Josh Charles interview: ‘We Own This City’
Josh Charles plays one of the dirtier cops on “We Own This City,” the new David Simon series about corruption within the real-life Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force. The actor takes on the role of Daniel Hersl, a police officer who was held as the poster child for bad behavior within the department, having amassed 46 complaints from citizens. Despite the nature of his character, the “Good Wife” alum did not want to villainize him. “You never approach that as an actor that way, because the people that you’re representing don’t view themselves that way,” says Charles in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. Watch the full interview above.
Charles was able to do plenty of research into Hersl to prepare, speaking with people who worked with him and pouring over bodycam footage. What he did not feel compelled to do, however, was to speak with the man himself, who is currently serving an 18-year sentence in federal prison for racketeering. “What I’m interested in whenever I’m playing someone, whether it’s real or not,” the actor explains, “but particularly when you’re playing someone who’s a real person, is what they do, not what they say.” According to Charles, Hersl continues to proclaim his innocence, which made the actor realize that it would not be helpful to talk to him now.
What Charles picked up on just from watching and listening to footage, was Hersl’s swagger. As depicted in the show, the officer has a specific kind of bravado that he carries through most of his scenes, which contrasts with a very specific speaking voice. “A guy that’s so brutal and has done so many things, and you hear so much about him in the show, and then when you meet him, he has this kind of goofy sort of Highlandtown voice,” the actor observes. One of his most memorable scenes takes place at the end of Episode 2, when Hersl lays out how he justifies that the dozens of complaints against him are because of his good police work. “You just see a little glimpse, and then you go back to the rest of it,” the actor notes, of letting the audience know more about his character. “It’s so nice when you can have moments like that.”
This role may be seen as a departure to those who are used to seeing Charles in friendlier roles, though the actor is quick to point out that he has played dirty cops earlier in his career. Still, he adds, “the opportunity to sort of play something that people don’t often get to see me play was really exciting.” “We Own This City” is also a full-circle moment for the actor, having hailed from Baltimore himself and just now getting the opportunity to work in the city all these years later. “The fact that Hersl is actually also from Baltimore and I’m from Baltimore gave me an extra sense of responsibility to make sure that whatever authenticity, how he sounds, that really resonates with people in my hometown.”