TV fans now recognize Michael Devine from his role as Detective Paul O’Rourke in The Undoing. But HBO‘s hit miniseries is just one of his credits, and acting is only one part of his career. I recently connected with Michael to discuss how he went from being an actual police officer to playing one on TV, and what happens when art imitates life.
Brittany Frederick: You served in the NYPD before being cast as a police detective in The Undoing. How did your career trajectory take you from cop to acting? Or was the interest in acting always present?
Michael Devine: The acting came first. Like the path of many actors, I started by doing school plays and then that just continued. I went to college for it. For that whole period up until and through college, I had one goal: to be a professional actor. But shortly out of college, I had this sort of higher calling.
You see, my father was a cop. My grandfather was a cop, and as much as I tried to steer myself in a vastly different direction, I can’t deny my molecular chemistry. So much to my family’s surprise, my friends’ surprise, my own surprise, I said, let me just try it. I’m going to give it ‘til I’m 30. That was 22 years ago. I just retired from the NYPD. I stayed way past 30.
BF: Cops on TV can be very different from officers in real life. So how well did the two mesh for you? Were you finding yourself critiquing things when you were on TV and movie sets, or were you able to apply your existing skills?
MD: They’ve meshed surprisingly well. I think a lot of the jobs I got early on was because I was a cop and because I knew how to hold a gun and I felt comfortable in the uniform and in an interrogation. A lot of the early parts I got were specifically because I felt comfortable in the role, literally. I can watch a cop show, and say, “Okay, that’s just not the way he’d stand. His uniform looks too new or the gun’s on the wrong side, or the radio mic is on the wrong side.” They brought me to the table because I would wear it right and I would hold myself right.
BF: With The Undoing in particular, what was the attraction for you?
MD: When I heard David E. Kelley had written it and it was HBO, and it was to be directed by Susanne Bier and starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant—I was more than all in. I was super-excited, and I read some of the book in order to prepare myself for the audition. The more I read the book, the more I wanted the part. It’s really a thrill ride.
BF: Given all those big names and then how popular this show was, would you call this one of the biggest projects of your career? What was the actual filming experience like?
MD: It’s definitely up there. I’ve been very grateful to have worked with some great directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Ava DuVernay, but this is my first role where I’m among the main cast. It’s a great role in a great production.
BF: What’s another Michael Devine role that you love and would recommend after people have rewatched The Undoing? Because people need to see more of you.
MD: I look back on a few things. I still like Steven Spielberg’s The Post. I had a fairly small part, but because I was in the newsroom, I was on set for about three weeks. I was in the company of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. I still can’t believe I was there. It was sort of like I’m on the basketball court playing a game of H-O-R-S-E while the Harlem Globetrotters are on the other end of the court. It was a great experience and it also turned out to be a great, great movie. It was a really incredible experience.
BF: Since you’ve played a cop so many times, do you watch cop shows if you have a choice? Or do you prefer to be entertained in any other genre?
MD: Since I retired, I’ve actually taken a bit of an interest in returning to some of the police procedurals. During my time in the NYPD, I kind of stayed away from it. I didn’t want 24-7 of law enforcement, so I didn’t really watch too many cop shows. Nowadays, it’s funny, I’m only two months out of the job and I’m slowly returning to it. I’m starting to watch Dateline and 48 Hours again. I actually love any genre as long as it’s made well.
BF: You’re also a recording artist; you’ve put an album out. How did you add music to your repertoire?
MD: I think a lot of it goes back to my having been an actor before I was a cop, I had honed a lot of skills. As a teenager, I was obsessed with Les Misérables on Broadway. It’s one of the things that really made me want to pursue acting. I learned to sing because I loved that show so much. It was a lifetime goal of mine, which by the way I’ve not yet fulfilled, but I wanted to be in Les Misérables. So I learned how to sing. I actually waited outside the stage door and asked every actor if they taught voice, and I finally got one who taught voice. I really honed that skill, and I learned to sing surprisingly well.
Then I became a cop, and of course I had no need for that skill, or so I thought. The NYPD has a ceremonial unit. Surprisingly, we have a number of ceremonies, be it graduations and promotions and sadly, memorials and masses. They actually have an NYPD soloist, so I started singing for the department. It was mainly the national anthem or “Ave Maria” or certain things at funerals. Then I started singing for other departments in addition to the NYPD. I started singing at the National Police Memorial in Washington, D.C. every year.
Despite the fact that a lot of the songs are very sad and fairly maudlin, I put all the memorial songs together on a CD. Recording it was a bit of a labor of love and a project of my own, really. When it was all done, I released it. It did surprisingly well. I remember looking at Amazon, and I was number one and Luciano Pavarotti was number two.
[That] it was surprisingly successful. There’s apparently enough people out there who enjoy big sad ballads; I thought it was just me. That was 2011. Since, I’ve focused mainly on acting and law enforcement, but slowly—over almost 10 years—I recorded a second album. It’s finally just about done, and I’m probably going to release it probably early next year when the time is right. I’m actually quite proud of it. It’s less maudlin. It’s sort of like Josh Groban meets the Irish Tenors come to Broadway.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.