Jonathan Del Arco On ‘Major Crimes’, What Makes Dr Morales Tick, Getting Out Of The Morgue & More (Q&A)

One of the core strengths of Major Crimes, and to a lesser degree The Closer, has always been the ensemble.

Alongside strong lead characters, both shows have always had an impressive roster of supporting players. A roster that across seven seasons of The Closer and now four seasons of Major Crimes has included names like G.W. Bailey, Tony Denison, Michael Paul Chan, Raymond Cruz, Phillip P. Keene, Kearran Giovanni, Nadine Velazquez, Jon Tenney and Robert Gossett.

Another critically important supporting member of the ensemble is Jonathan Del Arco. The actor, who 25 years later is still heavily associated with a two episode guest stint on Star Trek: The Next Generation as Hugh in the early 1990s, plays Dr Morales – the medical examiner who is never short of a little snark and attitude when the Detectives from the Major Crimes Division stop by the morgue.

Both Jonathan Del Arco and his character have been a critical part of the show and so, after spending five seasons of The Closer and one season of Major Crimes as a recurring guest star, he was finally upped to a regular for the show’s second season. With Major Crimes being arguably more of an ensemble piece than The Closer ever was, more screen time has been given to Dr Morales over the past few years; something which is set to continue in season four.

With that in mind and, as part of our continuing feature series on Major Crimes for the UK premiere of season four on Universal Channel, TVWise recently spoke to Jonathan Del Arco about his character, if fans will finally find out Morales’ first name, his favourite moment from the show’s first four seasons and much more.

TVWise: After playing this character for so long, are you still figuring him out or do you have a pretty good handle on what makes Dr Morales tick?

Jonathan Del Arco: The role is very functional really. It’s a role that requires you to move the storyline forward, it gives information about the crime, and in a sense is very procedural. So, within the limitations of that, you can explore, internally, things about the character. But in terms of developing his personal life, that left to me in my own head. So, I’m always finding out little things about him as the show progresses. We had one episode that just aired here where we’d never used this set before, it’s the viewing room where a family member comes to view a deceased person. I never had to play that before. I had one scene where a family member came into the actual morgue, but this particular room is a viewing and it’s a very specific thing to have that level of compassion and the hurt for someone while being very professional, while filling out the forms and answering the very rudimentary questions about the victim. That told me a lot about him as well.

Jonathan Del Arco - Major CrimesTVWise: There is a lot of snark and attitude from Dr Morales, how much of that is James [Duff] and the writers and how much are you helping to come up with that?

Jonathan Del Arco: Well, let’s just say the writers write to my tune. They know me very well. James Duff has been a friend of mine for a very long time and when he first wrote the role, he had written that right into the part. I like to say Dr Morales is me after three martinis [laughs]. If you take me out drinking you will absolutely see that side of me come out, so they definitely write to that because they know I have that part of my personality. But they do write it all, I don’t get to make much of it up, or any of it actually.

TVWise: Alongside the comedic elements, there are the occasional episodes where the cases seem to hit Dr Morales very hard. Is it harder to play those more serious notes?

Jonathan Del Arco: I love them more [than the comedic scenes]. To be honest with you, that’s my preference as an actor to play. I loved the episode in The Closer where I’m working on a kid who has been drowned and I just had to step out because I’m overwhelmed. What’s great about it is they always seem to capture him… not in full breakdown. I feel like Dr Morales has had moments when he’s gone into the bathroom and he’s just lost it and then gone back and finished his job. It actually explains the sense of humour a lot. I feel like people who have to work in that kind of heaviness have to have a morose sense of humour [laughs] to fend off the depression.

TVWise: Will we finally find out your character’s first name this season?

Jonathan Del Arco: Yes, you will. Season four has a really cool component which I bet a lot of our British fans have already tapped into because it’s on the internet. As a companion piece to the season, there are these vlogs. Rusty becomes a journalist and goes on a quest to find the identity of a person who’s not been identified yet. He does these crime vlogs online and one of them happens at the morgue and it’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done on the show actually. It’s very comedic. Apparently Dr Morales loves being on camera [laughs]. He’s just so completely awkward and hogging the time. But, yeah, in that vlog we find out his real name.

TVWise: Rumour has it that this season is your biggest yet, especially in these episodes you’re presently filming. There’s ever been talk that they’re finally letting you out of the morgue…

Jonathan Del Arco: It’s been fun! Just the other day I was at an actual crime scene, an old crime scene, giving a demonstration of what I was about to present at trial, so that was really different. I’ve been going to headquarters a lot more, I’ve been in the murder room a lot more. They are definitely loosening up on letting me out of the lab, which has been really great. Because working the same set and the same arena for eight years is great and the fans love it, but for an actor having the opportunity to leave that and experience a character outside of that world is really important as well. So, they’re letting me loose. I get to wear real clothes!

Jonathan Del Arco - Major Crimes (1)TVWise: The show has been pretty good at giving a glimpse into the personal lives of each of the regular characters, do we get some more insight into Morales’ personal life?

Jonathan Del Arco: We just got ordered for five more episodes and we don’t really know what they’re going to be yet, so I haven’t read… I just read the episode to do with Thanksgiving, but we haven’t done a Christmas episode yet. I think if it were to come up it would be coming up in that personal time period where the squad tends to hang out together. I’ve not really been told anything, so I don’t really know the answer.

TVWise: Where would you like the character to go next?

Jonathan Del Arco: I think it would be great if he got married. I think it would be fantastic to have him more entangled or more involved in one of the murders. Maybe a conflict of interest, so [the victim] is someone in his building complex or a friend of his. It would be an interesting thing to have that conflict of being the coroner but also have a much more personal stake in what happens to the murdered. Those would be really fun things to explore. I think it’s hard for a cop show to explore everyone’s personal life, but we’ve had some shots at it. Mary [McDonnell] has Rusty and his whole family. [The rest of the cast] have all had a little bit of family, I’ve not had that yet. It would be fun at least to have an episode where we got to learn a little bit more about him, maybe meet his family members. I think it would be interesting to bring in another family, especially when integration is such a big issue in the United States in terms of likes what immigrants do or do not give to the culture. I think we could explore that he is an immigrant and does give back in a significant way to the community. It’s a good very positive thing to portray. Maybe as we get into next season, I have no idea. You see that’s the thing they never tell us, we never know until we read the script [laughs].

TVWise: Over the past four seasons, what have been your favourite moments as Dr Morales?

Jonathan Del Arco: My absolute favourite moment ever was when I got to work an entire week with a bunch of TV legends. It was one of my favourite episodes for Dr Morales where someone’s been killed with a plate of poison brownies and I get to figure out how they did it. It’s the episode where Kathe Mazur calls me ‘Senor Quincy’ [laughs]. That was my absolute favourite, I thought that was Morales at his most joyful and fun. Honestly, I learned English watching Happy Days and all the shows these people were in. They were just legends.

Jonathan Del Arco - Major Crimes (2)TVWise: Back in the third season of The Closer you took over as the ME from James Avery, were you at all hesitant about stepping into those shoes, so to speak?

Jonathan Del Arco: No. I know they wanted something different from the part and it had nothing to do with him, but the role is difficult in a very strange way. The dialogue is not filled with personal, conversational tones, it’s filled with medical and criminal jargon. It’s about angles and trajectories and point-of-entries and things like that. My big thing was that I didn’t want to be the person coming in, slowing them all down because in the beginning I was just a guest star. You never want the guest star being the one slowing people down and that was my deal ‘just learn your lines and don’t bump into the furniture’ [laughs]. It was a lovefest from the word go for me, stepping into that set with Kyra [Sedgwick]. She and I are very good friends still. I just went to her birthday party in New York and we have these very long relationships that have out-lasted even our work together. I was very lucky. In those early days it used to be just the two of us in a scene so we were really able to play off one another. With Major Crimes it’s a little bit harder because the scenes include a lot of people, usually it’s three or four or sometimes five of us, so it’s a different kind of tennis match. That makes it a little harder sometimes as well. It’s very different, but fun!

TVWise: Can you talk about the process of moving from The Closer to Major Crimes? What was your reaction when you heard that Kyra was leaving and that James wanted to do a spin-off?

Jonathan Del Arco: I was concerned. Most of the cast will tell you that they knew immediately that it would work, I didn’t. I wasn’t one of the people that thought it would necessarily work. I was such a fan of Kyra’s work on the show and I didn’t really comprehend how James and the writers would pivot from ‘The Closer’ to a team dynamic. When it was suggested, of course I was like ‘well of course I’ll do it’. I had no qualms whatsoever about doing [Major Crimes], I wanted to keep doing it. But I was very sad that Kyra was leaving because she had been my essential scene partner for four or five years. I didn’t really know how it would be received. I had no concept that it would be as big of a hit as it is, that the fans who loved us that much would want us to continue, how positive everyone was about not wanting it to end. I think the writers did a brilliant job of the segue way, because we in the cast felt the vacuum of losing [Kyra] and they put it in the writing. So the team felt the vacuum of losing Brenda. I think that was why it really worked, because we were the audience as well.

Major Crimes season four airs in the UK on Universal Channel on Monday nights at 9pm.