With a career spanning more than four decades and some very memorable projects, G.W. Bailey’s filmography reads like a who’s who of notable films and television series, including such smash hits as MASH and Police Academy. These days, Bailey is busier and in higher demand than ever. Alongside playing Lt. Louie Provenza for ten seasons and counting on The Closer and now Major Crimes, much of Bailey’s free time is taken up by another passion; his role as the Executive Director of the Sunshine Kids Foundation, a charity that supports children being treated for cancer, and their families.
We caught up with G.W. Bailey at the Turner Network Upfront Presentations in New York City this past May, and talked to him about what’s ahead for Lieutenant Provenza, his work with the Sunshine Kids Foundation, and why, despite TNT’s move towards focusing on the younger demographic with their ‘BOOM’ campaign, he’s pretty sure Major Crimes is here to stay.
MajorCrimesTV: This season marks the 10th season playing Lt. Provenza for you. How has the experience changed? Do you bring something new going into the season like this? Is it new and fresh because the ideas have changed so much lately?
G.W. Bailey: “Well it’s interesting. Today, we were in the green room waiting for this to start and Stephen Kane [writer on The Closer and the first season of Major Crimes] who is the writer/producer for The Last Ship walked in. I was sitting at a table among all these people and I was working on a crossword puzzle, which I’ve done every morning on Major Crimes and The Closer, for years while they’re rehearsing. I sit at Provenza’s desk and work on my crossword puzzle. And he walked over and he said, ‘Boy, some things don’t change no matter where you are.’
So, in terms of habits, they don’t change. In terms of characters, they have to develop, they just have to; just like in life, events affect you. Now, they don’t affect your core particularly, but they can affect your behavior and how you handle life and how you handle things. Provenza is certainly still Provenza; he’s still not going to run, he’s still not going to break a big sweat, he’s still Provenza. But he has adapted and he has changed.“
MCTV: Can you give us any clues as to some of the challenges that he is going to face this season?
Bailey: “We have an episode coming up that is a very tender and a very tough episode for him that you would not have seen seven or eight years ago. I have had moments where it’s been very tough. There is an episode that I love [from The Closer] with Raymond Cruz; his character, Sanchez, his brother gets killed. And he holds it all together until the very end of the episode and he finally breaks down, but he’s alone with Provenza. And the viewers were very moved by it and it made perfect sense although we had been kind of adversaries and pick at each other. When it came time, he went to experience, so he went to someone older who would understand and it was very moving; it makes me cry to this day.
You’ll definitely see more of that. And, a little more tolerance, although I fight the writers on it, you know, I’ll say ‘let’s not make him too politically correct,’ you know, let’s remember that he is Provenza. I had a director actually ask me this, a good director. We had a very tough scene of discovering a child who had been murdered, and we were outside and so I had on my hat, that silly ass hat, and the director asked me, ‘Do you think maybe, because of the tone of this, that you’d be without the hat?’ And I said, ‘Are we outside? Is that the sun? That’s the reason I have my hat on. I don’t think the hat is funny. If the audience gets a kick out of it then it’s their business. I wear the hat because it’s my hat and whether it’s a dying child or we’re in a comedy club, or outside a comedy club, as long as I’m outside I’m wearing the hat.’ I said, ‘I think that child has far more powerful imagery than my hat-head.’ But, I understood his thinking. I said, ‘If I’m at a funeral, I’m not going to wear that hat.’
There are certain things that don’t change, that make you who you are. That’s who you’ve created with the writers but there are some ways that you’ll see this season that he’s mellowed a little bit. He’s always been mellow when it came to kids, because he has kids and grandkids, and five ex-wives, so he’s pretty mellow when it comes to children. “
MCTV: Speaking of children, one of the most gratifying things to watch has been the evolution of the relationship between Provenza and Rusty; it’s become such a tender and wonderful side note for the show. Can you tell us a little bit about that and about what viewers can expect from the two of you this season?
Bailey: “We just filmed something last week and I can’t tell you; but it is very short, but it is also very good. It’s very to the point, and that’s all I’ll tell you. It’s very dear.”
Bailey was first introduced to the Sunshine Kids Foundation almost 30 years ago, when his goddaughter was battling cancer and was invited to go on one of the trips the organization plans for kids undergoing treatment. He credits that experience for opening up his eyes to the wonderful potential of the organization and the struggle of the patients that the Sunshine Kids Foundation catered to, and it inspired him to become involved in an official capacity. At the time, the charity was its earliest stages; since, it has grown to serve children and their families battling with cancer all across America, offering them exclusive outings and experiences, and helping to bring a little light into their lives.
Bailey currently serves as Executive Director for the Sunshine Kids Foundation, and his dedication to the charity has been taken up by much of the cast and crew of Major Crimes, leading them to become active with the charity in a variety of ways.
This past holiday season brought about a much loved, collaborative Major Crimes Cookbook featuring recipes from the cast and crew and their loved ones. The cookbook features everything from smoothies and juices to desserts, breakfast foods, and comfort foods. Among fans, this quickly became a favorite and the cookbook saw sales far surpassing the cast and crew’s initial expectations.
MCTV: Fans were so excited when news of the Major Crimes Cookbook first came out. How did the idea for that develop?
Bailey: “Our costume designer, Greg LaVoi, who is a dear, sweet man and a bit of a genius, who has costumed The Closer and Major Crimes all these years, had the idea. He saw another cookbook for some other organization so he contacted the publishers who do this, and he had the idea of putting cast and crew, producers, and their favorite recipes together. He designed the cover and his costume crew did all of the necessary gathering and the editing and notes about it, the pictures, and they put it all together and had it published.
They came to me and asked if we would help with it and if the Sunshine Kids Foundation would help with it. Greg wanted to dedicate it to us and to have all sales to go directly to the Sunshine Kids Foundation. And it’s just been an enormous, wonderful success, and our fans love it.”
They’re only $25, it’s $20 plus shipping which is $5, and every dime goes to kids with cancer. And if we’re picked up for another season after this season, which we’ll know sometime during this season, we’re going to do a second edition.”
MCTV: What can fans expect from a second edition of the cookbook?
Bailey: “We’ll do a new design, all new recipes, and broaden out. We’ll probably include Major Crimes cast, crew, and friends and maybe we’ll go to other shows and they’ll be other actors, other crews and we’ll put them all together and we’ll list those crews and their family and friends. And so that’s how we broaden it beyond Major Crimes; that’s our plan, if TNT is wise enough to pick us up for a fourth season.”
MCTV: TNT announced today that with their rebranding, they are also shifting their focus, and a part of their ‘BOOM’ campaign is to cater to younger, 18-49, more male audiences. This is not an audience that TNT has previously focused on, especially not where Major Crimes or The Closer were concerned. With your numbers so far, we can’t imagine them not picking you up for season four!
Bailey: “I hope so. Well, today, all that talk from (TNT President/Head of Programming) Michael Wright, youth, youth, youth, boom, boom, boom, I wanted to stand up and say, ‘Hey, hey! Look over here, old guy! Right here, number one show on your network. Here we are!’ But I understand that you’ve got to adapt and change to survive and he did say that they, the network, wants to nourish what brought him here and keep it alive, but at the same time they have to go out and reach that other audience, there’s no question about that.”
MCTV: The interesting things is that Major Crimes does have a young fanbase. The fanbase has absolutely changed from The Closer and it has really adapted as the characters have adapted.
Bailey: “Yes, and we have done very well in that magical 18-49 range. [Last year] at the Screen Actors Guild Q&A, the event started with an announcement; a recognition of how much we had improved in the 18-49 range and everybody was really excited.
James [Duff] was there, and they were all extolling this wonderful number. Then they started with audience questions and the first question was to me and I said, ‘I’ll answer that but I want to go back to this other deal.’ I said, ‘Where on God’s earth did this come from? The Nielsens, I suppose? But what genius at what tower at what point said the people that matter, the people that buy stuff, are 18-49? ‘ And I said to them all, ‘Look, I have a wonderful family, an adorable family, and I’m the oldest guy in that family, and you know who buys the most stuff? Me.’ I said, ‘So program to me a little bit too, because, I buy stuff.’
But I understand that they’re the marketing geniuses and you’ve got to develop that audience so that when they are my age, they’re still buying that product; I’m not an idiot. At the same time, we’re here. And there’s a bunch of us. And we do spend money, we’re more conservative than kids are. But our show has really grown with that demographic, it’s done very, very well.”
Major Crimes returned with a (TNT approved) BOOM, scoring 6.7 million total viewers in its season 3 premiere, making it basic cable’s #1 scripted series premiere of the year, and increasing in the all-important 18-49 demographic by 3% over the season 2 premiere. You can learn more about GW Bailey’s Sunshine Kids Foundation, and how to get involved with their work www.SushineKids.org. And you can find out more about the Major Crimes Cookbook, and order your own, here.