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I was lucky enough to sit down with Philip Winchester on the eve of his new TV showing airing, Chicago Justice, on Universal Channel UK to hear why; he’s left his action hero life behind, dealing with difficult themes in an adult way and how we’re now in the platinum age of television!
BRWC: So from action hero in Strike Back and 24, what attracted you to this role [Pete Stone in Chicago Justice]?
PW: Look, I think people oh he’s this guy or he’s this guy and the work is always going to be like that. For me it came down to I had a meeting with Dick Wolf, who is the godfather of t.v. and he said shall we give this a shot. I said well I would be a fool to say no to him. So really the decision was made for me by being in the presence of such an impactful and powerful man of television. I came off Strike Back and The Player and I had the time of my life on these two shows. I enjoy action. He [Dick Wolf] was gracious and kind and gave me the space to learn and grow and he surrounded me with amazing actors and gave me amazing words so a lot of the hardwork was done for me. Michael Chernuchin who wrote on Law and Order for 20 years is our lead writer and so we are really fortunate. He took me under his wing. In essence they created this space for me to fail and to learn and that’s the safest environment an actor can hope for.
BRWC: Picking up on that how much influence did you have in developing the character?
PW: I was really fortunate. I could speak to Michael Chernuchin and say this is stuff that interests me/works for me. He’s such a good writer that he could pick up on who I am as a man and what I find interesting and don’t . We talked about politics and religion, race, culture. This stuff is important so we put this into the character.
BRWC: Do you ever allow that kind of social commentary, like what’s happening in politics right now, to get put into the show?
RW: Right, well none of that stuff is going to make its way in. It’s more sort of the essence about what would fire me up about a situation and that stuff happens to Stone. I like that. Politics and television and that kind of stuff, I mean there are platforms to do that and I don’t think [the show] is the right place. Actors talking about politics is never the right thing because we’re never really going to be perceived as that person wholly because that’s not who we are. It’s a character that we portray and we shouldn’t have that character portray who we are as real people as that is confusing.
BRWC: That’s refreshing to hear.
PW: That’s not my 10 pence.
BRWC: That’s good because it means the show is a show.
PW: Exactly, the show is a show. Peter Stone is not who me by any stretch of the imagination.
BRWC: The show follows the Law and Order format.
PW: Exactly [Jon and Joelle] go out and get the bad guys and bring them into me and we follow that Law and Order format not to a T but mostly.
BRWC: For the strike back role, I read you really like to prepare so how did you prepare for this?
PW: I watched Law and Order and read Law for Dummies and hung out with M Chernuchin who is our lead writer and used to be a lawyer.
BRWC: Do you think there’s a danger of fatigue, with all the plethora of legal shows out there?
PW: Part of the brilliance of Dick Wolf is he knows what works and what doesn’t. We’ve only done 13 episodes. I heard someone say it’s not the golden age but the platinum age of television. There’s so much good stuff out there you’ve got to have a good, quirky or sexy show and I think Dick Wolf makes damn good drama.
BRWC: So what makes Chicago Justice stand out from the rest? How would you describe this show?
PW: I was impressed we were tackling hot button issues and not shying away from those. We [Carl Weathers and I] sat down together and said we have a Black states attorney and have an assistant state’s attorney. Can we get in a room and talk about race as adults and not beat around the bush. He agreed. We went to our writers and said lets talk about race like men and women and not like children. It’s honest and it hurts to be honest and that keeps people watching.
BRWC: TV is like radio either you’re in or out in the first few mintues.
PW: Yep, I think Dick said you get three chances to make a first impression. If it doesn’t work then you’re out.
Chicago Justice airs Thursdays at 9pm on Universal Channel.