Michael Vartan, <EM>Big Shots</EM> Michael Vartan, Big Shots

Michael Vartan is suiting up. As AmeriMart CEO James Walker on the new ABC series Big Shots (premiering tonight at 10 pm/ET), he doffs his secret-agent gear in favor of tailored suits as he contends not with rogue spies but with ruthless bosses, an unfaithful wife and his irrepressible alpha-male pals (played by The Practice's Dylan McDermott, West Wing's Josh Malina and funnyman Christopher Titus). Think of it as "Tons of Testosterone and the City." TVGuide.com invited Vartan to clear the air about his "controversial" new show. Plus: The Alias wish that went unfulfilled.

TVGuide.com: A foursome of well-off guys sitting around talking about the sorts of things guys talk about... is Big Shots as bold, even daring, a TV venture as some are making it out to be?
Michael Vartan:
I don’t think it is. The truth of the matter is, they're not talking about women the way men really talk about women, and that’s mostly because it's ABC. If it were HBO, we'd get into it a bit more. But I think it is different in the sense that for the first time there is a show out there that exposes the fact that guys do talk about women a lot more than anyone thought they did. But I don’t think it's necessarily "bold" because it isn't cable television. We can't go off the deep end. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Do you think it's realistic in its depiction of guy friends of a certain stature hanging out?
Yeah. I have said from the beginning, and this goes for any network television program, that it does a good job of balancing how much guys make fun of one another — because I don’t know about you, but my friends and I spend half the day making fun of one another and s--t — with the times where you talk about your personal problems and love life. The show does a good job of painting that picture. The only area where we are stretching the truth, as far as I am concerned, is the jobs. I don’t really believe myself as a CEO. [Laughs] But hopefully the viewers will!

TVGuide.com: Your character is actually the one faced with the most real of conflicts, at least in the premiere.
Yes, yes... they like to tell me my character is "the moral center." That’s one of the things I was attracted to when I read the script. As an actor, it's always more fun to play conflict and things that are troublesome as opposed to when things are fine. I was excited by the notion of what lies ahead for this guy, in terms of his marriage, his job situation....

TVGuide.com: So part of the draw for you was to get away from the squeaky-clean good boys whose lives are hunky-dory?
Oh, yeah. Man, give me a movie where I can shoot heroin and kill someone and I'm in. There's nothing wrong with romantic comedies — I wouldn’t be talking to you if it weren't for Never Been Kissed and Monster-in-Law — and when I think back on those, I have great memories. But I've been doing this for 20 years and while it's nice to be told, "Aw, you're so sweet," I'm a dude! [Laughs] It gets old after a while. Alias was good for me because even though Vaughn was a squeaky-clean CIA agent, at least I got to shoot a gun once in a while.

TVGuide.com: Did you ever lobby to have Vaughn get an evil doppelgänger, à la Francie?
Oh, are you kidding?! That's all I lobbied for with [exec producer] J.J. [Abrams]. I was like, "Dude, you’ve got to make Vaughn be the bad guy at the end of it!" He said that was the one character that we could not turn evil because no one would believe it. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: A concern of some critics is that these Big Shots, by and large, aren't entirely likable. Is that being addressed, are any tweaks being made...?
To be honest, I don’t think we really care. It's one of those things where we're not going to please everyone all the time. A lot of the criticism has been so harsh and heavy-handed at times, you have to stop and think, "I didn’t realize we were curing cancer here." It's a TV show. If you don’t like it, pick up the remote. Dylan [McDermott]'s character is definitely living on the edge, Josh [Malina]'s is having an affair.... They're not choir boys, and they're not the most upstanding guys, but welcome to the real world. And also, we're not making any political, sociological or economic statement here. We're just making a TV show about a bunch of rich CEOs who act like dorks once in a while. It's not Apocalypse Now. If it's offensive for you, change the channel.

TVGuide.com: "Go watch someone get defibrillated on ER."
[Laughs] Exactly.

TVGuide.com: Had you crossed professional paths with any of your costars before?
No, I've never worked with any of them, but I've known Josh for about 10 years. The funny thing about this cast is you would be hard-pressed to find four guys more different than the four of us are. We are so incredibly different. Dylan is this sharp, cool, edgy, quiet, intense guy; Josh is so f--king smart, he reeks of intelligence; Christopher [Titus] is one of the funniest people I've ever met; and I'm just sort of "none of the above," trying to figure out what I'm doing on this show. [Laughs]

TVGuide.com: No male diva among you?
Not yet, not yet. But it's early, we have time!

TVGuide.com: No p-ssing matches like, "I worked for David E. Kelley." "But I worked for J.J. Abrams. "Well, I worked for Aaron Sorkin..."?
No, no. Dylan would win that p-ssing match anyway. I'm just happy to have a job.

TVGuide.com: It's also worth mentioning that the cast features the likes of Nia Long and Paige Turco, and Charisma Carpenter starts a recurring role on Nov. 1. Eye candy for everybody, right?
Absolutely. Nothing wrong with that!

Watch clips of Michael Vartan and Big Shots in our Online Video Guide.

The Oct. 1 issue of TV Guide features an in-depth preview of Heroes, featuring Hayden Panettiere, Ali Larter and the newest hero, Kristen Bell. Plus: Inside Jerry Seinfeld's return to television on 30 Rock. Try four risk-free issues now!

Send your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com.