Burns was kind enough to chat with me at length about joining this project, offered insight into his character, and told us what fans can expect from this new series. We dished on working with icons like Steve Carell, Jon Hamm and Bill Murray, as well as had some fun coming up with crazy scenarios for the squad to have to investigate in future episodes. Oh, and we talked about an epic lip sync battle between him and Rashida Jones that I hope happens one day.
All in all, we’re on the case!
MCKENZIE MORRELL Let’s start with something simple, tell us about Angie Tribeca and the character you play?
JERE BURNS: Angie Tribeca is a spoof procedural from Steve Carell and Nancy Carell starring Rashida Jones, much in the vane of the Zucker brothers Airplane and The Naked Gun. It’s a take on all the CSI’s and the SVU’s. My character is Pritikin Atkins, we all have unusual names, I’m named after two 80’s diets, the Pritikin and the Atkins diets. I’m the lieutenant, I’m the boss, I’m in charge of all the detectives who include Rashida, who is Angie Tribeca, Hayes MacArthur who is Jay Geils, Detective David Hoffman who is a german shepherd or more specifically a belgian malinois, and Deon Cole’s character [DJ Tanner]. We also have Alfred Molina [Dr. Edelweiss], who plays head of forensics, who recurs and Andree Vermeulen, who is our forensic pathologist. So it’s a procedural played deadly straight, and so stupid that I think it becomes smart.
MM: [Laughs] And obviously you play the captain of this squad, out of all the other characters would you say he’s the toughest on?
JB: The toughest on? Probably Angie because I think he really cares, I think he really cares about Angie and sometimes I have to ride her hard, woops, I think I’m the most protective of her. I think I’m the most emotionally connected to her so I think I ride her the hardest.
MM: How close to your real-life personality is this character? Were you able to identity with him at all?
JB: There’s a part of me that likes things the way I want them, when I want them. I definitely have an OCD aspect to my personality, I would say this guy definitely is a bit on the OCD spectrum. I like the answers, I think he this guy wants answers but I think he also wants things to run smoothly as humanly possible and gets frustrated when things aren’t so.
MM: Rightfully so. That’s got to happen in that setting. Can you talk about any guest stars that really made an impression on you?
JB: Well Bill Murray was around for an episode and he’s an icon. He took it so seriously and was so collaborative and he definitely made an impression. We had Jon Hamm on this season, we’re in the middle of the second season and he was just such a pro and such a sweet guy to have around. I think we kept him waiting for four or five hours and he couldn’t have been more pleasant about it. Just a really really nice guy. We’ve had Heather Graham, we’ve had Maya Rudolph, we’ve had Keegan-Michael Key. Everybody has just come to play and worked really hard and have just been super pleasant and we’ve also had James Franco, he recurs. We haven’t even been on TV yet and yet we’re getting all these great people to come and join us in the madness. Really fun!
MM: That’s got to be amazing. Angie Tribeca is TBS’s first-ever Police Procedural, how does it feel to be paving the way for the network? Any pressure to live up to the genre?
JB: I think it’s an exciting time because the network has made it real clear that they’re very happy with what we’re doing and we feel real encouraged by the network. They really support it. The Carell’s are just great examples of kind and thoughtful leadership from the top down. It’s been a very, very, pleasant experience. It’s also exciting to be part of the rebranding of TBS under Kevin Reilly, you know, the network is essentially being completely retooled with his vision and his modeling, he did great things at Fox and I think he’s doing great things at TBS too. I’m real happy with what we’re doing and how it’s going. We got picked up for second season before we even aired, we’re almost done with the second season and we still haven’t even aired the first season so that’s major support.
MM: Right? They’re very confident in the shows ability to reel people in. The show is very serious in its approach, but has dry humour. Would you say that’s what makes this show different from others in the police procedural category on TV?
JB: Well the show is played deadly seriously, we play it deadly seriously, but there’s nothing serious about the show. We play it as if it’s deadly serious but the circumstances–
MM: … are not [laughs].
JB: They quickly become completely ridiculous and absurd, and that’s where the comedy comes from. We try not to include that there’s anything funny about what we’re doing.
MM: With that in mind, if you could make up a crazy case that the LAPD detectives on your show would have to investigate, what would it be?
JB: A serious case?
MM: Not necessarily, just something crazy, just out of the ordinary, or something that would be interesting having to portray.
JB: Well, I will just say this… we have [laughs] we’ve already portrayed hijackings, kidnappings, ferret black markets, mayoral scandals, scandals with police commissioners attending brothels, I mean so what else can we do? Gosh. A big hostage situation would be real fun, that’s the fun of it, we get to take these potentially horribly tragic scenarios and make them really, really, funny and really absurd.
MM: I think that’s the beauty of it. This show is the brainchild of Steve and Nancy Carell, is that what sort of drew you to the project, or were there other elements at play?
JB: It would just Nancy and Steve and their enthusiasm, and the pilot script that made me want to sign on.
MM: What do you generally look for when you sign on to a project, do you have a criteria that you follow or just has to really speak to you?
JB: Yes, it always has to do with the quality of the writing first, where I think the show can go based on the potential in the script. Like are there eight seasons here, you know, could this develop as eight seasons, how many stories can you tell based on this pilot that you’re shooting. And who are these people, what’s their experience, what have they known for, do they know how to do this. Is this their wheelhouse, and it certainly was. And secondly, of no less importance is how much do I like these people. How much do I trust these people, do I want to be in business with these people. And you want to be in business with Steve and Nancy.
MM: Right! I heard that Jagger the dog made an appearance at the TCA panel, and you took a fake phone call and called him out… seems like you guys are a fun cast. Do you guys get any work done? [Laughs] I feel like you’d all be having a blast on set laughing and joking around.
JB: We do, and you know, and it’s funny because, yeah we have a lot of laughs but in order to portray, in order to really nail the procedural quality of the show from which the comedy comes you have to take it real seriously. So it’s ironic because the tone of our interactions has to be kind of dead on procedural in order for the comedy to play. In other words, you can’t be terribly fun in the setting, you have to be, well we’ve all seen procedurals, they take themselves a little too seriously, just a little too seriously, and I think that’s the quality we have to go for. It’s seriousness bordering on a little too much and we have to maintain that. We have to keep the stakes high, the stakes have to seem real, or we’re making a joke on a joke on a joke, do you know what I mean, and that’s not funny. Or making a joke of a joke, excuse me.
MM: No that’s totally understandable.
JB: And also there’s got to be a realistic pace to it otherwise the audience will get ahead of you. You know what I mean, as soon as you slow down… in order to keep that pace, that pattern and the rhythm of those scenes, that’s a lot. We don’t have time for the process where I think of the funny, clever face to make. Or the funny adlib that no one is expecting me to throw in and derail the scene. It doesn’t play that way, it kind of has to play like an express train, so that’s work.
MM: As someone who’s been working in the business for quite sometime, have you seen a big shift in how television is executed?
JB: I certainly think yeah, I mean first we had things like thematic television, and the master shot, the close ups and now we went into The Office like some sort of mock documentary style, and now we’re shooting this which is a parody, but it’s not at all mock documentary, we shoot it to look like a procedural. First season, not so much, the second season the lights got darker, the lights got moodier, we had smoke. Traditionally comedy is bright, it’s really well lit, and in second season we realized to take it down, make it darker, more realistic and that the parody would be stronger as a result.
MM: If you did a Lip Sync battle with Rashida Jones, what song would you pick?
JB: Oh wow, she’s so musical, she’s the daughter of Quincy Jones, she’s so in, she’s so young, I think I would choose to go after something old fashioned, and slow, like maybe a standard Just The Way You Are. Something slow, and bluesy, because if it was uptempo and funky, she would definitely crush me.
MM: Well I’m putting it out there, if you guys ever have some free time, go ahead and have a lip sync battle while you’re filming.
JB: Lip sync battles are usually best and funniest when they are complicated, upbeat tunes, when I think about it.
MM: Eh, I think you could maybe change the game if you wanted to.
JB: Alright, alright.
MM: I have confidence in you, you can do it.
JB: Thanks McKenzie.
MM: You’re welcome, and now name one TV show that you wouldn’t might being trapped in for 5 months.
JB: A TV show that I wouldn’t mind being trapped in for 5 months, okay… Mad Men, I would have loved to be trapped on Mad Men for 5 months. I never got the opportunity, no one ever asked. I’m sorry I was never trapped on Mad Men, Matthew Weiner.
MM: Kind of like an off topic comment, we’re still waiting for a Wynn Duffy spinoff… just saying.
JB: We are? I know. It would be so fun, thank you for that. Traveling the country in his winnebago, I think that would be so fun. That character was so fun, thanks to Graham Yost Ava and the great, great team of writers. It was so much fun.
MM: To sign off on a high note tell the fans why they should tune in to Angie Tribeca.
JB: Fans should tune into Angie Tribeca, I guarantee you’ll be thrilled and delighted. There you go!