Interview with Jason Lee

Jason Lee is currently starring in the TNT’s “Memphis Beat”, which is begins season two starting June 14th. Prior to this Jason has worked on the TV series “My Name is Earl”. In film,. Jason is known for his roles in Kevin Smith’s films “Mallrats”, “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma”. He has also played Dave in the “Alvin in the Chipmunks” series, with its second sequel being released this Fall, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked”. Movie Mikes had a chance to attend a conference call with Jason Lee to discuss the new season of “Memphis Beat” and what we can expect from it.

Mike Gencarelli: Do you find it difficult for you combining the comedy with the drama for this show?
Jason Lee: This season it’s easier because that was more of the direction we wanted to take this season because we felt that that was lacking a little bit last season in retrospect. I think with anything you do characters have to be believable, acceptable, likeable that’s always sort of my stance like even with a guy like Earl.  With just a massive list of wrongs you still like the guy, you know what I mean? I felt like we needed with “Memphis Beat” and have Dwight feel even more tangible real likeable, accessible, approachable and less of the character or a sort of a iconic thing that we were trying to have him be in the first season. Strangely, I thought a lot about Burt Reynolds back in the 70’s, that strong kind of jokes every man just that kind of humor from that and the camaraderie with like those movies like “Cannonball Run” and “Smokey and the Bandit”. I guess trying to incorporate that into this show and making it have more of that old school kind of Southern flair, that energy and you see more of that coming out and that’s balanced with the more dramatic stuff of I’ve seen them today these guys are cops and people are being murdered and no shit there’s a lot of stuff happening here. But I think it was a little to precious the first season.

MG: What would you consider is the most challenging part working on the show?
JL: I would have to say the lip-syncing and the performances. I try to be as genuine with those and make that feel as heartfelt as possible and make it look as good as I can. That’s sometimes a difficult thing learning those songs and…putting my heart into it and making it feel right. I want to do justice to that. Also always being conscious of walking that balance between reality and fiction and trying to keep it real and not cheesy or forced but as believable as possible.

Q: Well you’ve got a great show. Were you surprised how well the show went over last season?
A: I mean yes, I thought it was interesting enough as the start to something potentially better…and we’ve made it better this season in my opinion.  Sometimes you do something with one formula and then you look at it and you go, well you know what it didn’t quite feel what it – the way it should have felt and then so you reconvene you look at it all and you start fresh with the strengths from last season and then having sort of gotten rid of the weaknesses. I think the show is more fun this season Dwight is a little bit more identifiable he’s less of a character and more of just a guy. It’s less of a sacred kind of Elvis thing and more of just a Southern dude who loves music and he happens to be a musician and a performer. This season there’s less of country Elvis thing and more of just Dwight performing music. Certainly Elvis is his idol but you know what really kind of didn’t help in our favor at the beginning of the first season was that people have this ideal that the show is like cop by day Elvis impersonator by night and that kind of screwed us up a little bit. Because it was not that and then when we presented the show as something else it was difficult to work our way around that. Now we just sort of shed all of that and it’s just more about Dwight loving the South and being just a guy who loves everything from Elvis to Johnny Cash to Muddy Waters to probably Simon and (freakin’) Garfunkle.  He’s just a guy who loves music and he’s a performer. So it was really important this season that we made Dwight more of a just a dude and less of this kind of character or this icon or something. We just have a more fun kind of lighter, looser kind of old school cop show with more car chases and shoot outs and more more joking and having fun and more camaraderie among among us, there’s a gang. We needed to go through season one to see all this stuff and make this season more fun.

Q: Okay you were talking about a minute ago about Dwight and he’s one of the coolest cops in recent TV history. What you did to bring that cool swagger to this role?
A: Oh man, well it’s I think it was the boots, some of the wardrobe, the car, the music, the old guitars. It’s sort of like there’s a little bit of a modern day kind of cowboy vibe to the guy, which I think is really interesting. But that could get real cheesy real fast. So I just try to be aware of the importance of this guy’s job and making it as much about how much he cares as it is about how “cool” the guy might be and how fun it is to play this guy. It’s kind of walking a little bit more of a line between character and realities than we did I think last season. So I learned – we all sort of learned a lot from last season.

Q: All the music on this show is incredible. Can you talk a little bit about that the barrage of great songs that crop up throughout each episode?
A: Well that’s the beauty of the show it’s taken straight from the South.  It’s like you’re going to get those flavors of blues, R&B, Elvis.  It’s like the backdrop to the show because it takes place in Memphis and we all know how important music is to the Memphis to the South. So it’s like it’s kind of – it’s the character to the show just as much as Dwight’s car is.  We get away with a lot of stuff that I don’t think we’d get away with it if the show took place somewhere else because in the South your town is like you’re very prideful of it. There’s such a sense of camaraderie and community here because everybody shares everything and that’s very much a Southern thing I found. So with that comes a real sense of pride and Dwight carries that pride with him. There’s a pride of “hey we do things differently around here”, which I think is really cool.

Q: What is the City of Memphis think of Dwight in the show When you go to Memphis,even if it’s just to shoot exterior scenes, do they greet you like you’re a local hero?
A: It speaks volumes of about how awesome Memphians are.  The biggest disappointment that we’ve heard is Memphians saying that they have seen quite a bit of New Orleans in the show and saying that they totally understand that we really wanted to shoot in Memphis but they still embrace the show.  They understand that it’s a bunch of red tape sort of logistical kind of governmental tax incentive stuff all this stuff.  They’re usually kind to us. This season we have a fantastic production designer and she is very anal and we’ve tried even harder this season to make it even more authentic. Overall though the Memphians are they like the show. I’ve done press there locally in Memphis and and they say, “We like the show and we’re certainly happy that it has just the title Memphis in it and we understand why you can’t film here. It’s disappointing but we don’t hate the show” so of course that’s nice to hear.

Q: Have you ever been much of an armchair detective in real life? When it comes to crime dramas and mysteries do you watch them? Do you read them? And if so who are some of your favorites?
A: I’m a product of the 70’s.  My favorite stuff is like “Streets of San Francisco”, “Rockford Files”, “Dukes of Hazards”, “C.H.I.P.S”, you know what I mean? Like “Smokey and the Bandits”…that’s my vibe.  Something that I bought to the table for this season is like that we needed to make it feel a little bit more fun and action packed than kind of just old school like these other shows. We tried to do that season one but we didn’t quite nail it. I feel like that energy that you see on shows like “Rockford Files”. Just that fun camaraderie and that’s just like energy…just the style of it.  I feel like we’ve tapped into that more because to me it’s just cool aesthetic and it fits this Southern Dwight thing…the old car that he drives, the music, the energy.  There’s more laughs this season. It’s a little lighter and it feels a little bit more just down home.

Q: What do you think of Sam Hennings as an actor and as a person?
A: Oh Sam is amazing he has really found his thing this season even more so I think. Just because overall the energy has shifted and there’s more room to have fun and just be real and not be so serious all the time. Quite a few scenes this season, I’m not in this time around because we’ve tried to balance out the work load.  We are trying to put more focus on the other characters.  Sam’s had some great story lines so far and he’s really gotten the shine. He’s a great fit for this show. He’s from Macon, Georgia and he’s just like he’s an old school.  He’s the perfect old school kind of cross city cop.

Q: Last season ended on kind of an emotional cliffhanger with Dwight finding out that his dad might have been a dirty cop. Is that storyline going to be followed up at all?
A: Yes sir we’ve already filmed that episode.

Q: Does your schedule allow you to do any films on your hiatus?
A: Yes I really want to get back into doing some film work.  Hopefully this year later this fall. I miss that, I miss it and I’m really looking to find something that I can do for this year.

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