Ironside fans have Stanley Kowalski to thank for getting Blair Underwood back to television, as the actor revealed to me this morning when we met up for a quick chat about his new NBC series. After playing the iconic character in Broadway's acclaimed A Streetcar Named Desire revival, Underwood was looking to find an equally powerful man to inhabit on the small screen. Enter Ironside.
Dark, complex, mysterious and exciting, the role -- and the show -- have only begun to hint at the seedy underbelly lying in wait for fans and tonight's all-new episode goes to great lengths to prove it. Keep reading to find out what made Ironside the perfect vehicle for Underwood, what surprised him most about the character and why tonight's criminal will give you nightmares!
ETonline: What kind of response did you get to last week's premiere?
Blair Underwood: My Twitter feed was really excited about it. But I will tell you, when I first announced I was doing this, had a lot of my fanbase saying, "I don't know if I want to see him in a wheelchair." They saw me a different way. So what's been nice to see is now that they've tuned in, they like what we're doing with it and they want to see more. I think the fact we have flashbacks opens up the storytelling as well.
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ETonline: What made Ironside the show you wanted to, potentially, spend 7 years working on?
Underwood: I just enjoy the character so much. He's in your face, a bit acerbic and you'll see more textures to him through the flashbacks with the love of his life. He's not just aggressive, but also passionate and emotional. I'd just finished doing Streeetcar, so those characteristics were fresh in my system and I wanted to bring those dynamics from the stage to the screen. It's kind of freeing to let that aggression out at work and not at home [laughs].
ETonline: Were you ever worried about it becoming a standard procedural?
Underwood: You know, I've avoided crime dramas for so long. I did one cop show 17 years ago, and that was just fun because it was a lot of action. I love busting heads of perpetrators [laughs]. But yeah, I've avoided it so that was my first conversation with the creators: How do we understand the psychology of this guy? That's part of how the flashbacks were born. They're the way to get inside his head is to see who he was before the accident.
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ETonline: What's surprised you most about playing Ironside?
Underwood: How his mind works. I think the great detectives, like Sherlock Holmes or Kojak, are the ones who are the smartest ones in the room. They're two steps ahead of the criminal and I see that in Ironside. Danny Glover comes on as my dad, and you'll see he comes from a long line of organized crime, and he was the one who decided to become a cop very much against the will of his family. That speaks to his ability to understand the criminal mind. It's in his DNA. So for him to take that in a different direction, it explains how he's five steps ahead of everyone else.
ETonline: What can you tease about tonight's episode?
Underwood: This is one of my favorite episodes. It's a takeoff of Jack the Ripper, but we call him App the Ripper because he's slashing people with a knife and as they're bleeding out, he's posting videos online. So we have to track him down, but what you'll find out about our show, is that you're going down one path, but then it spins out in a totally different direction.
Ironside airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on NBC.