Seemingly not having a first name is just one of the quirky qualities that makes The Closer's Detective Lieutenant Provenza one of the most endearing characters on a show full of them. G.W. Bailey, whose own real first name is George — but don't call him that — may not be a household moniker, but you'd probably know his face. The veteran actor's long career ranges from Charlie's Angels through such series as M*A*S*H, St. Elsewhere and The Jeff Foxworthy Show to a recent gig as a faux Santa Claus. We talked to the Port Arthur, Texas, native about what's happening on TNT's The Closer tonight at 9 pm/ET, why the show's such a hit, and yes, his love (or not) for his childhood buddy Janis Joplin.
TVGuide.com: How would you describe Det. Lt. Provenza?
G. W. Bailey: Ruggedly handsome. A stud who's aging gracefully. [Laughs] He's a guy that probably should have retired 10 years ago. Poor guy has no place to go, so he stays there. I do think sometimes even his momma would have trouble liking him, but basically when push comes to shove, he's a guy who will cover your back. And that's what all these guys are about. They're all unique individuals with their own faults, but at the end of the day, they take care of each other.
TVGuide.com: What kind of a cop is this guy?
Bailey: He'll look for every possible way to avoid doing a whole lot of work. But if it has to do with the well-being of the squad members, he'll be there.
TVGuide.com: He has a very touching relationship with Tony Denison's character, Det. Andy Flynn, don't you think?
Bailey: Touching! Who says it's touching?! He'd better not be touching me.
TVGuide.com: How about an "interesting" relationship?
Bailey: Well, OK. We're begrudgingly good friends. Believe me, they have listened to us off camera and that's pretty much our relationship. We've been friends for years and years. We've worked together before. We've never really liked each other very much, but we've been forced to discover good things about each other. No, he's absolutely one of the most generous people I've ever known in my life, both on camera and off. He really is a good guy.
TVGuide.com: How's Provenza really feel about Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson? He's an old-style cop, after all.
Bailey: Like everybody on that squad and everybody that knows her, he fell in love with her. [Laughs] You cannot be around this woman and not ultimately want to protect her, and make sure she's able to do what it is she does so well. Of course, at first it was a begrudging respect, but then genuine affection entered the picture. All of us would fall on the sword for her. Remember, at the end of the first season, it was Provenza's idea that all of us would resign from the department if you messed with her. "If you demote or fire her, we all leave." He's made quite a trip since the first time he met her.
TVGuide.com: Let's talk about tonight's episode, "Saving Face." Provenza gets in trouble again, doesn't he?
Bailey: Yeah. What happens is that an old friend of mine and Flynn's, a retired policeman, has died. We're his pallbearers, and as we're carrying him out of the church, my legs fold and I drop the casket and it rolls down the stairs, breaks open and a dead blonde falls out. Who is she and how'd she get in there with the guy? I have a great line with, "I guess you can take it with you." It's a really great mystery. The show's character-based with some great characters, but also every week it's great whodunits, and people love whodunits.
TVGuide.com: Not to slight a corpse, but this sounds kind of funny. Is it?
Bailey: Yeah, the show is lighter-toned. The next episode isn't. It's one of the toughest shows we've done. It really affected all of us working on the show.
TVGuide.com: Provenza's a terrific character. Is he given enough to do?
Bailey: He's given plenty to do. This show's about Chief Johnson arriving in a foreign culture; that's what drives it. If you watch Kyra [Sedgwick] work, watch her character, she's a banquet. She is a wonderful buffet, this lady. I think I'm a nice occasional dash of pepper. Some cayenne.
TVGuide.com: That's appropriate since you hail from Texas — Port Arthur, to be exact. Did you really go to school with the late, great Janis Joplin?
Bailey: Yeah, I did. I've never talked about it in interviews, but I guess for people who are Janis fans, it's easy to connect. I did grow up with her and go to school with her. Janis graduated a year before me and my best friend Sammy was her best friend's brother. We'd all be hanging out at their house. I'm noted in her sister's book, but what she wrote isn't completely true. She characterized a fight I had at a party as jealousy over Janis, but that's not how it was. My parents had gone to Beirut and felt we were old enough to take care of ourselves. There was a wild party going on, with a little marijuana…. A scuffle broke out, but it really had nothing to do with Janis.
TVGuide.com: So you didn't have the hots for her?
Bailey: [Laughs] No, not at all.
TVGuide.com: Haven't you been married for decades?
Bailey: Well, I was married — for 33 years. We're still very, very close, I even stay at my ex-wife's house. [Laughs] I haven't remarried.
For inside scoop on The Closer, read series creator James Duff's TVGuide.com celebrity blog.
Send your comments on this Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org.