‘Major Crimes’ Boss James Duff Talks Killing Off [SPOILER] After Twelve Seasons

WARNING – The following interview contains some major spoilers from Monday night’s Major Crimes that some readers may wish to avoid until after viewing the episode.

This week’s episode of Universal Channel’s import Major Crimes, in continuing an arc that began a couple of episodes ago, dealt a major blow with the murder of a major character and the exit of a long-time series regular.

LAPD Assistant Chief Russell Taylor was gunned down in a dramatic shoot-out in a court-room during the trial of Dwight Darnell (Brett Davern), who began the mass shooting by taking aim at Dr Joe (Bill Brochtrup). The hugely unexpected turn of events sees Robert Gossett, who first appeared as Taylor in the pilot episode of The Closer, exit the show after some twelve seasons.

To get a sense of how the decision to kill of this long-running character came about, how that conversation evolved with actor Robert Gossett, as well as the inspiration for this arc focussing on a Nazi gang, TVWise recently caught up with Major Crimes creator and showrunner James Duff.

major-crimes-white-lies-2TVWise: What was the inspiration for this arc and the decision to focus on a Nazi gang?

James Duff: Last year I took on gangs in the black and latino community and people sometimes forget that there are gangs in the white community. The neo-Nazi gangs are very dangerous and are involved in drug smuggling and weapons trafficking. Largely, their ideology has only loosely tied them together; they don’t usually practice the ideology so much. It’s a prison ideology, that’s where they developed it. And they have been for the most part, up until very recently, only interested in their criminal enterprise and killing the occasional child molester which they also do. I didn’t think a lot of air time had been devoted to these guys and I wanted to show how violent and how incredibly dangerous they are.

TVWise: That was quite the cold open. How did you come to the decision to kill off such a long-running character?

James Duff: There were several issues involved. Robert [Gossett] has been wanting to do something different for a long time. He’s loved working across The Closer and Major Crimes and was a big part of both, but playing the same character for twelve years is not for everybody. He was getting antsy, I guess you could say. Also, I had wanted to show the dangers of being a police officer in America today and I wanted to drive it home for our viewers. I wanted a visceral experience that said ‘these people are putting on a badge and a gun every day and going out and putting their lives on the line’. To me, it seemed like to get my point across I needed to demonstrate that and the fact that I could do that and satisfy Robert’s desire to spread his wings a little bit was perfect.

major-crimes-white-lies-3TVWise: How did that conversation evolve? Did Robert ask you to kill him off or did you take that nugget of him saying he wanted to do something different and just run with it?

James Duff: I brought it up, actually. I asked him, “how would you feel about this? If we [killed off your character] but we pay out the rest of the episodes [this season] and that would give you a cushion while you look for other stuff”. He was very appreciative of that. Robert and I have been really good friends for a very long time and I brought up in a what if way: “are you ready to play this?” Robert’s response was “You know what? I am. I am ready. I can do that, especially if you’re going to pay me for not being there”. [LAUGHS] So he was really pleased by it.

TVWise: What was that day on set like?

James Duff: The shooting really took two days to get right. We had so many meetings and rehearsals about how that was supposed to go and then the gun didn’t go off several times. Poor Brett [Davern] was there trying to kill Dr Joe and the gun just wouldn’t go off! [LAUGHS] I went over to watch it; the tension is building up, [Brett] has got his performance right and suddenly he does the smile and it is supposed to be bang, bang, but there is no bang! It was very labor intensive. There’s all these things that you have to do before you fire a gun at somebody or in the general direction of somebody and we had to do all of those things with the gun every time did the scene and the gun didn’t go off for four or five takes. Robert said to me “I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but is there any way to hurry up my death?”

TVWise: Can You talk at all about the reactions, from Robert on down, to kill of this character?

James Duff: Robert was able to joke about it, he walked into the make-up trailer saying “dead man walking, dead man walking”. He was of two minds because it’s a very tight family on Major Crimes and everybody really enjoys working together so it feels like home. He’s still a part of the family, he’s just not working with it anymore. That we mutually put this ending together that did something for both of us is a statement on how well we all got along and how much respect we have for each other. He wanted to be sure he was doing something for me and I wanted to be sure I was doing something for him and we accomplished that.

major-crimes-white-lies-1But [Robert] had mixed emotions about leaving, and we had mixed emotions about him leaving too. We had a retirement cake for him, we had a standing ovation for him that went on and on and on at the end. But knowing your moment is part of the acting game and Robert felt like this was his moment. I just wanted to use it to maximise the story we were telling, maximise the dramatic effect of the story we were telling and give the other police officers a personal stake in the outcome.

The outpouring of grief from the fans was real; there were a lot of people who were saying “wow, why did you do that?” But I explained it by saying the LAPD is a dangerous place to work. Police officers take on a lot of danger when they put on their badge and gun and go out to defend you. They put a big target on themselves and sometimes people take advantage of that. Taylor died heroically, he died trying to stop a judge from being killed and we gave him a hero’s death.

TVWise: That outpouring of grief from the fans speaks a lot to the strength of the show and the ability to rehabilitate characters, which we’ve seen more than once…

James Duff: Just like Sharon too, in the beginning everybody hated her. I’ve always adored George Bernard Shaw. I’ve always thought of him as being the king of that; where you start out disliking a character and you end up realising you were entirely wrong. Not that that was really the case here because [Russell Taylor and Sharon Raydor] were both meant to be villains and they both played that part very well and were good at it. But it also speaks to the talents of the actors that they were able to turn it around when given the material and make themselves into more well liked characters. I feel like that also worked against Robert staying to a certain degree. He was like “Well, I’ve already done everything you could do with the character at this point. I’ve been the villain, I’ve been morally ambiguous, I’ve been the good guy, what else is there for me to do here?” [Laughs]. The part is not that big. It’s not as big as Robert’s ability and he has a right to go out there and get a bigger part, a better part, in another show. He certainly deserves that.

Major Crimes season five continues to air in the UK on Universal Channel on Monday nights at 9pm.