PRODIGAL SON Post-Mortem: Frank Harts on JT's NYPD Dilemma - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

PRODIGAL SON Post-Mortem: Frank Harts on JT’s NYPD Dilemma

January 19, 2021 by  

Prodigal Son Frank Harts season 2 interview

PRODIGAL SON: L-R: Lou Diamond Phillips and Frank Harts in the “It’s All In The Execution” season two premiere episode of PRODIGAL SON airing Tuesday, Jan. 12 (9:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2020 Fox Media LLC Cr: Phil Caruso/FOX

[Warning: This post contains spoilers for the Tuesday, January 19 episode of PRODIGAL SON.]

Following JT (Frank Harts) being racially profiled during a call on the PRODIGAL SON premiere, he continued to struggle to figure out how to move forward in the Fox drama’s second episode of season 2.

“We know we can solve a murder each week, but we can’t solve racism,” PRODIGAL SON co-creator Chris Fedak previously acknowledged. “It’s very much us doing research, too, about what happens inside the NYPD and police forces when someone makes a complaint about this. That was something where we thought we could have a perspective, and also a way of addressing it in our current climate.”

In “Speak of the Devil,” JT leaned on his boss, Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips) for insight about where to go from there, admitting he didn’t know what was right.

With JT stuck in an impossible situation, Harts shared his thoughts on portraying this storyline on-screen, his character’s struggles going forward, and more…

To go back to the premiere for a second, obviously you were portraying a fictionalized scene, but police profiling is something that is a very real problem. What conversations did you have with the creative team and your fellow performers so the scene could be filmed in a way that was as comfortable as possible given its delicate nature?
After George Floyd, I got on the phone with Chris [Fedak] and Sam [Sklaver], and they were very, very interested in hearing my point of view as an individual and as an actor.

The biggest thing for me was I found myself losing sleep over the knowledge I was in between season 1 and season 2 of a show, about to go back, and, as a Black man, play a cop on television after all this stuff had happened. I wanted to know the directions we might go in. We had a lot of conversations. Episodes 2×01 and 2×02 are what came out of that.

I was so happy to see they heard my concerns, and that these weren’t just one-off episodes tied up in a neat little bow in the end. It was about Black man dealing with these systematic issues, but also the slow burn of trying to solve the problem over time, as opposed to just brush your shoulders off, racism solved in one episode of television.

When it got to that scene, at the end of 2×01, I found myself sort of feeling a lot of things all at once. I was honored and proud, as an actor, to represent this multi-dimensional character and situation on screen that the country was dealing with. And, at the same time, I was frightened and scared beyond belief, because I wanted to do it justice, and didn’t really know how I was going to line everything up.

All of the training, the millions of Shakespearean roles I’ve played over the years, in a way, prepared me for [this], but there were not enough tools in the box to approach this the way that you want. But somehow I was able to cobble it all together.

And with the great writing and direction from Antonio [Negret], come up with what you see there—that heart-wrenching moment where a guy like JT, who is a military veteran, bleeds blue, has to make a decision about what to do in a moment where he’s being choked out by one of his own fellow officers. And then, furthermore, what to do after that takes place. It’s a dilemma, one of the hardest things I think JT’s ever had to deal with in his life: over his tours in the military, over growing up in the streets of New York, being shot at, being almost blown up, nothing was as difficult as having to make a decision to go against one of your own, potentially.

JT goes through all of the emotions in the first two episodes as he grapples with how to proceed from here. We, as viewers, know you’re not leaving the show, but at this point, how is JT grappling with moving forward?
He definitely does not know how this is going end. But he knows that he has a son on the way, a Black son coming into the world, and a family to take care of. He has to not only keep his job, but keep himself together, psychologically, and spiritually.

The way I’ve been approaching the episodes following [tonight is] just by being a guy who is trying to look at the world in a more positive way, even though everything was sort of crumbling around him; sort of take the when they go low, we go high approach. [Laughs.] It’s not easy, and I’m not saying that it’s actually, you know, successful. But that’s the that’s the thing that I’m pushing against, as an actor trying to make happen. Because we don’t know how it’s going to end yet. We don’t know what the actual conclusion of the situation is going to be. It’s all about how JT is going to deal with it. And luckily, he has Gil and Dani on his side—and Bright—to help him deal with that. Especially Gil, when dealing with a union.

The JT’s colleagues are overwhelmingly BIPOC. How much is he leaning on them throughout the experience?
That was one of the things that excited me about doing the show from the beginning was when I saw the diverse nature of the police force, I said, this is great. A lot of times, you’ll see shows, but people of color in the shows are just like backdrops, they’re not really like doing anything, no dimensions. It’s like, we just did this for the poster, you know? What was great about this was that there was a real desire to make these multi-dimensional. And so when you get to a situation like this, as an actor, you feel like you have real, true characters to lean on and talk to about this.

The only problem is, for JT, everybody’s—and really, most of the NYPD that he works with—we’re cops first, so he doesn’t really know, even though people might have the same skin color, how people see [what’s going on]/ So you don’t really know how they think about what happened to George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. All you know is what happened to you when you were choked out against the wall; he has to walk softly. Even though they they have his back, they’re still cops first. And so you have to feel that out. And it’s a tricky situation. But in the end, I think he does find that, as he suspected, they’re on his side. They’re on his team, and they’re there to fight for him, until the end, until justice is served, whatever that may be.

As you mentioned earlier, JT is about to have his own child. How much is he looking at the father-son relationships in his orbit for guidance?
I think the biggest thing JT has learned over the years from Gil is how to let people grow in the way that they need to and let them be themselves within the constraints and the confines of their job and the requirements that come with being on top. Gil is very good at respecting his children, so to speak, for who they are, and what they have to offer, good or bad. And using that to keep doing the job as best we can.

I think that as a father, JT will take those lessons and apply them to his own son, and teach them the rules of the road, but at the same time, let him grow as an individual, recognizing that he’s got his own special signature to share with the world and fostering that growth. I think that’s what he’s learned from his family at the NYPD.

Certainly in season 1, there were moments when JT was skeptical of Bright. Now, with Bright actually covering up a crime, do you think he has sensed something might be off? Or does he simply not have room on his plate?
That’s the thing about the world we’re living in today: everybody is sort of dealing with their own problems. Everybody always had to deal with their own problems, but now it’s to a point where you’re almost forced inside of a psychological bubble. But if you’re not careful, you won’t be able to see outside of yourself for very long, because [everyone is doing their own thing].

I don’t think JT really has the bandwidth to see much beyond his situation at this moment as he’s becoming a new father, dealing with the situation that happened to him with the profiling issue and the abuse. He’s just trying to keep his head down and do the job and look for the best, give people the benefit of the doubt, in any given situation, including Bright, because if the goal in the end is to do the job and solve these crimes, then he has to sort of just partition and take the best parts of Bright and run with it. And doesn’t really have time to look into it deeper at this point…until it does bubble up, and then we’re having those conversations on-screen. And I’m sure that’ll happen at some point. It’ll all bubble over and for a moment or more, you’ll start to see [things] again.

Looking ahead, is there anything in particular you’re most excited for fans to see?
Yeah, I think that the one of the most exciting things is, again, just the emergence of JT’s son at a some point. I think that will be exciting. I don’t know how deeply we’ll be able to go into this season, but even just a taste of it is going to be fun to see him step into that role as a father.

We all need a little joy, so hopefully that’ll be a bright spot for him.
You know what, actually, you nailed it. That is the thing in my own life, as well as in JT’s life, that he’s constantly searching for: How do we find the positives? How do we find the joy, the bright spots, in all these moments of darkness? And that is the thing as an actor that excites me the most going forward this season—how do we find the joy again?

PRODIGAL SON, Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox


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