New ‘Ironside’ ready for tough role

  • By Luaine Lee McClatchy-Tribune News Service
  • Tuesday, September 17, 2013 5:22pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Though he’s able-bodied in real life, actor Blair Underwood has no trouble executing the difficulties of the tough paraplegic cop he plays on NBC’s “Ironside.”

Underwood’s performance is inspired by two people in his life: David Bryant, a paraplegic himself who has been disabled for 30 years, and Underwood’s mother.

“I hope I’m not speaking out of turn,” he said,”but my mother has had multiple sclerosis for 10 to 15 years. She’s had a number of challenges throughout the years, going through depression — and very difficult challenging times and what that did to her and to a family,’

“Just a month ago she had a mini stroke and was in the hospital. Those challenges — what it does — it puts you in touch with your mortality. So a couple of times over the last 10 years we thought we were going to lose her. But she’s strong. She keeps coming back,” he said.

His mentor is Bryant. “He was paralyzed at age 19 from a skiing accident, coming down the slope, did a flip, which he’d done before. He knew the flip wasn’t quite right. He landed right on his spinal cord.

“He said something very interesting to me, ‘It took me 10 years to grasp and understand and accept this is who I am,’” Underwood said.

The character of Robert Ironside became a TV staple in the late 1960s when Raymond Burr played him as a quiet, cerebral copper.

Underwood’s take is far more physical. “Given that when we meet Ironside he’s only two years into the journey, he hasn’t given into it yet,” Underwood said.

“He’s going to exercise, he’s going to will it back. Maybe modern medicine will catch up to what his injury is. Those are some of his demons.

“What a challenge! And that’s what I was excited about.”

People remember him from “L.A. Law” or “Dirty Sexy Money” or “The Event,” but it was his role as the brutish Stanley Kowalski in Broadway’s “Streetcar Named Desire” last year that earned him this part.

“Bob Greenblatt (chairman of NBC Entertainment) came to see it. Stanley Kowalski, he’s physical, he’s visceral, he’s aggressive, he’s damaged — all those things. But he’s all those things that’s in this new version of ‘Ironside,’ a lot of those colors,” he said.

Underwood, 49, shares many of those qualities. He was an Army brat, constantly traveling with his family as a kid. He moved eight or nine times by the time he was 15. “I remember being different, especially in Michigan where I was the only African-American kid in an all-white school for two years.

“But my community of friends were so cool, and they opened up and embraced me.

“My father was a military officer, so we were children of an officer, so that gives you a status and confidence. So I never bought into that I was less than anybody else.”

Tough Toni: Toni Collette is co-starring in one of the fall’s more interesting new series, “Hostages,” premiering Monday on CBS.

She plays a mother and a surgeon who finds herself ministering to the president. With her family held hostage, she is ordered to kill her patient. The show will air in 15 episodes with a defined ending.

Collette says she likes the complexity of the character.

“She has a very high-pressure job that she’s incredibly successful at. She’s a mom. She’s a wife. She’s somewhat compromised at home even though she’s successful at work,” Collette said.

“And the thing that I really love about her the most is quite simple. I think here’s a woman who, in a way, has been toeing the line her whole life, and she’s put in a situation which makes her walk straight across that line and figure out who she really is and discover her true self.”

Watch it

The new “Ironside” premieres at 10 p.m. Oct. 2 on NBC.

“Hostages” premieres at 10 p.m. Monday on CBS.

More in Life

Bob Jepperson’s Wild Love Story

A perfect circle of sounds, pictures and storytelling from the Anacortes author.

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globe nominations

“The Post” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” also collected a number of nominations.

Mukilteo Police Chief Cheol Kang is known for his people skills

The city’s top cop’s calm demeanor and holistic approach earns him the nickname “Yoda.”

Three posh places to escape this winter in north Puget Sound

Whether it’s wine country, backcountry or the seashore, a relaxing retreat is close at hand.

Getting a glimpse of what’s coming as we age

Everett Public Library reading to help you understand the changes ahead in your elder years.

This author is throwing a virtual party for book lovers

Jennifer Bardsley is hosting a Facebook get-together for young-adult book authors and readers.

Leanne Smiciklas, the friendly lady who served customers of her husband’s Old School Barbeque from a schoolbus parked in front of the Reptile Zoo east of Monroe, has died at 64. (Dan Bates / Herald file)
Without her, beloved BBQ hotspot in Monroe can’t go on

Leanne Smiciklas, who ran the now-closed Old School BBQ along Highway 2 with her husband, died.

Taylor Johnston waters a philodendron at her home on Friday, Dec. 8, 2017 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Three guidebooks to help the novice houseplant gardener

Indoor plants are popular again — and we’re not talking about your grandma’s African violets.

Bustling Dublin offers big-city sights and Irish charm

The dynamic city has a great story to tell, and people who excel at telling it.

Most Read