Scott Caan, who plays investigator Danny "Danno" Williams, that cocky, huggable bulldog you see strutting his stuff each week on Hawaii Five-0, is not so different from his character. Both have been struggling to adjust to a new island home (Danny's left New Jersey to be closer to his daughter, while Caan jets back to L.A. every chance he gets to visit with his girlfriend). Both live in the shadow of a larger-than-life presence (Danny's superior, former Navy SEAL Steve McGarrett, and Caan's real-life pops, Oscar nominee James Caan). And both are all about the work, with little patience for frivolity.
For example, Caan has been asked to shoot a CBS promo out on the terrace of a Waikiki hotel between takes — and he doesn't even attempt to feign enthusiasm.
"Be here. Aloha," he mutters three times, with nary a smile and a serious I-don't-give-a-crap attitude.
Looking on a few feet away with devilish delight: costar Alex O'Loughlin, who senses his pal's discomfort and shouts, "Smile!"
"B--- me," Caan hollers back.
"C'mon, you have a great smile," O'Loughlin teases.
This off-camera frat-boy banter is finding a place on screen, too, making O'Loughlin's straight-arrow McGarrett and his sarcastic hothead sidekick the most buzzed about partnership of the new season.
"We both lucked out," says O'Loughlin, who has been receiving on-set chess lessons from Caan. "We really bounce off each other, and as we get closer, we can just shoot each other a look, which adds a lot to our relationship on screen."
While O'Loughlin has been slowly emerging as a TV fan favorite for the past few seasons, Caan has remained pretty much under the radar since the late '90s as a dependable supporting player in film (the Ocean's Eleven franchise) and TV (he'll return to shoot Entourage's final season during his summer hiatus). But it's Hawaii Five-0 that's making this recognizable tough guy a bankable name, which is why CBS believes viewers will tune in if Caan tells them to "Be here" — even if he personally finds the spots moronic. "I don't know how to be a cornball, and this is a cornball thing," says Caan after wrapping the promos. "I will never, ever settle into something that I think is fake."
"Scott's very real and wears his heart on his sleeve," explains the show's executive producer, Peter Lenkov. "There's not a dishonest bone in his body."
True, ask Caan a question and you'll get an honest answer — like how he feels about being part of the newest jewel on CBS' lucrative crown of procedural dramas. "If I'd been presented with just a straight procedural, I would have said, 'No, thank you,'" he says. "The procedural stuff is not the most fun to do, so to get through it, Alex and I have to bust each other's b---s and try to find ways to do the scene. The character stuff is what I want to do."
Fortunately for Caan, upcoming character-driven episodes will showcase the actor's as-yet-unseen emotional side. In tonight's episode, the body of Danny's former partner turns up in a luau barbecue pit. Later this season, Danny helps McGarrett as he faces a painful betrayal. And we'll finally meet Danny's ex-wife, Rachel (Aussie actress Claire Van Der Boom), whose bedroom will be the scene of a stakeout.
Seeing Caan work his dramatic chops has proven particularly entertaining to his costar. "Scott is just as interesting to watch dramatically as he is comedically," says O'Loughlin, impressed by what he calls his pal's "deep reservoir of emotions."
Even Caan's famous father has become a fan. "He's told me, 'I really like what you're doing and I'm proud of you,'" says Caan. "And my dad's the kind of guy who'd come to a play I wrote and say, 'That sucks!' The truth is, Hawaii Five-0 is better than a lot of movies I've been in. If I can make a ton of money doing something I love and get to a place where I'm doing movies I want to do, then what could be better than that?"