For those who have watched Steven Seagal deliver bone-crushing beatdowns to bad guys on the big screen and wondered how he’d fare in the real world, a new series has the answer.
Steven Seagal: Lawman, which airs Wednesdays beginning Dec. 2 on A&E (HD), shows the action star going on patrol with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office near New Orleans — something he’s been doing for about 20 years. Around the time that Seagal was making Hollywood take notice with hits like Above the Law and Hard to Kill, legendary Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee asked Seagal to demonstrate some martial arts techniques to his officers. Lee was so pleased that he eventually recruited the aikido expert as a full-fledged deputy.
It’s part of his life that Seagal never publicized until now. He says his motivation grew not out of a desire for a career boost, but because he saw an opportunity to shine a positive light on law enforcement in his beleaguered adopted hometown.
Channel Guide Magazine: You’ve kept this part of your life a secret for about 20 years. What made you decide now was the right time, and that A&E was the right place?
Steven Seagal: I think I really got convinced by people telling me that police officers in our area here, particularly in Louisiana, have taken a real hard hit. Particularly with Katrina we lost a lot of guys, and law enforcement really needed a voice to represent them, someone to represent them and give them a shot in the arm and help them. I also feel like, post-Katrina we needed a lot of help, and people basically told me that if I could stand up and show the world what I’ve been doing down here to try to help Louisiana post-Katrina, get the communities and city government strong and nice again, it would really be a great shot in the arm and for Louisiana, and that’s kind of why I decided to do it.
CGM: How were you able to keep this a secret for so long?
SS: I’ve arrested thousands of people and I’ve helped thousands of people. Helped tons of people and arrested lots of bad guys, so over the last 20 years or so, there’s a lot of people in the South and particularly in Louisiana who certainly knew about me, they’re just not like, you know, some of the L.A. folks who’d go running to a phone and try to sell a story.
CGM: When people ask you why you do this, when you have a good life going as a movie star, what do you tell them?
SS: I’ve always been a warrior. I’ve always loved being able to really help people, and really make a difference, not really pretend.
CGM: What’s your dynamic like with the other officers? Did they accept you right away, or were they skeptical?
SS: I think that disappeared as soon as the first gentleman went unconscious in the first instruction period, and they saw the way that I could shoot, and the way that I could fight. I don’t think there was anybody who was on that level that I’m aware [of], maybe I’m wrong. I think they got a real quick and clear view of who’s real and who’s not and who’s experienced and who’s not. There was never a question of what I can do and how I do it, and getting in the field of course, you have your people who you roll with, everybody has their own experience and background and you learn from each other as time goes on.
What was it like to do this on camera? Did you find yourself more self-conscious than you otherwise would have?
SS: That was the hardest thing we’ve ever done in terms of police work. It’s not easy, because they tend to want to make you contrived, or say, “Oh, OK, we need you to go in this area” or “we want this” or “we want this.” We’re not contrived and we can’t be contrived, so there’s always that struggle. We’re not, at least me, I’m not doing my job for the cameras, I’m out there doing it because that’s what I do. So the camera thing was always difficult.
Did you ever think of making a full-time switch to police work?
SS: I get to do it because I love it and I love helping the community and helping the people down here, but at the same time I have to pay my bills.
Other than feeling rewarded for keeping people safe, what is it you enjoy about going on patrol?
SS: That’s it in and of itself, the gratification I get from helping somebody who would’ve been dead if I didn’t intervene — getting robbed, getting raped, getting shot at, or in a fire or in the water drowning or whatever it is, I’m just making up a bunch of stuff that can happen on a daily basis to any police officer anywhere in the country. Being able to help people who need help is a tremendous gratification for me.