The central duo in USA’s newest series, Common Law, are the police detectives Travis Marks and Wes Mitchell. These feuding partners, played by Michael Ealy and Warren Kole respectively, get to spend some quality time in couples’ therapy in between catching bad guys.
While on a visit to the Common Law set, we had a chance to speak to Ealy and Kole about their show, their characters and their real relationship behind the scenes.
We heard you play like puppies on the set.
Warren Kole: You want to take that one? I don’t know what to say to that.
Michael Ealy: We play like…
Kole: We don’t fight like cats and dogs, to continue to torture the metaphor a little bit more. So I guess it would be two puppies playing. Maybe something a little more manly would be better?
Ealy: Yeah, I never rub his stomach or anything like that, you know what I mean?
Kole: We don’t sniff each other’s butt.
Ealy: No. No sniffing.
Do you have fun and play off each other on the set?
Ealy: Definitely, definitely. I mean, I think we definitely try to keep the energy off-camera similar to the energy that’s on-camera. Like we just, today we were about to do a scene where… I was like, “Warren, what do you think about?” Like we got into a pencil fight in between takes.
So we try to incorporate that into the scene, because it’s something that we do, and it’s something that Travis and Wes do. We can’t help it. We spend every day together. Every day.
Kole: I’m very thankful that I’m working with an actor like Michael. He’s easy to work with every day, so we don’t end up killing each other.
Which TV couple would you compare yourself to?
Kole: Lucy and Desi?
Ealy: Cliff and Claire? Umm…
Kole: You would be Lucy… Archie and Edith? No… There’s a lot of truth to having a close relationship with another person, the difficulties with that so it’s a hybrid we shift around. You know, it can be The Odd Couple or it can be Archie Bunker or it can be whatever it needs to be to fit the tone of any particular scene. That’s what’s fun about it.
How does the couples’ therapy factor into your buddy-cop relationship?
Ealy: I think this whole process has felt completely unique because of the therapy component of the show. When you get into therapy and you start talking about how we make each other feel and stuff like that… I’ve just never seen that before. Yes, we are a buddy-cop show. That’s a component, as you can tell. That’s because we’re buddies and we’re cops, but the minute we get into therapy, I think we’re going into uncharted waters in terms of the buddy-cop dynamic.
Kole: The dynamic in couples’ therapy, not that I’m speaking from experience, is often, “I’m OK, but he or she has issues.”
Ealy: Maybe that’s coming slowly. We’re starting to identify with our own flaws, if you want to call them that.
Kole: It’s like a sibling relationship in that way, because there’s a feeling of you’ve been so together with someone for so long and they don’t appreciate what you do.
Are the other cops likely to make fun of Travis and Wes for being in therapy?
Kole: It’s tempered well with how excellent they are individually as cops, and how they come together like… What is it? The sum of the parts is greater than the whole, or whatever the expression is. They’re really good professionally, so it’s like you have to take the good with the bad. There’s been so many blowouts in the public or in the precinct that what’s hilarious is it’s almost as if nobody notices anymore. They’re just the Bickersons.
Ealy: You almost feel like if we didn’t argue, we wouldn’t be able to solve the crime. Like we almost have to do it in order to be able to be good at what we do. The minute we start to get along all the time, we don’t need to be partners anymore.
Ealy: Therapy… I think the good thing is that everybody in the precinct knows that we didn’t sign up. We weren’t like, “Oh, let’s go to couples’ therapy!” We were forced to go.
Does the therapy help? Will Wes and Travis start to get along?
Kole: It’s like ebb-and-flow. There’s a waxing and waning, you know? It’s like I love you, I hate you. And like any relationship it’s, you drive each other crazy and you know how to push the other person’s buttons.
Ealy: It’s a little early for us to start getting along. I mean, we’re just now starting to really dump on each other.
Kole: Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Ealy: It’ll be a catastrophe, first season. A catastrophe.
Will the drama ever get heavy in Common Law?
Kole: It seems the world on this is one that sort of perpetuates fast when it is a little lighter and there’s levity there to keep it moving and keep it interesting. We have our moments when we dip into something a little more serious, but it hasn’t really been the definition of the show so far.
Ealy: We’re still quite entertaining in the therapy, but listen, there are some moments that bring a little bit of gravitas to the show. We have to do that in order to be credible as detectives, as human beings, as people with feelings.
I mean, if you don’t really believe that he really misses his ex-wife, you don’t buy into it, you know what I mean. Why spend time invested in that storyline.
What personal demons will emerge through the therapy?
Kole: My demons are… the mistakes I made getting obsessed with excellence and competition and losing my moral compass a little bit. As a competitor and a lawyer where he’s willing to sacrifice that whole life and adopt a new kind of identity as something that can have a direct effect on things: being a police officer, being a cop. Mine was shaped by a singular event, a singular tragedy. Travis is a little different.
Ealy: Travis, you know, his [demons] are a bit more submerged, and I think they stem from his childhood, which I think is a much deeper and more difficult treasure chest of demons to get into. It really is, and I think it’s going to take him a little bit longer to kind of open up.
Common Law premieres on Friday, May 11 at 10pm on USA.
(Image courtesy of USA)