I spoke with Johnny Dowers about The Bridge. Johnny plays Detective Tim Cooper. When Cooper is around you know that everything is going to be okay. He just has that way about him. His stache is also pretty awesome and powerful. Linder (Thomas M. Wright) shaved his facial hair off and look what happened to him. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to speak with him about the show, working with the brilliant cast, his music, Lyle Lovett, and so much more. Do not miss the phenomenal season finale of The Bridge tonight on FX. It wraps up the season so perfectly. I can’t say enough good things about this show. We really need a third season.
Lena: I really enjoyed the first season but season two has been phenomenal.
Johnny Dowers: I always tell people that for me to say how much better I think the second season is than the beginning is definitely an honest answer because I knew going in that it would probably mean a little less screen time for me, but the show overall was better. There are so many characters and you know that going in on an ensemble piece and the best writing these days is covering a plethora of stories. That’s what makes it the most interesting because you don’t have these two characters that people are following; you have twelve characters. It’s a lot of storylines and you meet a lot of interesting actors, which is amazing and the writers have so many plates in the air, which is pretty incredible. Breaking Bad did that really well and a lot of shows these days are actually doing it really well. The Wire had a lot of characters and I loved The Wire. It’s a testament to the writing that’s going on on television right now. We’ve had on our show novelists that their first episode of TV that they wrote was for the show. I think that speaks a lot for Elwood Reid, he’s a novelist and that speaks for his belief in writers.
Lena: You do take that away from watching The Bridge. I can’t watch an episode without thinking, now that’s how you write a story!
Johnny Dowers: I was talking to someone that hadn’t watched TV in years and he came back to it recently and said that it was amazing to be able to watch twenty hours of story. Just what we were talking about, the plotlines are ingenious and the writing was centered more towards the audience. I don’t think that has always been the case. I’ve never had so many shows that I DVR, even as an actor to be prepared for an audition. I try to watch everything for that reason.
Lena: They really need to give you guys another season.
Johnny Dowers: Right now is an interesting time because we are all kind of sitting around wondering if we are going to get the call about our jobs. That’s the hard thing that when you get a job you love and the people are like family. It really is the real deal. We’ve gotten really close. For me, I’ve always thought with our international appeal and all the countries that we are in it would be a great opportunity in a time that we are dealing with it and you’ve got these brave Latino actors and actresses that haven’t gotten to do this kind of material unless it was in a movie like Traffic or another film. To have a show that really spotlights actors like Ramon Franco, Alejandro Patino, and Juan Carlos Cantu—great actors on our show. Demian is amazing and his brother (Bruno Binchir) is a tremendous actor as well. I just feel like it would be weird for the show to go away.
Lena: You guys definitely look like you have fun on the set.
Johnny Dowers: We’ve all gotten close. In particularly, I’ve gotten really close to Ted Levine. He’s been very, very generous and sweet to me. When I got the show I had done very little TV and very little drama. He really took me under his wing and taught me so much. I love working with Demian Bichir, Diane Kruger, and everybody. There are a lot of people on the show that I’m friends with and I never get to work with and I wouldn’t want to work together because if we did, one of us might be going away. [Laughing.] Alejandro Patino (Cesar) he and I are really good friends in real life and it’s cool because we will see each other on the set and people ask if we are ever going to do a scene together and I say, “I hope not.” [Laughing.] Unless there is some way that Cesar could be helping out. It’s a crime drama so we are all one bullet away from unemployment. [Laughing.] It’s not a lot of job security. They will kill anybody. Every week you are thankful to be a part of it. I would love for it to be on for five or six years. We’ll see. If for some reason we don’t get another season, the idea that they allowed Elwood to do what he did and allow these guys to flourish and for these storylines to be told it really is great.
My thing about our show is that it portrays both sides of the border so truly. That is kind of my passion with the show. Obviously, I love my character and I love getting to work. I’ve never been so involved in my live with immigration issues and views and the education that I underwent while I was researching the role. I grew up on the border of Louisiana and Texas and still I had no idea what was happening in the wars in El Paso. Now, in a way, I think America gets to learn along with our characters. I think that’s a great thing about having a show that’s fiction but based on real life. You really get to show those stories that nobody is telling. I guess for me that’s my personal vendetta for the show to continue. I know the storylines that they want to tackle and the things that they want to do. It’s such good stuff, not just for TV, for what’s going on in our world. To have a show where the Americans don’t just ride in and save the day—for me that was really awesome.
Lena: Your character Cooper is definitely a fan favorite and he’s been my favorite since the pilot. He needs more screen time.
Johnny Dowers: Thank you. That’s very sweet of you. He’s such a good character that you really want to have more screen time. You never know what people are going to like or what they aren’t going to like—you just kind of commit to what you know that character needs to be. I was very humbled to be handed such a great character that was obviously going to be in a lot of the show. I spent ten years out here trying to be everything but country, but I love doing it. My first role was a British cop. When I first met Elwood, he said your mind is on this guy. You are him. Run with it—from the boots up build the character. I literally had to pick most of my own wardrobe. Most of the hats that I wear are my own personal hats. It was cool for him to really trust me with that. I’m probably ruined for the rest of my life because I’ve been so spoiled. Having Stetson interested in possibly, if the character went bigger, in doing a hat is incredible for a country boy. You can’t get any bigger than that. Cooper is just a good old boy who means well who definitely should have a filter, which is the way they want it, which is interesting. I would love to play more with that because the juxtaposition of that with Sonya—the idea she’s dealing with what she’s dealing with socially. How interesting and fun it is, as an actor, to play against that because you are dealing with someone with Asperger’s that doesn’t pick up on social cues, is abrasive, and to most people weird. It’s so awesome that they allow that character to be there and to be dealing with the challenges that she’s dealing with. It’s interesting because Diane is a great actress and isn’t going to tell everyone her plan, she’s going to listen and react, she is amazing. For her to be doing that in character and for her to be something you are not used to, because how she deals with different situations is great. Every minute is real and it’s that much easier to just have an unfiltered character, my character, he’s going to call it like it is. America gets to learn with Cooper how he views Mexicans coming into America. He learns and starts having a heart towards people that don’t want to cross into America but they have to for a better life. I would hope that if we get another season that I would have a lot more stuff coming up.
Lena: If Cooper thinks that Buckley is spooky, what are his thoughts on Eleanor (Franka Potente)?
Johnny Dowers: When Coop was telling Frye (Matthew Lillard) and Adriana (Emily Rios) that he would put a boot in their ass if they didn’t get off his crime scene, he just thinks Frye is a drunk. That whole house has more murders than they see in El Paso in a year. Sonya and Marco are not telling me everything, so there are a lot of frustrations involved. Once we are dealing with Buckley and the CIA aspect it’s interesting because he picks up in passing their intricacies and their weirdness. When Cooper walks away from Eleanor you see me give her this go to hell look after he chains her to the desk. He holds her responsible for everything that is going on. He knows that this woman is weird and is somehow at the center of it. He definitely thinks that Eleanor is the bridesmaid of the devil, that’s for sure. [Laughing.] Franka is one of the nicest people that you will ever meet. I’ve worked with her husband on Anger Management. They are just the nicest folks, a very sweet family. A funny tidbit about that scene, some people don’t want to break character while they work but in between takes we were just laughing about other stuff.
Lena: Someone needs to get Oprah to interview Fausto Galvan (Ramon Franco) for the DVD.
Johnny Dowers: [Laughing.] That was some genius writing. When I was doing a tweet about that line I just started laughing. I think that’s real. The fact that he wears a blue normal baseball cap and a golf shirt that doesn’t fit him very well, that’s how those guys would dress. The idea that they dress flashy is just not real life. They portray them the way that they should.
Lena: Any chance that you’ll collaborate with Lyle Lovett?
Johnny Dowers: I actually have already. The quickest way to explain how I got involved with the show is that I wrote a movie, Pickin’ & Grinnin,’ that John Gries directed. John knew Elwood for years and he came to the screening and that’s how the attention started for Cooper. His daughter and I wrote songs together and she opened for Lyle for three dates. I met Lyle in Nashville years ago at the film festival that Pickin’ & Grinnin’ was playing at. Three years later, we arrived on set at the same time. We caught up and developed a friendship. How do you ask your hero to do a song with you? I didn’t want to ask but we were goofing around in the trailer one day and I told him about the record that Ryan Murphy and I were doing. I told him I’m sure everyone in the world hits you up and he said, “Johnny, you don’t even have to ask. What do you want to do?” He’s singing on a couple of songs and picking on at least one. It’s pretty amazing. Lyle is amazing. I’ve never seen anyone come in and do a track so cleanly and so professionally with so much attitude and uniqueness to it that it’s not only technically amazing but atmospherically amazing. Ted Levine is a great picker on his own. He’s a great musician.
Lena: Your band, The Sawdust Brothers, is good. I was just on your site listening to the tracks. http://www.sawdustbrothers.com/
Johnny Dowers: Thank you. We were just going to put out the record ourselves and we got a little bit of label interest. I would love to just be on the show and then touring. I was a musician before I was an actor. For me, it actually doesn’t really matter if I’m telling a story as a songwriter, a screenwriter, as an actor, or singer—just getting out of me what’s meant to get out of me, what I’m put here to do no matter what vehicle I’m using to tell it.
Johnny Dowers: For the writers, crewmembers, and people to start calling things Cooperisms with as little as I’ve been in the show is pretty amazing. I was hired to do that. If they allow me, I play around with the writing a bit. They are awesome for letting me play around with improv. All wise people know that they don’t know everything. They honor what you bring to the character. We have a different director every week and even though they are amazing, they don’t know your character like you know your character. They let the actors have a say in it and will spin the script on site if they feel they are right. That to me is another reason why I hope we get to play more. They just get it. Our writers are so passionate and I’ve gotten to know most of them personally. My favorite improv is probably calling the FBI guys nut huggers. The “boot in your ass” was another personal favorite of mine. I love working with Matthew Lillard and Emily Rios. Matt is always looking for a way for us to do more. I love doing improv but you have to pick your punches really wisely. It’s never about you trying to be a writer; it’s about the character. To be honest with you, I’m playing a cousin of mine kind of mixed with several people I grew up around. I wanted him to care about boots, hats, and guns. It’s fun to have such a close-to-home character.
Johnny Dowers: Working with Colin Bucksey was one of my favorite experiences on the show. We’ve been blessed with some great directors. He just won an Emmy for Fargo.
The Bridge airs Wednesday nights at 10 on FX.