Ambitiously and passionately working to obtain the best possible results in your work can be both an intense and rewarding experience, particularly when you garner the respect and camaraderie amongst your co-workers that you deserve. That satisfying and enriching work ethic is clearly evident in both actor Ian Anthony Dale’s dedicated performance as Lieutenant Jim Koto in the new TNT crime drama, ‘Murder in the First.’ He vibrantly portrays the officer’s committed resolve to apprehend and persecute the killer in the serialized first season of the mystery show.
‘Murder in the first,’ which airs on Mondays at 10/9c, follows Lieutenant Koto as he leads his two San Francisco homicide detectives, Terry English (Taye Diggs) and Hildy Mulligan (Kathleen Robertson), in a gripping and mysterious murder mystery. Two recently deceased victims lead to a mercurial tech billionaire, Erich Blunt (Tom Felton). Truly believing he’s invincible, Erich pushes the cops to investigate him, much to the worry of his legal counsel, David Hertzberg (Richard Schiff), who encourages his client to hire famed criminal defense attorney, Warren Daniels (James Cromwell).
While contending with the high profile and stressful case, the members of the police department are also struggling with their own personal issues. Jim is having an affair with District Attorney Jacqueline Perez (Nicole Ari Parker), which he’s trying to keep a secret, as the two would suffer professional consequences if anyone discovers their personal relationship. Terry’s wife, Emily (Anne-Marie Johnson) was terminally ill before she died in the series’ pilot episode, while Hildy is a divorced mom struggling to balance raising her child with her workload.
Dale generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Murder in the First’ over the phone. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to the crime drama series because he appreciated that the show was uniquely going to focus on one murder mystery, and stretch the search for the killer over the course of the first season’s 10 episodes. He also appreciated that the writers created a character in Lieutenant Koto that’s appropriate to the city of San Francisco. The actor also mentioned how he enjoyed that the cast wasn’t immediately told who the killer was. He felt that oly being given the information that was present in the script they were working on helped build the excitement and anticipation amongst the actors. Dale also revealed how it’s been great playing a disciplinary on the show. But he also has a great time with his co-stars when they aren’t filming, which he wanted to infuse more of into the characters’ relationships on screen.
ShockYa (SY): You play Lieutenant Jim Koto, the head of the San Francisco PD homicide unit, in the new crime drama, ‘Murder in the First.’ What was it about the character of Jim, and the show’s concept overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Ian Anthony Dale (IAD): Well, I was attracted to the show’s different format. So many cop shows on television now are of the procedural nature. A crime is committed in the first act, and then the case is solved by the final act. But I’m so much more drawn to shows where there’s a grand mystery over the course of the season. So when I heard about this series, and that it was going to be a serialized murder mystery, I was immediately drawn in and interested.
Then when I read the character of Jim Koto, I was pleased the writers wrote a character who’s appropriate to the region. San Francisco has an enormous Asian population. So for (the show’s creators, producers and writers) Eric Lodal and Steven Bochco to write a character, and particularly a lieutenant, to be of Asian-American descent, I thought that was really cool. I was proud of them for writing such a character. I was excited to have an opportunity to read for this show, and I was lucky enough to be the guy for the part. I had an awesome time working on the show.
SY: Like you mentioned, the first season of ‘Murder in the First’ features one murder case the police are working on to solve. What was the process of keeping up the intrigue throughout the season’s 10 episodes as they focus on this one case, and did you know any of the details of the case as you were filming?
IAD: We were kept in the dark about what was going to happen next. It was very similar to how the audience is experiencing it right now. We weren’t given any information ahead of time; we were only given the information that was present in the current script we were working on.
In a way, I really enjoyed that process, because you get to go on this adventure like everybody else. You get to have all those feelings of excitement and anticipation, and you wonder what’s going to happen next. There were times throughout the season that everyone was guessing who the killer might be. No one was really safe. We were all wondering, is it possible they might make a detective or a lawyer the killer? But I always felt that as a detective on the show, I should be pretty free and clear. (laughs) But you really never know, and that’s the nature of a grand mystery. So going to the set everyday, and expecting a new script, was an exciting process to experience.
SY: What kind of research did you do to prepare for your role of Jim when you were first cast in the role?
IAD: For me, I like to do a lot of preparation and research. I heavily researched into San Francisco law enforcement and politics, because my character straddles the line of cop and politician. He’s very ambitious, and wants to be the mayor of San Francisco one day. So I studied the history of former San Francisco Chief of Police, Heather Fong, as well as the current mayor of San Francisco, Edwin Lee. I researched both of these people to understand who my character’s constituency might be, if he were ever to ascend to the mayor’s office. In addition to that, I also read former Los Angeles Police Chief, and current New York Police Commissioner, William J. Bratton’s book, ‘Turnaround,’ to understand the psychology of law enforcement.
My brother is also a homicide detective for the Minneapolis Police Department. Any time I’ve played a detective in my career, and particularly with this character, Jim Koto, I’ve always had the good fortune to be able to call on my brother, and he would answer any questions about authenticity or technicalities I may have. He’s able to give me the information I may need in order to play these characters with as much truth as possible. So I did quite a bit of research, and I think it’s quite important to do that to bring these characters to life in an organic way.
SY: While Jim is already a lieutenant and is younger than his detectives, he’s already aspiring to become the mayor of San Francisco, like you mentioned. Will he be ambitious enough to go after that goal while working on the two murder cases throughout this season? Will his backstory and political motivations be explained throughout the course of the season?
IAD: That’s a good question. In regards to backstory, there’s only so much you can take away from the scripts, and what the producers and writers tell you. The rest you have to create yourself. One of the things I did during my preparation was write a 20-page bio, starting with how Jim Koto’s parents met, and up until how he became a lieutenant in the San Francisco Police Department. So you want to fill in all the spaces to create the character’s history, and bring the character to life.
I think Jim does have the ambition to become the mayor. As the season continues to unfold, we’ll see how his ambitions cloud his judgment, and get in the way of is relationships. Sometimes he’s too ambitious, and it’s too a fault. But that adds a complexity to his character.
SY: Jim keeps an eye on his detectives, Terry English, played by Taye Diggs, and Hildy Mulligan, portrayed by Kathleen Robertson. How did you form your working relationships with them as you were filming the first season?
IAD: It’s been great playing such a disciplinary on the show. But when the cameras aren’t rolling, we’re having such a good time, cracking jokes and laughing. I want to infuse a certain amount of that into our characters’ relationships, so I’m not always so stern. I’ve been able to do so here and there, even though the producers want me to remain a disciplinarian.
But it’s been awesome working with them. They’re such professionals, and so talented. It’s nice to work with people who are nice and happy to show up to set everyday.
SY: Jim is also having a secret relationship with one of his co-workers, District Attorney Jacqueline Perez, but if people find out about it, it could have extremely negative results for their careers. How did you balance playing Jim’s ambitious ways in his career with his personal life and determination to keep his relationship hidden?
IAD: Well, that will become a major conflict throughout the season. He finds love in the most dangerous of places, and in this case, it’s with the DA. If he and the DA were ever to be found out, the perception of propriety would be enough to derail both of their careers. So it’s something he has to keep very secret.
He also wants to please the DA and the current mayor. Every time he can help them out, he’s one step closer to the next rung on the ladder. So that’s where his ambitions start to cloud his judgment. Does he do what’s best for himself and his advancement, or does he do what’s best for his relationships, particularly with the DA, and also with his detectives? So that’s a great conflict he’s experiencing throughout the season. We get to boil to a head closer to the end of the season.
SY: What was the experience of shooting ‘Murder in the First’ in San Francisco like overall?
IAD: We actually filmed the season primarily in Los Angeles. But we took multiple trips to San Francisco to film the exterior shots, so it was the best of both worlds. With many productions shooting on location, it’s nice to film in your hometown. It was nice to also be able to go on these mini vacations to San Francisco every four weeks or so, and have fun.
It was also an opportunity for us, as a cast and crew, to celebrate together. It’s great to be able to go on location. People have a tendency to unwind a little bit more than they would in any other scenario. So we had a fun time, and this was a great group of people to work with.
SY: Before signing onto ‘Murder in the First,’ you were known for your recurring and guest starring television roles, including Adam Noshimuri on ‘Hawaii Five-O’ and Simon Lee on ‘The Event.’ How does working on a cable series like ‘Murder in the First’ compare and contrast to having roles on network series?
IAD: We have a little bit more freedom to take risks (on a cable series), and in the storytelling, you can come up with some exciting things. My character gets to swear a little bit later in the season, and that’s a first for me-I’ve never gotten to swear on TV, and it was exciting.
We also get to be more controversial, and at the same time, you get to be a little more real. You want to create this grit and authenticity, and I think cable gives you that opportunity. I think we’re doing that with ‘Murder in the First.’ It’s a balance between the prime-time cops shows people are accustomed to, and the grit and authenticity that make it feel a little different.
SY: Besides television, you have also starred in such films as ‘The Hangover’ and ‘The Bucket List.’ How does acting on television compare and contrast to making movies? Do you have a preference of one medium over the other?
IAD: I enjoy acting overall, and I’m happy I’ve been able to make a living with it over the last 12 years, and I really don’t discriminate. I’m drawn to projects that are interesting and challenging, and it doesn’t really matter what medium they fall under. I’ve even worked on web series, including ‘Mortal Kombat: Legacy’ for two seasons. That was made specifically for the Internet, and I had such a great time working on that, as well.
I just enjoy working and acting with good people. My experience on ‘Murder in the First’ was one of the good ones. There were a lot of good people, and we’re excited to be making this product.
SY: Have there been any discussions on whether ‘Murder in the First’ will return for a second season? Would you be interested in reprising your role of Jim if the show does return?
IAD: We did respectively well with this season’s first three episodes. I think if we’re able to continue to produce the viewership that we’ve been able to do thus fur, I think we have as good a chance as anyone else. But we’re in that wait-and-see period. If we do get picked up for a second season, I would absolutely love it, and I would be so excited to get back to work.
SY: Speaking of the fact that the series has done well with audiences in its first few episodes, what does it mean to you that viewers are embracing the show so far?
IAD: Well, that’s all you can ask for. Steven Bochco said at our wrap party, we’ve done the best job we can with the part of the process we can control, and we made a product we can be proud of. All you can do is hope and pray that people will tune in and enjoy it. You really can’t predict who’s going to. But for the people that do, I’m so thankful and grateful that they do. I hope we can entertain them on the level we expect.
Written by: Karen Benardello