After filming NBC’s “The Playboy Club” and Starz’ “Boss” in Chicago over the summer, Troy Garity misses the city.
“I’m going through total Chicago withdrawal at the moment,” Garity, who also filmed the “Barbershop” movies here, said during a recent phone conversation from his home in L.A.
The actor doesn’t have long to wait for his Chicago fix. Production on Season 2 of “Boss” is expected to begin here in January. Until then, you can see Garity in the final two “absolutely fantastic” episodes of the first season at 9 p.m. Friday and Dec. 9.
The phrase “absolutely fantastic” comes from Garity, but I couldn’t agree more. The series, in which Kelsey Grammer delivers a powerhouse performance as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, wraps the season in epic, Shakespearean style.
Garity’s character, dogged reporter Sam Miller, values and seeks the truth as much as Kane seeks power. He believes that in order for a democratic society to thrive, fact-based journalism must keep politicos honest and the public informed. He’s fought all season with his bosses and the mayor’s office to uncover the truth about Kane, his illness and his underhanded dealings.
But maintaining his principles can come at a high moral price, Garity said. “Everything he believes in becomes open for compromise the further he digs,” the actor teased, wary of giving too much away.
But he did give away one fact—Sam will be back in the second season, because Garity will be back in Chicago soon. And what is he most looking forward to when he returns?
“Well, this is going to sound perverse, but only because I'm from Los Angeles. I'm looking forward to the winter weather. I find it exciting,” he said. “There's nothing like being in Chicago and it's 20 degrees and you're being blown around Michigan Avenue and then you smell Garrett's popcorn. You feel like a zombie and you turn and you just have to go and get some Garrett's popcorn, despite the fact that you can't feel your cheeks.”
I’ve been a fan since “Soldier's Girl.”
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I actually saw Lee Pace last night. I think he gets taller every time I see him.
There are not a lot of tall guys out there in Hollywood.
No, he's really tall. He's like 6'6" or something. I look at him and I go, “I can't believe I thought you were a woman.”
You were in “The Playboy Club” and also in “Boss.” What brought you to TV from the movies?
It’s been a strange couple of years in Hollywood and it’s been really hard to find good work. With the expansion of cable over the past, what's it been, 10 years, it's just given rise to a lot of great opportunities for actors and writers.
Actors, we're going to take the best jobs we can get, and there’s just a lot of really quality material on television these days. The idea of being able to bring life to a character and actually have that character reveal himself over a season or over several seasons is interesting. And [it’s] certainly exciting for me, I would guess for any actor. Understand [that] if the character’s despicable and you hate it then perhaps not.
And you're stuck with it.
[Laughs.] A movie you will have two hours to tell the story and on a good TV series you can have a full year, which is great.
Do you find that you have to approach the job differently in that case?
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.
How fun is it to play the rabble-rouser, the troublemaker?
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.
Sam has continued to campaign to get to the truth as opposed to being spoon-fed what the mayor’s office wants them to have. These few episodes Kitty and Ezra have been manipulating the broadcast media.
I absolutely love that story line. I think it's great writing. You know, it's true our society needs this sort of latest and greatest news stimulation. And how quickly we forget.
I think when we were filming that episode about changing the news cycle, within the period of a week and a half or two weeks the news cycle in real life had gone from everybody wanting to hear about Donald Trump and him demanding [President Obama’s] birth certificate and all this bullshit. Then the Anthony Weiner story broke. And that's all everybody could talk about. And then a couple days later the Osama story broke.
How quickly we forget and we move on. It seems like we can't eat new information fast enough, unfortunately. Often times we forget the bigger picture, you know?
Sam resorts to posting a document on the blog. Do you think he was just desperate or do you think he was experimenting to see what would happen? Coming from him it seemed like quite a compromise.
I don't think he was desperate. There was sort of no other avenue for him. His editors proved to him they were going to squash anything that was really damning to Kane or would essentially have him evicted from the mayor's office. He uncovered an awful truth about the mayor being responsible for cancer killing children. And he just lost faith in his institution.
And it was too important, so he put it out. And now that it's out there he's justified to write about it because it's out there. They can't bury it.
You and Kelsey have a great scene in “Remembrance” where you keep hounding him about Dr. Harris. Is he mostly interested in what’s wrong with Kane, or all the bad stuff he’s done?
I think he's sort of put it together about the illegal dumping, but there's always a bigger picture. And part of the role of journalists is to pull on every thread, to poke in every hole and slowly connect the dots and see where one thing leads to another. I think it is also personal; it’s a giant question that no one else seems to know about … Sam Miller found out the mayor's been visiting a neurologist that specializes in like rare degenerative brain disorder. You gotta know why.
Have any behind-the-scenes info about that scene between you and Kelsey?
Sam Miller makes one mistake and I realized it in that scene. He asked for a source and to fuck with him I say, “Rosebud.” And it dawned on me when I said Rosebud to him that that might have been the hint he needed to find his leak. I could be wrong, but that's what I saw in that moment.
Are we going to see an episode called “Chumpbait.”
[Laughs.] I hope. I'm walking in circles to see what they're trying to do for the second season. I’m really excited.
Let's talk about Chicago. You've spent a lot of time here with back-to-back TV shows and also the “Barbershop” movies.
Chicago's been very, very good to me. I just absolutely love the city and the people. It's just a great city.
What were some of your favorite things to do here?
People tend to have long dinners in Chicago. Chicago reminds me of Europe. People are just very well aware of how their city functions, of how the policies affect them. They're not shocked so much when they hear of scandal or corruption. That exists everywhere, but I find other cities are sort of in denial. I love how Chicagoans are involved. They just participate in their city. They're just not fools and I appreciate it. They're not caught up in a lot of the stuff that New York or L.A. is caught up in. It's a strange and wonderful place because it, to some degree the city is extremely segregated and in another aspect this city is totally unified.
As filmmaking goes, it's just it's beautiful. It's wonderful. It has the best film crews and everything that the city has to offer. And the food is superb.
I saw your tweet about Twin Anchors.
I can't tell you how many ribs I've eaten.
That place is great.
Twin Acres, Restaurant Balsan, there's an Italian restaurant called Pelago, a pizzeria called [Sapore di] Napoli.
What are you most looking forward to when you come back in January?
... I was hoping for the basketball season to pick up because I wanted to see some more of Derrick Rose. ... I don't know. It's going to be interesting.
So you get into Chicago sports, too?
Well, it's hard not to. And the theatre; Chicago has the best actors. I just love the city. I miss it. I'm going through total Chicago withdrawal at the moment.
Well, you have to come back. Let’s talk a little bit of “The Playboy Club.” Had a good time on that show?
It was great. I think I got the job like two days before “Boss” finished. And it's really, really fun character to play. I sort of became obsessed with the history of the Chicago outfit … I loved the opportunity to play in that world again. It's unfortunate what happened to “The Playboy Club.” I think that the show was much better than it received.
The other unfortunate thing is that we shot seven episodes and I think they only aired three. And each of them seemed to get better and better and really find itself. I think the problems was that so many people had a different opinion about what the show was about or could be about.
There was so much talent on that show and we worked so hard. And that's the nature of the beast. I mean, the truth of the matter is that most shows don't make it. And the fact that we even got that far it should be considered a success. It's unfortunate. I’ll tell you what, it makes me very happy to be on cable right now because the network Starz really believes in “Boss.”
How about a few kinda personal questions? Is it true that when you were 16 you quit school and ran off to the circus?
Well, I didn't quit school, but I skipped a lot of days, like 75 days. The circus was near my school. And my school was so enormous. I think we had 3,600 kids in the school. And I could just walk off campus. And I fell for a girl in the circus.
So you weren't in the circus? You just went and hung out with your girl?
I was just in love—obsessed with—this woman in the circus.
I also read and I didn't know this that you appeared in “On Golden Pond,” too? Your first job?
It's so funny that that's on the credits. I'll get letters from people and they'll be like, “Oh you were great in ‘On Golden Pond.’”
It’s bullshit. My mom, at the time, was agreeing just to do films during the summer where the family could be together and so we spent the summer on that lake with my grandfather and with the whole family. And it was absolutely wonderful.
And it just so happened that the director said, “Hey Troy will you sit down there and hold a fishing rod?” because the pier looked empty. In hindsight, I think I might have been the first time my grandfather ever tested me. He drove the boat almost directly at me and then swerved at the last second to see, perhaps, if I would respond, ... like the little boy of the pier would yank his legs or flinch, but I was so nervous because the director told me to just sit still that I didn't move at all. I failed the acting test.
So that was just considered a family vacation during the making of a movie and I happened to be there and they asked me to sit down.
Did you have aspirations to go into acting at first?
No. My parents had a performing arts camp that I used to do, sort of Comedia Dell’arte type stuff. Where kids would write a play and then perform it. But there was no sort of career ambition toward it. However, I did perform in plays, but it just wasn't something that I really wanted. And then in college I ended up doing a play just looking for cheap credit. And in the process it reminded me of my youth and this camp. To a degree, it reminded me of the feeling I had with hanging out with the circus and so I moved to New York and went to theatre school. When I was in school, being on stage in New York I feel like it saved my life. It asked things of me that no one had ever asked of me and really gave me some focus in life. And I love the process now.