This "rookie" knows about re-invention ... and about sore knees

"The Rookie" arrives Tuesday (Oct. 16), with much to recommend it. The best new show of the broadcast-networks' season, it has action, drama, humor and Nathan Fillion. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

There are roles that
require an actor to stretch far beyond his own reality. Carroll
O'Conner had to be a bigot, Sally Field to be giddy, Warren Beatty to
be impotent.

Then there's Nathan
Fillion's duty in “The Rookie,” the new ABC show about a
middle-aged Los Angeles Police Department rookie. He must seem like
he gets winded when running.

“That is not far
away from my truth,” he said.

One scene in the
pilot had him trying to outrun a suspect and to climb a fence,
neither with any success. Fillion, 47, recalls needing “six pounds
of Epsom salt, (with) bruises up and down my thighs.

“I'm at the point
in my life where if I can have a stunt guy run down the street for
me, these knees will appreciate it .... Kneeling is a stunt for me.”

That fits the show.
Alexi Hawley says this began with a call from a producer who “had
the life rights to a guy who (became) the oldest rookie in the LAPD
and was I interested in putting together that show?”

Definitely. With the
current overflow of TV shows, he saw “how hard it is to find a
fresh way in, especially to a cop show.” Here was a fresh approach;
besides, Hawley is fond of:

-- Shows that can
drop humor into a drama. “Castle” -- which he used to write and
produce -- was like that; so is the “Fargo” series, from his twin
brother Noah Hawley.

-- Fillion, who
showed in “Castle” that he can handle comedy and/or drama. “It's
really hard to make people laugh,” Fillion said. “I think it's
easier to let people laugh at you.”

Hawley envisioned
the central character as 45, but his pilot script had one person
deride the “40-year-old rookie.” Either way, the first hour
allows Fillion to be a hero, a lover and a comic foil.

This also represents
a modern trend. “It used to be that you would get a career and
stick in it no matter what,” Hawley said. “And then maybe you'd
get to your 40s and have a midlife crisis.”

When called a
“midlife crisis,” it's considered a bad thing; when called
“reinvention,” it's an admirable approach to modern life. And
actors are all about reinvention.

The son of two
English teachers, Fillion grew up in Alberta. That's where he went to
college ... and it's where a Richard Chamberlain TV movie was filmed:
“'Ordeal in the Arctic' came to my home town,” he said. “I died
in a plane crash at the North Pole. It was tragic.”

The next year, he
moved to New York for a steady role on the “One Life to Live”
soap opera. He became the fourth actor (and the first adult) to play
Joey Buchanan, the son of the show's protagonists.

Soon, Joey had a
secret affair with his mother's nemesis ... who (while undergoing an
alternate personality) held him hostage in a secret room under his
mom's mansion.

Soaps are like that
sometimes; they're also good training, Fillion said. “You make a
44-minute program every day .... By the end of it, you are ready to
attack anything.”

He stayed almost
four years, got a Daytime Emmy nomination (in the “younger actor”
category), landed some guest roles, moved west ... and sputtered. “I
couldn't get a job .... It was like a year.”

The drought ended
with “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.” (He was none of those,
but was the boyfriend of the “girl” in the title.) That propelled
a TV career that has included “Firefly” and beyond.

Many of the key
stops have been on ABC, from the first ones (“Ordeal” and the
soap) to “Two Guys,” a “Desperate Housewives” season, “Castle,” several "Modern Family" episodes and now the new series.

“I have been
working for ABC since Jan. 28 of 1994,” Fillion said. There have
been plenty of pauses, but he's become a network veteran ... the sort
who wheezes when he chases a suspect.

-- “The Rookie,”
10 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC, starting Oct. 16