Yahoo! TV Q&A: 'Golden Boy' star Theo James previews his new time-warping cop drama

Yahoo! TV
"Golden Boy" Theo James
Walter Clark Jr. (Theo James, left) is partnered with and mentored by experienced veteran Detective Don Owen (Chi McBride, right) in the new CBS drama "Golden Boy."

The "Golden Boy" becomes the man in just seven short years.

On CBS's new police drama -- premiering Feb. 26 at 10 PM -- Theo James plays Walter Clark Jr., a rookie officer who makes a meteoric rise to police commissioner. The tantalizing glimpses of the future commish will whet viewers' appetites to see just how Clark turns into a limping, haunted man in seven years.

The bulk of the story takes place in the present, when Clark, a street officer, is promoted to homicide detective after he's labeled a hero during a high-profile shootout. His fame doesn't endear him to his new partner, Don Owen (Chi McBride), or resident hotshot detective Tony Arroyo (Kevin Alejandro). Only Deb McKenzie (Bonnie Somerville) seems willing to give the new kid on the police block a shot.

Yahoo! TV sat down with James (who memorably played Kemal Pamuk on "Downton Abbey") to chat about Clark's dark past, getting that New York accent right, and whether the seven years are completely mapped out.

You were filming today, right? Not all shows set in New York are filmed here. Are you glad that you guys are here?

I love it. When I moved here, I was bowled over by the energy of it. In terms of filming, it's so useful because -- I know people say this all the time, but it's so true -- New York is a character in itself, and we try to get in as much of the city as possible. And not just iconic [places], not just bridges or certain buildings, but like the projects up in the Bronx. The feel of them is very specific and also very rich, and you really feel like you're in the city.

The New York accent can be hard to nail down!

At the beginning, we had discussions about what kind of an accent he would have, and what we went for is just a hint of it. Because of his background -- he has this rich and messed-up family background -- he's a riser and he's smart, and he wants to disassociate himself with that. In the moments when he's angry, it comes out, but when he's being a politician, he levels it out a little bit.

[Related: When did 'Downton Abbey' become such a downer? A Season 3 post-mortem]

Will we learn more about that background?

You find out where he came from. You find out a lot of the mistakes he made. You find out what kind of career he had before he was a cop, on the other side of the law. And you find out more about his family -- his mom comes into it, and later you find out about his dad. You find out why he has cut them off and what kind of messed-up upbringing he had and what side of the law his family sit on, which is not his.

Will he be drawn back into that world?

Yes, but not by his choosing.

We haven't really seen a cop drama that uses this time-shifting device. Is it a challenge to play the young and older versions of Walter?

[Older Walter is] a kind of damaged, shell of a man in some respects. So it's great to play, because you have this young punk, cocksure guy. Then you have seven years, which isn't very long, and you have the journey he's been on. And as a result, he's lost so much, but he's at the peak of his career, ironically.

Get an inside look at the ensemble cast:

In the glimpses we get of older Walter, he seems so …

So f---ed up. That's what I liked, that's what Nick [Wootton, the creator] liked. Nick wanted someone who had sacrificed everything almost to get where he is. I think he's a good man as a commissioner, though a dark person, but the rise has cost him so much. There's a truth to that, because if that rise was real … seven years from rookie cop is insane, so he would've had to sacrifice a lot.

To accomplish that, he must be very politically savvy. Will we get to see some of that?

Yeah. Like Chi's character says, Walter has these two conflicting sides, and they are always going to be eating at each other. He has that side of him that's ego-driven and attracted to the limelight and enthralled by politics and the power that it brings. But then the other side of him, he's a good person. He's driven by the law -- what's right and what's wrong, how far do you push the law or break the law to achieve what you think in your own mind is right.

What do you think happens in those seven years that damages him that way?

At the end of the first season, there's a climactic thing that happens that shapes him, that will shape him for the rest of his life. The relationship between Arroyo and Owen is key, because Walter has this father figure in [Owen]. … He's kind of his dad, his Obi-Wan Kenobi. Arroyo is someone who he butts heads with and despises, but also has respect for.

So is it all mapped out?

There is some sense of that. ... [Wootton] and I had a lot of discussions about he evolves. But also it's kind of open, because you've got to roll with the punches, and you have to see where it takes you.

Bonnie Somerville's Deb is the only one who gives Walter a chance at first, and there are sparks there. Does that develop into something?

Potentially. There are seeds of something that will happen, which is developed as the season goes on. There is a kind of triangle situation that happens with Kevin's character and Bonnie's character.

How is it working with Chi?

Great, me and him love to do hip-hop jams. No, it's great. He's introduced me to cigars, being Chi as he is. He's cool. We actually hit it off from the start. And also, me and him have said this before, there's a very interesting art-imitating-life element … because he's done a lot of TV and I'm a young punk.

Watch preview:

"Golden Boy" premieres Tuesday, 2/26 at 10 PM on CBS.