'Murder in the First' Star Kathleen Robertson on Cops, Comedy and A-List 'Boss' Nostalgia
The actress tells THR about being courted by Steven Bochco, the famous names who've brought up her short-lived Starz series at events and how she's become an unlikely go-to for "gritty, messed-up people."
Kathleen Robertson's latest vehicle could keep her occupied for a while. Murder in the First opened to solid ratings in its TNT debut a couple weeks ago, and co-creator Steven Bochco (NYPD Blue, L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues) has a solid track record were cop shows are concerned.
But the series is trying to distinguish itself from other TNT dramas with a serialized police-and-lawyer tale, telling the story of just one crime over the course of its 10-episode first run. It's what Roberterson says drew her to the part coming off of her last regular gig on Starz's critically adored (but shortlived) Boss. On the heels of Murder in the First's premiere, Robertson spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about going so long in the industry without playing a detective.
Robertson, who got her start on Canadian comedy Maniac Mansion when she was still a teenager before a stateside breakout on Beverly Hills, 90210, also talked about the lingering appeal of Darren Star's seminal soap, Boss' prominent celebrity fans and the strange phenomenon of never being offered a sitcom after her turn on circa-2006 IFC comedy The Business.
This can't have been the first detective series thrown your way. What sold you on the show?
I was looking for something to do after Boss, and I thought that this role — for me — would be challenging. I’d never played a cop before. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of cops portrayed on television, but I still feel like this female perspective on the job is new, especially with this being a single mom out there dating. This is not a procedural. I obviously love Steven, and I’m a huge fan of what he’s done. He kind of defines the genre. It's pretty remarkable.
How did he pitch it you?
He explained to me that the show starts off with this murder, the middle section will focus on the trial and the end would be the resolution of the story. When we first found out that the show got picked up, he took Taye Diggs and I to San Francisco. We met the chief of police and a bunch of homicide detectives for research. Steven went to this dumpy little diner across from 850 Bryant Street [the Superior Court], and there he is, sitting there with his notebook and asking these retired homicide detective all these questions. He’s kind of covered this territory before, but he’s still always looking to learn.
You were cast, in part, for your work on Boss. Have you gotten a lot of response in the industry since it ended?
Obviously, not enough people watched because it didn’t get picked up [for a third season], but it was certainly loved by people in this business. The level of people who watched that show is kind of mind-blowing. If I’m at an event, the people who watched Boss — whether it’s Steven Soderbergh or Oprah Winfrey — were just, “Oh my God, your show. It was so great.” And to have people like that be so angry that it got canceled doesn’t make it easier. Let’s put it that way. It was really hard for all of us. Obviously I’m biased, but I think it was a really fantastic piece of work. And I think that for Kelsey [Grammer] to win the Golden Globe and the show to be nominated, I think we were all sort of settling in for at least a few more years. When I met with Steven, I told him, “FYI, my show just got canceled, so I’m a little sad.”
How does the recognition for Boss compare to your other series?
There's a lot. All the time. We always joke about it because we all keep in touch. Kelsey will say, “Wait, if everybody’s so into the show, why did it get canceled?” There isn’t a day that goes by that someone doesn’t come up to me, and it’s not like it’s just an L.A. thing.
Is there a reason you haven't done any comedy since The Business?
It’s so funny you say that because the guy who created that show, Phil Price, he always says to me, “Why are you doing drama?" I loved doing it. Believe me. That show was so much fun. And I think that that show was IFC pre-Portlandia. I feel like if we had been on a little later, we would probably still be on. It was at a weird time for IFC, it was sort of this weird no-man’s land. I got to produce as well with them, which was really fun for me. But I love doing comedy, so I’m putting it out there. And I always say to my reps, “Comedy, comedy, comedy.” For some reason, I get a lot of dark stuff sent to me and a lot of really complicated, gritty, messed-up people -- which is also a lot of fun. I've just got to write something for myself.
Jason Priestley’s memoir recently put 90210 back into the conversation again. How do you feel about the lingering nostalgia for that show?
I completely understand people’s fascination with it. If I met somebody who was on Sex and the City or Six Feet Under, I would want to know all about their experience. I used to always think that it was something people were being silly about when they said they were into , that they really weren’t into it, but people genuinely did like it. When we were doing press for Murder in the First, I spoke to this woman, and she got emotional talking to me about certain episodes. It was genuinely real. And so it’s kind of amazing to be part of something that was so much a part of pop culture. It was my very first American job, and it really did change the trajectory of my life. To have that be a memory of my past is a great one, but it’s one that I never think about unless somebody else brings it up.
Is there anything open-ended about your stint on Bates Motel?
I am very into that show. I was like a huge a fan before I did it, but I don’t think I can do two shows. I do get shot at the end of the second season, but people are saying to me, “Oh no, you didn’t really die." But I think I’m dead. I sadly think I’m dead.