Australian actor Alex O’Loughlin first gained attention with TV audiences as Mick St John in the vampire drama Moonlight for CBS. He went on to star in the medical drama Three Rivers for the same network.
Hoping that third time’s the charm, O’Loughlin is starring as Detective Steve McGarrett in a contemporary take on the classic CBS series Hawaii 5-0. In the new version, McGarrett is a decorated Navel officer-turned-cop who returns to Oahu to investigate the murder of his father.
He is persuaded to form an elite federalized task force to fight crime on the island, and chooses Detective Danny ‘Danno’ Williams (Scott Caan), a cop who has just transferred from New York, Chin Ho Kelly (Daniel Dae Kim), an ex-Honolulu Police Detective and Chin’s cousin Kono (Grace Park) to complete the team.
We spoke with Alex about taking on the iconic role that Jack Lord made famous in the 1960s.
Where do you start when you take on a role this iconic? Obviously, this is a major reboot of the characters’ history – do you go back and look at the old show or just take it from square one?
Well, I remember the old show from when I was a kid. The old show was taken off TV 40 years ago. It started over 50 years ago, and there have been a lot of changes in television and in the way we act stylistically, and with technology and with what we can do with the money that we have with special effects and stunts.
So it’s not a remake. We’re not picking up where they left off. It’s a reboot, and the characters are very different.
You didn’t know much about Steve McGarrett in the old show, whereas in the pilot on our new show, you learn a lot about my Steve McGarrett. I just did my character work based on the script that was written.
The old McGarrett was stoic and unbending, he was black or white, right or wrong. There are more colors in your character, more gray areas. Tell me how you came up with that, and do you admire the stoic nature of the original McGarrett?
I love Jack Lord’s McGarrett. I love Jack Lord’s hair. I love Jack Lord’s version. He was awesome. I think he started the blue steel (stare), the look that he does, none of which I can get away with today in 2010 on television.
Our Steve McGarrett is a little different. He’s stoic in a lot of ways, though. He’s a military guy. There are a lot of areas where he’s black and white, where he’s very clear. The differences between Danny and Steve are apparent in every episode. Steve goes in one direction and Danny freaks out and he’s like, ‘How can you possibly think that it’s okay to go in that direction?’ And Steve is kind of bemused constantly by Danny’s reactions.
My job is the character. It’s the only thing that I have any kind of control over, the only thing I have any input into at the end of the day. And I found a lot of layers to this guy. You learn a lot about our Steve McGarrett in the very beginning, so I had a lot to work with. There was stuff about his father, about his family, about his estrangement from them, about his military background, about the level of training he’s done.
Is it a reflection of our times that nowadays we can accept a leading character who is not absolutely good or absolutely bad, that you can now show a flawed human being?
I think so. I refuse to show you anything else. And in some of the other work I’ve done, the other bits get cut out and they will show you one version of the performance that I’ve done. But I never deliver a performance on the day that is just one thing, because it’s inaccurate to all of us. None of us are purely benevolent or malevolent. It’s not possible in human nature.
The more flaws and balance you bring to a character, the closer that character moves towards everyman. And if that character is an everyman, then we can all sit back and relate to them like we can’t relate to a superhero.
You’ve been through a couple of shows with CBS. Would it be fair to say you feel move confident this time around?
Yeah, I do. I don’t want to take anything away from the other shows I’ve done. I’ve worked with some incredible people. The other shows were great in their own ways. There’s a reason things either work or don’t work on television. And I don’t know what the answer is. I just keep blundering along to the next thing and hope (they’re successful).
Has Daniel Dae Kim been a resource for you, having spent so much time in Hawaii doing Lost for the past few years?
Yes, he showed me where all the good sushi was. (He’s the unofficial mayor of Waikiki), that’s true; his poster is in every shaved ice shop.