An Interview With Kyle Secor: Det. Tim Bayliss!
Viewer identification with Det. Tim Bayliss of Homicide: Life on the Street was almost inevitable. The first episode showed him walking into the squad room as "the new guy ", introducing himself and being given a tour of the facility. Meanwhile the viewer, too, was learning his way around this new series.
Soon, however, Bayliss's illusions of an idyllic career became shattered when he took his first case-the death of a young girl (with "the face of an angel") who had been brutally murdered. The Adena Watson case dominated the show's first season and-in a dramatic challenge to television conventions-was never closed. This lack of resolution would haunt Bayliss for years.
Bayliss was (and is) partnered with Frank Pembleton, a brilliant, aggressive, arrogant detective who preferred not to have a partner-especially a rookie. Sparks flew, and early on it was obvious that pairing actors Kyle Secor and Andre Braugher (Pembleton) would provide many-if not most-of the best moments the show. The first season's "Three Men And Adena"- an episode dominated by Bayliss and Pembleton interrogating their prime suspect - won an Emmy for writer Tom Fontana. When the 1994 season began, the first three episodes emphasized a Pembleton/Bayliss serial murder case. Later, when Detectives Howard, Felton and Bolander were shot, Pembleton and Bayliss led the investigation to find the killer. When he managed to slip through their fingers and was found dead two hours later, Bayliss was forced to investigate his fellow officers. In "Colors", Bayliss and Pembleton clashed when Tim's cousin was being investigated in a killing.
During the current season, Bayliss and Pembleton participated in a much-publicized cross-over with NBC's Law and Order.
Throughout, Secor has proven to be an astonishingly good actor - an especially difficult challenge when having to share screen time with the dynamic, flamboyant Braugher. Yet Secor is up to the task, and we're convinced that his work with Braugher will be remembered as one of television's all-time great teams.
Secor's first major television work was a regular role on Santa Barbara in 1987. Since then his made-for-TV movies include "In The Line of Duty: Standoff at Marion", "Inherit The Wind", and the recent "Beauty's Revenge". His films include "Sleeping With The Enemy," "City Slickers," "Untamed Heart" and "Hothouse".
Craig Miller interviewed Kyle Secor on February 13, 1996. Our thanks to Marilee Mahoney and Juliette at NBC for helping to make all the necessary arrangements. Thanks especially to Mr. Secor for taking the time to talk with us.
Miller: We heard that you first came to the attention of Tom Fontana through your role on "St. Elsewhere" Secor: Yes.
CM: Can you tell us anything about your work on that series? KS: It was pretty extraordinary. I played a person with AIDS. It was written to go three episodes, and they wrote it through the entire season, from his first visit to the hospital to the very end, and addressed a number of issues through that character.
CM: Wasn't this on St. Elsewhere's final season? KS: Yeah, the final year. I felt really fortunate to have been asked to do that. It was a pretty amazing year.
CM: Tim Bayliss is partly based on one of the detectives in David Simon's book. Did you have a chance to go out on any calls with the detectives? KS: I never went out on any calls with them. I hung out with them a lot - went to the bars they hung out in, and specifically that one detective. He was around the set a great deal. He even asked to be a part of a scene that he actually was the detective on, and he happened to be the first officer on the scene. He helped out as the technical advisor on the case - the Adena Watson case. He was in the scene where we find the girl. He's a pretty extraordinary guy. He took care of the little girl all that night.
CM: The first episode of Homicide begins with Bayliss's first day on the job - he serves as a kind of stand in for the viewer. Now, of course, he's accumulated a lot of experience. How would you describe the changes in the character, and what challenges did those changes present you as an actor? KS: I was really happy for the changes, because it was Bayliss as sort of this naive hick, and there's some fun out of playing that as an actor, but it gets old really fast. And that lasted up until last year. I was really dissatisfied with doing that - it was not what I had signed on as an actor to do. That changed a great deal. Last year was a very important year, because Bayliss - I don't know, he got to sleep in a coffin with a woman (Emma Zoole), and rob a liquor store - you know, do things that were just a little bit"out there".
CM: Also his being involved in several high-profile cases - the Pratt case, for instance, which ended with Bayliss having to question his fellow detectives - really put Bayliss through the ringer. KS: Yeah. And then the whole thing with David Morse (the "Colors" episode). It got pretty juicy. He had to force people into respecting him. He kept getting more aggressive and more complex. And I think the more complex a character gets on television, the more interesting it is for people to watch. And his relationship with Frank Pembleton became more interesting and complex, more respectful of each other. Bayliss was more of an equal.
CM: There was a scene at the end of "The Gas Man" at the end of last season where Pembleton finally admits - after thirty-three episodes - that he doesn't mind having a partner, implying that Bayliss has earned his respect. Early on, of course, Pembleton didn't want a partner at all. KS: Right right.
CM: Let's talk about "Three Men and Adena" possibly dramatic television's finest hour. Was that a difficult shoot for you? KS: No. That episode is why I signed up for the show. I was very hesitant to sign a contract. I said, "Can you tell me what is going to happen?", And they said, "Yes. We're doing six episodes. At the end of the sixth episode, it's going to be three people in The Box, and that's it." And I went, "Well I have to do this." I thought, first of all, no one's going to buy this show. It's just too good to be on TV. And to do what is basically a short play - I mean, we had pages where we just never cut. We just had seven, nine pages of dialogue where the camera just kept rolling. And that wasn't difficult; that was really a joy. And Moses Gunn and myself and Andre (Braugher) got together every night and worked on it. It was rehearsals, and it was theatre, and the director let things go. That's fun. Television and film are filled with short takes and little blips, and to get something like that where you can go on forever - it tests you as an actor, and it allows an unfolding to take place over a much longer period of time, more like a play. That's fun.
CM: You said you were hesitant to sing a contract. Was that because of this particular show, or because of a reluctance to do any weekly television series? KS: Yeah, any weekly television series. It had nothing to do with Homicide. I actually was pretty impress with the writing of it, and when I read the book - I was just very surprised by what you take for granted. From watching TV, you think that certain things are true about detectives. But they're real flesh and blood. It made it much more human for me. But I had stayed away from doing a series for a while.
CM: David Simon's book goes into great detail about the "Adena Watson" case, which is the Latonya Wallace case in the book. Did this material help you to understand better the storyline and the investigation? KS: I think that helped, but the thing that helped the most on that was that the detective was on the set at all times, and he would tell me little things about what had happened. Watching him eat, watching him relate to people - he was there in the church when we had the funeral, and he sat in the back. It was just something about his presence, and what that man had been through, and how it had affected his life. It's not something he ever put down. We're going to address that a little bit more this year. Yeah, (laughter) We're going into Adena a little more this year.
CM: You and Andre Braugher have had some great interrogation scenes - the Araber, Staley in "Black and Blue", Holton in "Dead End," Pratt in "End Game," etc. Do you and Braugher spend much time discussing and coordinating these scenes to make sure the flow and pacing is right? KS: Over four years we've really developed a great shorthand with each other. We'll sit down, and we'll talk about which guy is playing what role - the "good cop" and "bad cop" - and what is the dramatic flow that is going on, and if it doesn't seem interesting. We watch each other very carefully during the rehearsals; it's almost as simple as who goes high and who goes low - who's going to tackle high, and who's going to tackle low. And we watch each other very carefully for hints; we get from each other as to who is going to do what, aside from your own work that you do at home.
CM: Last year Andre Braugher told us that, with so many interrogations Pembleton and Bayliss have done, the challenge was to find ways to make the new ones interesting. The two of you seem to have succeeded. In the Holton interrogation, for instance, there's a strong comic edge. KS: Yeah, I think it's important to bring in the comedic element to a scene - the darker aspect of comedy to a scene. I think we're always on the lookout for that. Certainly a lot of it's in the writing. But a lot of it is in the way that Pembleton and Bayliss have some sort of in-joke going on between them. It's like, we've been here so many times before, and this might be your first time ever in The Box. We've got something over you. (Laughter) At some point, you're going to find both of us, I don't know, lying down on the floor doing an interrogation. (Laughter) At some point it's going to come to that, because we've found so many different places to sit and stand in that room, we're going to be lying on the floor, with our hands behind our heads, looking up!
CM: How much improvisation is allowed (and utilized) during these scenes? KS: For the most part it's fairly close to the script. I think that what happens, which is the wonderful thing with some of the actors on the show, if their lines escape them, they basically know what the scene's about and keep going until the lines come back. Or sometimes it's just inspiration to do something, and you do it. In as way it's kind of encouraged. you don't want to get everything down too pat, because if you get everything down too pat, first of all, it somehow doesn't add to the style of Homicide. And so if you keep everything loose, and you're able to do something on one take, they keep that in and do those wonderful smash cuts. We have a saying around here that there's no such thing as continuity. (Laughter) There is, but we have a different way of approaching continuity.
CM: "A Many Splendored Thing" the final episode of the second season, hinted at Bayliss's "dark side" This hasn't been brought up much recently, but do you see the character as still having that aspect? KS: Oh Yeah, this is what I found out, is that any time I can suggest anything, they'll basically let me do it on this show. I thought that it was appropriate at one point that after this guy insulted my partner, that I break his nose, and they let me break his nose. But as far as going into Bayliss's personal life and such, it's going to be things that affect him like this whole Adena Watson thing, which has affected him for four years now. That'll pop up again this year. But I don't think you're going to see Bayliss out on the town in a leather coat going to strip bars! (Laughter) They'll just do things about how it affects his work. You may not necessarily see that, but it may be hinted at - I don't know! (Laughter)
CM: During the first year and a half, NBC couldn't seem to make up its mind about whether to keep the show or not. How frustrating was this to you? KS: Wouldn't you be surprised right now if I said that NBC actually had a grand plan in mind? And they're really very smart people? (Laughter) Yeah, it was very frustrating. It just showed up as a lack of support. You get involved in a television series or something like that, and you realize it's a product. Even if you win an Emmy or something like that, it has to do with numbers. And then all of a sudden you get the numbers, and you don't win Emmys! I think they did what they thought they could do, but they didn't promote it at all. It seemed like we had to keep proving, and proving, and proving something. I think that in the long run, that's been a better thing for us. It would have been interesting if Homicide had been this huge hit right off the bat, but I don't know; this show just didn't have that written on it. It wasn't genetically implanted in this show.
CM: The first few episodes of Homicide challenged so many television conventions that I think it took people some time getting used to them. KS: Yeah, I think in those first six episodes, people really had to be watching every episode, or they weren't going to get it. And then a lot of people I talked to were just so shocked by the camera work. It intrigued a lot of people, but I think it turned off as many people as it intrigued. But it's been a difficult birthing process.
CM: What was it like performing in the recent crossover episodes with Law and Order? KS: For me, it was fun to go up to New York, and meet people up there. But it's strange. Obviously that show uses the kind of filming that I'd grown used to before Homicide, but it's really a little bit strange to go back to that. I mean, I did something over our hiatus that used the same kind of camera and all that - not like Homicide but like Law and Order - but you just realize how you have to set everything. And that whole thing about continuity came back to bite you in the butt. You really had to set things. If you had an action, you had to do that action over and over and over. In a lot of ways it felt like you were put inside this box that you couldn't really move out of. In other ways it was really good for your discipline and focus, bringing you back to what your roots were.
CM: What was your hiatus project? KS: Oh, gosh, it was this TV movie that I did up in Vancouver that I had an awful lot of fun on.
CM: What is Beauty's Revenge? KS: Yes. All I saw was the last half of it, and it looked awful. It looked just awful. But what I take away from that is a really great experience up in Vancouver. Really great people. But the product is not something I've even seen the entire thing.
CM: Do you watch the Homicides when they're on TV? KS: Oh yeah, I'm a fan of the show! (Laughter)
CM: The show has changed from its early crime-solving emphasis to adding lots of personal, off-work subplots. Which is your preference? KS: I think it's great to have a blend of things. If you get too much of one and not enough of the other, it can get boring. They may have hit on a good chemistry with that, with crime being the emphasis, and the other personal stuff is just running around the edges of that story. We've had some big stuff this year - helicopter shots, and eighteen wheelers being jack-knifed across freeways - and that's something that was unexpected. I never thought we'd have the detectives running and leaping and pulling their guns, because what we were told is that most detectives forget their guns and leave them in their desks. (Laughter) So they never have to pull them. Well this year we've found ourselves pulling our guns a lot, and I think that's offset with a lot of good emotionally-filled cases.
CM: Didn't you appear on a few episodes of N.Y.P.D. Blue? KS: Just one.
CM: There have been a lot of comparisons and contrasts between the two shows. What's your impression as an actor? KS: You know, that's the only episode that I ever saw of N.Y.P.D. Blue, and I thought it was really good. I really enjoyed that episode. I liked what they did. They just had a different kind of approach to it. Sometimes I watched and would go, "Ah, man, I wish we were able to do that!" And then I realized that we are able to do it. We just do it in a different manner. They've got some very good actors on that show. But I really like our camera work. The camera is definitely like another character as it winds its way through a scene. I've never been a part of anything else that does that.
CM: You've had the opportunity to work with quite a few good directors on Homicide, Tim Hunter, for instance - an extraordinary director. KS: This is certainly a good place for contacts. (Laughter) Kathy Bates is going to be directing one. Peter Medak, the man who directed Il Postino (The Postman), Michael Radford, Ted Demme. The guy who directed Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer, John McNaughton. And of course (Barry) Levinson whenever he's available. Bruno Kirby directed one. And you know we even had one of our own actors, Clark Johnson, direct one.
CM: That hasn't shown yet, has it? KS: No, we just finished it two weeks ago.
CM: Do you have any desire to direct at some point? KS: Yeah, I don't know if I'd want to direct Homicide, but I definitely have a desire to direct. We'll see. The one that Clark directed was just a ball, because everyone wanted do their best for him.
CM: Got to ask you: what's with the new haircut? Was that your choice? The producers? KS: For three years of doing the show - and last year it just came to a head (literally) - they would be touching my hair on a constant basis throughout the day. Constantly. This guy, at one point I think he had something like twenty hair care products in my hair. And I just said, "No more." At least for that, no one will touch my hair this year. So I got my hair cut short, and no one touches it. They still touch my face and my clothes, and so on, but no one touches my hair before a scene. Just trying to save a little time there, because we have so little time to compose ourselves before a scene - everyone's coming up and fixing this or that. So my little chore was to take care of my hair by cutting it off.
CM: One final thing, We've done a lot of writing about three particular shows: Homicide, Twin Peaks and Lois and Clark. So I was surprised to catch on television - KS: (Laughter) CM: - a show that brought together principals from all three of those series! You were with Teri Hatcher and Miguel Ferrer in an episode of Tales From The Crypt. And there's Kyle Secor as some zombie burying Miguel Ferrer alive! Was that a lot of fun to shoot? KS: Oh, that was a hoot. That was just a kick. Getting into the makeup was not a lot of fun, but we just had a blast working with each other. Teri and I got along extremely well, and Miguel was a very creative, "out there" guy. And we had a great deal of fun.
CM: Are you going to be doing any projects during the Homicide break? KS: Hopefully! I just don't know what yet.
CM: Thanks for talking with us.