Every crime procedural knows there is one essential step in every murder investigation, the medical examiner’s autopsy. Without the critical information provided from that examination many criminals would roam free never accountable for their heinous crimes. In the TNT series MAJOR CRIMES, star Jonathan Del Arco portrays Deputy Medical Examiner Dr. Morales and in an exclusive interview he talked about how budget cuts may adversely affect the medical examiner’s office this next season, as well as the joys of portraying such an unexpectedly humorous character.
It seems like MAJOR CRIMES is picking up for its 2nd season full steam ahead.
JONATHAN: It’s going to be a great season. The scripts are just fantastic!
It also feels like the show has picked up the pace a bit, like they used to leisurely work their way through crimes, and now it feels like they are under the gun to work a little faster.
JONATHAN: Yes, for reasons to do with financing and the fact that cities doesn’t have the kinds of budgets that they used to in order to prosecute and have prolonged trials. So in an interesting way, MAJOR CRIMES is more realistic to what’s really happening than THE CLOSER was. Money crunches. That’s the reality we now live in.
Is that something that is going to be affecting Dr. Morales’ lab?
JONATHAN: (Laughs) You know better to think that Dr. Morales would be affected by anyone else’s opinion. Dr. Morales continues to run his shop the way he wants. It has not affected his budget at all in the coroner’s office – at least we haven’t seen it.
The one issue that comes up pretty quickly in the 2nd season is there is a time-delay in picking up a body. They had to wait until the morning because nobody was on duty to pick it up. Is that going to perturb Dr. Morales a bit because he’s not getting the body fresh, so to speak?
JONATHAN: (Laughs) I’m starting to feel like you’re a mole and you’ve actually read scripts! Yes, there is an incident, which he finds very annoying, like the fact that a body is left lying out longer than it should. When he’s not directly involved, stuff just goes awry.
It made me wonder if that would encourage Dr. Morales to get out of lab a bit more ‘cause it would allow him the chance to examine these bodies before they got too decayed.
JONATHAN: That would make sense, wouldn’t it? We have not seen that happen yet, though I suspect that would be a really funny premise if he were forced to go to the crime scenes all the time. But they haven’t really explored that, but I will take it back to the “powers that be” as a really good suggestion ‘cause I love to be out of my blue scrubs. I call it the “Ghost Busters” outfit. It’s comfortable, but it’s not flattering to the figure.
So how are we seeing your role grow this season?
JONATHAN: As far as we have currently gone on episode six, it’s been pretty status quo in terms of the workload for the character, but I know we have some things coming up. We have 19 episodes this season, so there’s going to be a double story arc, which I think I will be a little bit more involved in. As these first six have developed, Dr. Morales’ relationship with Captain Raydor (Mary McDonnell) has gone more the way of the one that he had with Brenda (Kyra Sedgwick). So I’m having a wonderful time with Mary and finding really cool ways to look at each other and find connections, like Captain Raydor and Dr. Morales may be on one side and someone else may be on the other side of an issue. It’s been really fun that way to work with her. We’re all really close and we’re a really tight knit family, so anytime you get to explore the onscreen relationships, which are already so strong off-screen, then it is a real pleasure.
There’s a couple of new faces this season and it seems like Dr. Morales gets to mingle a bit with the new cast. How has that experience been, bringing in new characters?
JONATHAN: Last season we had Graham [Patrick Martin] and Kearran [Giovanni], and I became acquainted with them, which was a really exciting time. We didn’t know if the show was going to be a hit and we got to go through that experience together, getting picked up and all that. And this season, I’m having a fabulous time with Nadine Velazquez. She portrays Deputy D.A. Emma Rios who is a very good foil for Dr. Morales.
And Nadine portrays the new District Attorney?
JONATHAN: (Laughs) Yes, as I roll my eyes. I think I have a line in one of the episodes where I have a line where I go, “Ugh, lawyers.”
Lawyers have to drive medical examiners a bit nuts ‘cause they don’t think the same way at all.
JONATHAN: Not at all. Medical examiners are fact-driven and lawyers are results-driven. So there’s some really nice moments. I don’t want to give up too much about what Nadine’s character is about, but we’ve got some really fun stuff to play off of each other. Let’s just say she’s not particularly comfortable in Dr. Morales’ world.
So if Dr. Morales were forced to get out in the field more due to economic cutbacks, he’d want to be paired up with Nadine’s character.
Of all the detectives, who do you think Dr. Morales would work best with if he were sent into the field?
JONATHAN: That’s a really good question. I would have not said Captain Raydor early on, like in season one, but I think in season two, definitely Captain Raydor. The two characters have really gotten much more on the same page. You’re really going to like the character development for Captain Raydor a lot. A lot. It’s a really exciting time for her character.
One of the things that has always taken me aback a little when watching both THE CLOSER and MAJOR CRIMES was when in the morgue how they display the dead bodies. Does that ever get to you when you’re working on those scenes, like if something is too gross?
JONATHAN: You know what? Only just recently did I do an episode where I told everyone, “Today, is the first time in six years that I’m really grossed out.” The makeup on the body was so tremendously real and I had to shove things into it. Even though the actor was wearing a full harness, I thought was his chest, and I thought I was shoving something into him for real. It was just so real that I was a bit freaked out by it. They added the sound effects later and it definitely something where you go, “Yuk!” So it does happen.
How does that look in a script? Do they actually write out what you have to do with the bodies?
JONATHAN: Scripts have the dialogue and then have the narrative, which is the story and the action. So when I’m reading it, I have to pay really close attention to how much physical stuff I have to do because one of the crazy things about the work I’m doing on the show is the memorization of medical jargon and very technical crime procedural things. It’s super hard to learn. So, so, so hard to learn. So if you’re learning it in a vacuum, like sitting at your desk or lying on the couch, and learning that way is all fine and good. But then you get to the set and find out they need to cut a few minutes from the script and the first thing to go out the window are the lines. So now I pay extreme attention to what my activities are going to be in a scene or might be in a scene, so I can learn lines while I’m mentally doing what I think I might be doing on the body. I’m telling you, I have a medical degree practically. (Laughs) Then you’ll get on set and meet the director and he’ll be like, “No, no, no, that’s not what I want you to be doing at all. I want you to be looking at the x-rays,” and I’ll suddenly be like, “But I can’t be looking at the x-rays ‘cause I’ll forget my lines.” Unlike theater, you don’t get to rehearse it a ton. Your body is doing one thing and your mind is doing another. You’re explaining something and at the same time, you’re having a character point of view or reaction that is sarcastic and a viewpoint about something else. It’s so multi-faceted. So every episodes is very challenging to learn for me because so much of it is exposition and explaining crimes and explaining the body and operating on the body. So all those little pieces that are instructions in the script, I look at very carefully because they inform. Then every once in awhile you’ll have a great moment where you find one of those physical things without it being written and you tap into something really great. Those are the good days. They only really happen when it’s what we call off-book, which means you know your lines inside and out, backwards and if they were spoken to you in Chinese. That way it frees you up to be really in the moment to really act.
If you could change one thing about Dr. Morales, what would it be?
JONATHAN: (Laughs) I don’t think I would change one thing about him. He’s a lot like me and I’m perfectly happy with myself.
I was thinking he would like to be more hands off and not have to touch the dead bodies all the time.
JONATHAN: No, that’s the fun. Jonathan (me) does not touch dead bodies to begin with, and I wouldn’t be near a dead body if I can help it. But Dr. Morales is a lot like me in personality. I really like him. I think James [Duff] and the writers deliver an amazing character for me to play. Hopefully most of the time I deliver the work that they want to see the character do. I would love to see more exploration of his personal life, but that’s not really changing anything.
That’s the biggest mystery on the show. Very few of the characters get personal lives.
JONATHAN: Right. But it slowly happens. You’re definitely going to see a lot more of Captain Raydor’s personal life this season. And with 19 episodes to do, hopefully we’ll get to see some more personal lives for some of the others. It’s a lot more spread out than when on THE CLOSER ‘cause we have more story to tell.
For you, what kinds of scenes are you favorites? What are the ones you really enjoy?
JONATHAN: I had some early ones, like one of my favorite scenes that I had the most fun in was when Dr. Morales was crushing on Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) while photographing a body. I think it was during my first season, and I was taking shots cozying up to him. That was a really fun episode. We were using a camera to photograph and I kept taking pictures of Gabriel instead of the body. That was a really fun one. It’s so macabre to say any of these are fun, they are horrible tragedies. But there was this one about the L.A. fires and my first line was “I see dead people.” The morgue is covered with burned bodies and this part was cut out of it, it was too gruesome. But I take a pair of hedge clippers and just snap off an arm off one of the bodies. They ended up cutting it because it was too gross. But I had a really good time with that. Then just from an actor perspective, my favorite one as an actor was the one from the final season of THE CLOSER where the boy is found in the pool. Dr. Morales has a little breakdown and can’t even deal with the emotion of going back into the room to see that boy’s body that he has to take apart – a perfectly healthy boy. So there’s been great range of fun stuff for me to do – difficult emotional stuff for me to do. I’ve got one coming up now that’s going to be really hard for me as well on a personal emotional level. So I’m prepping that one now.
Do you ever get the scripts and look specifically forward to those kinds of scenes?
JONATHAN: The kid scenes are just killer. Obviously as an actor every time you get something juicy like that, you do just get excited. The ones that are the hardest for me are the ones where Dr. Morales is not in a state of being funny. I love him funny. I love Dr. Morales when he is like over everybody and just snapping. I think that is just the wittiest and the most fun when he’s like, “Come on, people, get it together!” He’s gotten a little bit less that way as the show has progressed, but that is the part of his personality that I love. When he’s like kind of rolling his eyes and thinking, “The rest of you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Is that something you try to imbue into the character? Do you try to read the lines a little differently just so it has a more comedic edge to it?
JONATHAN: Yes, I do. I mean I know him very well and I know myself very well. I know that it’s written for me and I know James very well, so when I read it, I understand what I’m supposed to deliver to it. There are times when it happens organically and just happens in the moment and I didn’t even realize something was funny. Apparently I get this crazy look in my eyes when I’m fascinated by some element of crime that he thinks is kind of cool and James is enamored with it. It’s a really weird profession being a coroner and if you’re excited by your work as a coroner, some of the things that may excite you might seem creepy to others. I think I have a line in one of the episodes where I say, “It happens every time when someone puts a gun in their mouth that they press their tongue up against the barrel. Don’t you find that just fascinating?” And apparently I got a crazy look in my eye as I said that, which James Duff adores.
What are some of the fan reactions you get when you run into fans of the show?
JONATHAN: People love Dr. Morales. I have to be honest, I think I represent a side of a lot of people that in the work world where they feel like they are working with people that are just not as good as they are. (Laughs) There’s that co-worker that it’s just not pulling their weight and I think Morales would be the person who would be like, “Just get out of the way and let me do my job.” People are very tickled by me. They think Dr. Morales is very funny. So I have a lot of very positive response from people that recognize me. They’ll say, “Oh my god! You’re so funny on the show. We love it when you’re mean to Brenda.” Though early on they hated it when I was mean to Brenda. But they love the personality. They love that he doesn’t take any bullshit from anybody and says it like it is and has no time for losers.
It’s a fun role. It’s definitely a pivotal part of the show where that information is vital to solving the crimes and the only person who can provide it is your character. So it’s interesting how that all ties together.
JONATHAN: He also has a very deep sense of compassion. I think that’s why it works. It’s because underneath the sarcasm and all that is the fact that he really cares and he really wants to put these criminals away and he wants justice for the victims – in particular when the victim is an innocent person and not just another criminal. I think that’s why people respond to him as well. They can tell he has compassion.
What can you tease about this upcoming season that you think fans should pay close attention to?
JONATHAN: I would say watch for the dynamic between the Major Crimes team and the D.A.’s office. I would say those dynamics are really important in this season and in that happening you’re going to see a deeper bonding of the members of Major Crimes, including Dr. Morales even though he’s a bit of an outside being part of the morgue. There’s a deepening of those characters with each other and in terms of the family relationship. The D.A.’s office is kind of the antagonist. So that’s an interesting dynamic. Then an amazing, fantastic, absolutely riveting expansion of the personal life of Sharon Raydor and Rusty’s relationship. It’s really, really cool. I love reading those scenes. I’m not usually in those scenes, but I do get to hear them at the table read and I’m very excited to see what happens with that. There may be a couple episodes towards the end of the season where Dr. Morales is involved in the Rusty storyline.
Is that involving the trial of Philip Stroh (Billy Burke)?
JONATHAN: I’m not sure. I don’t know if we’re wrapping up that story yet. I wouldn’t know, we just haven’t gotten that far yet.
To see what new faces are introduced and how Dr. Morales reacts to those new additions, be sure to tune in for the return of MAJOR CRIMES for its second season on Monday, June 10th at 9:00 p.m. on TNT.
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