Bill Engvall discusses HAWTHORNE and a future in…drama?

What surprised me most about Bill Engvall guest starring on HAWTHORNE was, no, not the fact that comedian Bill Engvall from THE BILL ENGVALL SHOW and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour was guest starring on a rather serious drama, but that he was really good, really believable, and was a reason to tune into a show that gets darker and darker with each pressing minute.  Suddenly, I found myself wondering where this dramatic Bill Engvall has been hiding!  I spoke with Bill last week about how he got involved, why he finds himself leaning in a dramatic-role-kind of way, and what he’s up to next!

Obviously we want to talk about HAWTHORNE – the biggest question is how did you get involved, and is the sign of your heading towards the drama side?  Tell me a bit about that.
I would be happy to!  I had done my own sitcom on TBS, and I spoke to Michael Wright over at TNT, and said I would like to try my hand at drama, and I think everyone initially was like, [sarcasm] yeah, ok, great.   But then this role came up on LEVERAGE where I play a small time stockcar driver that’s selling stolen cars.  I got to be a bad guy.  I mean, it was like, flipping guns around, beating up people.  I just really got into it.  We finished, and they called me and said, I gotta be honest with you Bill, we didn’t realize you could do it this well.  I didn’t want to say, oh, I knew I could!  Apparently, it was good enough that the people at HAWTHORNE took notice and said, hey, we have this character coming up, a three show arc, and he’s an Internal Affairs cop, and I said, I’m in! And the rest is history.  We wrapped it up, and I gotta tell you something, it was more fun than you can even imagine!

It’s got to be fun, you’re so known for the comedy side of things.  It has to be fun to change it up!
Oh it totally is!  That’s the thing that I wanted to do, Amrie, is that I, throughout my whole career, even though I’ve been in the comedy world for so long.  I’m always looking for stuff that when I do it, people go “Oh my god, I didn’t know he could do that”.  I think that that’s important for not only an actor, but anyone in this business.  If you don’t ever stretch yourself, then I don’t think you get better at what you do.  You see a lot of guys like Robin Williams, and Martin Short, Richard Belzer, and all of them who were stand ups and then they moved into drama, and it seemed to be such an easy switch.  I honestly believe that you can’t really do drama unless you can do comedy.  And that’s one of the things that I brought to Jimmy Dupree, was, he’s got a sense of humor, but there’s a real dark side to this cat, and I loved bringing that out.  It adds different layers to this guy that makes him more interesting to watch as opposed to a one note song.  When I was doing research for this guy, I called a friend of mine who is a cop.  I said, tell me about Internal Affairs.  It was funny, because he goes, “Why do you need to know about Internal Affairs” [laughs].  I go, well I’m playing this guy who’s an Internal Affairs cop.  You watch any show, any times an Internal Affairs guy shows up, he immediately walks on the set, you know who he is.  I said, I don’t want this guy to be so predictable.  What I did – I made this guy kind of funny.  He’s a good old Southern boy.  He’s your buddy, oh you know, we’re having beers, don’t worry about a thing, I’m just asking some questions, trying to figure out what went wrong, and the next thing you know, he’s throwing you in cuffs, and it made it really fun to do.

Like you said – we always see these IA folks, it’s not explored, they’re always the bad guy, and they know it.  Jimmy seems like the kind of guy that knows he’s about to throw someone in jail, but is going to catch them off guard by being their best friend.
Oh yeah!  He’s the kind of the guy, he’s interviewing you, he does “look, you’re not in trouble at all, I just need to get some information” and the next thing you know, you’re behind bars. [laughs]

What can you tease about the next two episodes with Jimmy Dupree?
Well, you’re going to see some twists and turns and you’re going to go, ooh, didn’t see that coming. In the last scene, there’s a great scene between me and Marc Anthony that we just had a blast doing.  It got intense.  What was so funny, what I loved about this cast and the directors that I worked with.  Jada told me this is your character, you do what you think he would do.  You weren’t in these strict parameters.  You had to stick to the script obviously.  I loved doing this, I loved it so much that I really took this guy to the nth degree and they loved it!  I wish I could tell you everything that happens but they won’t let me!  You’re going to be shocked.  It’s really fun.

This season of HAWTHORNE has been so powerful and shocking already that I’m not sure what’s going to happen next.
I think that’s what makes a great TV show.  When they catch you by surprise, and you go, oh man!  All I can tell you is that you see Jimmy Dupree walking up to you, you better start looking in your background because trust me, he already has. [laughs]

Aside from HAWTHORNE, do you have coming up next?
Right now, along with shooting HAWTHORNE, I was shooting thsi gameshow which was completely opposite.  The game show is called LINGO, it’s on the GSN.  I just shot a Hallmark movie up in Vancouver.  I play a sappy dad trying to get back with his estranged daughter.  I’ve kind of been talking to TNT about my own drama series.  We’re just trying to find a good vehicle.

That would be a great vehicle where you could throw your comedy and drama in there.
Yeah, I would love like a quirky kind of lead character in a drama.  When I started trying to do with Jimmy – there’s a scene where I’m interviewing people in the hospital.  The whole time I’m interviewing them, I’m eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor, which just drives them nuts.  He does it just to get a rise out of them. He’s that kind of smarmy guy that you want to him but he’s just doing what he needs to do.

Are there other shows that you watch when you get a chance to watch TV?  Or characters you built Jimmy on?
With Jimmy, I kind of tried to make him a cross between McLeod and Columbo. He’s a weird kind of guy – he gets the job done, but his methods may put off a lot of people.  But he gets the job done, and that’s what, I think, makes this guy really interesting.