Theo James is probably best known for his one episode of Downton Abbey, where he died in Lady Mary’s bed, during sex. Now he’s starring in his first American TV series, Golden Boy, which is on tonight, March 8th (see note at end!).
After only three years as a beat cop, Walter William Clark Jr’s heroics on the job make him bold enough to ask for the unheard of promotion to homicide detective, where he is partnered by Detective Don Owens (Chi McBride), who is just two years shy of retirement.
Laser-focused on moving up the ladder as quickly as possible, the series chronicles the Clark’s rise to being the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City.
I spoke with Theo about his new role and the endless reaction to his Downton Abbey appearance.
I saw the darker side of Clark as his ambition. What do you see it as?
That’s what I liked about this show. It’s a story about a single ruthless person, who you see blossom. You see his journey from the top to the bottom. I think he comes from a very dark place.
He’s basically from a crime family and he chose the other direction. There were some abusive things that went on, and I think that fuels him. I think he wants to disassociate himself in every way with that part of his life.
Can you relate to him at all?
Yeah, definitely. When I turned up for the table read of the pilot, I’m a young dude who is not known really and all these actors had more experience than me in many ways.
We’re very good friends now, but there was a bit of, ‘Who is this guy? Where did he come from?’ I felt that and I was nervous at first, but then I thought, ‘I can use this to my advantage, and I have to step up to the plate otherwise I’m done.’
The mentor-mentee relationship between your character and Chi’s is the heart of the series. Can you talk about that?
I think it was something that developed naturally from when we started the pilot. There was a synergy between us, and we had a good natural chemistry.
That element of it is something that I really love, the father-son, the Obi-Wan-Luke Skywalker kind of thing, the lessons that are learned. Also, Owen is not flawless either. You see through the series that he can make mistakes as well.
So they’re teaching each other. Owen is this old guy who’s given up, and I’m bringing out the best in him. Then with me he’s tempering my central morality between whether I choose the darker nature that Clark leans towards, or I use the law for the purpose of good.
What about the American accent. Was that hard for you?
I think the key with doing a really good accent is you do a lot of prep. I hung out as much as possible in New York City. I also had a dialect coach.
I get in the van in the morning and I speak with his American accent pretty much all week, and then on the weekends, when I’m having a few beers, I go back to being this English guy.
I was walking along yesterday just before we left New York, and there were these two British guys talking on the street, having a coffee. And I remember thinking in my head, (says in an American accent) ‘Damn British guys!’ And I’m English!
How different is it to do American television?
It’s very different actually. When you do an American TV show, there’s a sense of being one with the crew and there’s a leadership element, which was a learning curve for me.
It’s a very different culture in Britain. You just do the job.
Have you kept up with Downton Abbey?
I haven’t seen the third season. I saw parts of the second season. It’s a great show. I knew it was going to be great because it had that sense of quality.
Were you sorry that they killed you off so soon?
Even before I auditioned I knew he [died], so there wasn’t much I could do about that. It’s funny, I reckon I had 20 minutes of screen time on it.
I think having sex and then dying is pretty salacious. I still get people going, ‘Mr. Pamuk.’
How is Theo adjusting to living in America? Click here to listen to his answer.
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CBS changed its mind about moving Golden Boy to Fridays after its two-week Tuesday tryout. However to confuse matters, a new episode (103) airs today (Friday) but next week he’s is back on Tuesdays (104)!