Jay Harrington on Deacon's origin story and the upcoming changes for Hondo when 'S.W.A.T. returns tonight.
It won’t be the first episode back after the New Year, but S.W.A.T., which doesn’t shy away from dealing with social issues, will also be taking on the war in Ukraine as seen through the eyes of some refugees from the war-torn country, who we will meet through David “Deacon” Kay (Jay Harrington). Deacon, as we know, is a man of strong faith, so the refugees will be introduced through his church.
The episode will also be a kind of origin story of how Deacon decided to become a member of the L.A.P.D., but the story will be told without flashbacks, so no CGI of Harrington with a dark beard and no face wrinkles.
“[The episode] actually introduces a story of mine going back when Deacon was in his early 20s and something that happened to him that propelled his life in a different way through faith,” Harrington exclusively tells Parade. “So, we learn what happened and why it happened, and that’s the moment where Deacon decided, 'This is my path.'”
It’s an episode that Harrington is especially proud of and it fits into the format of S.W.A.T. because Deacon is the one character that we have always gone home with. We’ve met his wife, his four kids, and seen him at their school and at church.
“I’m the beneficiary of having a character that they gave me that started with three kids and that turned into four,” he continued. “With every episode we do, no matter what’s going on, I’ve always got to have in the back of my head, ‘I’ve got kids, I've got to be safe.’ And to my team, ‘Don’t be stupid, don’t get me killed.’”
But more than that, Harrington spoke to the writers to make sure viewers also see how Deacon's actions affect his kids, especially after the episode where his house got shot up by members of a drug cartel.
“I said, ‘Let’s make sure we address how this may or may not have affected them. If we’re dealing with the stigma of mental health and talking about it as a police officer, how do you think this kid dealt with it?’ That was a very important element that I wanted to bring, and they delivered, and they keep doing that for me which is great.”
Of course, now that Hondo’s fiancée Nichelle (Rochelle Aytes) is expecting her and Hondo’s (Shemar Moore) first child, a baby girl, Hondo may take a page and be a little more cautious, possibly rethinking always being the first man through the door.
“I think it could be a great idea to address: Does having a baby change his thinking on how we go about our job?” Harrington said. “You don’t want to be stupid, and you don’t want to get yourself hurt but, yeah, the stakes will certainly be higher once he’s got a little girl.”
One of the nice things about the relationship between Hondo and Deacon, who is his next-in-command, is that Hondo will turn to him for advice about the job, but now that he’s going to be a father, Deacon is the perfect role model for Hondo to follow and from who to get parenting advice.
“We’ve touched on it already; we’re going to touch on it more,” Harrington said. “Then it’s really just a matter of letting him know that he’ll be fine, he’s only talking about one, I’ve got four, this is nothing. Someone asked me earlier how it would affect the team with him having a baby. I said, ‘Well, Hondo’s going to be sleepy a lot. Because he won’t have gotten any rest throughout the night.’”
During our chat, Harrington also addressed the issue of how things stand with Deacon, who had expected to be made team leader back in Season 1 when Hondo got the job; Deacon’s second job, private security; the responsibility the show feels to LAPD SWAT; and more.
An interesting about Deacon is that when S.W.A.T. started, he was supposed to be the guy that took over the team. But then Hondo got the job. Instead of carping about it, he became the best second in command that anyone could expect. Talk a little bit about how he made the decision to do that, but also do you think he ever thinks about getting his own team?
Again, I’m the beneficiary of having that backstory from day one. That was a big thing for me that I didn’t want to let it go so easily. I didn’t want it to be by Season 1, episode 10 it’s like, “I’m good, you’re fine, we’re pals.” I thought it would be interesting to always have that be an undercurrent of, “I don’t know, I don’t think I would have done it that way.” I didn’t ever say to them, “Write that,” I just said, “As long as you know that I’m thinking that.”
Then what they did was it got to a point where I had enough things going on in my life that was affecting me with my kids and health and money, and I needed to let that go. Then it was like, “Okay.” What’s great about it is it always comes back in because Hondo comes to me for advice. It’s like I am the team leader in a sense, and I know that.
I don’t think that having his own team is on Deacon's list anymore because he was offered the opportunity to get his own team. I think he’s got enough going on with his own private security firm, which can be a second career in a sense. I don’t think that that aspiration is there because I think ultimately Deacon knows in his heart, and Hondo knows too, that he’s just as much the leader as Hondo is.
Speaking of the private security, we haven’t seen much about that storyline this season. After the break might that be revisited?
I’m hoping. I pitched them an idea. It stems from the fact that we have a technical advisor on our show who’s a retired SWAT sergeant and he’s in my age group, he’s a little older. But he takes us through what we do, and he’s taught us all of our tactics and everything. I joke with him about, “Hey, if this was real would I be able to hang with them?” He’s like, “Come on.” So, I think it would be fun on the show to be doing what he’s doing, be on a set and teaching actors how to be a police officer. And then some stuff goes down and you’ve got the actors asking, “Do you need a hand?” and it’s like, “Get out of here you moron, stupid actor. Come on.” I don’t know if they’ll use it. I think they think it’s too meta. But that’s fine, I think it'd be great. That was my pitch.
You film in L.A., but you got to go to Thailand this year. What was it like moving the action?
Yeah, that was extraordinary. That city was a character in and of itself. The weather was hot as all get-out, but we had an amazing time. The crew there was outstanding. They adapted to it within days, it was like it was our crew, because it’s a big ask the things that we do, the pyrotechnics and the effects. And we really did it all on that one. I had a blast.
It must have been really hot when you had to put on the SWAT equipment because of the jungle.
One of the scenes that we were doing walking and talking, our director of photography was like, “Can we switch Jay’s shirt?” I was like, 'Why? What’s the point?" Within seconds, it’s 98 degrees with 97 percent humidity, what are you going to do?
You’re an actor pretending to be SWAT. Do you feel a responsibility to the LAPD to get it right? Or do you think of it as just an entertainment show?
No, 100 percent there's a responsibility. In fact, it’s a big point of contention we have sometimes with scripts the way they come and logistics. Sometimes they’ll have something written in such a way that on paper it works but then when we’re actually in the moment and in the place, it’s not going to work. You can’t just talk about how we’re going to look for the person in that house and then walk by doors because there’s not enough of us to cover. So, we’re very much on that.
Just this weekend I was at a party and an L.A.P.D. officer came up to me with his wife and introduced himself and said he appreciates the authenticity we bring. So, that meant a lot to me.
When S.W.A.T. started in 2017, the Black Lives Matter movement hadn’t reached the crescendo that it did in 2020 with all of the deaths. Would you say that the show has had to change to meet the times? Or is it business as usual?
Business as usual. I think the times got a little extreme in a lot of different ways and I think things shift in our lives, an ebb and flow. I think we just maintained. It was important to just be true to telling stories and it will all come out in the wash. We don’t need to be careful; it was just a matter of being truthful.
For a couple years, I was very quiet about any of it because what do I have to say? I’m a privileged guy, I’m an actor, I’m on a TV show, I’m not going to talk about things that have to do with what people struggle with. In some ways, what right do I have? But through storytelling, we have a right to do that. As long as we’re honest about it, it can’t be wrong.
The S.W.A.T. team is this well-oiled team. What’s it like on set? Do you guys get along? Do you hang out after work?
I've got a restaurant in Santa Monica, and we’ve aired episodes there over the years. The last one we did was last season when Lina Esco (Chris Alonso) directed an episode. We closed the place down and had it there. That was awesome. We also go to Shemar’s house because he’s got a palatial estate, so we go there and hang out.
I was with Alex (Russell) and Shemar a couple weekends ago. It is family. We’ve got a text chain that’s been going since day one. That can get annoying, but other than that we hang out. Like, “Oh, look! Another funny GIF,” or “Look at this on TikTok.”
This is the first time you’ve been on a show for five years. Does that give you a different level of confidence as an actor? So many things are canceled after one season.
I’m proud of the things that were short-lived because they were good, it’s just they weren’t watched. But, yes, it’s nice. But the thing is it doesn’t change my thinking. I still operate under the idea of this could go away at any time. And when this is over, I will be right back to auditioning in a room trying to get a job. I do have that perspective. I’m letting it ride as it is but, yeah, there’ll be a time when people aren’t there to get me a water if I need it, or laugh at my jokes because they don’t have to, and I’ll have to earn another job and do this again.
S.W.A.T. airs Friday nights at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.