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Q&A: Jason Lee of 'Memphis Beat'

Posted 10:54am on Tuesday, Jun. 14, 2011

Jason Lee, star of TNT's Memphis Beat, swears it's the shoes. The actor who plays Dwight Hendricks, the music-loving Memphis homicide detective, says he truly got a handle on his character's cool swagger once he found the perfect pair of boots to walk around in. Oh, sure, there are other more obvious ingredients that make Dwight memorable. In many ways, he's a throwback to unforgettably charismatic TV detectives of the 1970s. "There's the car that he drives, the music that he loves, the old guitars," Lee notes. "But mostly I think it's the boots. It's like there's a little bit of a modern-day cowboy vibe to the guy which I think is really interesting." That said, Season 2 of Memphis Beat, which premieres at 8 p.m. CT Tuesday, June 14, is dialing down some of Dwight's larger-than-life qualities, especially his Elvis Presley obsession. "Because overdoing it can get real cheesy real fast," Lee says. But fans who liked Season 1 just the way it was shouldn't worry. The show is still a heck of a lot of fun.

What's your idea of the perfect detective show? What shows would you like Memphis Beat to be like?

"I'm a product of the '70s. I like that energy that you see on shows like The Rockford Files. Some of my other favorites were The Streets of San Francisco, The Dukes of Hazards, CHiPs and the Smokey and the Bandit movies. That's the vibe that I wanted to bring to the table this season. I felt we needed to make it feel a little bit more fun and action-packed and kind of old school like these other shows. We tried to do that season 1, but we didn't quite nail it. I feel like we've tapped into that more this year."

What does the city of Memphis think of the show? When you visit Memphis to shoot exterior scenes, are you greeted like you're a local hero? Or do residents resent that you film mostly in New Orleans?

"They still embrace the show. We've heard Memphians saying, 'You know, we see quite a bit of New Orleans in the show.' But they understand it's a bunch of red tape and governmental tax incentive stuff. And this season we have a fantastic production designer and she is very much a perfectionist, so we've tried even harder to make it even more authentic. I've done press locally in Memphis and they say, 'We like the show and we're certainly happy just that it has Memphis in the title and we understand why you can't film here. It's disappointing, but we don't hate the show.' So that's nice to hear."

What's up with phasing out Dwight's obsession with Elvis? That was such a big part of who he was.

"The Elvis thing is just less of a sacred thing with him. Now he's more just a Southern dude who loves great music. He still is a musician and a performer. But this season, there's less Elvis. Certainly Elvis is still his idol. But the idea that he was a cop by day and an Elvis impersonator by night was a formula we weren't completely satisfied with. Now we sort of shed all of that and it's more about Dwight being a guy who loves everything, from Elvis to Johnny Cash to Muddy Waters to probably Simon and freakin' Garfunkel."

What has been the most challenging part for you about playing this character?

"The lip-synching in the musical performances. I try to be as genuine as I can and make that feel as heartfelt as possible and make it look as good as I can. I want to do justice to that. But it's a difficult thing."

What has been your favorite musical experience this season?

"I do an episode where I sing Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash, which is very cool. That's another reason we dropped the Elvis obsession. I mean, Dwight loves music, all music, too much to be only an Elvis fanatic."

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