Interview: Jonathan Togo

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Season Nine of CSI: Miami left viewers with a startling conclusion: Horatio Caine shot and Natalia Boa Vista locked in a car that is sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Though in season’s past the fate of Ryan Wolfe has also been up in the air, the former police officer is alive and well as the spin-off set in The Magic City prepares to enter its tenth season. Jonathan Togo, the Massachusetts-born actor who’s portrayed the role for the past seven years, spoke with CSI Files’ Shane Saunders this past weekend from his Los Angeles home. In the following interview Togo previews the upcoming season, what it’s like working on a soon-to-be decade old series, the power of Twitter, and those infamous sweater vests. Spoilers inside!

CSI Files: You’re back to work on season ten of CSI: Miami, which is just an incredible accomplishment! How does it feel to be on one of the longest running shows on television?

Jonathan Togo: It’s amazing. It’s incredible to be on one of the longest running shows on television. I knew when I got the job that it was gonna go for a long time. See, I started in season three and at that point it was such a big show I figured it would be a job. We’ve never really slowed down that much. It’s amazing.

One of the crazy things about doing a TV show for that long is that the crew and the cast all become kind of like a family. Like any job if you work together for that long, you become really close and comfortable with everyone. We have twelve hour days that we make every day and everyone’s evolved. Everyone knows each other’s names and it’s a very personal experience; more personal than when you just shoot a guest spot or a show that lasts for two seasons.

CSI Files: What kind of direction will the show be taking this season? We hear there is a season-long arc going on…

Togo: We don’t know! The actors aren’t told entirely what is gonna happen for the season, which is kind of fun because you get a script and go, “Oh! This is happening!” I think the writers are in the process of trying to figure out what’s gonna happen this season as well.

We’re just starting to explore a serial killer who has a good deal of influence and money and connections with politicians and the powers that be in the Miami political infrastructure. It’s kind of like a character who’s a billionaire. He’s kind of like a Kennedy or a Rockefeller; he’s fun and he’s a doctor who is a serial killer. So I know that’s what they’re going to do this season and the storyline is going to arc throughout the season.

I’m not sure how long it’s going to go for or when it’s going to be resolved. In past seasons we did the Mala Noche gang and another season all these guys broke out of prison and we were tracking them down. So that’s going to be the thing this season.

CSI Files: Apparently the Mala Noche is back this season as well.

Togo: Is that right? [laughs] They’re for real. They’ve been around as long as the show’s been around. I hadn’t heard that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It wouldn’t be CSI: Miami without the Mala Noche.

CSI Files: We’ve also heard Ryan gets caught in a tornado in episode three.

Togo: Yeah, yeah. We just finished shooting that episode.

CSI Files: Can you talk about what causes you to wind up—no pun intended—in that scenario? Word is you did your own stunts!

Togo: Yeah, it was fun! It’s been a really great experience doing this show. Last year I fell off a bridge in one of the teasers—I think that was pretty early in the season [“Sudden Death”]. We have a stunt coordinator; his name is Jim Vickers, who won an Emmy a couple of seasons ago for one of the teasers [“Rush”]. It’s a total blast, man; it’s like an amusement ride built for one person. They’ve let me do some pretty cool stunts. You know Emily [Procter, Calleigh Duquesne] was pregnant, so they started letting Adam [Rodriguez, Eric Delko] and I do all of this action-orientated stuff. It’s been a blast and I really enjoy it. We have a great stunt team who are really supportive and we learn a lot from them.

This one was really cool. Don Tardino directed the episode [and] he’s also one of our producers. He came up with a really inventive cool way to sort of simulate what it would be like if someone were to get sucked out of a trailer in a trailer park by a tornado. The set was a bit like being in Inception because there was so much wirework. And it’s cool; you’re up like three stories high on a set and being hung from a wire and shooting a turbo fan at your face. It’s like an adrenaline rush. I enjoy stuff like that.

There’s never an episode where I’m not running after someone or being thrown off of a building. [laughs] Ryan doesn’t get to shoot a lot, that’s David‘s [Caruso, Horatio Caine] job. I never really shoot anyone, I just run after people.

CSI Files: Well what I was going to say was last year there seemed to be lots of running and fast-paced chases taking place. Did it feel like some days you were participating on a track team instead of filming television?

Togo: Yeah, it really did. Those days I got really good at understanding that [that] day would involve a good eight hours of sleep [the night before], a lot of fluids, and eating really well that day. There were really athletic days. Shooting TV can sometimes be really tedious especially on a show that deals with details from a crime scene and having it make sense in terms for the viewer at home. It’s an enormous change of pace. We had a day where Adam and I had to sprint after this guy—the actor was like nineteen-years-old, he was in really good shape. It was like two old guys running after a nineteen-year-old. We were sprinting the whole day… it was the same day we were shooting one unit running and the other we were shooting falling off of a bridge. Every time we had a break from running they’d hook us up to these harnesses that covered our entire torsos and lowering us off a bridge. Then they’d cut that, we’d get out of our harnesses, and we’d get back to sprinting through Long Beach. It’s a very athletic, very physical experience. Matt Damon from The Bourne Identity has to be in amazing shape to be doing that.

CSI Files: Do you know how many episodes you will be filming this year?

Togo: As far as I know we’re picked up for nineteen. We may have more episodes.

CSI Files: Adam wrote and directed an episode last season [“Hunting Ground”]. Do you ever see yourself stepping behind the camera or do you prefer to just stay in front of it?

Togo: I honestly don’t aspire to direct an episode of the show. I really give Adam all the credit in the world. He did an incredible job; he really showed an aptitude to be a director. He’s the best director we had last season. That’s not something that I really want to pursue, though. I have my hands full with just acting in them. I’m really looking forward to the next episode he directs.

CSI Files: There’s been lots of back and forth between the Calleigh and Eric relationship. Is there any progress with that so far this season?

Togo: I don’t know anything about it. I’m always surprised when people ask me that because, to be honest, I read it in the script, and it’s usually like one or two scenes where they address it in each episode, if they do address it at all, and I’m never there when they shoot it. When I do actually get to see it on the show or someone mentions it, I always forget about it because it’s something that Emily and Adam have been playing for a long time. I think that it’s an interesting dynamic. I wonder if at this point, the characters should just decide to be friends after ten years. [laughs] I think it obviously exists between those two characters.

If you ask Rex Linn [Frank Tripp], he’ll tell you that the most intense sexual dynamic exists between him and whatever character he’s in a scene with. I think I would agree with him.

CSI Files: Obligatory question: do you miss the sweater vests at all?

Togo: I’ve come full circle with the sweater vests. It reminds me of a time so long ago, the sweater vests. I wonder if it would even be fun to throw one on. No, I don’t miss the sweater vests. I don’t think I miss the sweater vests. I miss them the way people miss pegging their pants in high school or like they miss having braces or wearing really nerdy glasses when they were in junior high. The sweater vest was so long ago, and it came with the Carol Burnett haircut that I had, and the disco pants. The character has evolved so much from the sweater vests, but I don’t miss the sweater vests. The wardrobe department still laughs about the sweater vest. A sweater vest is a sweater vest. It kept me warm, it didn’t have sleeves, and I was able to do things with my arms.

It’s really funny. We don’t go there anymore, but when we used to shoot in Miami, the clothes are so hot, it’s so hot there. It’s like a hundred degrees with ninety-eight percent humidity. In all honesty, to solve a crime there, you’d have to do it in a speedo to be effective. But a sweater vest, it’s like sado-masochistic. All sweaters in Miami—even if it doesn’t have sleeves, it doesn’t make sense.

CSI Files: Ryan’s always had trouble with people perceiving him as a guy who might have ulterior motives; such as “Time Bomb” in season eight and many other episodes where his loyalty to his job is questioned. Do you think this is an obstacle in his life he will be able to overcome?

Togo: It’s been an interesting arc. There’s a lot of conflict amongst the CSIs themselves, as well as the conflict that exists between the criminals and the people trying to solve the crimes and prevent them from committing further crimes. I think that, at this point, just by virtue of having been together so long, the characters now innately trust one another. Now that seems like it’s in the past, as far as the way the characters interact with each other. I think a lot of it was that Ryan was a newer character, and he wasn’t an original part of the team, so people didn’t trust him. Enough new characters have come in that the dynamic of the team has changed such that it seems like everyone has proved their worth and their loyalty in that group. I’d be surprised if that came into question again, but you never know. There are a lot of external factors that were facilitating that, including Stetler [David Lee Smith] and what was going on in the department. All those characters have gone away who were catalysts for dissent amongst the team.

CSI Files: At times it also seems like Horatio crosses the line between being a member of law enforcement and someone who acts as a vigilante. Is his method of bringing people to justice questionable?

Togo: In real life, I would say yes, if Horatio Caine was an actual person, if he was a police officer in the real world. But sometimes you have to suspend disbelief and understand that you’re buying into a hyperreal reality, a reality that exists in television. It’s fictional. It’s just like in a comic book or in a book or in a movie, sometimes where the lines of morality exist in a fictional world that you’re watching, that you’re participating in the narrative, it’s not questionable. It’s kind of like it’s a catharsis of those who are watching. Good and bad are a lot clearer on TV than they are in real life. It’s kind of like Batman. Batman always kind of does the vigilante thing, but there’s a lot of conflict that comes with that. It creates a lot of conflict within the character of Horatio Caine himself that David enjoys exploring. He’s very personally invested in these crimes that are committed, and the victims that the crimes are perpetrated against. Because he’s so emotionally invested as a character, he sometimes goes over the line, but he does so with the best intentions, or with the intention of justice.

CSI Files: Alexx Woods [Khandi Alexander] was a real confidant to Ryan. Who would you say is closest to Ryan now?

Togo: There’s a little bit of that this season, personal scenes between Natalia and Ryan as far as being confidants and supporting each other. And also Walter and Ryan have become very close. They put Omar and I in a lot of scenes together too. We consider ourselves the Laurel and Hardy of CSI: Miami. Ryan’s best buddy seems to be Walter, and his confidant seems to be Natalia, which is fun because I love Omar [Benson Miller, Walter Simmons] and Eva [La Rue, Natalia Boa Vista]. It’s always fun to play that. It’s very easy to play that with Eva.

CSI Files: Adam, Eva and Omar are on Twitter. Have you considered getting one this season to possibly communicate with fans, or are you totally anti-social media?

Togo: I’m not anti-social media. I like Twitter, and I’m on Facebook, I talk to my friends on Facebook and people I went to school with. I honestly don’t have much time to—those guys are really good about that. I’m too lazy to sit down and write. It feels like homework to me. I’m always impressed when people are on top of their Twitter account, and they always have these sort of pithy observations, things to share about your life. My life is kind of boring.

It’s not me trying to be private so much as I just never get around to it. But I’m glad that Omar and Eva are able to be on Twitter, and they include me sometimes. I don’t use Twitter that much. I try to save my funny observations for when I’m kicking around with my friends and sitting at work. I think it’s great, I definitely follow what those guys have to say, and it’s always interesting in the news when they put someone’s Twitter up. It seems like a lot of work to me. I’m a little old school like that.

CSI Files: But you are on Twitter?

Togo: I have a Twitter account, and I use it sometimes. … I use it to support people or get things out there for anyone to help create some publicity, put the word out there for people. But otherwise I don’t really use it. My Twitter is JohnTogo77@, or is it @Jon—this is the thing, I don’t even know what the hashtags are about, I don’t know how it works. [laughs]

CSI Files: It’s @ and then your username.

Togo: Okay, so I’m @JonTogo77. I’ll try to be better at Twitter. I never really use it that much. I don’t have that many things to Tweet.

CSI Files: Miami could have one season left, it could have two seasons left, it could have five seasons left. Whenever that bridge comes, what do you see yourself doing? Would you consider doing another television show?

Togo: I would do whatever came my way. I didn’t go into this with a plan—I don’t think any actor actually has the luxury of saying “I want to do television” or “I want to be an action star” or “I want to be a theatre actor”. You just go wherever the work is, and it just so happened that this is the job I got. I would happily do a TV show again. I feel very comfortable in that medium. I also enjoy doing really small indies that probably no one will ever see. Whatever comes next comes next. I’m sad that this will eventually [end], I mean all shows come to an end, so we’re definitely in the twilight years of our show, but what comes after that, I have no idea, but I’d be happy to do another TV show.

I like the action element. I never thought I would. I always did a lot of plays in college and improv and short films, but I really like the action stuff. I think it’s fun.

CSI Files: Something tells me you’ll land a comedy pretty quickly…

Togo: I’ve done this for so long—it’s funny, people think of you for one thing, but I always came closest to and almost got so many sitcoms or comedy shows. I never came close to something serious or a cop show or a detective show. I’d been in the business auditioning for five or six years, and it wasn’t even part of my audition board, and it’s funny I’m on CSI: Miami, which is not a comedy at all. Maybe I will end up doing that, I don’t know.

It’s been terrific, it’s been an amazing ten years. It really changed my life. I’m very thankful for the experience and all the people who watch it, and the fans are amazing and the show is amazing. The cast is great. I have no complaints. It’s been a perfect job.

 

Shane Saunders is a freelance writer and reviewer. His work can be seen on EDGE Network and ShaneSSaunders.com.

Shane Saunders
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