In “The Chicago Code,” a riveting new crime series from Fox, all eyes are on actor Delroy Lindo, who plays a powerful politician. He’s the man, as they say.
He’s also the target. His character, alderman Ronin Gibbons, has amassed considerable juice over two decades, apparently bending rules and busting heads along the way. Now, a maverick cop (Jason Clarke) and the city’s first female police superintendent (Jennifer Beals) are determined to take him down.
But while Gibbons might be the villain at the heart of this promising series from Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”), Lindo doesn’t really see his character as a bad person.
“I’m trying to head off any simple, one-dimensional perceptions of who he is,” Lindo says during a phone conversation. “He’s a politician and business man with a pragmatic side. He does what needs to be done. He does what he believes is best for his constituents and, in his mind, sometimes the end justifies the means.”
Clearly, Lindo, 58, who cut his teeth as an actor during his days with the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, wasn’t interested in just another cartoonish thug whose mere appearance screams evil. And neither was Ryan, who encouraged Lindo to project a fullness of character.
Mission accomplished. In “The Chicago Code,” Lindo dabbles in an intriguing kind of moral elasticity. One moment, he’s laying on the velvety charm (“I always have time for my people,” he says, smiling.). The next, he’s exuding a subtle ruthlessness that can send shivers down your spine. So magnetic is he that you feel his presence even when he’s off the screen.
That magnetism is undoubtedly enhanced by a flashy wardrobe. Lindo’s Gibbons is all sartorial splendor, decked out in $2,000 suits and glittery watches as he makes his way through the streets of the Windy City.
“We very much wanted that to be part of the character,” Lindo says. “He’s a man who not only has a master’s power, he wants his constituents to be proud of him. He’s very aware of how he looks.”
As for the show, it, too, has the looks of a winner. “Code” might lack the darkness and grit of “The Shield,” but it benefits from a compelling, densely layered narrative, a solid cast (including Matt Lauria of “Friday Night Lights”), lots of visual verve and an offbeat rhythm that separates it from the pack of standard cop dramas.
It’s also a great showcase for Chicago. Ryan, an Illinois native, and crew filmed entirely on location and fully immersed “Code” into its setting. You can almost taste the deep-dish pizza.
Along with his fellow cast mates, Lindo relocated to Chicago for the six-month shoot. Now he’s pleased to be back in the Bay Area, where he shares a home in the Oakland hills with his wife and 9-year-old son.
Born in England to Jamaican immigrants, Lindo moved to Toronto and then San Francisco when he was 16. Much of his life since then has been spent in the Bay Area, despite a belief that it presents some career disadvantages.
“I think I do pay a price on some level (for not living in Southern California),” he says. “It’s the whole out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing. You’re only as good as your last job, and if there’s a period of time when (producers) aren’t seeing you on screen, or around town, or at a Lakers game, you can drop off the radar.”
As evidence, Lindo points out that, two years ago, he was set to take a meeting with network executives to discuss a possible role in a TV series. Despite an impressive resume that includes memorable roles in such films as “The Cider House Rules,” “Clockers,” “Get Shorty” and “Malcolm X,” he was told before the meeting that the network chief didn’t know who he was.
“I was stunned,” he recalls.
Nevertheless, Lindo remains entrenched in the Bay Area, where, in recent years, his directorial skills have been on display at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in productions of “Blue Door” and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”
“I’ve always just felt that the entertainment-centric obsession that exists in Los Angeles is not a good fit for me,” he says. “It just seems that its healthier for me not to be there.”
“The Chicago Code” represents Lindo’s second foray into series television. The first was “Kidnapped,” a 2006 serial drama that earned a quick cancellation on NBC.
Perhaps because of that experience, Lindo is taking nothing for granted this time around — even though “Code” has generated positive early buzz and will receive what is expected to be a major promotional push during Sunday’s Super Bowl.
“It seems to me that trying to make a successful television show is a crapshoot,” he says. “So I’m taking a circumspect attitude. We’ll see what happens.”
THE CHICAGO CODE
9 p.m. EST Monday