In “Human Target,” action hero Christopher Chance regularly embarks upon high stakes missions involving bullet trains, upside-down airplanes and assaults on foreign embassies. But while Chance is more than capable of getting the job done, his unique security service would be inoperable without the help of the foreboding Winston, a former law enforcement official who acts as the voice of reason to Chance’s kneejerk ways.
Last week, CBR News spoke with Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”) about his role as Guerrero, Chance’s go-to fixer guided by ambiguous moral principles. This week, we spoke with Chi McBride (“Pushing Daisies”) about his turn as Winston, a character with an ethical code of his own that places him squarely against Guerrero and, from time to time, Chance himself. McBride discussed the role he played in developing Winston with the show’s writers, his interactions with Chance and Guerrero as well as series leads Mark Valley (“Fringe”) and Haley, and his inclinations towards procedural dramas as opposed to serialized stories.
CBR News: Chi, what attracted you to “Human Target” and the character of Winston?
Chi McBride: Actually, when I first read the script, there was nothing really in there for me. Winston was an older British guy and I just got the impression that he was a guy who sits in an office. I called my agent after I read the script and said that there was nothing in it for me, but if somebody handled it right, it could be a pretty good TV show. It had a lot of action, a lot of comedy.
But as time went on, I met with the producers and they wanted to talk about Winston. So I talked about some of the ideas I had for the character, and they were receptive and decided that they wanted me to do it. Jon Steinberg and Peter Johnson, the [producers] I talked about it with, were very receptive to my ideas, like bringing Winston out on the field and him having reluctance to do so. Having a law enforcement background, he pretty much got out of being a policeman or detective to stop chasing people. It’s sort of a once you’re out they pull you back in sort of thing, and that’s what’s happening with the character now.
We just didn’t envision the character as a guy who spends every week telling Chance what not to do. Winston is a bit cautious and guarded about Chance’s methods, but I think to keep playing that up every week would get old. We decided that Chance is who he is, he’s going to make Winston’s heart stop a few times before it’s all over, but him getting involved in the action is going to be really helpful to Chance and to Winston as a character. He’s reluctant, but when he’s in it, he’s very participatory.
Winston is often a very intimidating and serious figure, but he’s also at the center of a lot of the show’s comedy. Is that a fun dichotomy for you to play?
Absolutely. I think that’s how life really is. The most serious people have a certain organic chemistry within their circle of friends, no matter how big or small it is, where the most serious person in the world is absolutely hilarious in a setting where he feels comfortable. I think it brings about more of a reality to the tonal relationship [between Winston, Chance and Guerrero] than just being this one note kind of relationship between two business partners.
There’s clearly a friendship between Winston and Chance, even if it’s a somewhat strained one, and there’s a lot of friction between Winston and Guerrero. How do you read the dynamic between these characters?
Winston looks at Guerrero as a necessary evil. Chance is a guy who has had a working relationship with Guerrero for many, many years before he and Winston crossed paths, so they’re kind of a package deal. But Winston finds Guerrero to be completely free of the weights of morality, and that’s a person you can’t always trust. Guerrero has his own way of showing and proving his loyalty and what have you, and there’s certainly no love lost between the two of those guys, but I think they’re still a family. A dysfunctional family, but a family.
Hopefully the relationship between you, Mark and Jackie is a little less stressful than Winston’s relationship with these characters – what’s it like working with those guys?
They’re great guys and we’re all very like-minded. The fact that we’re all three very professional [actors] who don’t take ourselves too seriously – we take our work seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously. At the end of the day, it’s just a TV show. When we work, we come to work and have a good time. It’s great to work on a set where the only drama is whatever the writers have put in the script. They’ll tell you the same thing, too. We really enjoy ourselves when we’re working together.
“Human Target” relies on a core trio with guest stars that weave in and out. What are some of the advantages of having a cast of this size, and are there any disadvantages that come to mind?
I can’t think of any disadvantages. Having a small core cast means that everyone is well served. You don’t spend a lot of time trying to put ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag. [Laughs] When you have a big cast, every now and then, you realize that someone has been overlooked and underserved for a lengthy period of time. If the story doesn’t lend itself towards serving that character, you have a choice – either continue to underserve the character or put something into the show that damages it in the name of [serving the character].
“Lost” has been able to pull it off because the show is so good and the writing is so good that they’re able to underserve some characters for a little while, but they’re so impactful that when they come back, you hardly noticed that they were gone. They’re still thought of in a way, even though you don’t see them. In our case, we have a story that’s very specific. Having guest stars come in, whether they’re recurring characters or week-to-week, the variety of clients that we have enables us to see fresh faces every week.
As “Human Target” develops, will we get a better sense of an overarching mythology, like a mysterious organization, or is the show’s mythology more rooted in the characters’ development and interactions with each other?
Well, I mean, yes and no to both. I think somewhere down the line there is, if not a mysterious organization, there’s certainly a shady character in Chance’s past that’s a puppet master of sorts. We’ll see that. How these guys cross paths and how all three of them are working in concert to help Chance escape his past. The problem is that Chance is seeking redemption, and that’s not something that you find; it’s something that you decide, that you give yourself, that you forgive yourself for whatever transgressions you’ve made, to quote Tiger Woods. [Laughs] That’s the tough part, getting Chance to understand that that’s the redemptive process.
One of the things that attracted me to the show, something that attracts me to any show that’s a drama, was that it had some level of a procedural element. To find a show that you can serialize is like lightning in a bottle. For every “Lost” that you find, there are twenty of “The Nine.” It’s not an easy thing to create the kind of phenomenon with a serial, because that’s really what it takes – you’re depending upon a vast amount of people who are willing to come back every week to follow one specific story. I always think that it’s good fortune beyond belief to be able to come up with a story like that.
What can you tell us about tonight’s episode, called “Sanctuary”?
“Sanctuary” is very exciting to me. It’s part “Mission: Impossible” and part “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” It’s a really, really cool story and I think you’ll dig it. It takes place in a monastery, which is pretty much all I can tell you. Winston gets in on some action, and you find out something very revealing about Guerrero and the kind of guy that he is. I’m looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to that. Jackie was really great in this episode and [his actions] are very telling of the future of this trio.
“Human Target,” starring Mark Valley, Chi McBride and Jackie Earle Haley, airs Wednesday nights at 9:00 PM EST only on FOX.