Actor Dean Winters talks about new detective character in Battle Creek

Dean Winters plays a hard-boiled cop in new TV comedy-drama Battle Creek with Josh Duhamel (left) as his partner. -- PHOTO: FOX
Dean Winters plays a hard-boiled cop in new TV comedy-drama Battle Creek with Josh Duhamel (left) as his partner. -- PHOTO: FOX
Dean Winters (above) plays a hard-boiled cop in new TV comedy-drama Battle Creek with Josh Duhamel as his partner. -- PHOTO: FOX
Dean Winters (above) plays a hard-boiled cop in new TV comedy-drama Battle Creek with Josh Duhamel as his partner. -- PHOTO: FOX

Mention Dean Winters and the name may not immediately register.

But say that he is the actor who played "the annoying ex-boyfriend" in the acclaimed comedy series 30 Rock (2006-2013) and TV fans will definitely know who you are talking about.

On the show, the 50-year-old bachelor played the role of Dennis Duffy, the irritating, arrogant and jealous loser of an ex-boyfriend to main protagonist Liz Lemon (played by series creator Tina Fey).

Ask Winters how he feels about being so closely associated with a vexing character and he tells Life! and regional reporters in a telephone interview that he is not at all bothered.

"Playing Dennis was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it opened a whole new world to me. I had never been exposed to comedy before that," he says.

"So if people say things like, 'That's the guy who played Dennis', I'm fine with that. There are movie stars who are movie stars, but I'm more interested in falling into the roles. It's actually a huge compliment if people say 'That's the guy who played Dennis', rather than just know me as Dean Winters."

Perhaps his latest role as a gruff detective in new TV series Battle Creek will become another iconic part that audiences will remember him by. It is certainly his biggest role to date as he takes on one of two main leads in the show alongside actor Josh Duhamel of Transformers fame.

In the comedy-drama, Winters plays Detective Russ Agnew, an old-fashioned, hard-boiled cop native to the poor town of Battle Creek, Michigan, who reluctantly partners the charismatic and flashy new detective Milt Chamberlain, played by Duhamel.

Describing his latest show as "a buddy cop show that is nothing like any other buddy cop show", Winters adds: "I think this is the first time where you have a buddy cop show in which the two guys are not buddies.

"They just don't get along, but they have to work together. But that's why it's funny and entertaining. It's kind of a lighter look into the relationship between these two men and I think it's part of a genre that hasn't been done before."

1 Why did you sign on to the show?

Well, it was pretty easy last year when the script came to me. On the front page, it said that the show is "created by Vince Gilligan and David Shore", and that it would be directed by Bryan Singer. How can you say no to that? Those guys have really proved themselves.

Breaking Bad (created by Gilligan) may be the best show on television. House (created by Shore) was an amazing show. And Bryan Singer is an incredible director. So it was a no-brainer. Those guys really are probably the best people working in television today, so it was pretty easy to say yes.

2 There is great chemistry between you and Duhamel. Did that come naturally for the two of you?

Josh and I had never met before the show. A lot of times in television and movies, they do a chemistry test. But I think they kind of assumed that we would get along the way we did.

Our first meeting was at a studio in Manhattan and I got out of my car and gave him a big hug and, from then on, it was just easy.

We have really good chemistry and it was a blessing because that's not something you can build on. You either have it or you don't.

3 How much do you identify with your character?

Russ is a homeboy from a small town in the Midwest and he has a great love for where he lives and he will do anything to try and make it a better environment. I like to think that that's how I live my life. I'm from New York City, which is not a small town, but I will do anything to make my town better. So I like to think that we have that in common. We are two people who are extremely proud of our hometowns.

4 Why does your character hate Duhamel's Milt so much?

Milt is the guy who represents this sort of super cop and cartoon character that Russ doesn't think exists in real life.

So when he shows up at Battle Creek, it is just very alarming and Russ hates the way he looks and the way he is always right and the way people fawn over him. Of course in real life, there is nothing to hate about Josh. He really is such a lovable guy.

5 In the show, your character is the polar opposite of Duhamel's. In real life, how similar or different are the two of you?

Josh is from North Dakota and I'm from New York City. And those two places could not be more polar opposites. But at the end of the day, I think Josh and I have the same values because we both come from big families. We are very similar, but we are different and it's funny because a lot of those aspects of our relationship feed into the characters onscreen.

6 Did you do any research for your role?

I wasn't able to go to Battle Creek before the show as I was too busy. But it is a place I will definitely visit one of these days. As far as basing the character on somebody, when you have writers like Vince and David, I didn't really need to base it on anybody. I just kind of looked back and tried to figure out who this guy was. I based it on an emotion and it's about a guy who loves Battle Creek.

7 Many scenes are very funny. Is the atmosphere on set just as fun?

The whole cast is so talented and they're extremely funny. Co-stars Janet McTeer and Kal Penn really lead the way in the funny category. There were numerous times and scenes where much to the crew's dismay, we would break into laughing fits and not be able to get out of them.

And then to lighten the mood sometimes - because the show does get heavy too - I threw mini dance parties outside my trailer just to keep everyone's spirits up.

8 How would you like to be remembered?

I'd like to think that I'm a good person - a really honest person and someone who's brought a little bit of energy to other people's lives, with a twinkle in my eye. I'd like to be remembered as someone who really came to play in 1964. How's that?

yipwy@sph.com.sg

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Battle Creek premieres on Fox (StarHub TV Channel 505, Singtel TV Channel 330) tonight at 9.50pm.