Gary Sinise brings ‘a certain humanity’ to his role

Raymond Lo, L.A. Correspondent - The Philippine Star

When one goes to an interview with acclaimed and well-respected Hollywood actor Gary Sinise, there is always that temptation to ask him about the one character that, for better or for worse, made him a household name all over the world. Any writer would be reasonably forgiven if they ask a question or two about the iconic character even with the knowledge that the actor may have already answered a million other variations of the same question about Lieutenant Dan, the proud army man who looked forward to dying in battle and becoming a martyr but who was instead saved by Forrest Gump and lived a bitter life as a double amputee before realizing that there was a greater purpose to his life.

But this writer did not do that nor did the other international journalists who were invited to an exclusive chat with the actor one Saturday morning this winter. What we talked about was Gary’s highly-anticipated new television series Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, which premiered yesterday on AXN.

March 17 also marked, quite coincidentally, Gary’s 61st birthday! (Belated) happy birthday, Gary!

AXN is seen on SKYcable channel 49, Cable Link channel 38, Cignal TV channel 61, Destiny Cable channel 61, Dream channel 20 and GSAT channel 51.

Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, a planted spinoff of Criminal Minds, is a drama about the specialized International Division of the FBI tasked with solving crimes and coming to the rescue of Americans who find themselves in danger while abroad. In the series, Gary plays International Response Unit chief Jack Garrett, a 20-year veteran of the Bureau. His team includes a smart, well-traveled and multi-lingual cultural anthropologist; a former military hero with split-second profiling skills he honed on the battlefield; a brilliant tech analyst who additionally liaises stateside with the families of those in trouble while his group is far from home, and a fearless medical examiner who supports the team. Jack and his exceptional agents are dedicated to safely returning US residents home by profiling and identifying criminals who are beyond the US borders.

Gary brings to the series over 40 years of experience on stage, film and television. Apart from his Oscar-nominated turn in Forrest Gump, his additional film credits include acclaimed performances in Apollo 13, Ransom, The Human Stain, Reindeer Games, The Green Mile and The Quick and the Dead. On television, Gary has starred as Detective “Mac” Taylor for nine seasons in the CBS drama series CSI: NY and has won awards for his performances in the television movies George Wallace and Truman.

He also brings to his role a certain humanity that the actor has shown in real life through his tireless philanthropic and humanitarian efforts. Throughout the years, Gary has supported and continues to support a variety of veterans’ organizations, both personally and through his Lt. Dan Band, named after his Forrest Gump character. He performs regularly on United Service Organizations (USO) tours at military bases around the world. In 2011, he launched the Gary Sinise Foundation to honor the nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need, providing and supporting programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen and build communities.

With all the awards he received for his endless work on behalf of the military, it’s no wonder why he was tapped to play the lead character in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. He is among a few select individuals to have ever been presented with a Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian honor awarded to citizens for exemplary deeds performed in service of the nation. He was named an Honorary Chief Petty Officer by the United States Navy and an Honorary Marine by the United States Marine Corp.

So, yes, no other actor deserves to be in Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders and save Americans in peril than good old Lieutenant Dan.

Here are excerpts from our interview:

How do you feel about just leading another procedural show?

“Well, there’s a technique to it. I got very comfortable with it from CSI: New York. In the beginning, the studio was looking for us to, you know, kind of stay within this certain thing, and then as the show evolved over a period of time and our audience started embracing the show more and more, they wanted to know more about the characters, and they wanted to see home life and see different personal storylines involving our characters and everything like that. And so, I think, while we’re establishing some of that in our first 13 episodes, if the show continues on, we’ll be able to explore a little bit more of that as time goes on, and as our audience welcomes us into their homes and wants to see us a little bit more. But, you know, I also really enjoyed playing these heroes. These are people that spend a lot of time in a very dark world, dealing with very challenging issues and cases and people and events that they have to go through. So, you know. And we’re lucky that we have a lot of people that want to do that kind of work. And it’s a privilege to be able to play them, and try to show off, you know, how qualified these people are, and that how grateful we are that we have people out there that are doing this dangerous work.”

People talk about the state of procedurals. They were so big in the 2000s and TV has changed so much in the last few years, but you’re one of those guys who bring character to this all the time. People just like seeing you every week on TV!

“I hope you’re right about that (laughs). I don’t know. I had a lot of great good fortune with the CSI series that we did for nine seasons. And I discovered when I would travel with my different USO tours, I’d go to these different countries, and actually discovered that the show is very popular, and people seem to enjoy seeing it every week, and all that. So when the idea of doing another series with CBS came about, and Erica (Messer) and Mark Gordon approached me about this, going into another successful franchise seemed interesting to me, because I had already had some success with the other franchise. And, you know, we haven’t hit the airwaves yet, but we’re all pretty pumped about the show, we’ve had a great time doing it. And I hope you’re right, that the audience is going to want to see another series, and something that I’m doing. You always hope that the audience wants to see you. You know, that’s why you keep working.”

Gary, sometimes you hear about jobs that you’ll take because you get to travel. (Laughter.) Would this be one of those for you?

“(Laughs) I get to travel from where I live, to Downtown L.A.”

Really? So you’re not going around the world for this?

“I get to pretend I’m traveling a lot, to a lot of different countries. That’s one of the interesting things about this show, is that every episode takes place in a different environment, different set of rules, different country, different cultures, and all of that. So, it was fun. And when Erica approached me about this, I thought it was a great idea.”

You mentioned the international element of the show. Can you tell us a couple of the countries that L.A. does stand in for, and hint at some of the cases that we might come across?

“Erica will speak on that, too. I mean, it’s amazing how much you can find here in Los Angeles. And we have a great set designer who’s done a remarkable job. Erica sat down with her team of writers to kind of decide which countries we were going to go to in our first 13 episodes.”

(Erica revealed that they have shot all 13 episodes already. The countries that the series will be visiting include Thailand, Haiti, India, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Paris, Tokyo, South Africa and Spain. This writer asked Erica playfully if she would consider bringing the characters to a Philippine setting and she told us that’s what they have in mind for the Season 2. Watch for it, Philippines!

This writer also asked Erica if the writers choose France as one of the settings before the tragic mass shooting late last year. She informed me that they already shot the episode before the incident and that they did not consider tossing the episode because they purposely stayed away from any stories involving terrorist attacks. “It’s happening in the world,” she added. “And not that we’ll be able to avoid it forever. We’re telling an international crime show. But it felt like for these first 13, we’re keeping it a little more, I don’t want to say grounded, but smaller stories that could happen to you going abroad. Obviously, a terrorist attack could happen while you’re abroad. But we kept this very small, that these offenders are attacking small individual groups versus — individuals versus a group.”)

How can you define your character? Is he a workaholic? Is he conflicted?

“No. We discussed early on the type of person that he might be. And having been on television for nine years in a series where I was kind of playing a kind of a grieving 9/11 family member. For those who saw CSI: New York, he lost his wife on 9/11 and he was kind of a little bit of a loner. He really put everything into the job and all that.

“We discussed early on the idea of going another direction, where he is a law enforcement officer, a public servant who has a successful family life; he’s got a lot of kids and, you know, somehow he’s married to his high school sweetheart, and they’ve raised a family. And that is representative of so many of our law enforcement officials, actually. You know, they’re not all guys that just can’t go to sleep at night, and everything like that. Even though they do see a lot of very dark things and very terrible things, but there’s a whole faction of law enforcement people, FBI agents, CIA folks, police officers, firefighters, whatnot, who raise their kids and have families, and somehow find their way through navigating the home life with the job.

“And we wanted to explore that. So, you know, while he’s a very, very good, qualified senior official in the FBI and has seen a lot of things, he’s also trying to be a good dad at the same time.”

Now what are the characteristics that you would put in a good character?

“Yeah, there are certain series where the — you know, you watch them because you like to watch them be bad, you know (laughs). They’re entertaining as bad guys and everything like that. This, you know, there’s no question here who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. We’re chasing bad guys until the end, and then something happens. You know, usually we get the bad guy.”

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