Jason Lee is one of very few actors to cross couple of different thresholds in Hollywood. He’s achieved cult status for his work in the Kevin Smith films, received mainstream notice and plenty of award nominations for his work on My Name is Earl, and he’s recognized by thousands of kids for his role as Dave in Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Now Jason is moving to something a little different and takes the lead in TNT’s upcoming Memphis Beat as a detective who moonlights as an Elvis Presley impersonator.
We recently got a chance to sit in on a discussion with Lee about his role in the upcoming show, the fate of My Name is Earl, his tendency to drift towards comedy rather than drama, and his new found appreciation for Elvis.
What is it about this show and the character that appealed to you and made you want to be part of it?
Well you know on the surface it was clear that it was very different than anything I’ve ever done. And you know so that was a big part of it and then the fun of getting to play a detective and certainly the fun of getting to play a detective who also performs the music of Elvis on stage.
The whole package was unique and once I came to found the character and the material and the scenarios and his relationships and he’s such a great guy and is so mulit-layered and cares such a great deal for his city and his family and the people that he’s protecting.
You know, it made this guy a man and I really responded to that.
So tell me just a little bit about your performances on the show and the practice that went into it?
Well there was a lot of practice with you know – I’ve performed a few times now because we’re five episodes into the first season. You know it’s a side of Dwight that is as important to him as his detective work and the burden of protecting his city and those around him and his family, his mother. He’s very much a mama’s boy and he’s vulnerable and I think that’s why we like him so much.
And it allows him to really respect Elvis and the people that came before Dwight. And he takes the music very seriously. And so the performances are very fun, of course, but it means the world to Dwight that he has this outlet and this ability to escape the work and kind of go into another world you know.
And so it makes – it certainly makes me like Dwight very much that he has that kind of depth and care for what he’s doing. And you know I – a lot of the music that I’m performing is amazing. You know and it’s just fun to kind of just stop and think wow who knew after Earl got canceled that I would end up being – I’d go from that to playing a detective and singing Elvis songs on a stage in Memphis, Tennessee.
That’s the beauty of acting you never know what’s going to come next.
We know your character loves Elvis more than anything. So have you been listening a lot to the King lately to get into character or anything like that?
Oh, yes I’ve got hundreds of his songs. And you know my appreciation went up for him after this, of course. One of those things that I think unless you’re maybe of a certain age or unless you really understand Elvis he may be one of those figures that can be taken for granted.
Or you know you know of them, you’ve heard of them since you were a kid but until you really look into it you may not know the magnitude of the talent, you know and the voice and the, you know, it’s really special. I mean how that guy sounded and how hard he worked and what he put into music. I mean incredible.
You have done some straight dramatic roles before like in Vanilla Sky. But do you prefer doing something with a little humor? Is that more natural for you?
I mean yes, I mean I kind of prefer it all. I just think the course of things has been the course of things. But I prefer it all. You know I mean this is great because it’s very multi-layered and it gets quite deep at times.
But it’s got that edge that comedy edge which I think is just life in general. It’s – that’s just the way it is so we’re trying to maintain as real a balance as possible between the seriousness and then the relationship with Dwight’s partner and his friends down at the station.
And we’re just trying to you know it’s good that it’s a little bit offbeat because life is a little bit offbeat. But certainly it’s been a while since I’ve done anything contemplative on this level. And so it’s nice to be doing this after doing Earl and getting my – sinking my teeth into something different.
Given the nature of the show, do you have a favorite TV detective show or a favorite TV detective that you grew up loving?
I love you know Rockford Files and Hill Street Blues and the Streets of San Francisco. You know that’s definitely a great thing and in our own way like I said we’re kind of trying to do our own sort of similar version to that.
Where you just like the people involved you know and the bad assedness of it is authentic.
Catch the premiere of “Memphis Beat” on TNT June 22nd at 10pm EST.