TV Gig Pulls Corey Reynolds Away from Broadway

Corey Reynolds as Seaweed J. Stubbs in the Broadway smash 'Hairspray'

hide captionCorey Reynolds as Seaweed J. Stubbs in the Broadway smash Hairspray.

Paul Kolnik

Tony Award nominee Corey Reynolds is also the co-star of the TNT crime drama The Closer. Reynolds talks with Farai Chideya about his TV role, and whether he misses the stage. He was nominated three years ago for his starring role as Seaweed J. Stubbs in the enduring Broadway smash Hairspray.

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ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

It's been almost a decade since stage and screen actor Corey Reynolds left his home in Virginia to pursue his dream. Since then, he's starred on Broadway and appeared in the film, The Terminal, with Katherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Hanks. His latest project is the TNT crime drama, The Closer.

Reynolds plays straight-laced Sergeant David Gabriel. NPR's Farai Chideya asked Reynolds about landing the role he feels he was meant to play.

Mr. COREY REYNOLDS (Actor): And this is ultimately the type of role that I wanted to step into anyway. I mean, I feel like a lot of the portrayals of, in particular, younger minority ethnic characters on television, a lot of their dialogue, a lot of their characteristics, a lot of their personality in a writer's eyes, is kind of propelled through their ethnicity. And I think with Sgt. Gabriel, if you look at the page and you read the lines, and you hear the things that he says, there's no dictation of what he is or where he's from. And I think that, for me, as an actor, that was something that I was very interested in.

(Soundbite of TV Show “The Closer”)

Mr. REYNOLDS: (As Sgt. Gabriel) You know what? Martin couldn't have been less interested in Daniels until I asked her out for dinner. Okay? We went out on two dates, and then suddenly, suddenly he's all over her; which I don't care about anymore. I mean, it was years ago.

Ms. KYRA SEDGWICK (Actor): (As Brenda Johnson): (As character in The Closer) But the experience Daniels had with Martin disqualified her from working on this case, and not you?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Daniels had an intimate relationship the man. I barely knew him.

Ms. SEDGWICK: Well, that's a variation of what I said to her, because we have a team here. It's working and I'd like to keep it that way. However, you held back information about the victim, and you shouldn't have.

Mr. REYNOLDS: What did you want me to say?

Ms. SEDGWICK: Well, obviously, you could have spoken Martin's sexual pathology, which, as you are aware, Sergeant, is the most difficult aspect of our personality change, in which, as Xavier(ph) proves, Martin couldn't change.

Mr. REYNOLDS: And that's relevant to this investigation?

Ms. SEDGWICK: Oh, Sergeant. It's key.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

So tell us about Sgt. David Gabriel. He got a little bit fired up in the scene that we just listened to, but, overall, what's his character?

Mr. REYNOLDS: I think first and foremost, he's got integrity. I think that he's kind of idealistic in that sense that he does believe that the right thing will happen. And I think that working in law enforcement, he's learning, and learning very quickly, that the right thing doesn't always happen. And Kyra, sometimes, her character, Deputy Chief Johnson, she believes in the right thing happening as well, except she believes sometimes you've got to initiate the right thing happening. You have to nudge it. I guess nuuuudge is the word that she would use.

CHIDEYA: That's right, because she's got a nice southern accent. It just rolls.

Mr. REYNOLDS: She's got a nice southern accent. That's right. She reminds me of Virginia. She's a little more southern than Virginia, but yeah, it's there.

CHIDEYA: So how did you research this role? Did you follow around cops, or did you just watch a lot of cop shows?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Well, in my case I've always been interested in law enforcement. I've always dabbled in law enforcement in between gigs, quite honestly. Back before things really began to pop off for me, I would work in private security for companies and stuff. And, you know, life puts things in front of you at the right time for the right reason. And there obviously was great purpose in always being interested in that form of investigation.

I realize now, with hindsight being 20/20, that was, you know, to set me up for this phase of my life.

CHIDEYA: So you've done Broadway, film, television, which do you like the best?

Mr. REYNOLDS: The vast majority in my history is in live performance. I absolutely loved my stint on Broadway in Hairspray. But to answer your question, I really, really love working in front of the camera. There's a subtleness to camera work. You can really create intimate moments on camera and sometimes that requires a little more precision from an actor, because you have to pull people in as opposed to throwing it to them.

I'll return to the stage. I have some projects that I'm interested in. And actually some that I'm interested in actually maybe producing and starring at some point on Broadway, as well. I'll go back to Broadway when I feel like there's a role that actually might win me that Tony as opposed to getting nominated.

CHIDEYA: And, of course, the Tonys are coming up.

Mr. REYNOLDS: They are.

CHIDEYA: And your show, The Closer, launches its second season on Monday.

Mr. REYNOLDS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: But since you say, okay, I'm going to try to create a project on Broadway, or perhaps in film, that I can star in - when I turn on these crime shows, I see a lot of amazing actors in ensemble or supporting roles.

Mr. REYNOLDS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: CCH Pounder in The Shield...

Mr. REYNOLDS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: ...S. Epatha Merkerson on Law and Order.

Mr. REYNOLDS: Mm-hmm.

CHIDEYA: Do you ever feel like, well, gee, you know, the black guy or the black woman should just be the main character? And what's up with that?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Oh, absolutely. I think, you know, I think you're absolutely right in that sense. And I think it is coming. You do have people like our show's creator James Duff, our producers Michael Robin, Greer Shepherd, who have vision. Gabriel, my character, was not written for a black man. I was the only black man to test for the part, and it was written for, with - and the show was created with the idea that Gabriel would be white, a white male, the entire time. And they had a different idea, and they decided, thankfully for me, to cast who they felt was the strongest actor for the part, regardless of race.

And I think, you know, you see things similar to that on shows like Grey's Anatomy, with Isaiah Washington on there. And I think that we're slowly but surely moving beyond the phase of, when you're looking at a cast photo and you see, you know, ethnicity is involved, that that's the black guy, that's the Asian guy, that's the so and so. I think that people are now starting to move into the phase of, that's Gabriel. And, you know, will it ever be perfect? Who knows? But all - we can applaud progress.

CHIDEYA: Corey Reynolds, thank you so much.

Mr. REYNOLDS: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

CHIDEYA: Corey Reynolds plays Sgt. David Gabriel on the TNT show, The Closer. The new season kicks off Monday, June 12th.

GORDON: That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

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