BAKULA’S NEW EN­TER­PRISE

Twenty-five years after leap­ing into prime-time tele­vi­sion, Scott Bakula is once again try­ing to put right what once went wrong, this time as the leader of NCIS: New Or­leans, writes James Croot.

The Press - The Box - - COVER STORY -

Louisiana might be new ter­ri­tory for Scott Bakula, but when it comes to top billing a prime-time tele­vi­sion show, he’s been here be­fore. Beloved as the time-trav­el­ling, vis­age-shift­ing Dr Sam Beck­ett in 1990s sci-fi Quantum Leap, the softly spo­ken ac­tor, who turns 60 this week, also spent four sea­sons at the helm of Star Trek: En­ter­prise. So who bet­ter take on the man­tle of head­lin­ing a spinoff to what is the world’s most popular tele­vi­sion drama, NCIS.

Speak­ing on the phone from the NCIS: New Or­leans set in Louisiana, Bakula ad­mits to feel­ing a mix of ex­cite­ment and trep­i­da­tion about tak­ing on the role of Dwayne ‘‘King’’ Pride.

‘‘I’m hugely grate­ful for the chance and we have the dream in terms of bring­ing eyes to the tele­vi­sion set thanks to NCIS be­ing the No. 1 show on the planet. But the bar is very high and we still have to make the show and make it a good one be­cause of the world we live in now. If peo­ple don’t like it, they will leave.

‘‘Our chal­lenge is to give au­di­ences some­thing fa­mil­iar that also feels unique. It is still about solv­ing crimes and find­ing dead bod­ies, but we’re go­ing about that kind of business with this New Or­leans flair.’’

Bakula says the writ­ers have treated their back­drop like another character in the show.

‘‘New Or­leans has a unique his­tory as a great melt­ing pot of all kinds of cul­tures and that man­i­fests it­self now through the food, the mu­sic and the kinds of peo­ple who live there. Our show is full of lo­cal mu­si­cians, food ref­er­ences and eat­ing and a bit of crime solv­ing.’’

De­scrib­ing the city as filled with ‘‘sur­vivors madly pas­sion­ate about this place where they live’’, the St Louis-born ac­tor (‘‘same river, but way dif­fer­ent as a city’’) con­fesses to be­ing in awe of how the res­i­dents have re­bounded from the dev­as­ta­tion wrought by Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005.

‘‘It’s just in­spi­ra­tional how they’ve picked them­selves up and the city feels very much in re­vival right now. I shot a movie here a cou­ple of years ago – Else and Fred [due in New Zealand cin­e­mas next month] – and it has ex­ploded since then with new restau­rants and new ar­eas hav­ing opened up.

‘‘There’s tons of work be­ing done. We’ve been shoot­ing in some places out­side the city and lo­cals would say, ‘Yeah, this was 20 feet un­der­wa­ter’. We re­cently shot at a lo­cal parish which at one stage was 9 feet un­der­wa­ter and they had bod­ies from 1812 float­ing up in the ceme­tery – hor­rific stuff – and yet they’ve put it all back to­gether again.’’

De­spite strug­gling with the heat (‘‘we’re melt­ing, but sur­viv­ing’’), Bakula says he has no re­grets about sign­ing on, drawn as he was to Pride’s com­plex character and flaws.

‘‘Orig­i­nally part of the New Or­leans po­lice depart­ment, he knows ev­ery­thing about the city – the char­ac­ters, coun­cil men, po­lice chiefs and every­body in the parishes. He has a great pas­sion for the city but he’s also got a lot of prob­lems. His daugh­ter is go­ing to col­lege and he loves his job a lit­tle bit more than his wife, so his mar­riage is on the rocks. He doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily play by the rules and pushes up against the suits in [Wash­ing­ton] DC a bit.

‘‘For a long-run­ning TV show, you’re look­ing for a character who is in­ter­est­ing and vi­brant and you can imag­ine go­ing into all kinds of dif­fer­ent ar­eas. If I’m lucky enough to be around for a lit­tle bit [the show has been picked up for just 13 episodes so far] there are lots of dif­fer­ent ways to take him.’’

Key to help­ing Bakula ac­cli­ma­tise to the city and the character has been the show’s tech­ni­cal ad­viser D’Wayne Swear.

The for­mer chief of the real New Or­leans Naval Crim­i­nal In­ves­tiga­tive Ser­vice of­fice, Swear has been a con­stant source of in­for­ma­tion and in­spi­ra­tion for the ac­tor.

‘‘Talk to him for 20 min­utes and he’s got five dif­fer­ent sto­ries. He’s been at it for a long time and he’s now semi-re­tired, but he’s so per­son­able and so en­thu­si­as­tic. He’s my big­gest fan, too, and wants me and the show to do well.’’

Asked how mak­ing a tele­vi­sion show has changed in the past 25 years, Bakula says he feels like it was a lot more fun back then.

‘‘It is very cor­po­rate now and the cre­ative vi­sion is driven by mar­ket­ing and other is­sues. TV shows are be­ing treated like movies now – you’ve got to get out of the gate strong and the fin­gers pulling the plug are a lot quicker . . . So, if this works, great, but if they say ‘look, we tried it and it doesn’t work’, then I’ll go back to the un­em­ploy­ment line and go look for another job.’’

Scott Bakula: Stars as Dwayne ‘‘King’’ Pride in a New Or­leans-set NCIS spinoff.

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