Actor Morris Chestnut has appeared in big-ticket theatrical movies including Think Like a Man, The Game Plan and, most recently, The Best Man Holiday. This month, he takes his acting skills to the small screen, co-starring in TNT’s new drama Legends (see Review). Chestnut plays Tony Rice, a smart, quick-witted and charming FBI agent in the agency’s Deep Cover Operations division, tasked with helping to thwart potential terrorist attacks within the country. Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead spoke with Chestnut about making the transition from movies to television and about Legends, which also stars Sean Bean (Game of Thrones) and Ali Larter (Heroes).
MCN: You’ve been a big theatrical star, but now you’re moving into the television space. Why are you making the move now?
Morris Chestnut: First and foremost, it was a chance to work with TNT. I love their programming — I watched The Closer all the time and now Major Crimes, and they have some fun with Rizzoli & Isles and their other shows. With [Legends] in particular, it was an opportunity to work with Howard Gordon, a prolific show-runner who has several shows on TV now. They showed me the pilot and said, “We have this show called Legends,” and I was impressed with [series star] Sean [Bean] and the cast, and I said I wanted to be a part of it.
MCN: What is it about your character in Legends that impressed you?
MC: One of the things I liked about the character at the time was that he’s a good family guy, but he has fun with his work. He’s not the typical mad-at-the-world detective that wants to bring everyone to justice. He’s a detective that wants to do his job but he also finds the humor in what he does.
MCN: How big a transition has it been for you to move from acting in theatrical movies to starring in a cable television series?
MC: It’s a big transition because the time that you have allotted to get the script and the time to shoot is worlds apart. When you do a movie like The Best Man Holiday, we had the script two months in advance, so I was able to live with the character before filming. It’s good to be a character on television, but the scripts constantly change. We started an episode on Monday and we didn’t get the script until Sunday, so that’s a huge adjustment — I normally like a lot of time with the script.
MCN: If Legends proves to be successful, will you look at starring in other television series down the line?
MC: I would love for this to be so successful that I wouldn’t have to do another TV show. [Laughs.] I do enjoy working on television. The one thing that I do like about television is that we shot three scenes in two hours, whereas in the movies you shoot three scenes in two days. I do like the fact that once you’re into the character and there emotionally, you get the scenes in and get to them. One particular scene in The Best Man Holiday which was very emotional, I had to stay in that place for at least three hours, and it’s tough when you go that deep into emotional places and sustain that. I do like the immediacy and the pace of television.
MCN: What other projects are you currently working on?
MC: I will be starring in a movie [The Perfect Guy] coming up with Michael Ealy and Sanaa Lathan, and then I’m working on producing a movie as well. Also [producer] Malcom Lee just turned in a script to The Best Man 3, so hopefully in January I’ll be doing that.