Two years ago when I first spoke to Hugh Dillon, he was known primarily by fans of his career as a singer/songwriter with The Headstones and The Hugh Dillon Redemption Choir, and for starring as an over-the-hill rock star in the cult film Hard Core Logo. At that point, a series called Durham County was about to premiere on Canadian television.
That was then. Now, Dillon is well known in the U.S. for his starring role as Ed Lane on the hit police drama Flashpoint — the first Canadian-produced drama series that has aired in prime time south of the border — and his popularity has grown. That may be one of the reasons why ION will air the six-part Durham County Monday nights beginning Sept. 7.
In Durham, Dillon plays Detective Mike Sweeney, a police officer with a checkered past, who moves his family to a suburban town and takes a job on the local police force. His wife is recovering from breast cancer, and their relationship is distant. His older daughter plans to follow in her father’s footsteps, and her morbid fascination with violent crime and death grates at her recovering mother, particularly after Sweeney begins investigating the murder of two teenage girls. Viewers who think they are one step ahead of the police will quickly find they are mistaken as the twists in this dark and emotionally charged drama increase. Durham County has much in common with the David Lynch film Blue Velvet, particularly the feeling that all those beautiful houses and manicured lawns hide deadly secrets that innocents can barely comprehend. It also examines how perception alters reality, as Sweeny is an outsider while the likely killer is a respected member of the community. Here are Dillon’s thoughts on the series and his career as an actor.
What was it like to play the lead in what is essentially a six-hour film?
Hugh Dillon: It was all-encompassing. There was nothing else to think about. I got six scripts and that’s a lot of work to digest and I just went about it. I spent time with cops. It was overwhelming. It was so much. It’s what you wait for, to find something of that caliber, just the writing. I was like you, I got the first script and the second and I need to read more before I auditioned. I had to know where does this go? What happens, who is this guy? Who are these people? More so, it wasn’t so much the job, it was, “I want to read this — period.
I read so many scripts and so much I get is just horse@#$%. You read it and it’s just pointless. And then this comes along and it was like — I’ve got to do this, be involved in this amazing work.
What did you draw on for the role of Sweeney?
(Laughs) I have a lot of baggage, Elaine. Really. You draw on your own experiences and whatever can get you to make it real, and if you do your research with the stuff that you have, then you should be OK. I did a lot of work. I just had to. You know, often characters are a little more one-dimensional so they’re easier to play. This guy has a whole gamut of raw emotion in this six-part series. It was all about preparation.
What sort of research was involved?
I got a lot of books from Laurie, the writer, and I had to get the cop thing down coming from a more criminal background (laughs). And just being really conscious of relationships. For example, just wearing a suit more. I don’t usually wear a suit, [but I did] just to get a little more grounded.
I had [also] worked at a hospital for sick children in Toronto when I was younger and before I signed a record deal. I talked to cancer survivors and cancer patients. What it does to a family, it’s heartbreaking. So I had to do all of that. I didn’t have to. It’s something I needed to do. To determine what would enable this guy whose wife has cancer to kind of move away emotionally. It’s all kind of stuff, the stuff that, thank God, we don’t have to deal with day to day. It was relentless. To see these women put this story together and go through all the work they went through, it’s a lot of responsibility to make sure I did my part.
You did an incredible job, and if you hadn’t we wouldn’t have liked you and if we didn’t like you, it would have ruined the series.
That’s why I’m so lucky to have worked so closely with the producers and the directors and the writer because I relate to them. I’ve got a couple of older sisters who make that possible. And that’s another part of it. I’m used to dealing with a bunch of guys. The [women] force you to connect to that sensitive, real side. They are a bunch of really smart women. I had to be completely honest with them and with the rest of the actors every step of the way. The casting was perfect. Everybody involved was so giving that it made it comfortable enough to do what you had to do.
Durham County has a Blue Velvet feel — especially with that mask Sweeney’s daughter wears. Are they something some kids are really into?
Visually it creeps me out, but I think it’s that poetic kind of thing the writer did that just worked. I don’t know a lot about kids, but I think it’s a real thing.
Someone referred to this series as “Suburban Wasteland.” Growing up did you think suburbia was darker than parents gave it credit for?
I did. I always found suburbia a lot darker than people gave it credit for, if that makes any sense. I found it unbelievable how much more people could hide. There’s something about living in the suburbs that just seemed so much more ominous. You could go for years and just say nothing but hi to your neighbors each week and go on with your murderous and drug-fueled life. I came from that. Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to cities.
So, having played two very different police officers in Durham and Flashpoint, would you consider a career in law enforcement?
You know what? That job is just too hard. It was a real learning curve for me to see these guys up close. I have a whole new appreciation for them.
And do you still find time for music?
Believe it or not, it’s the rock ‘n’ roll that keeps me sane.