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.
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.