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Training Day's Bill Paxton Gets Into the Mind of His Dirtbag Cop Character

He also calls preconceived notions of the show "stupid"

Tim Surette

Minor spoilers for Training Day follow. Read at your own risk!

Bill Paxton thinks preconceived notions of his new show Training Day are "stupid." The actor -- aside from a lead role in HBO's Big Love -- has largely made his name in films, including memorable turns in Aliens ("Game over, man!"), True Lies, Apollo 13 and Twister, but is taking on his first regular series role in a network show via CBS' Training Day, a modern-day reboot of the 2001 film of the same name. And because the movie on which the series is based on is so famous, he knows what some of you are thinking.

"I feel like the movie is the Saturn V rocket and it falls away, and [the series] takes off," the candid and affable Paxton told TVGuide.com of turning the Antoine Fuqua movie into a television show. "I don't think at the end of the first season anybody will be going, 'Oh it's not like the movie. Oh you're trying to be Denzel Washington?' You read this crap on the internet, I just turn that stuff off," he says with a laugh. "You haven't even watched the show and you've already decided what it is? Okay, thanks for playing, goodbye. Tune in and make up your own mind. Preconceived notions are stupid."

Meet Justin Cornwell, Training Day's new hotshot cop

Paxton's honesty is a perfect match for his Training Day character Frank Roarke, the most compelling part of CBS' aspect. Roarke is a morally ambiguous -- some may even say morally bankrupt -- police vet heading up the somewhat-rogue Special Investigation Section of the LAPD, and who takes rookie cop Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell) under his wing -- though Kyle's actually partnered with him to keep tabs on Roarke for the LAPD.

Roarke's probably not the badge you want knocking on your door whether you're a good or bad guy. In the pilot, Frank finds an interesting way to get the attention of someone he needs information from. He sets the guy's house ablaze and fires off a beanbag gun at everyone who runs from the flames. (Yes, he gets the info he needs.) He also lets most-wanted criminals go free, isn't afraid to dish out a little torture and shrugs off fatal collateral damage. And that's just a taste of the law-bending he gets up to on his mission to do what he thinks is the right thing.

And Paxton knows some may not agree with Roarke's methods, but explains his character's actions by comparing Roarke's psyche with those of actual cops out on the streets, and reminds everyone that Training Day is still a television show.

Bill Paxton, Training Day

Bill Paxton, Training Day

Robert Voets/CBS

"[Roarke] is kind of trying to battle windmills, and there's a weird warrior code, which is almost like a gunfighter's code," he told us. "These are cops who deal with the worst predators in society, and he's got kind of a death wish. He wants to challenge them. These SIS guys will sit on a stakeout and they'll go after the worst armed robbers or whatever because they have to catch them in the commission of the crime so they can really put them away. And a lot of times you're putting desperate people who are armed and dangerous in a cornered situation, bullets are gonna fly. We've heightened that world [in the show], I mean, good lord, the body count goes up as we hit the streets. We would probably be bounced so fast out of the department."

Further explaining his character's unorthodox and dangerous methods is what we don't see before we're introduced to Roarke in the series. Roarke's former best friend and partner, the father of his new partner Kyle, was killed on Roarke's watch long before the series opens. Kyle's the "spitting image" of his father, and Roarke has a hard time seeing his former partner's face staring back at him all the time.

"He's got this survivor's guilt," Paxton says of his character. "I love the idea that he's got Hamlet's ghost around his neck. His best friend, his partner's ghost physically haunts him, and he has conversations with him, which is a little like being crazy, because he's obviously not there. But we the audience get to see in Frank's mind when he thinks he's talking to the guy."

Paxton also wants you to know that they're not trying to remake the movie, or as he calls it, "the dark nihilistic tragedy" and "iconic modern masterpiece." "That would be death if we tried to recreate the movie," he tells us. "You can't really go do that, that would be a fool's errand. What they've done with [CBS' Training Day] is there's a lot of great dynamics in that movie, particularly the old street-smart cop versus the young idealistic cop, there's a great dynamic tension in that, in the idea of cynicism versus idealism. You put these two characters together -- the drill sergeant and the private, the master and the student, the father and the son -- the idea that one guy's idealistic and has complete integrity. And the other guy - I started out that way, and let me tell you what: You stick to that plan and you'll be dead in a week."

Here's how CBS' Training Day differs from the movie

And for Paxton, who didn't plan on doing network television but jumped at the chance to play Roarke after reading the script, Roarke -- an untraditional hero by CBS' standards -- may be the type of character that audiences resonate with given these dark times we live in.

"I think [Roarke] has something to say," Paxton tells us. "I think he's a cathartic character for audiences out there in a way. Who feel a little helpless and impotent and feel the frustration in this country. I think Frank kind of taps into that, I like that he's a liberal conservative. He's completely integrated, he's beyond the racial issue. He had an interracial marriage that you find out about. You find out all kinds of things about him. He's an integrated guy. And as far as he's concerned, all adults made their choices so they're fair game. But kids, kids are innocent. I think also you find out his backstory, he had his innocence taken away from him early on. He's very protective of young people, that gives him that redeeming thing."

But what really makes up the complex Roarke is the push-and-pull of his likable and despicable actions, and for Paxton, who did ridealongs with police in South Central Los Angeles to study up for the role, that all comes from the job.

"He's sardonic as hell, he's got a wicked sense of humor because he's seen so much," Paxton says. "These cops have a lot of gallows humor, and to an outsider it seems very insensitive. But if you have to see death and murder and the destruction that's caused by drugs and physical violence against people and you have to deal with that and the worst parts of society, you have to have something to fall back on. Hence, a lot of cops' marriages don't last. Hence, a lot of cops abuse alcohol. Hence, a lot of them have really dark funky senses of humor that makes them seem callous. But it makes for an interesting character. [laughs]"

Training Day premieres Thursday, Feb. 2 at 10/9c on CBS.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)