They say that in acting, dying is easy, and comedy is hard. Michael Ealy and Warren Kole are firm believers in that now, after having spent several months on the set of USA Network's new buddy cop series "Common Law" -- which premieres Friday -- trying to be funny while also being constantly exhausted from their 80-hour workweeks.
"This has by far been the most difficult job I've ever had," says Ealy, who struggled at times to keep his trademark deep blue eyes open as he and Kole played bickering L.A. cops forced into couples counseling by their captain, Phil Sutton (Jack McGee). "In drama, you can use whatever fatigue you have, and that comes across as brooding. The level of respect I have for comedians has just skyrocketed."
While he got his break with the "Barbershop" movies and recently got the chance to again flex his comedic muscles in "Think Like a Man," Ealy has spent much of his career playing, as he puts it, "brooding, dramatic, heavy, cunning, conniving" characters in projects such as "Sleeper Cell," "Seven Pounds," "Takers" and "Their Eyes Were Watching God." So the rat-a-tat-tat comedic pacing of "Common Law" has been a tiring treat.
Kole, who cut his teeth in the cop genre with appearances in "24," "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "The Chicago Code," puts a finer point on the effort involved, saying, "It's like taking a test for 15 hours. Even if you're in a bad mood, it has to be at a clip; it has to come out at a gallop. You can't slow things down."
Despite the intensity of the workload, both men say there is plenty to love about their job, not least of which is getting to play in a genre they both grew up loving. The antagonistic but brotherly dynamic between Ealy's Travis Marks and Kole's Wes Mitchell recalls such buddy cop classics as "48 HRS." and "Lethal Weapon," with Travis being the street-wise ladies man who was raised in foster care and served time in juvenile hall, while Wes is an uptight former lawyer who enjoys the finer things in life, including the ex-wife for whom he still pines.
The cases are serious, with requisite murders and long-buried secrets coming into play, but the thrust of the series is the fun, fast-talking interplay between the two detectives, as well as the comedy inherent in watching the Grumpy Guses -- sitting among a group of amused married couples -- suffering through their department-mandated therapy sessions led by Dr. Ryan (Sonya Walger). Chemistry between the actors is essential in pulling it off, and both Ealy and Kole say they knew they were a great match right away.
"This might sound completely manufactured and phony, but we did not do anything to bolster chemistry," Ealy says. "It was there. I read with a lot of guys for that character, and interestingly enough the network saw it, and they were right. The chemistry between me and Warren, it's just there."