On ABC's mid-season hit, In Justice (Fridays at 9 pm/ET), Jason O'Mara and Kyle MacLachlan head up the National Justice Project, a group that works hard (and TV-fast!) to get wrongfully convicted people pulled out of prison. TVGuide.com spoke with O'Mara about his transition from rugby star to actor, about In Justice's upcoming controversial episode, and about get this the woman he and this writer have in common.
TVGuide.com: For starters, I want to say that I love the show and have it on my TiVo list. Good stuff!
Jason O'Mara: Yeah, last week's episode was good, wasn't it? We sort of felt it was a bit of a watershed for us because it was really strong and we're really finding our feet now.
TVGuide.com: The show had a slightly tricky row to hoe in the beginning, as ABC aired shows out of sequence. One minute Marisol Nichols' Sonya is working for you, the next she's a client....
O'Mara: Yeah, it was a bit weird, and I think a lot of the critics held us accountable for that when it was a network decision on how they wanted to play it. In some ways it worked, because our ratings have been really solid. We've been holding our own on Friday nights against a tough CBS lineup....
TVGuide.com: Absolutely. It's not like ABC has bumped you to make the Dancing with the Stars results show two hours.
O'Mara: Exactly! [Laughs] It could always be worse!
TVGuide.com: How did you go from being a rugby star to an actor?
O'Mara: I went to St. Michael's College, a private Catholic day school for boys in Dublin, and they sort of groomed me for business and rugby. If you didn't join the rugby team, you're kind of seen as a bit of a nerd, so I started to get really serious about it and started playing for the first team when I was 15. Then I got this neck injury for a second time and the doctor told me to lay off rugby for about a month. Just around that time, they were holding auditions for The Merchant of Venice, so I said to myself, "OK, I'll go in." I didn't get the big role they offered me a smaller one but I'll never forget the first time I went on stage, that rush you feel. That's how I got the bug. I continued playing rugby, but....
TVGuide.com: I was going to ask, were you allowed to keep you're requisite "Rugby players have leather balls" bumper sticker?
O'Mara: Yeah, they just about let me kind of hang around, though I never really got my place back on the team. But it didn't really matter, because I had found what I loved to do.
TVGuide.com: In terms of acting in America, which came first, The Agency or HBO's Band of Brothers?
O'Mara: I did Band of Brothers in 2000, at the same time I was doing Monarch of the Glen, which BBC America seems to never stop showing [Laughs], much to my chagrin.
TVGuide.com: Was it a bit overwhelming to be a part of such an important miniseries?
O'Mara: When they were casting it, I had a hard time getting in, but I knew I wanted to do something in it. I got in on sort of the second round, and I ended up getting the role of Lieutenant Meehan. I was only in the first two episodes, but I probably got more lines than some of the regulars did in 10.
TVGuide.com: The Agency is where you met your wife, actress Paige Turco?
O'Mara: How did you guess? [Laughs] It was one of those shows about spies with sexual tension, and it seems like we sort of went over the side and brought it home with us.
TVGuide.com: Now here's a funny story unless you're me: When Paige was on All My Children, I, just a "civilian" fan at the time, once sent her a dozen roses at the ABC studio with an invitation to dinner.
O'Mara: [Laughs... a little too much]
TVGuide.com: And I never heard from her. Nothin'.
O'Mara: Nothing? She's not very good with fan mail, or roses, or... I actually accidentally punched her in our first fight scene on The Agency broke the skin over her eye, requiring stitches and I felt so bad about it. That's when I started realizing I had feelings for her. Maybe she likes that kind of treatment better, because we ended up getting married and now have a 2-year-old son! She doesn't respond so much to the roses. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: In Justice has a very fascinating premise. Is there a real group out there like the National Justice Project?
O'Mara: Yes, there are several, quite a few in every state. The most well known is the Innocence Project. [Our show] is loosely based on the work of these projects the one major difference being that we solve a case in 43 minutes, when it can actually take years to exonerate an innocent person. But it is quite inspirational. I love procedurals as much as the next person, and I wanted to do something that was both fun to make and had a sort of serious message. The thing I like most is that we're not strictly procedural; how the characters respond to each case distinguishes us.
TVGuide.com: Right. Some characters are cynical, some overoptimistic....
O'Mara: Some of us get upset, some of us get too involved and in the next episode, those people will react differently. That's quite human and quite real.
TVGuide.com: They've given your character, Conti, some interesting layers, like when we saw he had a dark past with the tattooed drug-lord guy.
O'Mara: Yeah, exactly. That's what's most interesting about playing Conti, how his past informs where he is now in his life. He used to think he had it all figured out, and now he's realizing that he doesn't. He left his wife when he left the police force and now he doesn't know if he did the right thing.... He's a walking contradiction tough but very vulnerable, serious but funny, a hard-boiled ex-cop with a soft center. He can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending what side of him you are on.
TVGuide.com: They seem to be playing a possible reconciliation with the ex-wife, but also pointing him to Sonya....
O'Mara: For Conti, there is the familiarity and security of going back to what he knows the ex-wife but he doesn't know how that would work with her being an ADA now. Sonya has expressed an interest in him, and as attracted to her as he is, he doesn't want to be seen pulling any favors in the office just because he has a personal relationship. So he's resisting that as much as possible.
TVGuide.com: How many more episodes are ahead?
O'Mara: We're halfway through, so we've got another seven to go. The Feb. 10 episode is a really good one you'll see how Swain can respond emotionally to a case, which is kind of odd, because he's supposed to be the cynical one. And then next week's is going to be pretty controversial. It has a pretty shocking ending, one that I think is going to kind of put us on the map. A lot of people are going to be talking about it. It will be interesting to see if we create a stir.
TVGuide.com: You're going to have the AFA after you, aren't you? I hear they're looking for something to watch on Friday nights.
O'Mara: [Laughs] No, it's not that. Put it this way: A lot of people say, "You always solve the case and get the guy off." Well, what happens when we don't? That's the premise of that episode.
TVGuide.com: In Justice should occasionally do an episode where the wrongfully convicted is actually guilty, but there's still a twist involved.
O'Mara: Obviously we are a show about exonerating the wrongly convicted, and more often than not, yes, they're innocent, but, of course, we're going to explore [the flip side] at some point. You'll see after Episode 8 that the producers and writers aren't shy about tackling some of these problems head-on.
TVGuide.com: You're an Irishman, Kyle MacLachlan is a Scot. Does that make you arch-enemies of any fashion?
O'Mara: [Laughs] We probably should be, but there's a Celtic link there, so.... I've never asked him whether he's a Rangers fan or a Celtics fan and I probably shouldn't, either. But I know he likes to golf at St. Andrews. He's quite a spiffy Scot! A lot of the show hangs on our chemistry, and I've always admired his work in Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet and stuff, and felt he was punished a little bit too much for Showgirls every movie star has made a turkey, you know? He's been held over the coals for far too long over that, and this is his redemption. I love working with him, and that comes through.
TVGuide.com: Well, I wish you luck and hope that the Dancing results show never goes to two hours.
O'Mara: So do we all! I love Dancing with the Stars, but two hours a week is plenty, don't ya think?