Afton Williamson as Talia Bishop, Eric Winter as Tim Bradford, Richard T. Jones as Sgt. Wade Grey, Nathan Fillion as John Nolan, Mercedes Mason as Capt. Zoe Anderson, Melissa O'Neil as Lucy Chen, Titus Makin Jr. as Jackson West, and Alyssa Diaz as Angela Lopez in THE ROOKIE - Season 1 | ©2019 ABC/Ed Herrera

Afton Williamson as Talia Bishop, Eric Winter as Tim Bradford, Richard T. Jones as Sgt. Wade Grey, Nathan Fillion as John Nolan, Mercedes Mason as Capt. Zoe Anderson, Melissa O’Neil as Lucy Chen, Titus Makin Jr. as Jackson West, and Alyssa Diaz as Angela Lopez in THE ROOKIE – Season 1 | ©2019 ABC/Ed Herrera

ABC’s first-season Tuesday-night drama THE ROOKIE is based on a real person. Like Nathan Fillion’s character, John Nolan, a man in his forties who’d already had a career came from a small town in the Eastern U.S. to join the Los Angeles Police Department.

Who is the real person? “I can’t tell you that,” says THE ROOKIE creator/executive producer Alexi Hawley. “He’s on the job, and he has only been on the job for a few years, and he is very focused on being a successful police officer.” Giving the officer’s real name, Hawley explains, could jeopardize the man’s job, privacy, and physical safety.

Hawley and Fillion had previously worked together when they were both on ABC’s eight-season-long CASTLE, where Hawley was first a writer/producer, then a show runner/executive producer. Hawley also created the series STATE OF AFFAIRS, and was a producer/show runner on THE FOLLOWING.

ASSIGNMENT X: How excited were you to be the creator on THE ROOKIE, as opposed to coming into an already-existing series and being a show runner?

ALEXI HAWLEY: Very excited. I created STATE OF AFFAIRS several years ago, which for many reasons, which I’m not going to go into, I parted ways with. So this is the first fully-successful birth, so to speak, and I couldn’t be more thrilled that I get to do it with Nathan, and with [fellow executive producer] Mark Gordon, and with ABC. I haven’t been doing it as long at ABC as Nathan, but I’ve been there for awhile.

AX: At what point did Nathan Fillion come into your mind for this? Was it, “Gee, I’d really like to work with Nathan Fillion again, here’s this project, oh, that would be good,” or, “Here’s this project, who would be right for it …?”

HAWLEY: I would always work with Nathan if I could. I mean, he is not only a phenomenal actor, but he’s a great guy, and he’s a real partner. When I got the phone call about the show, he was the first name that jumped into my mind and Mark Gordon’s mind. I just wasn’t sure whether he was ready to come back and be a full-time lead on network television. And I was lucky enough to get him to trust me. Because [at the time Fillion signed on] there wasn’t a script. We sold this as a pitch to series, which never happens, and so it was a mad scramble to get a script and start making a show.

AX: Why did you decide to start John Nolan’s story in Foxburg, Clarion County, Pennsylvania?

HAWLEY: Our real-life cop is from that area, and I honestly was looking at a map, and thought that that looked like a good place for him to be from. It’s a small town, and I think that John Nolan is a very blue-collar guy, who grew up, as you learn in the pilot, he had aspirations for law school, and having a career, and then his girlfriend got pregnant, and he did the responsible thing, and he started a business, and I just felt like we really wanted to bring somebody into L.A., which is its own unique environment, from a very different environment.

THE ROOKIE - Season 1 - Key Art | ©2019 ABC

THE ROOKIE – Season 1 – Key Art | ©2019 ABC

AX: Speaking of environments, John is living in an extremely nice house for someone on an LAPD salary, let alone a rookie …

HAWLEY: Here’s the thing about the house. I fell down a little bit during the pilot on really showing the geography of it. He’s got a college roommate who has a trust fund, and this is also based a little bit on the real of it all, is that there was a friend with money, and he slept on his couch when he came out here. So it is based in reality. The house in the Palisades is ridiculous, and it is network television, and it is ABC, and so, yes, I mea culpa on that one. [But] I think what it does for us on a practical level is, it gives this blue-collar character a foot into a world that is also alien to him. In the same way that being a cop is an alien environment, we will explore what it’s like to be around a certain class of people that he’s never been around before, that’s removed from his day to day on the job. So it’s just another angle that we can push, where he just doesn’t fit in.

AX: Can you talk about to have the divorced John’s college-age son Henry, played by Zayne Emory, as a visitor but not as a regular character?

HAWLEY: That’s a part of his life. It was really important to me in honoring the character on the show, but it was also trying to separate Nathan from CASTLE, where [Castle’s] daughter and his family were such a big part. I love the idea of his son being part of his life, clearly, but I didn’t want him to be an every-week kind of character, because we just see him differently. He’s a dad in that way.

AX: John also has a workplace romance going on with fellow rookie Angela Lopez, played by Alyssa Diaz. How long has that been going on, and are you going to discuss the gender-based fallout that can ensue when a male cop dates a female cop?

HAWLEY: Yeah. I think it’s been going on for a couple months [when THE ROOKIE begins]. Basically, it started in the academy, and it’s been kept a secret. That will be a storyline, the secrecy of it and the impact that female cops dating male cops could have on the female cop’s career, without the same impact on a man’s career. So we won’t run away from that idea. I think at the end of the day, that’s prime territory for us to tell a dramatic story, and I think it is a challenge. Learning how to be a cop is so difficult in and of itself that the storyline just about literally having a relationship at that time is a big deal, and then the added complication of something within the department, it’s just fraught with difficulty.

AX: In real life, the LAPD has a couple of ongoing issues at present. One is the national crisis with cops shooting black people for apparently no reason, and another is whether or not police will help ICE.

HAWLEY: Right.

Nathan Fillion is John Nolan in THE ROOKIE - Season 1 | ©2019 ABC/Ed Herrera

Nathan Fillion is John Nolan in THE ROOKIE – Season 1 | ©2019 ABC/Ed Herrera

AX: Are those issues going to be addressed on THE ROOKIE in Season 1?

HAWLEY: The short answer is no. The longer answer is that I think, as a fun network cop show, we can’t give those issues the respect that they deserve, and so my approach with the show is to be aspirational in how we approach policing, that the super-power, for lack of a better word, that Nathan’s character brings is a life experience, as a guy who’s raised a family, who’s been married for twenty years, who had a business, who knows what it’s like to wake up and not be able to pay the mortgage, who’s had trouble at work. And so I think, by living in a world where cops treat the community, and even criminals, with a fair amount of respect, that my hope is that we can at least show how it should be done, because again, I just don’t think that we’re AMERICAN CRIME. Those issues need proper respect, and we can’t give that to them, and so we just can’t get there from here.

AX: What would you most like people to know about THE ROOKIE?

HAWLEY: THE ROOKIE is a ride of a show. I think it’s got really high stakes, but it’s also really fun, and we live in the unexpected. So from minute to minute, things happen that you don’t expect to see, but at its heart, it’s really about Nathan and these other cops, and the humanity and the difficulty of doing this job.

This interview was conducted during ABC’s portion of the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.

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Article: THE ROOKIE:  Creator Alexi Hawley chats about Season 1 of his new Nathan Fillion series

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