'Hawaii Five-0' Star Chi McBride Opens Up About Making His Writing Debut (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
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Chi McBride has been acting in TV and film for nearly three decades, but he's doing something he's never done before in his career: write.
The 57-year-old actor puts pen to paper for the first time on Hawaii Five-0, the CBS action drama he's starred on since 2013, as the writer of Friday's episode -- a monumental career moment he said he wasn't actively planning for, but is now seriously considering transitioning into when the time comes.
"It's only in the aftermath that I realize that this is what I actually would like to do for the rest of my life: to write," McBride tells ET. "[Hawaii Five-0 boss] Peter [Lenkov] gave me an incredible opportunity. I told him that I had an idea and he said, 'Go write it,' so I wrote it and he was like, 'Oh, you're writing, like, for real!' He was pleasantly surprised and we ended up with a story that I think viewers will be able to identify with, especially the notion of family. Sometimes things are left unsaid and unresolved and manifest themselves in ways that don't always make everyone comfortable. It was a wonderful opportunity and I really do owe it to Peter."
Titled "Lele pu na manu like (Birds of a Feather)," the episode dives deep into the complex family dynamics of the Grover clan, notably the thorny sibling rivalry between Lou (McBride) and his troublemaker brother, Percy Jr. (Clifton Powell), during what's supposed to be a low-stress Thanksgiving holiday with the parents (Louis Gossett Jr. and Gladys Knight). When the origins of their beef resurface and culminate in a turkey cooking competition, things get explosive -- literally -- at the Grover house.
"To deal with the dynamic of a family of cops and having one member of that family always toeing the wrong side of that line, I think that's interesting," McBride says. "How much of it is he's so good at what he does that he gets away with it and how much of it is it as a parent, you look the other way or pretend it's not happening because the things are benign that he's involved with? At the same time, you feel like him being the oldest, there are some issues there that they don't really deal with; Lou's mother and father never dealt with their son and they always try to exhibit behavior that indicates that they want to make him a little bit better than he actually turned out -- and that was a source of frustration for Lou in his formative years growing up."
"A lot of times when people don't like each other, it's because they're a lot alike; within the story, Lou has to come to terms that he does what he does is because of Percy, because Percy protected him when he was a kid. You're not going to use my brother as a pinata," he continues. "Lou adopted that same principle but on a larger scale for society that he wanted to protect people who weren't able to protect themselves, the way Percy protected Lou -- and it all stems from their parents."
McBride felt comfortable enough with the characters and the world in which Hawaii Five-0 inhabits to take on the challenge, but admitted there was one hurdle he faced writing Friday's episode he didn't quite expect.
"You remember these characters and their traits are indelible. I make a living studying and understanding and exhibiting how people behave; it's a matter of getting that out and getting that down on paper. It is a creative process but it's not foreign to me," he says. "The thing that I had the most of a challenge with is formatting that in a way that gives [it] the right amount of time and not overwrite the situation. The one thing I really learned above all things is that writing is rewriting. It's something I carry with me as I continue to write."
When asked if it was a personal highlight to hear Hollywood legends like Gossett Jr. and Knight say the words he wrote, McBride brushed the accomplishment aside.
"i'm not that sentimental or that high on myself. Listen to them as they say my words. I'm just not that way," he says with a laugh, sharing that both Gossett Jr. and Knight "responded" to his script positively. "The first day Gladys and I met, we just walked to each other, hugged and put our foreheads together. It was like a mother-son [moment]. I could feel a little bit of tremor in her. I asked, 'Are you okay?' She said, 'I'm a little nervous.' 'Why are you nervous?' 'Well, you know, it's been a long time since I've done this.' I said, 'Just be Gladys Knight and that'll be good enough.' She smiled and she playfully hit me on my shoulder and we went to work."
McBride singled out the episode's climactic moment between himself, Knight and Powell that involved a tense family fight. "When we were doing the fight, we had to cut it down to make it fit within the time we have allotted for the show -- it was a much longer fight -- she said it was brutal and she hated it and it made her a certain way. She thought about her own children and what she would feel like to see them fighting like that," he recalls. "When we were shooting it, there were many times that I overheard people saying, 'I gotta call my brother,' 'I gotta call my sister,' or 'I remember the time we had Thanksgiving and we tore up the whole house and by midnight, everyone was drunk and crying.'"
Though the Pushing Daisies alum has his eye on adding writer to his storied resume, McBride expressed optimism that he'll get another shot to pen another episode of Hawaii Five-0 in the future. "We will see. I've had some discussions about another story I'm in the process of forming now," he says. "I certainly hope that this will not be the last for this particular show and I fully intend to continue to pursue it as a career."