Interview with DJ Qualls from Memphis Beat

DJ Qualls, who plays Davey Sutton on TNT’s Memphis Beat, recently spoke to the press about his role on the show, how it is to work with Jason Lee, and some of what we can expect this season. He was a really nice guy to interview, and it was obvious he loves his character and his job, which is always great to hear. If you haven’t seen this show, check out what it’s about now, and then read on to see what DJ had to say!

Memphis Beat centers on Dwight Hendricks (Jason Lee), a quirky Memphis police detective with an intimate connection to the city, a passion for blues music, and a close relationship with his mother. He is ‘the keeper of Memphis,’ a Southern gentleman who is protective of his fellow citizens, reverential of the city’s history, and deeply rooted in its blues music scene.

Despite his impeccable instincts as a detective, Dwight’s loose, relaxed style of police work rubs his demanding new boss, Lt. Tanya Rice (Alfre Woodard), the wrong way. But Dwight may eventually win her over to a Memphis state of mind, especially when he takes the stage at his favorite hangout to perform a legendary song or two.

Davey Sutton (Qualls) fancies himself to be Dwight’s protégé, but he still has much to learn about being a cop. He often tries too hard in his quest to be successful and appreciated. Folks like Davey so much because there’s never any question that his heart is in the right place. And every once in a while, Davey’s homespun philosophy and his insight regarding Memphis and its people prove to be valuable.”

On what keeps him challenged about playing a police officer

DJ Qualls: Well, this year we had – this show has totally changed. We shifted more to a more serious, I think, procedural kind of show.

We’re still trying to keep the quirks that we had last season but this year we’re focused, I think, more on the crime, a little less on, sort of, the quirk of being in the south. And also, last year, my character was – he was more, sort of, finding his footing you know as a brand new cop. And this year, I’m actually getting to do more cop work.

And I find that more interesting because I don’t often get to play a lot of serious roles. And especially with the next episode, which is – every year, I get one episode that’s a Sutton episode on my character.

So episode 4, which is next week, you really see – I find a baby. And it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But it was beautiful. I’ve seen it and I’m so excited for the audience to see it.

[Note from Jenny: That is tonight’s episode.]
Jump with us to see what else DJ had to say.

On how the experience with the baby will affect Sutton

Qualls: It definitely does. And we – I mean, it changes who he is as a man. Sutton has some realizations about himself and about what he wants for his future based on this experience with the baby. I mean, it actually changed me a little bit. It changed, sort of, what I – how I feel about myself and maybe started making me think about, maybe it’s the time to start thinking about you know moving in a different direction in my life and settling down.

So maybe that’s something that I’m going to start looking at soon.

On what he’s learned and taken away from his character and the show

Qualls: Well, when I first got the script sent to me, I was like, “There’s no way I can pull this off. There’s no way I can play a cop.” So much so that – and I’ve spoken about this before – but so much so that I didn’t even – I turned down the initial audition for this show. I just, sort of, walked away from it.

I had a crisis of confidence and said, “No.” And this show – the producers pursued me. And so I went in and I did my initial reading and they offered the show to me because they believed that I could do it. And so what I’m taking away from this is keep myself open and that I’m only limited by my own imagination. And we all are. So that’s what I’ll take away from this show.

And also, I have great relationships on this show. I get to work with Alfre Woodard, who I’ve known for 10 years. And Jason, I’ve also known for about the same amount of time, Jason Lee. And you know I love the show. It’s the best show I’ve ever had.

It’s a feeling of a family like I’ve never known professionally. When you do a movie, there’s you know an end. The show is open-ended and going for a very long time. And so you let your guard down in a different way than you do in a film. People really do become very close to you; I mean, your crew, also.

So I think that I’m going to take away from this experience just how wonderful it was to have that feeling of belonging.

On what he thinks keep people tuning in

Qualls: Well, I think that it’s – like, I said that we’ve become more of a standard procedural this year but also, we have maintained that character focus kind of show where we really try to create a show where people just want to tune in an hour with these people. I think that there’s a lot of heart in our show. And, like, I read the message boards. I don’t know – people say that they don’t.

If you don’t read your message boards, I think you’re stupid because you want to know what’s working and what’s not working about your show. And people just – they really seem to respond to the heart of it.

On the scenes at the shooting range with Sutton and Whitehead and their relationship

Qualls: Those were really fun to shoot. Those shooting range scenes were awesome. Yes, this year, you see Sutton and Whitehead – because last year, Sutton and White Head really didn’t have a lot of interaction. Whitehead just sort of you know didn’t like how green he was.

And this year, Sutton really starts to prove himself, so Whitehead responds to it. The actual shooting of the scenes were great. We had several days of prep. I don’t know why they were so nervous about me shooting a gun. I’m from the south; I got a gun when I was 12 years old. But we got to shoot in an actual police shooting range where all of the people, all of the New Orleans Police Department trained. And it took about, maybe 6 hours. I shot probably 150 rounds during the filming of that.

And I’ve got to say, for a second – I mean, I’m actually – personally, I don’t really like guns. But it made me think, like, maybe I could own a gun. But then I walk away from it going, “You do not need a gun in your house.”

On whether or not Sutton will have a love interest this season

Qualls: I do have a little bit of a romantic interest this season.

We have a crime later in the season where somebody is doing identity theft. And the person from the bank who’s brought on to help us solve the crime and I have a little bit of a romantic – not ((inaudible)). We don’t – it’s sort of left open. But it was really sweet to play. The actress, Jennifer Masala, who plays the lady from the bank, was wonderful and sweet and cute. And it was really fun.

On the part of the music within the show

Qualls: The music is a big component to this show because Memphis, if you’ve ever been there, the city is all music, all the time. You have these people who have been performing for 30 years on (Beal) Street in these barbecue joints and blues clubs. And they’re doing it for the pure love of it; they’re not doing it thinking that they’re going to get famous for doing it.

And that’s a big difference from what you see in cities like L.A., where you come here and if you’re good at something, you want to be famous for it. These people just do it for the love of it. And I think that’s been a Memphis tradition you know from the birth of, like, (Sack) Record and Son.

And because we actually don’t do the show in Memphis – we shoot it in New Orleans – I think that that music is a really important component to the show to make it have a more authentic feel.

On upcoming guest stars

Qualls: Oh, man, we’ve had such great guest stars this year. And it’s another improvement from last season. You know we just had Thomas Lennon on. He was so amazing. We have Gail O’Grady comes on the show this year.

We’ve also had – oh, gosh. Hold on, let me think. We’ve had Jordy Masterson, who is Danny Masterson’s little brother – was just on the show. I mean, we’ve been really blessed with the quality of actors that come on the show. It’s been amazing.

On his relationship with Jason Lee

Qualls: Well, I think it helps a lot, the fact that this is the third job I’ve had with Jason. I did my – I think it was my second or third movie with Jason, and then I was on [My Name is] Earl for a few episodes, and then, now, this show. So I’ve known him a long time. And he was a friend before I did the show, which makes it – I think it makes chemistry easier.

What I like about working with him most is that he keeps the mood on the set light. We work very long hours. We shoot in – I mean, a lot of our show is on location outside in New Orleans in the summer time and that’s brutal. And he always has a smile on his face. And, I mean, it starts from the top. Like, he’s number 1 on the call sheet. He’s you know our hero, essentially, on the show. And so working with him – and when he’s in a good mood, we can’t help but be infected by that.

[He brings to the show friendship, comaradarie,] and levity. And he also is so appreciate of, like, his stand. It’s great to see how excited people get – people see him when we’re shooting on location. And a lot of what you don’t see is, I mean, the crew is just as an important part of our show as the cast. I mean it’s 200 people who are there to support us and stand out in the heat for us.

And he’s great with them. And it makes them want to work harder for him and us.

Thanks to DJ for taking our calls! See the new episode of Memphis Beat tonight on TNT at 9/8c.

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