Bill Brochtrup has had a successful film, stage, and television career spanning over 20 years. For the past two seasons he has graced our screens on Major Crimes as Rusty’s witty, intelligent, and unorthodox therapist, Dr. Joe, and his character has fast become a fan favorite. Recently Bill took time out of his busy schedule to chat with MajorCrimesTV.net about his television career, his love for the theatre, and his role as Major Crimes’ Dr. Joe.
MajorCrimesTV: The Doctor is in! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Dr. Joe struck a chord with fans as soon as he was introduced, how exactly did this role come about for you?
Bill Brochtrup: I’ve known James Duff for years, he’s an old friend of mine. I was in a play he wrote and he’s an outstanding writer. I totally knew the show, I had watched like every episode of The Closer and knew every episode of Major Crimes up until I started filming.
I think James was, for a long time, looking for something that might work for me on The Closer but we never really found anything that worked schedule wise or that was the right fit so when he had this idea, I was thrilled and I just jumped at it. I think this part is so good, I love Dr. Joe. Plus I love working with Graham Patrick Martin [Rusty Beck].
MCTV: So you were very familiar with the world of Major Crimes?
BB: Oh, very much so. Hollywood can be kind of a small town. I’ve known Tony Denison [Andy Flynn] for many years. I’ve known Phillip P. Keene [Buzz Watson] as long as I’ve known James, he’s a very good friend. Jonathan Del Arco [Dr. Morales] and I did a play together in the 90s, and I did a play with Kathe Mazur’s [Andrea Hobbs] husband back in 2004.
Coming into Major Crimes, on my first day I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is old home week!’ Also that first episode I did, Esai Morales was a guest star, and we worked together on NYPD Blue for many years, so it really was almost surreal. It was like, ‘Wow, I know everybody here’ and there’s just such a warm feeling in the room.
And that is really created by James. At the table read each week he introduces everybody, he kind of runs the whole thing. The table read is where the cast comes together to read the script before we start filming. And James sets a tone that is unlike any place that I’ve ever worked before; it’s like you’re at a party at his house and when they say “guest” star you really are like a guest in their place. You’re treated like a true guest would be, as if you’re spending the weekend at their house or something. It’s an unusual and very, very nice feeling.’
MCTV: Dr. Joe has become such a pivotal character for Rusty in his journey- what do you think it is about Dr. Joe that resonated so well with Rusty, where he had previously rejected the idea of talking to someone before?
BB: I think what’s great about Dr. Joe is how direct he is and how he doesn’t talk down to his clients, he doesn’t talk down to Rusty; he treats him like an equal. And you can see that in the chess. There was a line in the first episode about how I play to win even against 12 year olds. Dr. Joe treats Rusty like a peer and I think that Rusty responds to that.
I think that Rusty is very smart and he respects people who are equally as smart, that’s why they’re both chess players. I think there is a respect that comes out of that, and a lack of judgment because I think a lot of people in Rusty’s life have been very judgmental of him. And we saw his mother and we saw how judgmental she was of him; that was horrifying. I think that Dr. Joe is very open to him and very available. And, couple that with a little bit of strategy and a little bit of humor and I think that makes for a great combination.
MCTV: The characters play off of each other really well, it’s been remarkable to watch. The fans have been very vocal about their support and love for Dr. Joe.
BB: I’m so glad, that’s really gratifying. Working with Graham is just a dream, he’s so talented. We’ve had some long scenes but we’ve done them pretty quickly. We make a joke, we have one speed — fast, and we just try to bang it out. He loves to rehearse, he loves to work on the characters together and so it’s been a real joy and you know, not every young Hollywood actor is like that! He’s the real thing. I mean, he really is the real thing.
And Mary McDonnell, she could not be a more fun scene partner. She is such a tremendous actress, as you well know. Her timing and her choices are brilliant. There was one take that we did and she was delivering a speech and then it went back to my line and I was so fascinated by what she was doing that I forgot my line; I was so intrigued by her that I forgot my line entirely which was pretty embarrassing and they had to say “Cut!” But she was just mesmerizing. And I found myself watching her and not playing the scene!
I also feel very lucky to have worked with great directors on these episodes, including Jon Tenney [Fritz Howard], which was a thrill. Mike Robin directed the first one that I was in and that was the most important because that’s when we were establishing the character. Mike Robin is, and I remember this from working with him on NYPD Blue, so sensitive and he understands actors so well and makes every little moment about something so that it’s very textured and very nuanced. And I was able to relax and breathe and go ‘I am in such good hands here.’
MCTV: Dr. Joe’s sessions with Rusty often revolve around a chess game - are you a chess player?
BB: I love games and I know how to play, but I’m certainly not a chess player. We had a chess expert, so all the moves were totally choreographed. That took the onus off of us having to pretend we were doing something because we knew exactly what each move was for. So I felt very comfortable the entire time and that’s thanks to Graham and Mike Robin. And plus, let’s not forget James’ writing, which, and I felt this in The Closer too, you really feel James’ personality come through. James has a great sense of the world being a place where your manners are important, your ethics are important, your morals are important, and that all comes screaming out. There are so many episodes that I’ve watched of Major Crimes and of The Closer and I’ll go ‘Oh, that’s so James!’
MCTV: Dr. Joe has great profiling skills as we got to see in episode 7 of this season, is that a prelude to what we might see him do next? Will we be seeing more of that particular skill in the future?
BB: Working as a therapist has been great but profiling a case shows how important the behavioral science wing of the police department is, so yeah I think that it opens a door for more of that, and I think that Dr. Joe did a very good job on the case. I was happy that Raydor asked him to do that. We know that Dr. Joe has worked closely with people at Major Crimes, he’s worked closely with the police department and there are allusions that he’s worked closely with SOB in the past and he may well continue to do that.
MCTV: You worked on NYPD Blue, which is a much grittier cop show. Do you find that there are many similarities with Major Crimes? Or are they completely different because of their tones?
BB: No I find them very similar; what NYPD Blue was about, and what Major Crimes is about now, is the family that makes up the squad. In every police show you’ve got to solve a crime or two every week, so that’s a given. But I think what people come back for is the interplay between the detectives, the life of the squad; we really feel invested in that family. On NYPD Blue I played John Irvin who was the PAA, that’s the Administrative Aid, and on my first day David Milch who was the writer /producer of the show, who is seriously a genius, he said ‘You protect the people in this squad. That’s what you do.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s so simple.’ So every time there was a question about a scene or I wasn’t sure what I was doing I would just go back to that idea. ‘I protect the people in this squad.’ And then it became easy to figure out what to do.
And I feel that same thing about Major Crimes; we see the relationships between Buzz and Provenza and between Flynn and Raydor, and we see that this is a family. We see how upset they were when Julio was shot, we see how much they loved kidding Sykes about her dating. It’s a family and I think that’s what we tune in for week after week. Plus the crime solving is interesting and well done on both shows. And I think that combination is what we look for in a cop show and that’s what both shows have done very successfully.
MCTV: You’ve also, and continue, to work extensively in the LA theatre scene. Can you tell us a bit about that?
BB: The good thing about working in television is that you can sometimes make enough money to work in the theatre! Which is not the most lucrative field in the world. I’ve been very lucky that my film and television work has subsidized my theatre work. But the theatre is extremely important to me as it is to so many people who start out in it. I mean, talk about a place where you create families. I work at the Antaeus Theatre Company, a classical theatre company in LA. I’m one of the co-artistic directors and it’s a big job. We’re in charge of choosing the plays, overseeing everything that we do with the theatre space; basically it’s producing.
We do a season of three plays plus many, many readings and we have an academy that trains the next generation of classical actors in LA. We have an arts education program, bringing Shakespeare to at-risk kids, so we have a full plate. Right now we’re running The Curse of Oedipus which is a new take on the old Greek legend and coming up next is a play called Wedding Band which is an Alice Childress play; she’s an African-American writer writing during the Civil Rights Movement and it’s about mixed race marriage, which was quite incendiary, so that will be up next. It’s a great place, it’s full of actors who many of your viewers would be familiar with because almost everyone there makes their living in film and television, and in fact many of them have guested on Major Crimes and The Closer over the years!
The theatre creates a kind of immediate family, I mean you do a show and you just feel like you’ve become so close with people. You’re with them day and night and you get to know them good, bad, and ugly and that’s kind of what I love about all of show business. You create these temporary, but very intense families. That’s what I loved about it in high school you know, and it’s the same feeling that I have now. And you don’t feel it often in television, because people come and go and it’s not always the same people and you’re not always doing the same thing everyday.
MCTV: But that feeling was there for Major Crimes?
BB: I’ve felt that from the very beginning on Major Crimes, that’s what’s been so nice about it. I mean, the work has been great fun and challenging and a little scary which is always good, like ‘how am I going to do this, how am I going to carry that off,’ so the challenge has been great. But it’s been the supportive family feeling from everyone that’s been the best part and I think that’s a direct reflection of James and the cast. That’s what’s made Major Crimes so particularly special to me.
MCTV: Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us and for reaching out to fans of the show. We’ve loved adding you and Dr. Joe to the Major Crimes family and we hope to see a lot more of you in the future!