Exclusive Interview: Morris Chestnut on ‘Legends’ and Under Siege 2

Morris Chestnut

Morris Chestnut joined the cast of “Legends” in the second episode. Transportation security officer Tony Rice was the only one Martin Odum (Sean Bean) could go to wiht his crisis of identity and blurring reality of his undercover legends.

I sat down with Chestnut after the Television Critics Association panel for “Legends,” but first I had to geek out a little about his early role in the sequel to Under Siege. “Legends” airs Wednesday nights at 9 on TNT.

CraveOnline: I went to a Steven Seagal marathon at Cinefamily and one of the selections was Under Siege 2. And it killed.

Morris Chestnut: Oh wow. Did it really? Wait, you said a Steven Seagal marathon.

 It was Hard to Kill, Under Siege 2, Out for Justice and On Deadly Ground.

So who put that on and what was it about?

Cinefamily, Ain’t it Cool and the author of the definitive book on Steven Seagal movies, Vern.

Okay, so it’s for huge, hardcore Seagal fans.

Yes, and legitimate appreciation, not making fun of it. Under Siege 2 in particular has improved in retrospect. It just moves, it’s so much fun.

I have to go back and look at it. It’s been a long time. It’s Katherine Heigl and Bogosian.

Everett McGill.

Everett McGill, that’s right. Wow, I have to go back and look at it. That’s taking me back right there.

When was the last time you thought about Under Siege 2?

Someone just asked me a question. People ask me because I’ve worked with Seagal twice.

I did see Half Past Dead too, but it wasn’t in the marathon.

I can understand that. So people ask me about working with him. Was Seagal there?

No, he wasn’t. The screenwriter of Under Siege 2 was there.

Oh really? What did he have to say?

Basically that they sold their script when Warner Bros. was looking for a potential Under Siege sequel, so it was something else beforehand. He said they changed all the dialogue but the action was the same.

Yeah, because I’ll never forget with that movie, I auditioned, I got it and that was like a Thursday. They said, “Okay, you’re going to be traveling in about a week.” Then they called me on Sunday and said, “You’ve got to go to Colorado right now.” Okay, okay, I’m going. Seagal movie, I’m gone. They said, “Here’s your script. Take it on the plane. When you get there Monday, you’re going to hit the ground running.” I said okay. So I get on the plane, I go, I get to my hotel room and on the plane I’m going over my pages that I’m going to shoot the next morning. I get to my hotel room and there’s a package there. The production guy calls me, “You settled in? Those are the new pages for the script you’re going to be doing.” I said, “I just had something on the plane.” “No, that’s done. This is going to be some new stuff.” So I’m like okay, Seagal movie, I’m cool, I’m happy. That night I’m going over the new pages.

Then the very next morning I go to my trailer and the AD goes, “Listen, you’ve got some new pages in your trailer.” I was like, “No, no, they gave me the new pages.” “No, these are some new pages.” So okay, cool, Seagal movie, I’m just glad to be here. It’s a great opportunity. So I’m going over the pages. I’m going over the pages for like 30 minutes, there’s a knock on my trailer. “Yeah, Geoff Murphy, the director, wants to see you in his trailer.” So I go see him. I say hey, how you doing, this, that and the other. I say, “Listen, man. I just got these pages. I’m just trying to process everything.” He says, “You know what, don’t worry about those pages right now.” I’m like, okay. “Just don’t worry about the pages right now. We’re going to go see Steven in a minute.” About an hour after that, I go to the set and that’s when I meet Steven. We’re about to do the scene so Steven goes, “Okay, so this is what’s going to happen. You’re going to do this and say this, I’m going to say that.” It was just crazy.

So he wrote the script!

A lot of the stuff that we did on that movie was “Okay, this is what’s going to happen. You’re going to say this, I’m going to say this, then I’m going to do that and then you’re going to do that.” The only time that really stuck to the script or had ad libs was the stuff when he really wasn’t there. It was a lot of stuff, because at that time I think he was flying a helicopter, he was doing something. So that’s what happened.

That’s amazing. No wonder there’s so much of his personality in all of his movies.

That’s exactly what was happening. He would come to set, “Okay, you’re gonna say this. I’m gonna say this and this is gonna happen and then you do that.” That’s how we did a lot of that movie.

By comparison, is television a lot more strictly sticking to the script?

Yes. Television is definitely more sticking to the script because the one thing about a movie, those guys who wrote that script were nowhere to be found on set. You give actors some stuff and then you’ve got the script supervisor. I say, “My character would do this.” The script supervisor doesn’t know. As long as it’s cool with the director, we do it. In TV, the show runner’s a God. When they write something, they want you to say it, which I get. On “Legends,” they’ve been pretty fair because I’ve gotten to ad lib a few things. I’ll do things obviously that don’t make it for whatever reason, but then they allow me to do some things that do make it. I’ve done some shows where if I change one syllable, they’re like, “No, say it exactly the way it is.” So television is definitely different.

Which shows were that strict?

[Laughs] Well, I did a show called “V” where we had a few different show runners. They pretty much wanted us to stick to the script because it was a timing thing. We had a lot of stuff with special effects and they pretty much wanted to stick to the script on that show. When I did a couple of episodes of “ER” back in the day, it was very technical, stick to the scripts. One of the best sets I’ve ever been on recently, I did a show called “Nurse Jackie.” They want you to stick to the script as well. Maybe because I wasn’t a regular and I didn’t really have the grasp of the character and what was going on. It’s also medical jargon and all that type of stuff. Yeah, there’ve been shows that want you to really stick to the script.

If you’re on “Legends” now, does that mean Prentiss and Zoe are done?

I think Dr. Prentiss is gone. He needed to get back to the action. He needed to get back to the service so I think that’s it.

Are you going to get into the action on “Legends?”

Yes, I do get into the action on “Legends.” The character definitely starts out in transportation security. Eventually he does end up with the team. It’s interesting being with the team. I kind of liked Tony just being on his own doing his own thing, but he’s a team player.

Is Tony in the Robert Littell book Legends?

I don’t think Tony is in the book Legends, no. The character wasn’t in the pilot and he originally started out, instead of being Tony Rice he was Tony Samaro. No one really knew if it was Samaro, Simaro, Simmaron, Cinema. Everyone was always messing up his name, so they solved that real quick with Rice. Tony Rice. You can’t mispronounce that one at all.

How does the action of “Legends” compare to shows like “V?”

Wow, “V” was a very challenging show to shoot, but we were constantly on green screen. We’re running around Vancouver. There was a lot going on with “V” so there’s a lot going on with “Legends” too though. Now that I think about it, the action that I had on this season of “Legends” I’m getting to a little bit now. But overall, the action is pretty much about the same that was on “V.” I just haven’t been involved with it.

You’ve played a lot of different industries: cops, doctors, etc. What is unique about a transportation officer?

The thing about Tony, Tony always feels that he’s the smartest guy in the room. And he also feels he needs to get the job done by any means necessary. As long as he doesn’t break the rules too much, he’s not necessarily by the book. So in transportation security, he definitely feels that his talent is underutilized. He likes to go above and beyond in certain situations which is why when Martin comes to inquire about this murder that happened on the subway, Tony’s boss tells him, “That’s it, you’ve done enough.” Tony says okay but he beats to his own drum. That’s what he feeds off of.

There’s obviously a lot establishing Martin this season. Is there going to be a chance for Tony to have his own episode?

I don’t know about his own episode at this point. This whole show right now hinges on Sean Bean and Martin Odum, or whoever he is. He still doesn’t know who he is, if his name really is Martin or not. But in the future, there are going to be episodes where Tony Rice assumes a legend.

Do you know those legends yet?

No, I don’t know yet. They’ve been pretty involved with finishing up the season and they haven’t really told us much about next season. Hopefully we’ll know soon.