Martin Donovan on Playing Rogue’s Corrupt Deputy

May 15, 2013

Sometimes the gangsters aren’t the real bad guys – or at least they aren’t the worst bad guys. In the case of Rogue, Oakland’s Deputy Richard Campbell uses his power on the police force to make deals with the gangsters while stealing their money from right under their noses. What’s it like to play a man who pretends to be a defender against evil, but is really pure evil himself? Martin Donovan tells our Rogue insider Ira Parker all about it.

Ira Parker: How would you describe your character?
Martin Donovan: He’s obsessed with power. I think like most people who cause trouble in the world are obsessed with power. He’s the central tenant of his existence really. He’s not a sociopath, he’s a control freak.

IP: Do you think Campbell is a moral person?
MD: In a certain way, he probably has his own sense of morality. In his mind his power is ethical and moral, because he probably thinks that him having power is better than anybody else having it. Better he has it than the other deviants.

IP: How did you prepare for your role?
MD: I’ve been on the planet for 55 years and that was my prep.

IP: Ha ha. What planet were you on before?
MD: Ha ha. I don’t know, I try to absorb the scripts and get a good sense from the writer, Matthew, of his intentions for my character’s world view. And I look at the theme and tone of the piece as best as I can because these things, especially in their infancy, are evolving and unfolding in real time. It’s taken me a long time to get this far as an actor, but it really comes down to just being present for the scene and getting familiar with who this guy is on a basic level and then trusting the writing.

IP: You’ve played cops before. How does this experience compare?
MD: It’s usually more interesting to play people who are outside the law who are, quote unquote, “the bad guys.” I’ve played a lot of very positive protagonists. I don’t know if I’ve ever played any heroes, but it’s more satisfying and more of a challenge, but also more gratifying to find the humanity in the bad, than it is to find the humanity that’s written on the page for the hero. It’s kind of all there, it’s let out for you. When you are handed a character that is “bad.” you could stand back and objectively say this guy is despicable and his behavior is despicable, but that’s never how I approach it.

I’ve played a guy who was having sex with his daughter. That was a challenge, but I decided that I was going to play it like the greatest love story ever told. I just decided that he was in love with his daughter, she was beautiful, and it was a love story. That’s how I played it. That’s the only way I could have played it. People watching it are cringing in horror, but I can’t play a creep, I can’t play an asshole, I can’t play a monster, and I can’t play a murderer. I can play human beings; that’s all I can do. And we are all capable of doing all these terrible things.

So my job is to make it as difficult as possible for the audience to hate or to judge the person that I’m playing if he’s doing terrible things. I don’t let them off the hook; I don’t want to let the character off the hook for what they did. I just want to make sure that it’s difficult for the audience to just dismiss him as “a bad guy.” That’s my job.

IP: So you don’t separate “good Campbell” from “bad Campbell”?
MD: Never. No I never think about a scene as being, “this is where I’m bad.” Never. That’s death. That’s bad acting. If you’re thinking about what the character is doing, trying to act good or bad, it’s going to be terrible.

IP: What part of Campbell’s personally would you say is the most like your own?
MD: People are dazzled by actors who disguise themselves. This is what gets you Oscars. And I can tell you from personal experience that most actors who are honest say it’s easier to disguise yourself than it is to be present and bring yourself. If you think about any of the great actors in the film industry, like Marlon Brando, did he ever really disguise himself? Did you ever say, “Oh wow he totally transformed himself?” No, he was Marlon Brando. He was so beautiful and present and committed in whatever role he did, you were mesmerized. He didn’t do a funny walk and change his voice. So I would say everything about Campbell, all of the facets of Campbell, I’m trying to access in my personality. Whatever he is doing in the moment, I’m trying to find how I would do it.

IP: What type of songs do you think we’d find on Campbell’s playlist?
MD: He’s probably classic rock. He doesn’t have any Clash or Sex Pistols, any punk. He’s classic rock.

IP: Favorite scene of the season?
MD: The one out in the park with Matthew Beard (Max). There’s some coming up this week with Jimmy that I’m looking forward to. I like all of them so far. I wouldn’t want to narrow it down to one, but of what I’ve shot, the one in the park comes to mind.

IP: What’s the best and worst part about being on set?
MD: Ha ha. There’s no worst part about being on set. Nothing that I would complain about because I know how lucky I am to have a job. I mean, the most difficult thing is maintaining your concentration, but the worst part, I don’t know. I guess waiting around. The best part is collaborating with people, working as a team, and then finding the zone – when your concentration is so good that you have no sense of anything else around you. You’re in the scene. That’s why I do it.

IP: Throughout the season, Campbell never does any of his own dirty work. Why does he make an exception with Mitch?
MD: There is nobody else who can do it really. He’s got to do it. Fleming screwed up and you don’t send a boy to do a man’s job. If you want it done right, it’s got to be done.

IP: Who would win in a fight between Jimmy and Campbell?
MD: I’m thinking probably Jimmy. Ha ha.

IP: Campbell’s got all that police training though.
MD: Yes, ha ha. But that’s not how he wins. He doesn’t win through physical fights. It’s not who he is.

IP: As a kid, when you played cops and robbers, were you the cop or the robber?
MD: We played cowboys and indians. Man I’m trying to remember now. I’m sure I played them all. I don’t know, I think I probably wanted to be the cowboy.

IP: Why does Campbell decide to put Alec in charge at the end?
MD: I think it’s a holding maneuver. It buys him some time. I think ultimately Campbell’s going to have to work around Alec. So, it is just a matter of convenience at the moment. Rearguard action. Get some stability and we’ll see what happens. I can’t imagine he thinks it’s a permanent situation.

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