Any buddy cop movie fan worth their salt knows the setup for Lethal Weapon.
Created by Shane Black, the original film focused on the dynamic pairing of a cop with a death wish and another who simply wishes to make it to retirement intact.
It was a winning formula, and one that spawned three more sequels before its stars, Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, genuinely got “too old for this sh*t”.
But now Lethal Weapon has been reborn as a TV series, fronted by the winning duo of Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford. It’s fast, frantic and effortlessly fun. It’s also just arrived on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK and is about to air for a second season in the US.
To mark the release of the first season on DVD, loaded spoke to Damon and Clayne about turning an 80s classic into one of the coolest shows on TV right now.
loaded: What did you think when you first heard that they were making a TV reboot of Lethal Weapon?
Crawford: I laughed. It was so silly. It’s like saying you’re going to make Shawshank as a TV show. They are such great movies and they only ruined it by doing a fourth one! I was like, ‘Now we are going to screw it up even worse by making a TV show out of it? Jeez!’ It seemed like a bad idea. But then I didn’t know about Damon and I had not read the material. It was just the idea of it that seemed absurd to me. And I don’t think I was alone in that respect.
Wayans: The first thing I said was that I had got to read the script. It is all about the script and when I read the script I thought it was tight. I felt goosebumps and emotions, and that’s rare when you pick up a script for a reboot of a show. It is usually all the signature stuff, the catchphrases and the things that you remember from the movie that they try to shove into the pilot. They don’t really find the emotional connection. But I think [series creator] Matt Miller did a great job of doing it on paper. And if it felt that good on paper, I could imagine it playing out. I could see it.
loaded: When did the two of you first meet?
Crawford: It was breakfast after I agreed to do it. I live in Alabama; I have a farm up there. We had given up our place in LA and I flew out to talk to these guys and they said, ‘Look, let’s go and have breakfast with Damon tomorrow and see how you guys get along,’ and it was just easy. It was just two guys who loved their families, loved what we do and who just wanted to try not to screw this thing up. And that is how we went into it.
loaded: Do you feel that the characters are different from the ones you remember from the films?
Wayans: It is the essence of what it was in the movie but when we met for breakfast I had been doing chemistry reads with other actors and everybody was coming in doing their interpretation of Mel Gibson, which is doing exactly what it shouldn’t have been. When I met Clayne — he did an audition — and was talking to him and hearing his rhythm and cadence, I didn’t think it was possible for him to do that. He was too honest to try to do that, so that gave me great confidence. I thought, ‘Okay, this is a real actor and he is going to be honest.’ It was like he said, very easy. I didn’t feel uncomfortable.
loaded: Were you conscious of that to begin with, Clayne? Thinking you wouldn’t do anything to mimic Mel Gibson
Crawford: I knew that I could only bring what I could bring. I had not seen the films in quite some time. I had watched them at a point of time in my life where I had no aspirations of pursuing films or television as an actor so I didn’t bring that baggage in. I simply read the material and responded to it. I wasn’t extremely confident that we could do much more than a pilot, so I thought this might be a good opportunity for me to step into the network world. I thought that it might be cancelled pretty quickly but what was surprising to me is that I don’t think we found our best episode until the third episode. And that was after we’d had a high-profile director and the creator of the show writing the scripts. We knew the show was going to be us chasing the bad guy and then solving a crime, and then something might blow up, whatever. But when we started to find a relationship between the two of us, that was when I knew we had a show. That’s what the films were and I think that’s why we were so lucky, that we had the design that Shane [Black, the character’s creator] gave us — which is two broken men going in opposite directions but who are forced to do it together. And that’s just interesting.
loaded: We meet your character, Damon, after he has had a major operation. Did I read somewhere that you also had a major operation prior to shooting?
Wayans: I had surgery in December that year and we shot the pilot in March or April or something. When I read the script, I cried.
Crawford: I thought you’d had the surgery the year before! You are saying that you went through surgery in December and a few months later we were shooting the pilot?
Wayans: Yeah, and I was scared. That’s what I just said. I thought I couldn’t do it. I was still healing.
loaded: That must have given you a very deep connection to the character? Talk about Method acting…
Wayans: Yes. I read the script and I was like, ‘I know who this guy is.’ I knew that fear of feeling like it could be over and having to say goodbye to everybody you profess to love and working shit out with people you have got differences with. There was a lot, emotionally, that I connected to.
loaded: Did your own operation affect what you could do on the physical side; did you have to rein yourself in?
Wayans: I think the way the character was written limits me in terms of what I can do anyway. And, also, I don’t really have the desire to jump over a car. I am too conscious of getting hurt. I know what it feels like getting hurt. Falling down is not something I want to do. So I do just enough that the audience doesn’t go, ‘That’s not him!’ (laughs)
loaded: Your stuntman, Clayne, definitely earns his corn…
Crawford: We have gone through a couple of them now. I have tried to do as much stunt-work as I can. It is very hands-on and they know I am committed to do as much as I can. I think it helps the show when you see me doing these things. It helps tell the story and doesn’t pull the audience out. But, yes, we have gone through a couple of stuntmen because they throw their bodies at it.
loaded: And you lived a physical life when you were younger on the farm, right?
Crawford: My mom says that I have been training my whole life for this role. I think when I read the guy I kind of got him, and I knew how much fun it’d be. I grew up in a world where we had fun by challenging ourselves and if your heart was not beating out of your chest it’s because you were not doing anything.
loaded: How much do you guys enjoy the reception the show has received?
Wayans: I think it is fine as a family show. I think it goes back to the old school. We don’t kill guys. We injure them and then we arrest them.
loaded: That’s like the old A-Team style…
Wayans: Absolutely. And there’s beauty in the restriction of being on at eight o’clock at night, with the things you can and cannot get away with. So we are challenged to do a great show because if we were on at 9pm you can see guys getting their brains blown out and the language can be a little more risqué. But we have to be entertaining at 8 pm whatever the restriction.
Crawford: In our country since 9/11, and with the terror attacks that continue to plague us every few months, I think there is enough reality of violence online and on the news. There is no confusion about how scared the world is. It is a lot like the films that were being released in the 1940s. People want some sense of escape and they don’t have to see someone’s head get blown open. Breaking Bad came at a perfect time. We all wanted The Sopranos but for me I am almost over Game of Thrones. Now it is just a bloody soap opera. I prefer to watch something like The Guardians of the Galaxy because I know the world we are living in right now. I just want to forget about everything for two hours and not think about how my children are going to take care of themselves, or worry about healthcare or the man running our country. So I think we all needed this and we just want a good laugh.
loaded: What are some of your favourite moments from the first season?
Crawford: In the pilot, there is a moment where Damon and I are in a shootout behind these boxes. It’s towards the end of the third act and there is a guy up top shooting down on us. There’s this little scripted, joking moment where I am saying that I am going out there, and he is saying that I can’t go out there. I felt like if the show was going to happen there had to be heart, and you really got it in that moment. In that moment I say that I miss my girl and this fellow here [points to Damon] his eyes welled up. And I saw something in Damon Wayans. And this is only having worked together for a couple of weeks but I saw something in this man’s eyes and he bought into the circumstances. Damon was in it and we were in it, right there. The whole scene changed and we sent it a new trajectory and I think we sent the whole show on a new trajectory from that point. That to me defined what it was that we were going to do; as long as they allowed us to be on television we weren’t going to bullshit anyone. Yes, we were going to have fun and there are antics but when you get down to it we are two people who have each other’s backs and we care about one another. That is still my favourite moment from the entire season.
Wayans: I liked that moment too. There are a lot of little emotional moments and there’s a scene in the finale where I tell him I want another partner. And it was so hard for me to say. I am not an actor. I am a comedian and I can play the moments but there are moments where we connect and I feel like an actor. My impulse to make a joke is always there but I can’t summon it because it would be wrong for that scene. I would betray it. So for me I love all those moments but I really live for the comedic step.
Crawford: I think Damon is redefining his legacy. I grew up watching his [comedic] work. But then watching some of the things and some of the moments he’s had on this show, he is definitely an actor. I think that this show is putting his career in a new light and showing his range. It is a blessing for all of us.
loaded: You haven’t shot the second season yet but isn’t there some kind of switch where the roles reverse? Riggs has to support Murtaugh through a difficult time…
Crawford: I have heard rumblings.
Wayans: I too have heard rumblings. Matt [Miller, the showrunner] was talking about adding a little tension in the marriage. One of my frustrations was that Murtaugh and his wife never argued. We have disagreements but in real love there are arguments. You have a battle and then it’s like, ‘Okay, let’s agree to disagree but that’s just how I feel,’ and that person has to accept you on another level. Yet with my character and his wife it is always wonderful. I have been married in real life and it wasn’t always wonderful. So I am looking forward to some of those moments that test the characters’ marriage. I am confident that Matt Miller is going to challenge us this season, both of us, in terms of story and character arc.
Crawford: I am also confident that his goal is to make a great show. If we could we would do ten episodes a year and could focus on the story and have a beautiful arc. Yet that is not the world in which we live. But even within these confines of having to pump out so much quantity he does want to focus on the quality, which is nice. You don’t always get that from a showrunner.
loaded: You said earlier Clayne that you were spending time in Alabama on your farm. Were you doing less acting before this show came up?
Crawford: I was doing a little series called Rectify. I shot it in Atlanta which is a two-hour drive from my farm in Alabama so I kind of felt that I had hit. It was the most rewarding experience creatively I’d had, working with Ray McKinnon and working with the layers of performance, really breaking it down. As an artist I felt I was comfortable with what I’d achieved. I was almost 40 and was thinking maybe I was ready to try something different. I was enjoying living on my farm and my wife and I explored a couple of restaurant options, some different farm-to-table type things, and then Lethal Weapon came along. I am grateful for it but it is definitely nothing that was planned.
Lethal Weapon: The Complete First Season is available on Blu-ray and DVD now
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Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.