While I really liked the unabashed Ocean's Eleven-ness of NBC's Heist, FX's Thief (Tuesdays at 10 pm/ET) serves up grand larceny with gripping grit and no gloss, as Andre Braugher's Nick Atwater plots out that "one last score" that will lead him and his band of merry bandits out of harm's way. Mucking up the mix is the professional pinch's stepdaughter, Tammi, already disposed to view her father figure through less than rose-colored glasses, then forced to question everything about their familial ties when tragedy robs the teen of her mother, Nick's wife. It's heavy stuff, but Mae Whitman, who plays Tammi, deemed herself ready to carry the load, as she reveals in this TVGuide.com Q&A.
TVGuide.com: I figure a girl your age gets sent a lot of gross-out teen comedies and stuff.
Mae Whitman: Yeah. Thief presented a big difference and a great role.
TVGuide.com: What led you to choose such serious fare?
Whitman: What's interesting is that I almost couldn't do it because it conflicted with another pilot I had done. But on the other pilot I was only in a recurring role, so I ended up able to do Thief. In talking to [executive producer] Norman Morrill, we realized that this girl was going to have a serious arc and would be growing in front of our very eyes and it wasn't going to be easy. A lot of people are like, "You're horrible to your stepdad! You need to be slapped across the face!" Well, she's going through a lot, so cut the girl some slack! She's reacting as any teenager would in this situation. I think I smile a total of three times on the show.
TVGuide.com: I actually counted and we went through two and a half episodes before we saw the first smile between you and Andre Braugher.
Whitman: Exactly. [Laughs] It was a really intense experience for me. When I got home from Louisiana, I was like, "Oh my god, I'm exhausted. I never want to cry again."
TVGuide.com: Who's been there to lighten up the mood between takes?
Whitman: The crew from Louisiana [where Thief was filmed] was great. They had a terrific attitude, and all of our directors are really cool. And Andre, he's one of the funniest people I know! You don't know it right away. At first, you're like, "Oh, boy, this guy is such a serious and intense actor," but once you get to know him... he's so funny. We had nights where we shot from 5 pm to 5 am and it'd be like "Andre's Stand-up Hour." He'd be telling jokes for the whole crew to hear.
TVGuide.com: It's always an interesting moment on the show when he lets slip that Cheshire Cat grin.
Whitman: Yeah, he calls his teeth "tombstones," and that's the funniest thing I've heard in my life!
TVGuide.com: I wasn't overly familiar with his work before this, but... wow. Powerhouse.
Whitman: He's in that perfect place where he's not so famous that people are digging through his trash, but he's well known and well respected and well liked. That's exactly where I want to be. He's a brilliant, brilliant actor.
TVGuide.com: In terms of story line, why do you think Tammi hasn't gone to the cops since witnessing Nick shoot a man? Is it because she knows but can't bring herself to admit that he is the only father she has right now?
Whitman: It's tough to say. First off, it's like, what do you do when you see something like that, with the stepfather you've been living with for years? You see this horrible thing happen and immediately Nick, someone who's obviously very persuasive and professional at what he does, tells you, "It's OK." You wouldn't go call the cops on him right away. You'd want to believe him, especially with Tammi, who is going through the rest of this stuff with her mother dying. Tammi realizes that she and Nick are all each other has.
TVGuide.com: Is that your tattoo on Tammi's wrist, or hers?
Whitman: That's hers. Ruth Carter, the wardrobe designer, and I were very much on the same page. Some of the clothes are mine, some are Tammi's. All the jewelry I'm wearing is all mine it's jewelry I wear every day. I was watching at a friend's house the other night and she was like, "That's my friendship bracelet!"
TVGuide.com: New Orleans is almost a character itself on this series. Did you shoot this whole thing down there?
Whitman: We shot half of the pilot in New Orleans, and after Katrina hit we shot in Shreveport, which is like eight hours north.
TVGuide.com: Is the atmosphere in those parts still somber?
Whitman: The Louisiana spirit is so unbelievably strong and they want to thank you so much for bringing your business there.... Even though everybody has gone through this horrible tragedy, they still welcome you with open arms and want you there. The attitude was not somber at all, which was great.
TVGuide.com: Being on a show about thieves, I have to ask: Have you ever stolen anything, Mae?
Whitman: You know what? I've actually never stolen anything.
TVGuide.com: Liar. You probably have a closet full of lipsticks from Claire's.
Whitman: OK, you know what I have stolen? Those little beans in the barrel at the grocery store. My dad once told me about how he stole a comic book when he was five, and then felt so guilty about it. So stealing is one thing I can just never do.
TVGuide.com: Lastly, you played George Clooney's kid in 1996's One Fine Day. Bummer to be his costar at an age when you couldn't appreciate his hunkiness?
Whitman: It was actually better, because that way he didn't get any special treatment from me. [Laughs] We're still really good friends to this day. When people are like, "Isn't he hot?" I'm like, "Hmm, no, he's 'my dad.'" But he is one good-looking guy!