Alimi Ballard on Numbers
, who played Herbal Thought on the cult hit Dark Angel
, is these days playing someone who could not be more different: tough-as-nails FBI agent David Sinclair on CBS' Numbers
(Fridays at 10 pm/ET). What does the actor make of the hit series' brain-busting twist on TV procedurals? Why didn't he merit a spot on the Titanic
? And what lesson did he learn from an Oscar winner? TVGuide.com asked Ballard those questions and more.
TVGuide.com: When you saw that Numbers was a procedural with a complicated math hook, were you like, "This can't fly"?
Alimi Ballard: The first time I got my hands on this script, that was the first I had heard about this project. And when I read it I saw that it was so tight, the weaving together of these math geniuses and the way they see the world in numbers — the way the wind moves, the trajectory of birds, all these calculations and equations overlapping with how FBI guys see serial killers, how they view the world in what people are doing and their intentions. I was very impressed. I was like, "Whoa! Who wrote this?!"
TVGuide.com: Oh, so you figured, "I have to be a part of this."
Ballard: It was smart and it was well crafted in a way that it didn't feel like these odd pieces coming together. I was impressed by that alone. This was the only thing that I read that pilot season and I was like, "I really hope I get this!" [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: While Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz' smarty-pants are off doing the math thing, you and Dylan Bruno (as Colby) solve crimes the old-fashioned way.
Ballard: I love that! We kick in doors and blow things up! I hate to be a kid about that, but me and Dylan, man, we get to fly through windows and stuff. We're the first ones in. I'm a guy who grew up watching kung-fu movies — Bruce Lee is one of my idols — so that kind of physical stuff is exciting, especially as it relates to them catching criminals.
TVGuide.com: David and Colby also have an entertaining verbal interplay.
Ballard: Oh, yeah, we're like peas and carrots. [Laughs] I do like that as well, how they made us from different worlds with slightly different points of view. We'll choose to [approach a crime scene] differently 95 percent of the time.
TVGuide.com: Yet always wind up on the same page, like when they worked together to find a bullet that had been shot straight up into the sky.
Ballard: Yes, yes. We were arguing over what kind of gun the guy would have, going over all that stuff.... It was really fun, man.
TVGuide.com: So the big question: How good are you at math?
Ballard: I think I'm average, in all honesty. [Laughs] I'm a guy who was like a C, B student. I was good at it, but I had no passion for it.
TVGuide.com: It wasn't the stronger half of your SAT score, I take it?
Ballard: No, man.... Actually, wait a minute — I was pretty good at the math part! It was all the reading stuff that bored the crap out of me! [Laughs] All the reading and grammar, I was like, "Kiss my a--, man."
TVGuide.com: Your first TV role was in 1993, as Frankie Hubbard on the soap opera Loving. Talk about initiation by fire, huh?
Ballard: Absolutely. I got this gig and it was incredibly hard work. People laugh at soaps, saying they're full of "bad acting," and I'm like "Ha!" If you had to produce the volume of work these guys do every day, that is a feat. Most people don't know how hard it is to do that and then be good. The soap actors that get really famous because they're really good are incredible actors.
TVGuide.com: What's more, you were on Loving as it morphed into The City, which tried to be groundbreaking by shooting entirely on location and with hand-held cameras....
Ballard: It was a lot of fun, and I got to work with one of the best actors I've ever seen, Debbi Morgan. Oh, man, she is just a versatile actor, you see a lot of that in Eve's Bayou. She gave me a three-year "class" in watching her work and just copying everything good I saw. It was a really great experience.
TVGuide.com: What do you think about your Dark Angel pal, Jessica Alba, becoming little Miss Thing?
Ballard: We had a great time up there in Canada, shooting. Working with [Dark Angel creator] James Cameron and working with Michael Weatherly, whom I'd worked with on Loving — he ran me over in his Range Rover and I blackmailed him for money. [Laughs] And Jessica, she is a nice young lady. If it's what she wants to do, she'll be huge. She could go off and be a rocket scientist, that's how talented I found her to be.
TVGuide.com: Years later, did you call James Cameron and say, "Can't a brother die on the Titanic?"
Ballard: I didn't, actually! [Laughs] No, no, I'm not the biggest water fan, so all of that would have freaked me right out!
TVGuide.com: You did, though, get to do another big-budget film, Deep Impact.
Ballard: That was my first big movie, and I was really intimated and scared as crap.
TVGuide.com: Did Tea Leoni hold your hand at all?
Ballard: She was really nice, a sweet lady, and yeah, she helped me out. I really treasured that experience.
TVGuide.com: Lastly, what did you learn working with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro on Men of Honor?
Ballard: That you can win an Oscar, man, and still be a great dude and be as approachable and kind and warm as the day you first started out. I will never forget working with Cuba Gooding Jr., ever. Ever. Ever.