James Badge Dale
James Badge Dale Image Credit: Starzplay

Before US actor James Badge Dale embraced his role as Detective Ray Abruzzo in crime drama ‘Hightown’, he hadn’t starred in a series in 10 years.

He had taken a very intentional break from the small screen, where he had shone in shows such as ‘24’ and ‘The Pacific’.

“The last TV show that I did was a show called Rubicon on AMC and I made a choice,” he told brieftake.com. “I was like: ‘Look, I want to go play different characters and I want to travel’, and basically I had a couple of pit bulls, I threw them in the pickup truck and we travelled all over, for 10 years, acting for money doing different weird things.”

Hightown S2 on STARZPLAY (1)-1634558905970
A still from 'Hightown'. Image Credit: Starzplay

The star, who kicked off his career with 1990’s ‘Lord of the Flies’, went on to star in a string of movies including ‘Iron Man 3’, ‘World War Z’ and ‘Only the Brave’. Ahead of the release of season two of ‘Hightown’ on October 18, Dale talked to Gulf News about why the series was the perfect way for him to return to TV.

“Oh, I love this show… maybe I’m biased because I get to work with everybody, but I love this show and I love the people on it,” he said over a Zoom interview. “I think the characters are so compelling, the actors have brought so much depth to them. [Director and writer] Rebecca [Cutter] keeps this thing moving and unfolding in this kind of beautiful tone. And I just think it’s really cool show… I love shows that have female leads and we have so many strong women on the show and it’s a pleasure to watch them work.”

The first season of ‘Hightown’ follows National Marine Fisheries Service Agent Jackie Quinones (Monica Raymund) who, after a debauched night of alcohol and drug abuse, finds the body of a murdered woman in Cape Cod. This leads Detectives Alan Saintille (Dohn Norwood) and Ray Abruzzo (Dale) to launch an investigation into the local opioid epidemic.

In the second season, Ray has fallen from grace and had his police badge taken away. Talking to Gulf News, Dale opened up about the series and how he tackles dark concepts.

Could you tell me a bit about ‘Hightown’ and about your character Ray?

‘Hightown’ is a show about the heroin trade on Cape Cod, and it explores the lives of a number of different characters who are involved in the drug trade on different ends. And Ray Abruzzo is a or was a narcotics officer. In the first season of our show he’s he really lives in that gray area. And unfortunately, he’s made a lot of mistakes and he’s paying the price. He’s no longer a police officer.

Your character is quite rough around the edges and has shades of grey. How did you get into the shoes of your character?

Oh, I have so much fun playing this guy. I’ll just say it getting into shoes of the character, sometimes it’s hard. Your job is to kind of go to dark places maybe you don’t want to go and expose parts of yourself you don’t want to expose.

But what I love about this is, you know, Rebecca Cutter, who’s our showrunner and the creator of the show and our writer, she comes to me and she asked me what I want, and all I want is to be pushed. All I’ve asked for is to be thrown against the wall one way, then thrown against wall the other way… to take risks. And she’s just written an amazing second season for everybody. It’s fairly Shakespearean. But I’m really grateful for the material that she’s passing my way.

You said you like being pushed to an extreme. But how do you prevent that from getting to you as a person?

You really have to work not to take your work home with you. You make the separation. So it’s kind of part of the job and some days you’re successful at it and some days you’re not and, you know, you go to bed, try to wake up and start over again the next morning.

It is quite a difficult and dark subject matter. In the recent past there have been a couple of tragic deaths related to Fentanyl. How relevant do you think the show is now? What is the message that the show has amid these trying times?

There’s a line, I believe in the first episode of this season, that it’s not just on Cape Cod, it’s everywhere. And, you know what has happened with the opioid epidemic in the United States and all over the world, we’ve had large drug companies push their pharmaceuticals and ended up with a lot of people who are addicted to opioids that you wouldn’t expect. The fentanyl’s an especially dangerous addition to this problem. I mean I live on a small fishing town on the East Coast myself and it’s been prevalent here this summer and it’s incredibly sad.

How does the show tackle this issue without trivialising it?

Thank you for asking that. We talk about that every day. You know, I think we try. You’re making a television show and there’s different elements you’re bringing into this. And you know, it’s another character in our story and you have to make a real effort to do it with respect and integrity. We have a wonderful team of actors and filmmakers who have a deep knowledge and respect of the problem at hand and we try to do it right.

One thing that I feel is extremely popular, and it’s been popular for years, is the cop drama. Why do people love this genre so much and why does it always seem to draw an audience?

You know, I think the same thing sometimes. I’m a big fan of true crime myself. It’s always kind of fascinating to see this other side of the human existence. You can ask yourself a question, ‘are human beings inherently good or are they inherently evil.’ I think we are inherently good and we live this life trying to help each other and every day trying to be a good person but there seems to be this other element and it’s kind of a voyeuristic way in.

Is it kind of wish fulfilment to see justice being played out on screen even if the characters are imperfect? Yeah, I think we all hope that the right thing is being done. It doesn’t always go that way. That’s the truth about life is that I think it’s a chaotic world and despite our best efforts sometimes things don’t go right. But in that itself there’s always an opportunity for redemption.

James Badge Dale
James Badge Dale Image Credit: Starzplay

Speaking of cop dramas. What would you say your favourite cop dramas that you’ve drawn from while playing this character?

‘The French Connection’ had a big effect on me growing up. In the cop drama, there’s also the gangster drama. I think they’re kind of interchangeable. I think ‘Mean Streets’ might be the movie that I’ve watched maybe the second most times in my life - probably 20 something times. I think the first season of ‘True Detective’ kind of cracked open a possibility to really look at the crime drama in a modern way [and go] deeper, and to really sift through these layers of the onion that you can kind of peel. You know, I think you got to remember that being a police officer is just an occupation and all these people are human beings. You want to study the human being and not the occupation.

I was watching a couple of your other interviews and you mentioned that you took a break from TV for around 10 years. What is it like returning to TV, especially amid a pandemic when things have changed so much?

Two different sides of that. Filming during production is a different thing. I don’t know if people understand how close-knit a film crew is — and I mean close in physical proximity. You work with a camera crew, you work with the dolly grips and the electric crew. We’re all on top of each other in a closed environment for 12 hours a day.

So there’s a lot of trust involved and we shot the second season during a pandemic and I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed coming to work because you’re not seeing anybody outside of work. You’re basically in a quarantine bubble environment; you go home, you cook dinner and that’s it. The only time you’re socialising is when you show up to work and not only did we have great time with each other but I think it helped us on the creative side.

If you could explore some other genres in your career, what are some of the things that you would like to do?

I’ve never been someone who has planned things out. I kind of read something and if I get interested in it I run towards it. But as an audience member I’m a fan of different genres. I like sci-fi. I like fantasy elements. I like a well-done horror film. I do like family dramas. I think the one thing that I am most scared about doing his comedy because I’m just not funny guy.

Don’t miss it!

The second season of ‘Hightown’ kicks off on October 18 on Starzplay, with a new episode releasing every Monday.