Major Crimes has never been short of action.
From violent shootings in the opening episode, to showcasing the Special Operations Bureau of the LAPD in a number of season three episodes (which were envisioned as something of a back-door pilot for a spin-off that never materialised), to the violent escape of serial killer Phillip Stroh.
And while there is even more to come with Tony Denison’s Andy Flynn in the back eight episodes of the season, last week’s episode of Major Crimes was certainly big on action. The third episode of season four saw Lieutenant Michael Tao (Michael Paul Chan) forced to take the life of a suspect in a case involving cyber-stalking.
Tao, who has been part of the show since The Closer, has often been portrayed as the “tech-geek” of the Major Crimes Division. And while that is still a facet of the character, as evidenced when the LAPD servers were infected with spyware in said episode, the shift to Major Crimes has seen the Tao character more fully fleshed out and he is now just as likely to be seen breaking down a door.
As part of our continuing feature series on Major Crimes for the UK premiere of season four on Universal Channel, TVWise recently spoke to series regular Michael Paul Chan about playing Lieutenant Michael Tao, that shooting scene from the episode ‘Open Line’, the ‘Badge Of Justice’ consultancy, what’s in store for Tao in season four and much more.
TVWise: You’ve been playing Tao since 2005, is there still more to learn about him or have we seen every side?
Michael Paul Chan: Yes, There’s still more to see. I mean oftentimes I tell the writers when they do an old joke or an old gag… I have to go to them and say “Hey, I’ve grown beyond this particular situation. I’m no longer just the ‘tech geek’. So there is more to Tao than just that.
TVWise: He’s always been the rock of the team, but this year we’re getting to see a different side of him. Can you talk about that?
Michael Paul Chan: Well this year I shot and killed somebody. It’s a big deal. It was a whole big thing. You’re going to see me pull my weapon a lot this season, well for the last couple of seasons actually. But this is the one where you see me put someone down with it. From the get-go James [Duff] always said “Everybody has their specialities, but bottom line is they are all cops at the end of the day”. Yes, he did study medicine at one time, yes he did work with SID at one time, but now he’s put in his due and he’s a fully-fledged Detective Lieutenant; with all that that entails.
TVWise: Given his reaction to taking a life, do you think this is Tao’s first line-of-duty killing?
Michael Paul Chan: Yes, I think that really gets touched on towards the end [of the episode] because going through the paperwork and all the different kind of interviews you have to go through when you do something like this was quite new to him – seeing the psychologist all that kind of stuff.
TVWise: How do the effects of the shooting ripple throughout the season or is it more isolated to that one episode?
Michael Paul Chan: It feels like it will be limited to that one episode, but there are moments where it can come up, especially when I’m dealing with Sanchez and his temper. They’re both kind of on thin ice right now. But then on the lighter side, Tao is the technical consultant for a Hollywood TV show, so that’s a whole other deal.
TVWise: I recently spoke with James Duff and he revealed that in one episode your character’s connection with ‘Badge Of Justice’ is used to help move a case a long…
Michael Paul Chan: Some of the technical ways of shooting a scene on Badge Of Justice are used to explore a video we had in evidence, by looking at the video in 360 degree perspective and that helped solve the case. And that was all, purely, because of Tao’s connection to Badge of Justice. I’m hoping the Tao’s whole involvement with Hollywood will effect him somehow. You know making extra money now the kids are almost done with college, so maybe that will lead Tao into more temptation.
TVWise: As the ‘tech geek’ of the squad, you have a fair amount of technical dialogue. How difficult is that to memorise?
Michael Paul Chan: As long as there’s a through line… as long as you can put it together and it has some sort of logical sense and as long as you have a relative understanding of what it is; it hasn’t been that difficult. Of course, it’s much easier to do normal scenes like interviewing criminals in the interview room – those are fun. But the technical gobbledygook, I just have to find a quiet room and memorise it. I tell you though it’s not that difficult compared to memorising a language. I once had to do half of movie in Mandarin and I don’t speak Chinese so… [laughs]. Imagine that!
TVWise: What’s in store for Tao as we head into season four?
Michael Paul Chan: I’m not really that sure, because we don’t work that far ahead with scripts. What we’ve shot and what’s in the can for November… we’re all taking turns in the interview rooms, switching it up when we interview criminals. James always tries to give me episode eight, because that number is very good luck in Chinese
TVWise: The series recently got picked up for five more episodes and we’re still awaiting word on a fifth season, how long do you think the show could run and how long do you see yourself playing Tao?
Michael Paul Chan: As long as I can memorise my lines [laughs]. I mean on an American TV show, the first four names on the call sheet are all over 60, when does that happen? Our fans are great, they’ve been following us along so it can last as long as they accept it. Our show had next to no publicity this year and we were still TNT’s number one show. Our fans… they find us!
TVWise: One of the holdovers from season three is that Tao is the only one who knows about Deputy Chief Fritz Howard’s (Jon Tenney) health issues. Is that something that comes up again in season four?
Michael Paul Chan: It could. I haven’t seen it [in any scripts] lately, but I’m not really privy to what the writers have planned for the future. I get them maybe a week in advance.
TVWise: Dialling back to The Closer, when it was announced that Kyra was leaving and James was gearing up to do a spin-off, what was your reaction? Did you think it would be a hit out of the gate?
Michael Paul Chan: I wasn’t sure if it would be a hit out of the gate, but I knew we could do it. The core ensemble is very tight and we all work quite well together, that was very evident from day one, we were always a very well-oiled machine. And critically James [Duff] was not done telling stories. I don’t think anybody was thinking ‘Yes, this will definitely be a hit’. I’ve been doing this quite a while and two weeks is a long job [laughs] and it’s just unimaginable that you’d be doing something for ten or twelve years.
Major Crimes season four airs in the UK on Universal Channel on Monday nights at 9pm.