Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A cop on the edge partners with one who prefers solid ground, and the two form an unlikely friendship in between shootouts and car chases. That’s the premise behind Lethal Weapon, which is following the path laid down by so many popular movies that have headed from the multiplex to the TV set. Overseen by Matt Miller and starring Clayne Crawford (Riggs) and Damon Wayans (Murtaugh) — stepping in for the dynamic duo of Mel Gibson and Danny Glover — the new Lethal Weapon premieres Sept. 21 on Fox. Yahoo TV spoke with Crawford and Miller about Riggs’s love life (or the lack thereof) and bringing big-screen thrills to the small screen.
Clayne Crawford Really Didn’t Want to Be the New Riggs
How iffy was Crawford on the idea of taking over a role made famous by Mel Gibson? So iffy that he turned down Lethal Weapon four times. “I didn’t want to f*** with it,” he says, simply. “In theater, you’re encouraged to take on roles that the greats have taken on. The trouble with film is that it lives forever.” Beyond that, the 38-year-old actor — who had a sweet gig as part of SundanceTV’s acclaimed, soon-to-end drama Rectify — wasn’t sure if he wanted to uproot his life in Alabama for an L.A.-based network television series. “I don’t think that network television lends itself to a lot of creativity; it’s like working for Coca-Cola,” he says. But Fox refused to take no — or in this case, four no’s — for an answer, persuading Crawford to fly out to meet one-on-one with Peter Roth, the head of Warner Bros. Television, which is producing the series, and issue his final rejection in person. Before the plane ride to Los Angeles, he finally sat down to read the pilot script, and his frown turned upside down. “Matt killed it. It gave you everything you wanted from the original Lethal Weapon, and brought up memories of why I loved that film,” Crawford says. “Reading that draft, I saw so much room for new ideas and a new Martin Riggs.”
This Murtaugh Isn’t Too Old for This S***
Danny Glover’s signature catchphrase has been a go-to pop culture reference for nearly 30 years and counting. But it’s not a character trait that applies to Damon Wayans’s version of Roger Murtaugh, who isn’t going to let a little thing like pushing 50 keep him on the sidelines. Part of that is simply a sign of the times. “A man who is 55 in 2016 doesn’t carry himself in the same way as a man who was 55 in 1987,” Crawford points out. But Miller adds that he set out specifically to tweak Murtaugh’s role in this odd-couple duo, making him less the weary veteran than the reluctant warrior. “In our version, Roger has experienced a little bit of death, because he had a heart attack after his wife gave birth to their third kid. The only reason he survived is because he was in a hospital at the time of his heart attack. Also, his wife is a really successful district attorney, so that puts him in a position where he doesn’t actually have to put his life on the line every day. So this becomes an introspective journey for him: Is he getting too old for this s***? And if so, why does he do it?”
There Will Be Lots of Bang-Bang …
Beyond the dynamic between Riggs and Murtaugh, the Lethal Weapon franchise is best remembered for its slam-bang action sequences. Miller admits that re-creating blockbuster set pieces on a TV budget is “brutal,” but says production is taking on that challenge with all guns blazing. “We have an amazing team; our stunt coordinator has done everything from The Fast and the Furious to Mr. & Mrs. Smith. In the pilot, we have a massive action sequence that takes place at the Grand Prix Los Angeles. We probably won’t do stuff on that scale every week, but we’re not shying away from it,” he says. Crawford credits Charlie’s Angels director McG, who directed the series premiere and the second episode, with boosting the show’s action game: “He’s a master of making things go boom. He’s setting the bar extremely high, and the goal is to maintain that.”
… But No Kiss-Kiss
By the end of the Lethal Weapon film franchise, Mel Gibson’s Riggs had recovered from the death of his wife and found happiness with a new love, played by Rene Russo. That’s not the happy ending that Crawford wants for his version of the character, something that he’s been adamant about telling the writers. “By Episode 4, they already want me to start being flirtatious with another woman. If he gets better by the end of the season, we’re done. Falling in love and living happily ever after while solving crimes is bulls***. I don’t want him in a good place, because his storyline is that he doesn’t care,” Crawford says. “As soon as he has something to live for, we don’t care anymore. In the second Lethal Weapon movie, Riggs had a love interest, and it ended tragically. So if a love interest does come up, I hope that it’s in the second season and that it’s tragic.”
WWMT? (What Would Mel Think?)
Despite Mel Gibson’s personal travails, Martin Riggs remains an iconic creation of action cinema, so much so that Miller says that virtually every actor who auditioned for the role did a Gibson imitation. “They weren’t even trying to! It was just impossible to audition for this show and not have seen Lethal Weapon, so they all had Mel Gibson in their minds,” he says. Gibson himself hasn’t publicly endorsed or disowned the TV series, and both Miller and Crawford say they haven’t reached out to discuss their show with either him or Danny Glover. (Miller did have separate sit-downs with the director and writer of the first film, Richard Donner and Shane Black.) “I would love if I had a way to communicate with [Gibson] and say, ‘Thank you,’” Crawford says. “I would imagine that he’s not going to watch or care. I wouldn’t either! Unless we completely f*** it up and then he and Danny will just have to make another Lethal Weapon film.”
Lethal Weapon premieres Sept. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.