I mean, for me as an actor, the biggest difference is not really knowing what's going to happen from one week to the next. When you receive a film script you know what the beginning, the middle and the end is. When you work on a TV show you know who your characters are, you know what the overall theme and trajectory of the show is, but you don't really know what situations you're going to be in or what twists and turns you might take from one week to the next.
At first that caused me some anxiety, but ultimately it’s really sort of exciting. I found myself waiting at the mailbox to see where the story would go and if my character would live to see another week.
It's great. I love my character. He’s a thorn in the side. The fun thing about my character is he’s able to be outwardly volatile or passionate or emotional because he’s, at least he doesn't believe he is, he's not beholden to the same rules that the people who work in the mayor's office are, or the aldermen. They're in their suits; there's this certain [way] that they must conduct themselves, except for the mayor. I'm able to run around and to get into a little bit more open trouble, and it's fun.
Did you work with the new reporters beforehand?
I hadn't. My father was a reporter and still is to some degree and was an editor on his school paper so I’ve been and am in close proximity to a lot of reporters and journalists. So I sort of understand the nature of the beast, but really I wanted construct this character from my own experiences. What I'm really more focused on was getting a real understanding of Chicago and the players and the history and how things operate. That's what I gravitated towards.
Did you read—?
I read a lot of [Norman] Mailer, a lot of [Studs] Turkel.
Did you read Mike Royko’s “Boss?”
The show brings up a lot of the city’s history and how that history still is important in the city—even in the fictionalized version.
You can’t really speak about Chicago without referencing the history. The history is so very much still alive in the city. Now, the great thing about “Boss” is that, yeah, obviously, it draws some parallels to Chicago's past, but it also really references the American political system sort of as a whole. We’ve reached a point in our history where so many of our political figures have reached levels of notoriety in almost mythical proportions that “Boss” can sort of walk into the realm of American mythology and morality tales.
I've said this before, but in American cinema our mythological tales have been sort of, up till now, left for the genres of mafia films and Westerns because of the notoriety of the figures and the sort of romantic nostalgia that these things play in our heads. They are worlds sort of where people are allowed to construct their own rules and ways in which they operate in society. I think the country's at a point now where our political history has provided us with enough distant memory that we can now place our own moral questions in that realm.
I don't know. It hits on some heavy themes about power and control. Men have been bred through centuries that we must have power and control in our lives. And if we can't then we need to figure out how to coerce the situation, which leads to violence or corruption or whatever. But men have been taught that we must assume power and control in our lives. And this show is about this man who has assumed sort of supreme power over his kingdom. And what does he do when it's now being taken away from him?
And so the irony and the tragedy of man is that if the lesson of our lineage is to find some degree of power and control in lives, the tragedy is that ultimately you can't. You’re always beholden to someone and if it's not someone it's the savage beast of time. Age wins. And so you have this emperor-like figure, Kelsey, who now finds himself on bended knee to powers beyond human control. It's tragic and fascinating how we respond to it.
Do you think he realizes that yet? That he can't control.
I think that revelation becomes stronger and stronger to him with each episode. It's like, any situation when you realize that your life is outside of your control and leaving you quickly. I mean, there's so many stages when denial, acceptance, it's fear, it's rage.
Back to what you said about men and power. Is Sam searching for power?
I think Sam understands that the real power does lie in the truth. And I think he believes that he is a link in the chain. Unlike perhaps like the mayor, life does not begin and end with him. Reporters don't die we multiply. Sam's giant crisis is where have all the real journalists gone? And have we been regulated to the sort of blogosphere. Who will stand up and keep our leaders in check and honest? There's always a balance; it's a battle between city halls and the paper.
And it's weird give and take. It's a weird coexistence. In order for certain institutions to do their job properly they have to work together to some degree. Inherently it is the media's responsibility to uncover the lies. If you're not resolving untruths then everything is just sort of propaganda to some degree.