation team for the NYPD. I have worked with other cops before.


I think the thing with this character preparation is obvious. You have to be prepared as a cop. You have to know what you are doing. You have to be able to pull it off, at least I do. I think it is very important to handle people the way I do. In the pilot, for example, I think I played Danny a little aggressive, but the reality is going in to each and every one of those there any one of them could have been the bad guy. So controlling them, controlling the environment, controlling for the character, their energy is very important. I didn’t try to play Danny as a bully but as somebody working against the clock with potential suspects and every one of them needed to be controlled. Danny needed to make sure what needed to be get was gotten.


Danny is a very strong character who marches to the beat of his own drum, but he is the son of a very powerful guy. I think that’s the part that I really want to explore a lot and discover with each episode. Given a little freedom in that, I’m allowed on this show to interpret scenes the way we want. Certainly I can’t read a scene that says Danny goes inside and eats a pizza and I decide to  come out and decide Danny is hallucinating on drugs. [laughter] It’s not like we are a bunch of insane people running the asylum here.


For example, the scenes Danny has with Frank. What’s it like to be the son of a powerful man, sorta following in his footsteps but trying to be your own man? I’m sure a lot of resentment towards Danny with his dad, I’m sure there’s a lot of gratitude when he takes full advantage of his relationship with his dad and I’m sure he resents it and thinks it’s a burden. There’s so much in that relationship it’s really the part that I didn’t want to research. I wanted to discover it with each episode. I wanted to try different things, because the reality is there is no one answer. I’m not playing a guy who simply resents his dad or simply worships his dad. I’m playing a guy who runs the full gambit of everything in between both of those scenarios. Each scene offers me a chance to play a different color or different shade of that.

Question: Where do you see your character going?

Donnie Wahlberg: Well, I think my TV experience has put me in a position where I am really taking this show as it comes, If you asked me this question ten years ago on BOOMTOWN, I would tell you where I think he’s going to go. But I think with this show, I don’t know. 


I’m not pressing to find the answers myself. I want to discover it when I get there. I think I have a good grasp on this character. I think I know who he is and I’m connected to him. I don’t think there's anything that they are going to come up with that I feel can’t be played honestly.


I hope they surprise me. I plan on being surprised, but at the same time I don’t feel like I need to be thinking on week 4 what’s going to happen on week 20. I think it will be a surprise to him. I think if Danny is battling some scars from Iraq and they erupt in his life, it will probably be a surprise when it happens -- to him and to everybody around him. So I might as well let it be a surprise to me too, and we’ll see what happens when I open up that script one day.

Question: What aspects of Danny do you find are most like yourself?

Donnie Wahlberg: Well, I think in some ways it's interesting. I was doing a scene today and it seemed a little bit insensitive of a moment to play. I had to really struggle. I became aware that it was a little insensitive. I started to play the scene a little softer. I kind of caught myself, I said “What are you doing, this is not your point of view. This is Danny’s point of view. This is Danny’s take on things, so relax. You know? If it ruffles some feathers, so be it, that’s who he is. That’s who Danny is. You’re not playing you, you’re playing him.”


But I think the way Danny is like me -- I think he is mischievous. In last week’s episode for example, the final scene with the cigar. I think there was a lot of Donnie in that scene. I think that Danny was ripping that in the final scene. You know and sort of teasing that a little bit, but I think at the same time that is very much a Donnie characteristic. I like being a leader in real life, and I’m very much a leader in the work that I do or in a lot of my career. At the same time, every now and again, I have to deal with other leaders who have more authority than me, and I think that is somewhere I definitely connect with Danny.


It's fun, interesting and sort of electric, having played Danny and having to deal with his dad, Frank. At the same time its fun being Donnie and being everyday on the set with Tom. Tom is a leader himself. He is a very experienced, very smart guy. Very dedicated much like myself. There are times when we both see the hidden game, and we both want the same thing but we have very different ideas on how to do it. Knowing when to step up, knowing that this is the time Tom could really use my input or knowing when to step back and knowing this is the time I gotta trust Tom. It is very truthful off screen as it is on screen for Danny and Frank.


I gotta say it's fun and it really makes the job great for me. It's fun coming to work everyday and working on scenes with Tom and working out ideas and knowing how I am and how I like to work and also knowing and respecting who he is. We have a great mutual respect.  Much like the characters, there is an experience difference. There is a sense that rings true in every scene we do on screen and off. It makes it very real for me.

Question: Had you been a big fan of MAGNUM P.I. before this?

Donnie Wahlberg: I was a huge fan of THREE MEN AND A BABY, and my mother was a huge fan of MAGNUM.  She is in heaven right now and every Friday night she is watching this show. I can call her at 4 in the morning and she will say, “Oh my God, I loved it when you made Tom laugh!” She’s in heaven.


I really came to respect Tom later.  THREE MEN AND A BABY was one of my favorite movies. As Tom went on, I’ve seen him do different interviews and different things throughout the years, and I’ve gained a lot of respect for him. To see how far he’s come and the level of success he’s had, it's something that one can only aspire to.  It's one thing to have the success but then to have the humility after the success -- it's really what impresses me and it’s the life I try to live. To see that you can actually do that and that there are good people like that who exist, it is very encouraging.