In Season 2 of THE ROOKIE, Sunday nights on ABC, Nathan Fillion’s title character, John Nolan, continues his education as the oldest rookie in the LAPD. This season, he’s got a new training officer, Nyla Harper (played by Mekia Cox), a former undercover officer. Harper was written in after Afton Williamson, who played the rookie’s previous training officer Talia Bishop, left the series complaining of sexual harassment by a guest actor and a crew member.
Other changes on THE ROOKIE involve Nolan’s fellow trainee Lucy Chen (Melissa O’Neil) surviving being kidnapped and buried alive by a serial killer, Lucy’s training officer Tim Bradford (Eric Winter) passing up a promotion in order to continue his mentorship role, rookie officer Jackson West (Titus Makin Jr.) becoming more comfortable with firearms, and Jack’s training officer Angela Lopez (Alyssa Diaz) navigating her romance with depression-prone defense attorney Wesley Evers (recurring guest actor Shawn Ashmore).
THE ROOKIE creator/executive producer Alexi Hawley, who had previously worked as a show runner/executive producer on CASTLE with Fillion, talks with us about the shape of Season 2.
ASSIGNMENT X: Assuming THE ROOKIE has series longevity, how long can John Nolan remain a rookie? Are you going to make him a training officer, and then he’ll have a rookie?
ALEXI HAWLEY: At some point, yes.
AX: Will that be a way to keep THE ROOKIE title?
HAWLEY: Yes. I do think that, given his sort of unique position as the oldest rookie, he’s always going to be coming into every next level of the LAPD as a rookie. Obviously, your first time as a patrol officer, your first time as a training officer. In great success, in Season 8, he’s the oldest rookie detective. So at its heart, it’s really about a character who’s between these worlds. Because he’s twenty years older than his fellow rookies, and the people who are at the LAPD are all his superiors. So that will always sort of stay.
AX: What has surprised you about the way THE ROOKIE has evolved over the two seasons?
HAWLEY: I’d always known that our cast was great, and could do all sorts of things, and we sort of leaned into being able to tell every kind of story, and do every kind of tone, but this season, we’ve really managed to lean even more into different tones and the character drama. The first season of a show, you really feel like you have to be flashy and be attention-grabbing, and all that kind of stuff, and it was nice coming into the season to dig deeper into these characters and their relationships, while still doing the fun stuff, but really get in there. [Regarding] Mekia’s character, to bring on somebody who’s really in the position where she’s lost herself, and she’s a warrior, and what she really needs to do is become a guardian, and that’s who Nolan is, and so he needs to help her find herself again. That was really rich territory.
AX: Did you feel like Mekia Cox coming in gave you the opportunity to bring in a type of regular character, with an undercover background, that you might not have had the opportunity to feature otherwise?
HAWLEY: I think that’s fair to say. I think we had the opportunity to create a character that could really give us a character that we didn’t have on the show, and also give somebody against Nathan that could really amplify his journey in the second season of the show.
AX: Where did you find Carsyn Rose, that extraordinary-looking young actress, who plays Harper’s daughter?
HAWLEY: Our casting director, Carol Kritzer, found her, and she’s so great, isn’t she? She’s a stunning child, and she’s such a good little actor.
AX: Speaking of recurring characters, Alan Tudyk was memorable as a crim scene cleaner earlier this season. Of course, he and Nathan Fillion were regulars together back on FIREFLY. I know Alan Tudyk has his own series right now, but might he return to THE ROOKIE as that character?
HAWLEY: I would love it if Alan could come back. He’s a very busy man, but I would love it if he would come back. We sort of designed it that way. So yeah, hopefully he will.
AX: You’ve also had some of your CASTLE regulars guest-star on THE ROOKIE. Earlier this season, in the episode “The Bet,” you had Seamus Dever playing a sleazy rich guy, and Jon Huertas was playing …
HAWLEY: A DEA guy, yeah.
AX: Dever’s character would be difficult to bring back, but might Jon Huertas return as his DEA character?
HAWLEY: If THIS IS US will let us have him, then I would love to work with Jon again.
AX: Anybody else from CASTLE maybe making a guest appearance on THE ROOKIE?
HAWLEY: Not on the books yet, but I would love to get Molly [Quinn], I would love to get Susan [Sullivan], obviously. It would be fun, so yeah.
AX: You’ve also got Enver Gjokaj playing Harper’s ex-husband. I don’t think he ever worked directly with Nathan Fillion, but they’ve both worked a lot with Joss Whedon …
HAWLEY: Yes. I believe [Fillion and Gjokaj] are friends in real life, but I don’t think they’d worked together before. And Enver had actually auditioned for Eric [Winter]’s role, way back during the pilot, but then Eric came in and blew us all away, and we had to hire him.
AX: Eric Winter is fairly perfect for his role. All of your cast members playing female police officers are somewhat petite …
HAWLEY: Petite, as in physical size?
AX: Yes, smaller people. Was that something that you specifically wanted, or is that just how it worked out casting-wise?
HAWLEY: No. That’s just how it worked out actor-wise.
AX: So you weren’t trying to make some sort of a visual statement?
HAWLEY: No, not at all. Obviously, women in the LAPD, and any female officer, gets a lot more shows of force from bad guys, and obviously, smaller women officers will get that even more, but we didn’t do that on purpose. We just ended up hiring the best actors for the job.
AX: THE ROOKIE has been through a couple of police captains. One was murdered and one was transferred. Do we know who the captain is right now?
HAWLEY: We don’t really tell a lot of stories with the captain. There is one in the station, but at this point, it’s not really a story point for us.
AX: So you’ll decide that when it becomes a story point again?
HAWLEY: Yes. If we need somebody, then we’ll bring somebody in, but right now, we have seven main characters on the show to service, and it’s a patrol show, so we’re out on the street.
AX: Not asking for spoilers, but do you have any favorite episodes that you’ve done so far?
HAWLEY: In this season? The midseason finale came out great. 11, which is our return episode, is incredibly powerful. They’re all favorites, partly because every episode is different. I mean, obviously, it’s still the same show every week, but we really try and tell different kinds of stories, so we’re not repeating ourselves. So some episodes are more event episodes, some are more relationship episodes. So yeah. I love them all.
AX: Going forward with THE ROOKIE, do you think you’re going to keep the balance of serialized and standalone elements about what it is now, or are you going to go more one way or the other?
HAWLEY: I think it works really well, and again, some episodes we lean into it more, and some we do more case stuff. So we have a fluidity to how much we do it, but the deeper you go into a series, the more you invest in the characters, and so yeah, we definitely want to keep their stories alive.
AX: We don’t know right now whether there will be a pickup for next season, but do you have Season 3 of THE ROOKIE mapped out?
HAWLEY: I do have Season 3 mapped out, at least the broad strokes of it. I don’t want to give it away now, but yeah, I do.
AX: And what would you most like people to know about the second half of THE ROOKIE Season 2?
HAWLEY: Just that it gets even better, that the stakes go up, but so does the fun, and we lean into relationships, and romantic relationships. We just do more.
This interview was conducted during ABC’s party for the Winter 2020 Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour.
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Article: THE ROOKIE: Creator Alexi Hawley talks about Season 2 – Exclusive Interview