Tune in to CBS’ Training Day update and by the first commercial break, you’ll know this for sure: Bill Paxton is having the time of his life. No surprise, given the series’ pedigree; it’s executive produced by action master Jerry Bruckheimer and director Antoine Fuqua, who guided Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke to Oscar nominations (Washington won Best Actor) in the 2001 crime thriller from which the series is culled.
Paxton stars as Detective Frank Rourke, head of the LAPD’s Special Investigation Section, in the drama, which picks up 15 years after Washington’s dirty Detective Alonzo Harris went down in a hail of Russian-mafia bullets, leaving a miasma of underhanded dealings and newly emboldened criminals in his wake. Like Harris, Rourke gets things done via his own brand of policing. And now it’s caught the attention of Deputy Chief Joy Lockhart (Blindspot’s Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who assigns idealistic, second-generation cop Kyle Craig (Justin Cornwell) to go undercover as Rourke’s trainee to find out if the guy is wholly on the up and up.
“Training Day is really the idea of a seasoned, gnarly street detective taking on a young guy — the idealism of youth and people starting the profession of police work, in this vocational, idealistic way, but finding out that it’s just bad guys getting away with bad things, and that the system doesn’t always work. And that in order to get results, you have to bend the rules a bit,” Paxton explains. “You’ve got the dynamic that you had in the original movie, but it’s 15 years later.”
In addition to his new “trainee,” Rourke leads a pair of streetwise young detectives, played by Arrow’s Katrina Law and Pretty Little Liars’ Drew Van Acker, both of whom have ties to Rourke beyond the job. And both of whom are well versed in their leader’s unorthodox — and often laugh-out-loud funny — tactics in bringing down L.A.’s worst criminals. “He’s quite an iconoclast and a guy that just loves to stir it up with everybody,” says Paxton of the straight-shootin’, wisecrackin’ Rourke. “The only people he doesn’t mess with are children. He’s really into protecting the innocent, but everybody else is fair game for Frank Rourke. That’s his only saving grace is that he looks out for kids.
“Another cool thing about Frank is he’s a haunted man,” Paxton continues. “He’s literally physically haunted by the ghost of his ex-partner, Billy Craig [Revenge’s Cassius Willis], which goes back to Alonzo Harris, too. That’s a really cool device throughout the whole piece, where I’m just talking and all of a sudden I’m talking to my partner who’s been dead for 11 years. He’s right there in the room with me. Or he’s in the backseat of the car.”
And if the specter’s last name seems familiar, it’s because, well, Kyle isn’t entirely a stranger to Rourke, adding a whole new layer of intrigue to the men’s relationship.
“There’s a whole Western, The Searchers element,” says Paxton, recalling John Wayne’s iconic antihero Ethan Edwards and adding that series scribe Will Beall and showrunner Barry Schindel’s love for classic films shines throughout the series. “I like the idea that Frank is really a guy from the Old West in a way. Even the background they’ve given my character is a romantic, outlaw kind of background. Because if you think about it, when we were growing up, it was all Westerns on network television: Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Rawhide. Then they gave way to what became the new Western, the police drama.”
But you’ve never seen a cop-car cowboy quite like Rourke.
“Training” Your Memory
Despite Training Day’s thoroughly modern action and storyline, series star Bill Paxton says, “as you get towards the last couple episodes, it goes directly back into the movie, insomuch as characters like Tom Berenger’s comes back. Justin’s character, Kyle, finds his way to a secret group who really are those characters from the movie, who still control a lot of things in the shadows and behind the scenes. We even go back to the Pacific Dining Car. They’re still going there!”
Training Day airs Thursdays at 10/9c beginning Feb. 2 on CBS