Mars Rookie Jonathan Murphy Learning Tricks of the Trade
"October" has always been good to Jonathan Murphy. The actor got his big break on the now-defunct October Road, and his latest TV foray, Life on Mars (Thursdays at 10 pm/ET, ABC), debuted Oct. 9 and showed, well, life. Murphy plays clean-cut newbie Det. Chris Skelton on the decade-warping BBC remake and took time out of the busy New York '70s streets to chat with TVGuide.com about the show forging its own path, how he prepared for the role and why Luke Perry better watch out. Oh, and for all you Roadies out there, get an update on the series' mini-epilogue.
TVGuide.com: The show is based on a British series. How would you describe it to American viewers?
Jonathan Murphy: I would describe it as it has a lot of different elements in it. It has a sci-fi element in that Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) is a cop in 2008 and he's hit by a car and wakes up in 1973, and you don't know how he got there or what kind of scenario has just happened. Did he die? Did he travel through time? Is he in a coma? You don't really know. It also has the procedural element because we are a cop show.
TVGuide.com: And it's in the '70s, so there are all the social norms of that period —
Murphy: Yeah, it's a period piece and it's different. There were different political views back then and there were different views on men and women and women in the workplace especially — women as police officers [Gretchen Mol plays underappreciated and underused policewoman Annie Norris]. We really wanted to find the humor in it, so some of these interactions, just these characters as they start to develop are very quirky and have specific things about them that make them likeable and very enjoyable to watch.
TVGuide.com: Did you watch the original?
Murphy: I chose not to. I can be easily influenced and I wanted to make sure that I [didn't have] a preconceived notion of something that had already been done before. It's nothing against the BBC version. If that show wasn't fantastic and wonderful itself, we wouldn't be doing our version. I wanted to create a character based on things that I thought about, things that I had read, what was in the text, and tried not to have any preconceived notion.
TVGuide.com: The pilot was very similar to the British one. Are you going to stray eventually
Murphy: The first couple episodes, we kind of stay on track with [the British series], but we're going to have our own unique cases that we're solving and different interactions with each of the characters.
TVGuide.com: You're decked out in '70s gear. Are we going to see a mustache on you?
Murphy: I luckily don't have the mustache. [Laughs] The mustache duty falls upon Michael [Imperioli]. He has the long handlebar mustache. I'm kind of more of the clean-cut guy, but I do have the long sideburns.
TVGuide.com: Like Luke Perry's?
Murphy: I put Luke Perry's sideburns to shame! Luke Perry has nothing on my sideburns
TVGuide.com: Your character is a rookie cop — all young and impressionable.
Murphy: Yeah, he's out of the police academy for about a year and he's been working with Gene Hunt [Harvey Keitel] and Ray [Imperioli]. He's just kind of by-the-books. He learned how to do it right and that's how he wants to do it to be the best cop that he can. Then this new guy comes with all this crazy talk about 2008 and the way that he does things and how different he is — but he solves the cases. So there's this dichotomy that plays with: "Do you stick with the old school guys that brought you up and taught you what you know? Or do you go with the new guy with the new ideas that seem to be working?" It's hard. He definitely takes things from both sides of it …he's the pros and cons of both.
TVGuide.com: It's kind of art imitates life a little — you're working with Harvey Keitel and Michael Imperioli. Were you intimidated at all?
Murphy: I would say more curious and in awe of them. You walk onto a set and you're doing a scene with Michael Imperioli. You know where he's been and you know the kind of caliber of actor he is. So it is kind of art imitates life. This character is learning from these guys and I'm also taking it in as an actor. It's like going to acting class. These are heavyweight guys and I didn't want be the guy that came in and screwed it up. [Laughs] To be working with them, I'm very lucky and I try to soak up whenever I can. They're all wonderful people.
TVGuide.com: You're working with October Road producers again —
Murphy: I am. I assume they liked what I did on October Road and they saw something in me that could be in this character. They were nice enough to give me a shot and let me come in and show them what I could do with it and I think they believed in me. We were all sad that October Road got canceled and it's nice to be with familiar faces.
TVGuide.com: There's talk of a mini-finale for October Road. What's the update on that?
Murphy: I think they're planning an epilogue that's been written. They're hoping to get everybody together and shoot and put that on the Season 2 DVD, so all the Roadies will get some wrap-up, closure with the show. I think it will start some time around where the actual series left off and pick up a few years down the road. You will see what's been going on and what happens. [The fans] were left hanging, and it's our last hurrah and a "thank you" to all those who wrote e-mails and sent pictures and all the things they did to try to save the show.
TVGuide.com: I know you're a big [Dallas] Cowboys fan. Do you think Jessica Simpson will "curse" them this season?
Murphy: [Laughs] We're going to see. She can talk all she wants. To have her at the game is a good luck charm. We're going to have her around at playoff time.