‘Major Crimes’ Star Kearran Giovanni On Playing Amy Sykes, Those Physical Scenes, Protecting [Spoiler] & More

The exit of a number of actors at the end of The Closer, as well as the new set up of Major Crimes, mandated that the series producers add a number of regular characters to the new spin-off/sequel series when it launched in August 2012.

One such addition was Kearran Giovanni, a noted Broadway actress from New York who, prior to Major Crimes, had done little in the world of TV outside of a role on the ABC soap opera One Life To Live. A regular from day one on Major Crimes, Giovanni plays former Army MP turned LAPD Detective Amy Sykes.

While initially something of a suck-up and accidental screw-up, the character has grown into her own over the past four seasons. From refusing to let a suspect get a hold of her weapon in season one, resulting in some not-so-minor injuries, to showing off her background as an officer with the LAPD’s elite SIS (Special Investigation Section) while training Rusty for an undercover operation in season two.

The show’s third season even saw the Sykes start a relationship with SIS Lieutenant Chuck Cooper (Malcolm Jamal Warner). But, arguably, last week was Sykes’ biggest episode yet, when she intervened to protect the identity of an eye witness to a gang shooting, knowing full well what might happen to that young girl if she was named as a witness on the LAPD paperwork and the DA’s filings in court.

For the final piece in our feature series on Major Crimes for the UK premiere of season four on Universal Channel, TVWise recently spoke to Kearran Giovanni about playing Detective Amy Sykes, her more physical scenes in the series, if she was at all hesitant about joining such a well established cast, protecting the eyewitness in last week’s episode ‘Snitch’ and much more.

Kearran Giovanni (FT)TVWise: Let’s talk Amy Sykes…

Kearran Giovanni: She’s a bit of a badass. I like to consider myself as a badass in life in the kitchen or dodging traffic, but she’s a real not scared of anything, will shoot you if you piss her off kind of badass [laughs]. And she’s grown into it too. I think it was in there [in the beginning], but she is definitely a lot more confident in her skills… she’ll take a guy down.

TVWise: You do seem to be getting more of those scenes where you’re one of the detectives going through the door, so to speak.

Kearran Giovanni: Exactly! The show has been on for eleven years now, so, not to say our men are not spry, but they are getting to an age where they don’t want to run up a mountain in LA and roll around the ground taking down a bad guy. So, they’ve employed me [laughs] as the person who gets to do that. I really enjoy it. I get to use my dance/gymnastics background and judo kick some people sometimes.

Kearran Giovanni (4)TVWise: Given these more physical scenes, how much training have you had to do for the role?

Kearran Giovanni: Luckily, I was a trained gymnast and dancer for many years, so that helped. As far as the gun work, I was like ‘Can you please not make me look like a little girl you just gave a gun to?’ [Laughs]. But no, they actually brought in a former Navy Seal to train me because Amy isn’t just a police officer, she has been in Afghanistan, she’s been to war and I really wanted to know what the differences were. There are differences in how they walk, how they think, how they set their sights, really everything. He really taught me everything, from scoping out some tree in the distance, or how they hold a weapon as the military officer, as opposed to the police officer. That was super super helpful and then I got to go to a shooting range for a day and shoot every weapon you can possible imagine [laughs].

TVWise: Looking back to the beginning of Major Crimes, were you at all nervous about joining what was for the most part a well-established cast who had been working together for seven seasons on The Closer?

Kearran Giovanni: I’m sure somewhere in the back of my mind I thought about that,… But at the time I was living in New York and I have two kids and a husband, so when I was auditioning I said ‘This is it. It’s going to happen and it’s going to be great and I can feel it’ and I asked my husband “If I get it can we move to LA?” and my wonderful husband said “Yes, absolutely, when do we leave?” We just packed up our lives, like the Clampetts, and made it to the other side of the world from New York. I was maybe a little nervous about meeting everyone, but a show like this doesn’t work for so long unless everyone is on-board. I had the feeling – and had heard from others – that there wasn’t a better place to be employed. I was just so honoured to be added to the group.

Kearran Giovanni (1)TVWise: You’ve got a background in the theatre, so what made you want to take on a regular TV role like this?

Kearran Giovanni: I went to school for musical theatre and you have grand dreams of Broadway… which is great, it’s wonderful it’s a great medium, I could wake up in the morning and do a Broadway show without thinking about it. It really was second nature. Whereas doing TV in New York, at least at the time, it was very much Law & Order, which is a case of you do one of and that’s it. Then I got [One Life To Live], which was a great training ground for memorising lines because it’s just a lot of dialogue. I’m going to go out on a limb and say most Broadway performers love Broadway, but would love to do TV and film. The life is very different, the schedule is very different and the pay is very different; it’s a big deal to make the jump from Broadway to TV. For me, in my world, it was a huge accomplishment and a huge step to get [Major Crimes]. It’s a dream come true, it really is.

TVWise: We’ve really seen Amy come into her own over the past four seasons, from this accidental screw up in season one shooting her mouth off at the most inopportune times, to becoming a respected member of the division. What’s that been like to play?

Kearran Giovanni: [Laughs]. It’s really mirrored my own journey as an actor and it’s been great! She really did come in with this wide-eyed enthusiasm. She had the skills, she just didn’t realise her comedic timing she would just say what she was thinking. Once she gets in there a bit more she grows, her confidence grows. I just feel with Mary [McDonnell], Tony [Denison] and G.W. [Bailey], I have such a respect for them in a different way now. I’m not standing there as a fan, it’s very much a level playing ground now and I feel that’s where Amy is too. This is her team and you see more and more each season that they step up for her, they have her back and I think that lets her relax a little more and grow her confidence. It’s been great.

Kearran Giovanni (2)TVWise: In last week’s episode you had a very big role trying to protect the identity of a witness…

Kearran Giovanni: It was a really meaty episode to bite into. Amy, as we said before, does a lot of stunts, and she’s action packed but it’s in this [episode] that you really get to see her softness. That softness is really in family and in the protection of this young girl, who I think she sees a little bit of herself in. [Amy] doesn’t want anything to happen to her and she knows the system well enough to know how far she can go without really stepping over the line. What’s great about the way James [Duff] wrote this episode is that because she knows the system so well and knows what could happen she’s willing to take a risk and give it all up in a way for this. But she also knows that her squad will support her, and they do. Mary’s character really goes to bat for me and takes one for the team. It’s a really great episode.

TVWise: As you say Captain Raydor has your character’s back, but Provenza is a little reluctant and there is something of a confrontation with Assistant Chief Taylor. Given how much Amy risks for this girl, do you think this whole situation gives us a bit of a clearer glimpse of her psyche or is it more a case of her just wanting to protect the child?

Kearran Giovanni: I think it’s a little bit of both. In that scene with Taylor there is – I don’t want to call it a race issue, it becomes so much bigger than that – but there is something in her being able to push HIM specifically. If you look at both of our backstories, you know where both Amy and Taylor came from and the struggles that they’ve both had. So he knows as well as Amy what could happen to this girl, because we’ve seen it and where we both are from. It’s a case of ‘You know as well as I do why it needs to happen the way it needs to happen because it’s for a greater good’.

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