TNT's The Closer (Mondays at 9 pm/ET) is the hottest show on cable right now, and it has the numbers to prove it. On the day that the Season 2 premiere's record ratings came in, TVGuide.com got on the phone with Jon Tenney, who plays FBI agent Fritz Howard, beau to Kyra Sedgwick's crafty, if curt, police chief.
TVGuide.com: So you're a star of TV's most-watched what's the qualifier again? ad-supported cable drama telecast ever?
Jon Tenney: "Ad-supported, original scripted cable show"... that begins with C-L-O or something. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Seriously, though, congrats on that!
Tenney: Thanks! James Duff, the creator, has got a great home, and the whole team was there watching the premiere. The executive producer was like, "We'll get the call early in the morning," so they let us all know as soon as they heard. Everybody was very happy. We're all proud of the show, so it's nice that people actually watch it. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: And there you are at the end of the opening credits "and Jon Tenney."
Tenney: G.W. Bailey (Provenza) gives me such s--- about that! The joke is that if we go another season, I want it to be "for Jon Tenney." Or G.W.'s like, "in spite of Jon Tenney."
TVGuide.com: I'm admittedly new to The Closer this season and don't know the entire backstory, so why is it that Fritz puts up with this beautiful but quirky gal?
Tenney: I think Fritz loves her. On a very simple level, he just loves her. I sort of did my own little "psychological profile" of what he finds attractive and challenging and all that, but the bottom line is he genuinely loves and respects her. What's interesting about the relationship is that on one level, Kyra grounds the thing, but we all have our piece of the puzzle to fill in. I see my piece as the one that allows you to see Brenda in her personal life and in an area of her life in which she is struggling, as opposed to being as surefooted as she is in the professional world. Professionally, even if you ruffle feathers or piss people off or whatever, you can always fall back on, "Hey, I got the job done. I was right." But that's beside the point in a personal relationship. It's interesting to be that piece of the puzzle.
TVGuide.com: In this week's episode, there's this mini-squabble about Brenda's mother (guest star Frances Sternhagen) coming to town, and Brenda wanting to pretend that Fritz didn't just move in with her.
Tenney: We always try to find the humor in things, but to me and to Fritz, that action is representative of a hesitation on her part that can go much deeper. And that affects him. That tension, that conflict, is something that we can extend over the course of many episodes.
TVGuide.com: Are these two kids going to be able to work out the cohabitation thing?
Tenney: That's the question. Are they going to be able to work it out? What's it going to bring up? There's the thing with the mom and... I don't want to get ahead of where we go, but just when things seem to be OK, another hurdle gets thrown in their path.
TVGuide.com: J.K. Simmons (Brenda's ex-lover, Chief Pope) is great and all, but you do have the better hair.
Tenney: [Laughs] J.K.'s always saying that "So is she going to go with the bald guy or the hair guy?" But then again, J.K.'s got that whole "powerful boss man" thing going on, and they've had a history.
TVGuide.com: All I see is Peter Parker's editor-in-chief.
Tenney: That's right! J.K.'s terrific. I've known him for years from the theater, so it's always "old home week" with him.
TVGuide.com: Do we ever see Fritz "in action" as an FBI agent?
Tenney: Last year there was an episode where he and Brenda worked a case together, but I've primarily functioned more on the personal front than the professional front. In the first episode of this season, they're talking about moving in and they wrote into the scene that he's up for a position in Behavioral Sciences. A lot of people may not know that Behavioral Sciences in the FBI is a major deal that's like Jodie Foster's character in Silence of the Lambs so to say, "I'm not going to do that because I'm going to commit to this relationship" was significant.
TVGuide.com: Thanks for pointing that out.
Tenney: That's important to me, the actor playing it, but to the show's credit a lot of times big, significant exposition points will be laid out almost tangentially. There's a [Season 1] scene I always talk about where Brenda and some of the others are giving a lot of plot exposition, but the way it is shot, it's all about, "Is she going to pick up a donut or not?" What we're trying to do with the show is to always make it character-driven.
TVGuide.com: What would people be surprised to know about you, and about Kyra?
Tenney: They would be surprised to know that I'm a very good cook. As for Kyra....
TVGuide.com: She's got a hot little body under those frumpy floral dresses?
Tenney: [Laughs] I don't think that comes as any surprise she's a beautiful woman inside and out, no question. No, people who see her doing this very brusque character may be surprised to know that she is probably one of the most generous and lovely actors I've ever worked with.
TVGuide.com: If not "surprised," they may like to be reassured that she's that way. I can see some people thinking, "Whoa, this is Kevin Bacon's wife?! She's a ball-breaker."
Tenney: It's a testament to her smarts as an actress that she can create this character that is so prickly and does so many questionable things, and yet you love watching her. I don't think we'd get those numbers if people didn't want to watch her.
TVGuide.com: Lastly, I want to talk about your role in Albert Brooks' Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, a recent film that perhaps didn't get its due.
Tenney: No, it didn't. I was really proud of that and I think Albert was pretty brave with it. He had an amazing conceit for the film and he was operating from no blueprint there hasn't been a movie like that, about that.
TVGuide.com: And what fun for you to play the State Department straight man to him.
Tenney: I had been a huge fan of Albert's, and he's everything I had hoped he would be funny, smart, neurotic.... I did that during hiatus, as well as Showtime's Masters of Horror. Joe Dante, who is very politically active, directed this no-holds-barred satire on the war in Iraq, where dead soldiers come back as zombies not to terrorize people, but to vote. At first they are embraced by the religious right and then they are disenfranchised by the religious right, and it's all under the guise of this grade-B zombie movie. It was really fun to do something that was political, in whatever way, in this day and age.