Dean Winters, Josh Duhamel

The cast of Battle Creek

Fill 1
Fill 1
April 08, 2015
In The Mix

Two on the Town

A new spin on mismatched cops plays out in a place not often seen in primetime.

Amy Amatangelo

David Shore wants his new CBS series to have smaller murders.

"We want to tell stories that are unique to smaller cities," he explains. Cities like Battle Creek, Michigan, where his show is set. Well, it's more like a town, with population teetering around 52,000.

"The motives [there] are more personal," Shore says, "and when a crime happens, it affects the whole community."

That means that if the writers come up with a story that would work on, say, CSI, Shore says they don't use it.

Battle Creek, which debuted in March, is based on a script Vince Gilligan wrote more than a decade ago, long before Breaking Bad broke out on AMC.

Now busy with the spinoff Better Call Saul, Gilligan wasn't available for the day-to-day running of the show. Shore, who previously executive-produced House, stepped in to serve as executive producer and showrunner.

While Battle Creek is very different from Breaking Bad, Gilligan's distinct style is prevalent. "[It has to do with] Vince's love of character, his love of exploring human beings and that little twinkle in his eyes," Shore says. "That's here, too."

Dean Winters plays Russ Agnew, a seasoned, somewhat cynical police detective. Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas) is Milton Chamberlain, a polished, by-the-book FBI agent assigned to Battle Creek. The two become partners and — yes — they immediately clash.

Shore knew from the beginning that Duhamel was the perfect actor for Milt. Finding Russ proved more challenging.

It wasn't until he and Bryan Singer — who directed the pilot and serves as an executive producer — met with Winters that they knew they had their man. "I remember Dean walking out and Bryan talking about how much life there was in his eyes, that there was such a humanity there. It was similar to the feeling we got when we cast Hugh Laurie as Dr. House."

Winters — perhaps best known for his roles on Oz, 30 Rock, Law & Order: SVU and Rescue Me — loved the idea of a cop show where the cops aren't buddies. And he proved that by gaining 15 pounds for the role.

"I wanted to be a little bit out of shape, a little slovenly," he says. "It was important that my character be the polar opposite of Josh's, who looks like a Calvin Klein model from Yale."

The series plays on Duhamel's All-American good looks.

"Everyone expects a certain thing from me as an actor," Duhamel says. "Play the pretty boy, the guy who the girls love. Anybody who knows me knows that's not who I am or anything I aspire to do as an actor."

As Milt, Duhamel can spin viewers' expectations. While his character appears to live a charmed life, he has a secret that will unfold over the season. "They do a beautiful job of slowly unraveling this dude," the actor says. "By the last episode you're going to get a real idea of why he's in Battle Creek."

Meanwhile, the very real economic struggles of the real Battle Creek are very much on the minds of cast and crew.

"The people there believe in their community and believe in their neighbors," Shore says, "I find the optimism and the positivity in the face of all sorts of negatives really refreshing and inspiring."

To prepare, Duhamel visited the south Michigan town, corporate home to the Kellogg cereal company, and shadowed local detectives.

"I got to see a lot of the dark underbelly of what seems to be an all-American town," he says. "They get a lot of big-city crime in a town that doesn't really stand for it."

And as a native New Yorker who lives 12 blocks from the site of the World Trade Center, Winters feels a strong kinship with Battle Creek.

"It was thriving and it took an [economic] hit," he says. "I know what it's like to be in an area that's taken a hit — whether it's a financial, emotional or terrorist hit, you're going to feel an allegiance, a love for the place you can't really describe."

Shore was particularly inspired by a mural he saw in Battle Creek, of schoolchildren holding hands — painted over a row of abandoned storefronts.

"The juxtaposition was really interesting," he says. "A lot of the show comes from that image."

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