Ray Liotta was already contemplating a return to series television when he got a script for NBC’s gritty cop drama Shades of Blue. The veteran movie tough guy was intrigued. The material was good. His character, police Lt. Matt “Woz” Wozniak, was a complicated guy. Oscar winner Barry Levinson (Oz, Donnie Brasco) was aboard to co-executive produce and direct. And pop culture superstar Jennifer Lopez would be making her return to scripted TV — a guaranteed ratings boon. But.
“The one thing I didn’t want was to be in ‘the J.Lo show,’” Liotta admits. “That’s nothing against Jennifer at all. It’s just at this stage of my career, I didn’t want to be the guy behind the desk giving orders and everybody goes out and does them and when they come back, I say, ‘Good job, guys!’ I wanted to be active — and that’s exactly what they wanted, too.”
Liotta’s Wozniak leads a close-knit, highly effective group of Brooklyn detectives (Drea de Matteo plays another) who unapologetically bend the law to get the job done. When the FBI catches Woz’s favorite, Harlee Santos (Lopez), in a compromising situation, they plan to use the savvy single mom to bring down her boss and the unit. “My own daughter died when she was 19 years old and then Harlee came into my life and I helped her get out of a jam so she wouldn’t go to jail for the rest of her life,” says Liotta of Wozniak’s 10-year bond with Santos. “Her and her kid are my world. Everything I do — and every bad thing I do — is to help her and protect her.” Until.
“I find out that there’s a rat in my group, and when I find out who it is, it just drives me over the edge,” Liotta says. “There’s other things that my character does that’s part of his personality that definitely come as close to the edge as you can come on network TV. They let us go for it!”
And, says Liotta, Lopez more than proved her mettle.
“She doesn’t really have an image of being a tough, edgy cop, but boy, she nailed it!” he says. “She’s really good in this. This was a great, smart project for her to be a part of — and for me it was really smart, too.”
Asked if there were on-set discussions about making a show about rule-tweaking cops during a tenuous time for law enforcement officers’ collective public image, Liotta says, “We go to the edge. To tell you the truth, I get recognized a lot by cops — especially in New York — so I talk to them a lot and they’ll ask what I’m doing now. I’ll talk about this and they’ll be like, ‘Bravo! That is the way it should be done!’ Especially now, the cops are so disheartened about what they can do and can’t do — the change from Bloomberg to Mayor de Blasio is extreme. It really has — no pun intended — handcuffed them in terms of what they can do to get the bad guy.
“I have a unit of six people and we definitely cross the line but it’s all to get the bad guys,” he continues. “We do have self interests — “If you want to do this, you give us money and we’ll protect you. There will be no other drug dealers around.” But to pretend that drug dealing and everything isn’t going on is crazy. The thing is, you got to play the game to beat them at the game, and that’s what we do. Of course, you don’t want a society of only renegade cops — but for our show, we’re an example of maybe what could happen if you did allow cops to work a certain way. Because we definitely get results!”
Shades of Blue premieres Thursday, Jan. 7 at 10/9CT on NBC.