Fans of Jon Tenney’s work on The Closer (and his roles that came before that) let out a collective huzzah when the actor landed the male lead in TNT’s King & Maxwell, NCIS vet Shane Brennan’s adaptation of the David Baldacci novels (airing Mondays at 10/9c). And make no mistake, Tenney is jazzed, too. Here, he opens up about fronting a series, sings leading lady Rebecca Romijn’s praises, teases big reveals about Sean’s complicated past and, yes, hints at Fritz Howard’s return to Major Crimes.
TVLINE | When I spoke to Shane a couple months ago, he was so very excited to have given you a leading role on a series. How has that been going?
It’s been going great. I mean, I’ve done a couple shows where I was 1 on the call sheet, but usually those shows have been more of an ensemble. And while I certainly was watching Kyra [Sedgwick] do the hours she did on The Closer, I don’t think you can actually know what it’s like until you’re in it. We’ve been working like dogs, but I like to work hard, so I can’t complain.
TVLINE | What most excited you about this particular project?
I guess the fact that in this role I get to play all sorts of different styles. I mean some of it is a romantic comedy, some of it is action. Some of it is drama. Some is lighter….
TVLINE | Yeah. You can be a wise-ass, but you also throw punches when needed.
Right. It certainly has the potential to really stretch me in a lot of different ways. Obviously it didn’t hurt to have people like Shane Brennan associated with it, and when Rebecca signed on, that was just fantastic.
TVLINE | Because you were cast first and since it’s a two-hander, do you get a bit anxious about who was going to be your leading lady?
I certainly kept asking, “So, do you have a Maxwell?” They set up a series of what they call “chemistry reads” with a handful of actors, all of whom are terrific in their own right, but obviously on a show like this you want to have a certain dynamic together. So I was just waiting for that, and when Rebecca and I met each other, it seemed to click. We got along well and our rhythms were different but complimentary. We’re still sort of finding our way as we go along, but it’s been fun to paint this canvas with two very different colors.
TVLINE | What’s something you’d like people to know about your leading lady?
What I love about her is that she is completely game to fearlessly try anything. She has a strong sense of self without any sort of ego, vanity, pretense. Because of her career path — she started in modeling, and then she had some very sexy roles in Femme Fatale and the X-Men series — you tend to see a supermodel up there assume they’re unapproachable, that they’re kind of up on a pedestal.
TVLINE | Or a little frosty, yeah.
Yeah, and you can’t connect. But she’s extremely accessible. And when you spend so much time together in a show like this, it’s very good if you get along.
TVLINE | King & Maxwell isn’t doing the heavy-handed “Will they/Won’t they?” thing. Is that a relief, to play something a little more subtle?
I’m a big fan of subtlety. Subtlety is more interesting, and questions are always more interesting than answers. I loved Moonlighting, but [Bruce Willis’ character] was on the make from the get go, and that’s not what is going on here. Obviously, [Sean and Michelle] like each other. Obviously, they’re attracted to each other. But I think both of them have some issues with intimacy, and that can be a fun dynamic to explore — how they drive each other crazy and how they also work well together.
TVLINE | As a big Sons of Anarchy fan, I must wonder what’s it like watching Ryan Hurst disappear into his role as [autistic savant] Edgar.
Ryan is extraordinary, a really, really special actor. I admire his commitment to the whole process of creating this role. Take the glasses he wears in the show, for example. Once he found out that we were going to get picked up, he spent three months trying to find the exact, right pair. That attention to detail is lovely. I know what he did as Opie is so different than what he’s doing here, like night and day. And Mike O’Keefe [as FBI agent Rigby] is a terrific actor, too.
TVLINE | In this week’s episode, we have a congressman who has a connection to Sean’s past. What’s going on there?
One of the conceits they made for the series [versus the novels] was you’re finding out in piecemeal what it was that caused me to be dismissed after the whole Ritter assassination. And so we meet the son of the presidential candidate assassinated on my watch, who is now a congressman running for Senate. He hires King and Maxwell to help with some stuff that’s being written about him by an anonymous blogger who’s been going after him.
TVLINE | And Sean probably wants to do right by him.
Exactly. He feels like he owes him so much and feels so much shame about what happened in the past. And during the course of that investigation, Sean ends up finding out a lot of things that he didn’t necessarily know about what actually happened. It’s a great sort of arc for my character as I start going down a certain pathway that Michelle Maxwell doesn’t think is particularly healthy, so it causes tension between us.
TVLINE | And who is Rebecca’s husband, Jerry O’Connell, playing in the episode?
Jerry is playing another private investigator we used to get some information from, and he is a bit of a character. The guy he plays is not the brightest bulb in the box [Laughs], so he has some really funny stuff to do. Jerry’s a really good comedian.
TVLINE | And next week, Leverage’s Christian Kane shows up as Michelle’s brother?
Michelle Maxwell, as created by David Baldacci, is the only daughter in the family, but there are several sons, all of whom are policemen, as well as the father. Christian plays one of her brothers who is a little crazy, a little wild, and who’s now decided to work as a private investigator. It’s nice because Sean King finds out some stuff about her past that he didn’t realize.
TVLINE | Is the finale (airing Aug. 12) going to drop any kind of bombshell about the Ritter mythology?
A lot comes out. Absolutely. And it’s a little different than in the spirit of the books, so I think it’ll be surprising, in a good way.
TVLINE | If only because of the adjacency of time slots, did this role preclude you from swinging by Major Crimes this season?
Well, I have a feeling Fritz is going to pop up again. We actually just wrapped photography on King & Maxwell [in Vancouver], and I’m in Los Angeles now, and Major Crimes is in production into October. So the back nine episodes will allow Fritz to reappear, I’ve been told. I have not read a script yet, but I’ve been told that they would love to have Fritz come by — and I would certainly enjoy doing that..
TVLINE | OK, because I wondering if they were holding off until Kyra puts in an encore, so that when Brenda needs to show up, Fritz can be with her.
Well, that would be lovely. I think that would be a great idea. But [series creator] James [Duff] is the one to talk to on that one. I know that everyone is still in touch with each other and we all love each other, and it would certainly be fun!