Having tackled everything from jail to Yale Drama School to network sitcoms, you'd think that ex-Roc star Charles S. Dutton had seen it all. But during last October's Beltway-area shootings, while many couldn't help but notice his uncanny likeness to Virginia police chief Charles Moose, Dutton was witnessing the worst of that horror first hand.

"I live in Maryland," says the three-time Emmy winner (that includes last month's trophy for his Without a Trace guest spot). "Those guys [suspected gunmen John Lee Malvo and John Allan Muhammad] were about 15 miles from my farm. I was there during a majority of the shootings."

So when the offer to play Moose in USA Network's D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear (airing Oct. 17 at 9 pm/ET) came in, Dutton wasn't so sure about a small-screen trip back to the scene of the crimes that killed 10 people and injured three others.

"Believe me, I have seen a lot of bad [TV-movies] that come after tragedies... I did think, 'This is a little fast,'" recalls Dutton, who admits to being "extremely picky" about his projects. However, realizing that the film was inevitable, he signed on after reading a script that was more explanatory than exploitative. "[It] was interesting," he notes, "because it was a behind-the-scenes look at the investigation from Moose's perspective" that doesn't shy away from revealing several of his missteps, including an ill-advised apology to the victims' families for not catching the killers fast enough. "He really put his head on the chopping block."

And though he's yet to meet the real-life Moose, Dutton's just fine with playing the hero as flawed, so long as new light is shed on the darkest hours of a town he's proud to call home. "It wasn't difficult," he says, "to be emotional about this thing."