By ANGELA DAWSON and JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD— “Lethal Weapon” famously starred Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as mismatched but likable cops in a series of lighthearted action-packed films in the 1980s and 1990s. The series, which premiered Sept. 21, airs Wednesdays on Fox at 8/7c. The new buddy cop show was seen by 7.8 million viewers, according to The Nielsen Company.
Veteran comedic actor Damon Wayans (“In Living Color”) and up-and-coming Alabama native Clayne Crawford (TV’s “Rectify”) step into the shoes of Glover and Gibson, respectively, in the TV series update of “Lethal Weapon.” Wayans plays by-the-book homicide detective Roger Murtaugh who is paired with a slightly off-kilter narcotics officer Martin Riggs to investigate murder cases in Los Angeles. Their different approaches law enforcement creates conflict and yet the duo manages to solve crimes in unorthodox and yet surprisingly successful ways. Matt Miller (TV’s “Forever,” “Chuck”) created, writes and executive produces the buddy-comedy action series.
As “Lethal Weapon’s” writer and executive producer Matt Miller says of the reboot, “You always are drawing upon what those films or TV shows that you saw when you were at a formative age, that resonated with you, that made you come up on this stage on some level. There was that initial thing that lit the spark for you. For me, that was ‘Lethal Weapon.’ When I saw it when I was a kid, it blew my mind.”
At the Television Critics Association press tour, the stars of “Lethal Weapon” spoke about taking on this classic franchise and making the iconic characters their own.
Q: In the original “Lethal Weapon,” Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the Martin Riggs character is one that’s almost sort of dangerously unhinged at times. Clayne, you’re interpretation of this character seems a little less crazy. To what the degree of unstableness was that you were going for with the character?
Crawford: In the films, Martin was doing cocaine, which kind of jacked things up just a little bit. This is (aired on) Fox during family hour so there’s no cocaine. I was playing more of just his sadness. If I lost my children, I don’t know how I would get up and pay the bills. I don’t know how I would continue with life. So I approached it from that way, but yet having that urge, that desire to catch bad guys, I guess. So I try to just ground Riggs in an honest place, because I felt like, from an audience standpoint, what Mel Gibson did was so incredible in ’87 with that role, but I think that we, as an audience, kind of want the story a little more grounded today in a little bit more truth. I had to find the heart of the piece. I had to come from that place and not go so big with it.
Q: Is it intimidating as an actor to step into the shoes of Mel Gibson, who is so associated with this character from the original films?
Crawford: On stage you rarely get an opportunity to play a role that hasn’t been played by many other actors, right? So you embrace that challenge. With film, it lives forever, so we can go back and we can compare. So that was my fear coming into this. I thought everyone involved with the “Lethal Weapon” franchise had just done such a wonderful job, including, obviously, Mel Gibson, who really kind of dominated this role and didn’t leave a lot of the meat on the bone. I didn’t even want to read the script at first, and I certainly didn’t want to leave Alabama. I had been in L.A. for 15 years, and I liked living in solitude with my children. But I read the material and I couldn’t, as an actor who’s still just a 12‑year‑old boy that likes playing dress‑up, turn it down.
So I read the material and I couldn’t say no to a man that was, as we’ve said before, so broken, but yet was kind of a hero and trying to do the right thing. It kind of grabbed me immediately.
And yet it’s scary going to work every day. I don’t know how we’re going to maintain this but I have confidence in Matt Miller and (director/executive producer) McG and, of course, everyone at Warner Bros. and Fox that we’re going to give it our best effort and we’re going to leave it all on the field, for better or worse.
Q: More so than most other shows, the chemistry between the two leads is the most important thing in this. In the “Lethal Weapon” movies, Mel and Danny are held up as the benchmark as what most other buddy cop shows and movies are compared to. Did that weigh on you, Damon?
Wayans: “Lethal Weapon” is a global, iconic piece of property that when you hear the words, you smile. I actually think it’s good to be able to make something work, because we’re probably going to start a trend. And the secret sauce is heart. That’s where they went wrong with other (buddy comedy) franchises is that they forget to put the heart in. People want that warm fuzzy feeling, and I think that nostalgia brings that.
Q: Your character is a family man and deeply committed to his family. Is that something you could relate to personally?
Wayans: I love kids. My family, we have a deep bench of children and grandchildren. It’s fun. I feel a different side of me come alive when I’m playing with kids, and you might have seen a little bit of that in the pilot. I just love them.