You know when Chi McBride is at one of Fox’s TCA parties because you can smell him. Not him personally, but, rather, his omnipresent cigars. When he was at the tour in the summer of 2009 to preview the network’s then-upcoming series, “Human Target,” I ran into him smoking a stogie with Ron Perlman of “Sons of Anarchy.” The scent stuck with me, so when I stepped into the Fox party at the winter tour and caught a whiff of cigar smoke, I immediately followed it to its source and soon sat down for…
Chi McBride: How are you?
Bullz-Eye: I’m good. I hope you saved one of those for Ron Perlman. I remember last time around…
CM: Yeah, you know what, I’ve got a couple with me, so… (Trails off) Is Perl here?
BE: He’s supposed to be.
CM: When he gets here, I’ll make sure he gets one. (Grins and puts his cigar case back in his pocket)
BE: Well, last tour, I talked to Darryl Bell.
CM: Did you?
BE: Yep. We were talking about “Homeboys in Outer Space,” and he said you had a chat with him after you had gone through “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer.” He said you just told him, “Look, everyone who is criticizing what you’re doing would take your job from you in two seconds. This is one blip on both of our careers, and we are moving on.”
CM: That’s the way I looked at it, you know what I mean? I knew what I was doing, and I knew what I wasn’t doing, you know? People had to say whatever they had to say about it. You know, everybody thought my career was over but me. I said something that my old, wise aunt always told me: “Boy, this, too, shall pass.”
BE: So how did “Human Target” come on to your radar? Was it pitched to you?
CM: Well, what happened was… (Hesitates) You know, what’s funny about it is, it was the first thing I read during pilot season. But, you know, it was the first thing that I read, and what happened was, there wasn’t anything in it for me. Winston was this British character, and the guy was kind of a nervous Nelly kind of guy. So I told my agent, I said, “Listen, there is nothing in this for me, but if somebody does it right, this could be a good show for somebody. Good luck to them.” And, you know, as time progresses during the pilot season, people’s names get bandied about on all different kinds of projects. And I started hearing that people wanted to talk to me about a variety of things. So one of the meetings that I took was with Jon Steinberg and Peter Johnson, the producer and creator of “Human Target.” So we met and we talked about it, and I said, “Well, I’ve got to tell you: there doesn’t really seem like there is going to be a lot to do for me in this, so I don’t know that I’m that interested. And as far as the British accent…I mean, I can do it, but it just seems to be that for the sake of it.” And he agreed. And I told him, “You know, the way I would want to approach it is that I was a guy who was ex-law enforcement, you know, and there is something about my past on the force that I got into this business.” But I didn’t want to, as an actor, be stuck behind a desk. But I wanted the character to feel like this was his chance to be stuck behind a desk with a nice cushy job, getting plenty of money…and that’s good. And that he would end up going out in the field in a sort of “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” kind of thing. And that’s the attitude that Winston has toward going out in the field, but he goes out there and he definitely shows his skill set. You know, the thing about Winston that you’re going to learn is that his temperament is not what it seems. He’s a guy who doesn’t have an off switch. And that’s one of the other reasons why he wanted to get out of the chasing-guys-down business. So it’s going to be really interesting. And we agreed on all of these things, and they decided that they wanted us to work together. And you know, I’ve got a wonderful relationship with Warner Brothers Television, so they signed off on it, and here I am.
BE: So how would you say that Winston has evolved from the pilot to the first actual episode? Because I know characters usually change a fair amount.
CM: It’s different. And you’ll see just that, about the whole getting back involved, and Winston’s whole involvement in terms of going in to the field. It’s going to be a lot of fun. It takes place on a plane, and it’s really a lot of action. Some good comedy, some great moments, a lot of drama and suspense. I think you’ll like it. In my opinion, it’s better than the pilot.
BE: During the panel, one of the other critics made a comment about how you packed more of a wallop into the one-hour pilot than “Passenger 57” did in its entire run time.
CM: Oh, yeah, man. I mean, it’s pretty intense, but it’s really entertaining, and we had a lot of fun doing it. And I’m just glad to have the opportunity to do this, because, you know, Hollywood is a town and a business where people will only let you do what they think you can do. And so I’ve gotten a chance to showcase a lot of different things and a lot of different characters, and hopefully that will be what helps me continue to survive in this business.
BE: Jackie Earle Haley kind of downplayed how much he actually brought to his character, but…
CM: Jackie kicks ass, man.
BE: (Laughs) Yeah, I think he’s a little humble.
CM: Well, I mean, to the credit of the writers, the writers are very, very good. They come up with some great things. And they allow us to contribute in our own ways. You know, we certainly have conversations about dialogue, about character direction, about things of that nature, but they have given us a really great jumping off place in terms of the story is always really great, the dialogue is bang on, and the action is great. There are minor tweaks, but that’s why you hire people that you really trust. So that when they come up with something, it’s not just a lot of pretentious artist bullshit. So these are good guys to work with, all of them.
BE: So were you aware of the comic book? Not necessarily that familiar with it, but you had heard of it, at least?
CM: Oh, yeah. I mean, I’m old enough to remember the Rick Springfield series. (Laughs) Somebody asked me a crazy question today, like, “I heard that there was a rumor that Rick Springfield was supposed to be doing this one.” I was, like, ‘What are you, goofy? The Human Target in a walker?” (Laughs) Do you know what I mean? But I remember that old show, and…that was pretty bad. But we’re the 2.0 version of that, and it will make you forget about that thing.
BE: You landed pretty quickly on your feet after “Pushing Daisies.”
CM: Yeah, I mean, look, man, I’m a pretty fortunate guy as far as TV is concerned. I mean, I’ve been lucky enough to have been afforded some great opportunities to work with some wonderful people who have treated me well. I try to pay them back in kind by doing a good job and knowing my business and showing up on time. And not being a pain in the ass. And if you can do that, you know, people will remember you. I have a wonderful relationship with Warner Brothers. And having worked with people like Barry Sonnenfeld and Don Reo and Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen and a couple of Oscar winning producers, you know, if you give them what it is they need, then they remember you. And I’ve been very fortunate. And I’ve got a pretty good agent and a really good manager too, so that don’t hurt. (Laughs)
BE: So when is “The John Larroquette Show” coming out on DVD?
CM: (Snorts) I wish. I really wish it would.
BE: So do I.
CM: Because it was really good, especially the first two seasons. I really loved it then. I mean, I’m hopeful that at some point it will happen. I don’t know what the holdup is. But, you know, we’ll see. Time will tell. I hope so, though.
BE: It was a nice, quirky sitcom at a time when sitcoms weren’t really that quirky.
CM: Exactly. What’s funny about it is that I think that show might have been a little ahead of its time, you know? You couldn’t have made a “Modern Family” during the time that we were making “The John Larroquette Show.” And “Modern Family” is brilliant. I’m just glad to see TV starting to turn back to its real roots of entertainment and really good writing and really good acting. And, I mean, they’ve got to compete. Networks have to compete, because when you’ve got shows like “Breaking Bad” on AMC, or “Damages” and shows like that on FX and on various cable outlets, people are turning to it, man. And you don’t have to have 15 million people watching “Breaking Bad.” You can get a tenth of that and stay on the air. So they’ve got to compete if they want to continue to have their audience.
BE: What’s your favorite project that you have worked on that didn’t the love that you thought it deserved?
CM: Probably “Daisies,” because I had the most fun on it. Because I really got a chance to do comedy, and I really got a chance to just have a good time. I was really having a good time. I was having a ball when I was playing Emerson. But, you know, I mean, that’s life in show business man. I mean, you just can’t become so emotionally invested in any project, because you just never know what is going to happen, you know?
CM: And the audience is the audience ,and they are going to…my job is to do my job. Their job is to love it or hate it. So there it is, man.
BE: Let me bring it full circle, mostly because I’m a TV geek and I really am curious: with “The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer,” when you originally got the job…
CM: I loved it. I had a great time doing that, too. I had a lot of fun doing that.
BE: When I talked to Darryl about “Homeboys,” he said that that show was originally a really smart and clever comedy, but then it fell apart almost immediately when the executives wanted to make it a lame “Planet of the Week”-type scenario.
BE: Was there a time when “Desmond Pfeiffer” was clever and you really thought it had a shot?
CM: I think it was all the way. I think that what happened was this whole thing came up because people get emotional and somebody touched a hot button. Here comes Jesse Jackson, and the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of a fucking circus. So there are guys like that that just wait for opportunities to go and just basically advance their own agenda. So what can you do, you know what I mean? But it is what it is. It’s part of my television career. It didn’t kill my career. so all’s well that ends well.