An Ambitious Man: Interview with Longmire's Bailey Chase

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A&E

Bailey Chase as Deputy Branch Connally in Longmire

As Oklahoma City police detective Butch Ada in the popular TNT crime drama Saving Grace, Bailey Chase helped solve brutal homicide cases as part of the city’s Major Crimes unit. Given the actor’s good looks and talent, it is no surprise that he grabbed the viewers’ attention with his performance. When that series ended after three seasons, Chase booked a recurring role on another hit show, FX’s Damages. While working on that series, the opportunity came up for a more permanent gig playing Deputy Branch Connally in A&E’s Longmire.

“I had a really nice time being back in New York and working on Damages with some wonderful actresses in Rose Byrne and, of course, the amazing Glenn Close,” says Chase. “Then the pilot for Longmire came along, and originally I was up for the part of Walt Longmire. I loved the character and was excited about the prospect of having my own series, especially as its producers [Greer Shephard and Michael M. Robin] had a great track record with [another TNT series] The Closer.

“So I read for them when I was back in Los Angeles during one of my breaks from Damages and everything seemed to go really well, but when they called my agent, they said that they wanted me for the Branch role. If you watched the pilot, you saw that Branch wasn’t quite the man he is today, or that I like to think he is. So I had a side conversation with Greer Shephard, our show runner, who basically told me, ‘You’re perfect for this role. We want an equal adversary for Walt; that’s what will make this show interesting.  We’ll treat the pilot script a little bit with regard to your role.’

“They then gave me a huge gift with the writing over the course of season one. You see Branch’s evolution all the way through to the season finale where he has the fight with Walt. So that’s how I became involved in Longmire, and I just feel so blessed. Sometimes ego can get in the way and you’re like, no, I want my own show, but then you’re offered a supporting character that they [the producers/writers] really deliver on in the end. That’s what happened for me with Longmire, and I’m having a blast,” enthuses the actor.

Based on the mystery novels written by best-selling author Chris Johnson, Longmire is set in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming, and tells the story of Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor), who returns to work as sheriff after the death of his wife. Helped by his daughter Cady (Cassidy Freeman), his new deputy, Victoria “Vic” Moretti (Katee Sackhoff,), and his best friend, Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), Sheriff Longmire investigates a series of major crimes in his jurisdiction, while also preparing to run for reelection against a young deputy, Branch Connally (Chase), who wants his job. In the show’s pilot episode, the sheriff’s office investigates the murder of an Indian girl and a mobile brothel.

“Most of my scenes in the pilot were in the police station,” recalls Chase. “We were shooting in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and this episode is where I believe the seeds were planted just in terms of the confrontation that was on the horizon between my character and Walt and everything else that was going down at the time. What sticks out most in my mind as far as working on this episode is being in Las Vegas and really enjoying the rest of the cast. We all became fast friends, which was great because you don’t always get that. There’s something really special, I think, about being on-location that has made us much closer than if we were working, let’s say, in Los Angeles or New York.”

During Walt’s leave of absence from the force following his wife’s death, it was Deputy Connally who handled most of the sheriff’s duties, so it only makes sense that he would want to permanently take over the job. His father, the powerful and wealthy Barlow Connally (Gerald McRaney), would like nothing more than to see his son elected as sheriff. As much as he would like to be in charge, though, Branch has a great deal of respect for Walt. Not surprisingly, this sets up an internal conflict with the character that Chase relishes playing.

“It’s a very fine line insofar as the relationship between Walt and Branch,” he explains. “Initially, my character very much wanted to kind of mark his territory and be like, ‘Hey, I’m here, too,’ but at the same time still be professional. There are some private moments that he has with his dad and Walt’s daughter Cady, who Branch is in love with, over the course of season one where Branch shows a real affection as well as affinity for Walt and what a good cop he is. Naturally, his father shoots that right down.

“So it’s a real moral dilemma, and hopefully that’s something that resonates with the audience, where my character actually likes this guy, but the circumstances are such that the two of them need to go toe-to-toe and be adversaries. That’s just the cards they’ve been dealt. Again, Branch thinks Walt is a really good cop and ultimately good at what he does, even though Branch likes to poke fun at how old school he is.

“At the same time, my character is incredibly ambitious, and it doesn’t help that he has a past with his father, who would always make Branch feel bad and give him a difficult time about not being successful enough. Branch’s dad is constantly prodding him to go further, and where his motto is, ‘The ends justify the means,’ Branch actually has a pretty strict moral code that he tries to live by. Unfortunately, he has these ‘dark forces,’ if you will, pulling him in other directions. You see that with his father in the first season and you’ll see it more in season two where Jacob Nighthorse [A Martinez] becomes his primary campaign financer.”

The murder of an exotic dancer ("The Dark Road"), the connection between the deaths of a local Cheyenne boy and a member of the Mexican drug cartel ("The Cancer") and the killing of an escaped convict by a bear ("The Worst Kind of Hunter") are just a few of the cases Walt and his officers investigate in season one of Longmire. Chase is especially fond of the first season episode, "8 Seconds," which features a rodeo veterinarian suspected of having an affair.

“This episode was gratifying in a lot of ways,” says the actor. “First off, Chris Chulack, who directed our first two episodes, came back for this one. He’s actually coming back to shoot two more episodes this [second] season, and I always love working with him because he makes me an even better actor.

“I also felt like this was the first time Branch got to spread his wings. Our characters go out to a rodeo and ham it up, or at least Branch hams it up, in front of a crowd, and you really get to see him comfortable in the spotlight. It’s very much ‘game on’ for him. So "8 Seconds" is my favorite story from last year, although in the one that followed ["An Incredibly Beautiful Thing"] I got to play golf, and I’m a golf addict, so that was a lot of fun, too.”

In "Unquiet Mind," Longmire’s second season opener, a serial killer, Wayne Durell, (Dan Hildebrand) along with other prisoners escape the FBI just prior to transport and head into the mountains of Absaroka County. Among Durell’s victims was a young Native American boy who Walt promised to find. Ignoring a snowstorm, the sheriff sets out to track Durell on foot. Back in town, Vic butts heads with the FBI agent (Noam Jenkins) in charge, who appears indifferent to the dangers facing Walt, while Branch and Henry set off on horseback to find the sheriff. When it comes to shooting this episode and, in fact, season two, in general, Chase could not wait to step back in front of the camera.

“Coming back was great,” he notes. “For me, it was a really long wait, although most of us stayed busy during the hiatus. We loved filming season one, the ratings were great, and the fans are terrific. A normal turnaround for a TV series might be four months, and we were on hiatus for about eight, so the cast and crew were just excited and chomping at the bit to get back. Everyone showed up with their A-game, which in and of itself was really nice, and the first script, 201, was a very strong one as well. I guess patience is a virtue,” says the actor with a chuckle, “but, again, we couldn’t wait to get back.

“As far as Branch, I made a very conscious choice to change him up this season, and I hope that that’s coming through in my performance. I want the audience to see it and feel it. I basically decided that I’m all in, which is what Branch said to Vic towards the end of last season. At the end of the second to last episode, he tells her that he’s no quitter. He’s all in and is going to let the chips fall where they may. He’s not worried about Walt’s feelings or anyone else’s, and I know that might not be the most popular or likeable choice, but I feel like it’s what I have to do with this character. I’ve got my fingers crossed that at some point, that will resonate with the viewers and they’ll be able to take that journey with me.

“So it’s been fun. It’s definitely the boldest choice I’ve ever made in my career insofar as acting style and just delving deeper and deeper into my character as well as the story, but like I said, it feels really good and I’m having a wonderful time.”

Born in Chicago and raised in Florida, the actor was educated at boarding school where he also developed a passion for sports. Although Chase later attended Duke University on a football scholarship, he ultimately chose a very different type of career path. “I watched a lot of Clint Eastwood movies growing up, and I wanted to be like him,” admits Chase. “So when I stopped growing at six feet and 190 pounds I realized that the NFL wasn’t in my future. That’s when I started to think about my boyhood dream of acting. I moved out to Los Angeles after graduation and really never looked back. I got to spend a few years in New York as well as London [studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art], so it’s been an interesting time.”

Chase made his feature film debut in Adam Shankman’s Cosmo’s Tale, which screened at both Sundance and Cannes. The actor’s other film credits include Billboard Dad, The Stray, Crossing Over and the upcoming Summoned. His numerous small screen appearances include guest-starring, recurring or regular roles on such series as Charmed, JAG, Las Vegas, CSI: Crime Screen Investigation, Castle and White Collar. Among his most memorable roles are the aforementioned Butch Ada in Saving Grace and Graham Miller in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

“Well, Saving Grace was a dream job,” says the actor. “I had just come back from New York after doing a soap opera [As the World Turns] and my goal was to get on a primetime show, and who better to co-star with than Oscar winner Holly Hunter [Detective Grace Hanadarko]. We were getting a great deal of attention because of her involved and the show got picked up right away for 13 episodes. It really validated my decision to leave the security, if you will, of daytime TV and that steady paycheck of working every week, 50 weeks a year.

“So that was amazing and on top of that, working with Holly on a daily basis and seeing how hard she worked was incredible. She takes it to another level, and I grew up a lot as an actor. I started to push myself harder and harder and I thank her for making me better.

“As for Buffy, that was my first real acting job. That was when I threw away all the practical [job] applications I’d been filling out because I was tired of waiting tables, etc. I remember meeting [series creator/executive producer] Joss Whedon for the first time, and he’s such a terrific and genuine guy. He was there with me every step of the way. I had two lines in my first episode, and after it aired, Joss came up to me and said, ‘I got so many e-mails and posts from fans asking, “Who’s the new guy?”’ That was all very exciting and what got me in the game so to speak, and here we are after all these years.

“It’s funny, when I was on Buffy I thought I was a good actor, but I can look back now and think, ‘Actually, I wasn’t,’ and it’s the same with daytime TV. I felt like that was kind of boot camp for my acting career. I logged tons of hours in front of a camera, and there was a real change after I left daytime. I felt much more comfortable in front of the camera and I really enjoyed that time between, ‘Action!’ and, ‘Cut!’ It’s become my favorite time for me. Having recently turned 41 I feel like things have never been better for me, and I hope 10 years from now I can look back and feel the same way at 51.”

Please note, all Longmire photos copyright of A&E.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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