BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Troy Garity has identified four pillars of American life: the Government, the People, People with Money, and the Press.
At least, this theory serves him nicely on his Starz drama series "Boss," where Garity plays a crusading newspaper editor who locks horns with the towering title character, Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, portrayed by series star Kelsey Grammer.
Garity relishes his role as Sam Miller, who, promoted from reporter for the scrappy Sentinel last season, now runs it.
"I'm a good source of agitation and conflict with our hero, the evil mayor," he says, even as he marvels at Kane's charismatic hold on the show's fictitious citizens and viewers alike.
"I'm actually doing the right thing," declares Garity. "But I'm vilified by the audience because I'm trying to take down the person the audience is rooting for."
In short, Sam Miller has a worthy adversary. As "Boss" begins its second season (Friday at 9 p.m. EDT), Kane remains a titanic figure of charm, defiance and corruption. But at the same time human frailties haunt him, mostly in the form of a degenerative brain disease he is hellbent on hiding from the world.
"We're taught that we need to be in control of our lives," says Garity. "But however ruthless you are in cementing that control, there's always a higher power that can put you on bended knee."
So the central question of "Boss" is this: How much longer can Tom Kane prevail, and what toxic cocktail of forces — his illness, his political foes, moneyed interests who feel he's betrayed them, his fractious family, the dogged Sam Miller — will finally spell his downfall?
"The mayor's under siege from all fronts," says Garity, almost as pleased with this glorious foil as with the actor who plays him (Grammer "is so professional and, considering how dark the show is, so light and giving!").
As it happens, Garity has firsthand knowledge of the political world and the glare of the press that inform "Boss." Though he bears the surname of his paternal grandmother, his mother is Jane Fonda, the Oscar-winning actress, political activist and lifelong lightning-rod for the right. His father is Tom Hayden — activist, former California state senator and one-time member of the Chicago Eight.
"My father thinks I'm playing HIM," laughs Garity over breakfast recently. "He says, 'You look like me, and I was going after the mayor of Chicago, too.'" Indeed, Hayden's leadership role in the 1968 protests in Chicago — a city then ruled by Mayor Richard Daley — was depicted in the Abbie Hoffman biopic, "Steal This Movie," in which Garity played his own dad.
"My mother," he goes on, "was married to one of the greatest newsmen of all times." He means Ted Turner, who became Fonda's third husband in 1991, after she and Hayden divorced when Garity was 16. "CNN was built out of his idealism and his recognition that in a global age we needed greater understanding of the world around us."
But long before Fonda and Turner got together, her son had witnessed her as a box-office siren the press was smitten with, and as an anti-war activist the press called "Hanoi Jane" after Fonda visited the North Vietnamese capital, where she criticized U.S. war policy and was photographed sitting on an anti-aircraft gun laughing and clapping.
Though still defendng her anti-war activism, Fonda has since acknowledged that the photo incident 40 years ago was "a betrayal," and "that two-minute lapse of sanity will haunt me until the day I die," as she wrote in her 2006 autobiography.
"Listen," says Garity when the incident is broached, "the media's job is to report stories, and my mom made a stupid mistake that was reported. I don't blame the media for that."
Besides his mother, the Fonda acting dynasty that Garity belongs to also includes his uncle Peter and Bridget, his cousin.
The patriarch, of course, was Henry Fonda. But Garity says he didn't know his grandfather as one of Hollywood's most enduring and beloved actors, but instead as a painter who inspired him.
"When I'd hang out with him as a child, he'd often be in a room painting or drawing," says Garity, now 39. "That spoke to me more than acting, because I was quiet and awkward and a bit shy — and also because of who my parents were. As a painter, it seemed easier to sort of disappear."
He came to acting through an indirect path, thanks to the performing arts camp his parents ran every summer in Santa Barbara, up the coast from their Los Angeles home.
"It began as a camp for the children of organizers, to keep them busy while the parents held their conferences. The kids would write a play about society — about sexuality or fear or bullying or politics — and perform it for their parents. It was heavy, but it was fun. Those are some of my fondest memories."
Oddly, Garity found being on stage, lost in performance, as a state where "you could really be yourself."
Years later, in college, he took a couple of theater classes, "and they rekindled this feeling I had in childhood."
He was hooked.
After that, he landed roles in Barry Levinson's "Bandits" with Bruce Willis and Cate Blanchett, Danny Boyle's "Sunshine," and perhaps most notably in "Barbershop" and its hit sequel.
Last season he had a recurring role on the NBC drama "The Playboy Club," shot at the same Chicago studio where "Boss" is filmed. His next feature is "Gangster Squad," with Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn, out next year.
"I don't think I have made it, to be quite honest," he says of his career as, breakfast over, he psychs himself for a late-morning audition: a juicy role in the movie version of a much-acclaimed Broadway play.
But however it goes, acting's in his blood.
"I can disappear into things very easily," he says before he takes his leave. "But with acting, you have to be in the moment, and it gives me this incredibly fulfilling emotion: being really present."
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier