Interview with D.J. Qualls

D.J. Qualls is known best for his roles in the films like “Road Trip” and “The New Guy”. D.J. is currently starring opposite Jason Lee in TNT’s hit show “Memphis Beat”. Movie Mikes had a chance to attend a conference call to chat about the show with D.J. and how his character, Davey Sutton, is stepping up in season two.

Mike Smith: In the recent episode “Flesh and Blood”, you find an abandoned baby in your car, how does that shape Sutton for the future of this show? Will the baby experience stick with him?
D.J. Qualls: It definitely does. I mean it changes who he is as a man. Sutton has some realizations about himself and about what he wants for his future based on this experience with the baby. Actually, it kind of changed me a little bit as well. It changed how I feel about myself. I started making me think maybe it’s the time to start thinking about moving in a different direction in my life and settling down. So maybe that’s something that I’m going to start looking at soon.

MS: How has it been working with Jason Lee?
DJQ: Well, I think it helps a lot, the fact that this is the third job I’ve had with Jason.  I think it was my second or third movie with Jason, and then I was on “Earl” for a few episodes, and then, now, this show.  So I’ve known him a long time.  He was a friend before I did the show, which I think it makes chemistry easier. What I like about working with him most is that he keeps the mood on the set light.  We work very long hours.  We shoot in a lot of our show on location outside in New Orleans in the summer time and that’s brutal.  You’re pretty gnarly and he still always has a smile on his face.  He’s number 1 on the call sheet.  He’s you know our hero, essentially, on the show.  So working with him and when he’s in a good mood, we can’t help but be infected by that.

Q: What challenges you about playing as a police officer on “Memphis Beat”?
A: Well, this year the show has totally changed. We shifted more to a more serious, procedural kind of show. We’re still trying to fix the quirks that we had last season but this year we are focusing more on the crime, a little less on the quirk of being in the south.  Also last year my character was sort of, finding his footing, you know as a brand new cop.  So this year, I’m actually getting to do more cop work. I find that more interesting because I don’t often get to play a lot of serious roles.   Especially with the episode “Flesh and Blood”, which is, every year, I get one episode that’s a Sutton episode on my character. So in episode four you see I find a baby.  It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but it was beautiful. I have seen it and I’m so excited for the audience to see it.

Q: Why do you think people keep tuning in to watch Memphis Beat?
A: Well, I think that we have become more of a standard procedural this year, but also we have maintained that character focus kind of show.  We really try to create a show where people just want to tune in an hour with these people. I think that there is a lot of heart in our show.  I read the message boards.  Some people don’t but if you don’t read your message boards, I think you’re stupid because you want to know what’s working and what’s not working about your show.  People just seem to respond to the heart of it.

Q: Can you talk about filming the shooting range scenes with Whitehead and are we going to see more Sutton helping them out in the future?
A: Those were really fun to shoot. Those shooting range scenes were awesome. Yes, this year, you see Sutton and Whitehead – because last year, Sutton and White Head really didn’t have a lot of interaction. Whitehead just sort of didn’t like how green he was. This year, Sutton really starts to prove himself and Whitehead responds to it. The actual shooting of the scenes were great. We had several days of prep. I don’t know why they were so nervous about me shooting a gun. I’m from the South and I got a gun when I was 12 years old. But we got to shoot in an actual police shooting range where all of the New Orleans Police Department trained.  It took about, maybe 6 hours and I shot probably 150 rounds during the filming of that. I’ve got to say, personally, I don’t really like guns. But it made me think, maybe I could own a gun. But then I walk away from it going, “You do not need a gun in your house.”

Q: I wanted to ask about the music on this show. It’s such a big part of creating the feeling. I’m wondering if you could just talk a little bit about how that fits in and your feelings about the music?
A: Yes, it definitely is a component. The music is a big component to this show because Memphis, if you’ve ever been there, the city is all music, all the time. You have these people who have been performing for 30 years on Beal Street in these barbecue joints and blues clubs. They are doing it for the pure love of it.  They aren’t doing it thinking cause they are going to get famous for doing it. That is a big difference from what you see in cities like L.A., where you come here and if you’re good at something, you want to be famous for it. These people just do it for the love of it.  I think that’s been a Memphis tradition you know from the birth. We actually don’t do the show in Memphis – we shoot it in New Orleans – I think that that music is a really important component to the show to make it have a more authentic feel.

Q: I was wondering if your character would see any romance on the show any time soon.
A: I do have a little bit of a romantic interest this season. We have a crime later in the season where somebody is doing identity theft and the person from the bank who’s brought on to help us solve the crime and I have a little bit of a romantic situation. It is sort of left open, but it was really sweet to play. The actress, Jennifer Masala, who plays the lady from the bank, was wonderful and sweet and cute. It was really fun.

Q: So you have been involved in a lot of different projects. What would you say you’ve learned and taken away from Sutton and “Memphis Beat”, in particular?
A: Well, when I first got the script sent to me, I was like, “There’s no way I can pull this off. There’s no way I can play a cop.” So much so that – and I’ve spoken about this before – but so much so that I didn’t even – I turned down the initial audition for this show. I just walked away from it. I had a crisis of confidence and said, “No.”  But luckily, the producers pursued me.  So I went in and I did my initial reading and they offered the show to me because they believed that I could do it. So what I’m taking away from this is keeping myself open and that I’m only limited by my own imagination. And we all are. So that’s what I’ll take away from this show. I have great relationships from this show as well.  I get to work with Alfre Woodard, who I have known for 10 years.  Jason, who like I said have known for about the same amount of time.  It is the best show I have ever had. It’s a feeling of a family like I have never known professionally. When you do a movie, you know there is an end. The show is open-ended and going for a very long time.  So you let your guard down in a different way than you do in a film. People really do become very close to you; I mean, your crew, also. I think that I’m going to take away from this experience just how wonderful it was to have that feeling of belonging.

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