Last December, USA gave me the opportunity to fly down to New Orleans to visit the set of their new show Common Law and meet with some of the cast and co-executive producer Karim Zreik. Yesterday, I shared the first part of the trip, which included dinner, a screening of the pilot, and a chat with Zreik and the lovely Sonya Walger. Today we have the second part of the experience to share with you, which included a tour of the city, a visit to the set, and a chat with Warren Kole, Michael Ealy, Jack McGee, and once again, Karim Zreik.
Common Law stars Michael Ealy and Warren Kole as Travis and Wes, two police detectives who, after years of working together as partners, are sent to couples therapy by their captain (Jack McGee) to work out their differences.
Our second day in New Orleans began with a tour of the city. However, instead of seeing the attractions I expect most people would visit on a trip to the Big Easy, this was a tour with a twist. Common Law is set in Los Angeles, but filmed in New Orleans, which means Location Manager Jimi Woods is tasked to find places around the city that can pass for Los Angeles. Woods led the tour and showed us to some of the places around the city that he was either using, or planning to use for Common Law and talked about what changes might need to be made to transform a small piece of New Orleans into a place that might look like it belonged in Los Angeles. This includes the New Orleans Museum of Art, which will eventually be made to look like the Museum of Contemporary Art.
We also visited the picturesque town of Metairie nearby, which is full of beautiful homes, some of which might be featured in the series at some point or another.
Exterior shots are trickier to set up than interiors, according to what Woods told us. “Interiors are easy to cheat most of the time,” Woods said. “It’s the outside environment that is the workload for me.” As Location Manager, it’s his job to scout and secure the location, which may include working with the city to get things set up. “I secure the locations and I work my way out, all the details,” he told us. Meanwhile, the assistant location manager handles some of the details within that perimeter. “She does the perimeter, base camps, where are we gonna park the crew, where are we gonna feed the crew? All of that’s under my domain. Police, fire, security, all under the locations umbrella. Creature comforts, bathrooms, where are they at? We’re supposed to know, we provide them. Heaters, air conditioning, we do that, too.”
I’ll admit, these aren’t things I gave a lot of thought to prior to listening to Jimi Woods describe his job, but between the stories he shared, and having the opportunity to see some of New Orleans as presented from the perspective of a man who’s trying to find bits of Los Angeles to use for a TV show, I have a deeper appreciation for exterior movie and TV sets and the kind of work that goes into creating a fitting and believable backdrop for even the briefest of scenes.
Now for the interior! We had lunch and were taken to the space used for some of the interior shots for the show, including the inside of the community center, where Wes and Travis have their couples therapy sessions, the bullpen at the police precinct, and the autopsy room. We also got a look at the costumes.
When we spoke with Michael Ealy and Warren Kole about the series, Ealy said the therapy aspect is what sets Wes and Travis apart from other detective pairings we’ve seen in the past. “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,” Ealy said. “I think, yes we are a buddy cop show. That's a component as you can tell, it's a buddy cop show. That's because we're buddies and we're cops but the minute we get into therapy I think we're going into unchartered waters in terms of the buddy cop dynamic.”
While we might be seeing them make some progress in therapy, from the way Kole and Ealy talk about their characters’ relationship, it sounds like their personal issues with one another might actually help them in their professional relationship. “It's tempered well with how excellent they are individually as cops. How they come together,” Kole said. “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 and there's been so many blowouts in the public or in the precinct that what's hilarious is it's almost as if nobody even notices anymore they're just the Bickersons.”
Ealy added on to that, “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.”
And let’s face it, what fun would it be if they got along all the time?
Kole got into some of their characters’ differences and how they even each other out. “Control issues more than anything I think he feels he has to be in control of everything, have control of everything in his life,” Kole said of his character. “He can be a little stubborn about change or being as carefree as Travis is, which evens him out in his work because he'd probably never get anything done because he couldn't make a decision. And vice versa. Wes kind of evens Travis out because Travis would get himself killed if he didn't have someone to pull him back a little bit. Wes is very determined to sort of be a cop no matter what anyone says and he even loses his wife over it. To sort of redeem himself he had a tragic event somewhere in his past and so he's always trying to redeem himself by being a crime fighter.”
Fighting crime is what they do when they aren’t fighting with each other. And that brings us to Jack McGee, who plays Captain Sutton, Travis and Wes’ boss and the man who sentenced them to couples therapy. McGee, whom Rescue Me fans may recognized as Chief Reilly, may be better known for his dramatic work as an actor (more recently, he appeared in Moneyball and The Fighter), but he does like to laugh. “I've done some sitcoms early on, a lot of years ago,” he told us. “I haven't done a lot of comedy in a while and I like to laugh and I like to make people laugh.”
As for the role he plays in Common Law, he says his character Captain Sutton is kind of like a mentor to Wes and Travis. “Kind of like a mentor or a father,” he said, of Sutton. “I see a lot of myself in these guys from years gone by and I'm trying to help them not make the same mistakes that I made.”
Mistakes may be inevitable, but that’s often the case with relationships, isn’t it? Executive producer Karim Zreik was also on set with us, and he described Common Law as a “Bromance gone wrong.” The bromance/buddy-cop aspect comes through nicely in the pilot, and is somewhat reminiscent of certain action-comedies. In fact, it seems the writers were inspired by those types of movies. “We put up about 30 posters - 80’s buddy cop movie posters, up on the writer’s room wall,” Zreik said. “80’s buddy movies. That’s literally the tone we had in mind while making the show. There’s one Turteltaub keeps quoting, Running Scared. Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal. Running Scared is one, Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop...”
These certainly aren’t bad films to draw inspiration from, and it works for the pilot, which twists comedy with action and a bit of drama together for a fun series about two cops with some problems.
You can find more set photos in the gallery below. Included are additional shots of the interior of the community center, which includes random props like yoga balls and other things that suggest the therapy sessions take place in a room that’s used for many things.
Common Law premieres Friday, May 11 at 10/9c on USA.