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Hot off 'Think Like a Man,' Michael Ealy preps for 'Common Law'

April 30, 2012 |  3:11 pm

Michael Ealy will see if his good fortunes continue with the premiere of USA network's 'Common Law'

Establishing a connection with a partner is Michael Ealy's forte these days.

In "Think Like A Man," currently in theaters, the actor plays Dominic, a dreamer who has his eyes set on a self-assured, self-sufficient woman, played by Taraji P. Henson. On Tuesday, he'll shift his attention to establishing a connection with another kind of mate when his new television show, "Common Law," makes its debut. 

In the USA network dramedy, Ealy plays Travis Marks, an LAPD detective who just can't seem to get along with his partner, Wes Mitchell, played by Warren Kole ("The Chicago Code"). And because bosses tend to make things worse, their captain is forcing them to attend couples' therapy so that they can continue to excel at solving crimes -- instead of bickering.

Show Tracker spoke to Ealy about the new gig, shooting in New Orleans and the art of making running scenes look less tragic.

We’ve seen you on TV before. Had you been looking to play a more central role again?

Yeah, you know, I was the lead of a show called "Sleeper Cell" years ago on Showtime. It was a critical darling and I think after that, like most actors, you tend to go do something different. After I finished that show, I ended up doing three movies and started running down the path of the movie role. Then things kind of slowed down and I changed course, changed my focus and went back to television. That's how I ended up on all of those shows ["The Good Wife," "Californication"]. I was just looking for an opportunity to get back into a lead role on television.

"Common Law" has been described as "The Odd Couple" set in a cop procedural. How would you describe the dynamic between Travis and Wes and why it's worth going through all this trouble to mend their relationship?

To me, the idea that these guys are sent to couple's therapy -- it's worth it because their arrest record is immaculate. That's one of the things we focus on in one of the episodes. They're actually really good at what they do and in order to keep them together, this is the last alternative.

The series is set in Los Angeles but you guys shot in New Orleans. What was that like?

It's very different. New Orleans is a very special city and they've been through a lot. There were times when it felt like Los Angeles. And times when it didn't. So that's kind of a sticky subject, but that's where we are. 

And some changes were made to the pilot, right? The brass wanted more action ... ?

Yes, yes, after seeing the pilot, the network wanted to ramp up the action. We had a little bit, but they wanted more, which is kind of ironic because the original script had a very elaborate car chase and I thought, 'Oh, that will be fun,' but by the time we began shooting, it was gone, of course, for budget reasons. But now we have another action sequence in the pilot, which I think is actually better. I hope you liked it. It's the one in the gas station -- it was fun.

And there's lots of running ....

I used to run track in junior high school and I played sports in junior high school. I'm somewhat of an athlete so I didn't have a problem with it. Me and Warren were kind of complaining in the first couple of episodes about all the foot chases. And, you know, the reality is, real detectives and beat cops do a lot more foot chasing than they do shootouts. The idea that someone could be a detective for 25 years and maybe pull their gun once is kind of like, 'OK, I'll take the foot chase.' I don't think I can be on TV as a cop if I never got to pull my gun, so let's chase some people.

Michael Ealy in a scene from 'Common Law'

You've appeared on shows that have been on broadcast networks, premium channels and now basic cable. Is the difference as vast as it would appear?

Yes. When you're on pay cable, it really is like making a movie. Truly. To be honest, it's probably more -- I mean, they take more chances than even most movies do. They're not worried about a broad audience or mass appeal, so it's very character-related. Showtime, they really were not afraid to go places. On network TV there are some limitations. Now with basic cable, what I'm seeing is there are definitely similarities to network and to premium channels. It's a nice mix of the two.

Well, you've played a doctor, a lawyer, a detective -- how proud is your mom?

Oh, man, that's great. My mom and father are extremely proud. They love it when I don't die. I've done so many movies where I've died that their first question when I book a job is: 'So, are you going to die in this?'

That over sex scenes?

That comes in second: 'Are you naked in this one?' Sometimes I have to be like, 'Yes, mom, I'm somewhat naked in this one. It's just partial nudity. Just my upper body.' It's always interesting to have those talks.

Now to the more pressing question: Do you prefer the sleek suits of "The Good Wife" or the jeans and leather jacket of "Common Law"?

I like them both and here's why: When I'm playing a detective and I have to run and chase down criminals, I like not being inhibited by tailored suits. I'm glad to be wearing jeans and a leather jacket. When I'm playing Derrick Bonds, and I'm "Mr. Debonair" who is a big, high powered attorney who never really gets his hands dirty, but rather pays people do that for him, I'm completely and utterly satisfied in a nice Prada suit.

Right. And I'm sure Derrick wears leather on the weekends anyway.

Ha! Yeah, maybe.

Do you think Derrick would find so much joy in seeing what has happened to Will Gardner (Josh Charles) on "The Good Wife"?

Yes and no. The only thing that Derrick would revel in more is if he could put Will through it. Derrick would like to see Will suffer at his own hands.

Michael Ealy in a scene from 'Think Like a Man'

"Think Like a Man" made a great debut. Everyone seemed to use “surprising” to describe the box office total. And Chris Rock recently said the film's resonance has little to do with the race of its cast. What do you make of how the film has been received and what it says about ... ?

I think "surprising" is a good way to describe it, but I also think that what really happened is we were able to raise the expectations for romantic comedies, period. If you ask anybody who has seen it, it's a romantic comedy that just happens to be cast predominantly with African Americans. Race is never really a big issue in this film so it's a film that technically crosses over. So the numbers are fantastic and you have to give a lot of credit to the studio and the cast who have done everything that has been asked of them to promote this film and then some. It's just about making something you're proud of.

I was in another one like this called "Barbershop." It was made for the same amount of money and people kind of underestimated it -- ourselves included. And it ended up shocking the world and making more than $80 million. I think "Think Like a Man" has the same potential, if not even greater. I just look forward to the day when movies like this come out and it's not a surprise.

As we lead up to the premiere of "Common Law," which do you think will weigh on you more heavily on you: seeing how "Think Like a Man" holds up at the box office, or waiting for the Nielsen numbers for "Common Law"?

For any other movie, I would probably say just the Nielsen numbers would preoccupy me. I would have said "Think Like a Man" is on its own, I'm moving on. But I have a connection with this film and with the cast members. I will hold on to its numbers for as long as it is in theaters because this film means that much to me. I'm so proud of it and I'm proud I'm in a movie that everybody likes. I feel like I've finally made it as an actor. I've been doing this for years and you don't always make a movie that everybody likes.

But "Common Law" is also very important to me. This is my second show as a lead and it's my first opportunity on television to be funny and, you saw it, I hope I was funny. It was a big leap for me.

This wasn't a job that was just handed to me. I took a meeting and the network was like, "Michael Ealy -- he does drama. I don't know about him." I had to go in and audition and earn the job. That's why I'm proud of it as well because they didn't believe I could do comedy. I had to show them I could do comedy. And I was able to earn the job.

Any time you audition and get it, you earned it. Not to say you don't earn a job when you get an offer, but when you go in and audition -- I mean, I auditioned three times. So I feel especially attached to it.

And this is our first season. We're going to learn a lot this season. It was a rough first season. But we're going to learn a lot and hopefully the audience will like us enough to help us get to a second season.

What did you find most challenging about the role -- was it the comedy aspect, which USA likes to incorporate into their shows?

This is the most difficult job I've had. And I know that sounds dramatic and actor-ish, but I swear to you, it is the most difficult job I have ever had: 1) I'm in every scene. That, in it of itself, was grueling. The workload was the heaviest I've ever had. Ever. 2) Comedy is the most difficult thing to do, day in and day out. I have so much respect for stand-up comedians and actors who do comedy for a living. It is phenomenal the amount of energy it takes to be funny on camera. I'm sure there are times during the season where you will see that I am clearly fatigued because at the end of every day I felt more tired and drained than I have ever felt in my entire life and I've never needed a vacation more than I did after I finished "Common Law." It was a monster of a tour for me.

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USA mixes politics and family in new 'Political Animals'

-- Yvonne Villarreal

twitter.com/villarrealy

Photos, from top: Michael Ealy as Travis in a "Common Law" promo shot; Ealy with Warren Kole in a scene from "Common Law"; Ealy with Taraji P. Henson in a scene from "Think Like a Man." Credits: USA; Sony Pictures / Screen Gems

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