Interview: Brent Sexton on ‘Ironside’

We interview the acclaimed actor from “The Killing” about his new role as Ironside’s guilt-ridden former partner on the “Ironside” remake.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

We would have loved to have gotten Brent Sexton one on one, but when “Ironside” presented a panel to the Television Critics Association, it seemed a few other reporters had the same idea as us.

So we joined a few reporters after the panel to talk to Sexton about his new role on the series. Sexton is best known as Rosie Larsen’s father, Stan Larsen on "The Killing." For NBC's reboot of “Ironside," Sexton plays Gary Stanton, the former partner of Robert Ironside (Blair Underwood). Years before the events of the series, Stanton and Ironside were on a case together when Ironside was wounded and confined to a wheelchair. Now in the present, Stanton is not coping with the aftermath nearly as well as Ironside is. 


CraveOnline: When you know that a series like “The Killing,” even in success, your part of it is going to end at a finite place, at what point did you start fielding offers like “Ironside?” When did this actually come to you?

Brent Sexton: Well, after that first year, there was definitely a shift. Some different doors opened up. I met some new people, some wonderful people I got to work with, whether it was just script reading or something like that, not necessarily a new job. So that was nice. I really enjoyed that. Then even meeting you guys today. A lot of different people were big fans of the show so it really resonated.

How did you and Blair work out the energy and dynamic of the partnership in the flashback scenes?

I have to say, it was actually a fairly natural thing. We just kind of fell into it. He’s a terrific actor. He’s very present with you. Yeah, there wasn’t a lot of work actually. It was pretty easy to fall into it.

How would you compare those scenes you have in the flashback versus the present day where your character is racked with guilt?

One of the things is I don’t want to do the same thing that I just did on “The Killing.” I don’t want to spend two years wrapped up in shame and guilt. They have other things that are coming up. It’s not just the one incident of his partner being confined to a wheelchair. It’s a decade long accumulation of events that they have to deal with.

Not to compare it to “The Killing,” but on “Ironside” in the flashbacks you have two cops who are sort of gung ho, and then you come to the present and they’re very different. 

Gary’s realizing that his old ways of dealing with stuff is not working. It’s really about him resolving and reconciling the stuff inside him. Of course, Ironside’s like, “Come on, just get back on the horse. Get back on the horse” and it’s not working.

It’s very inspiring for Ironside, but it doesn’t work for everybody.

No, not for everyone and it’s working for him because he is so driven. Gary liked to self-medicate. You sort of have to do something with that energy that’s not expressed. Some people, it’s gallows humor. Some people self-medicate. Some people go home and they play video games where you shoot people. There’s got to be an expression of that energy. For Gary it hasn’t been working. All that stuff needs to be reconciled and resolved.

How big was “The Killing” for you because you made such an impression over the two years? Did it change your life in a lot of ways?

That role was a gift actually, it really was. I get offered a lot of cop stuff so actually at the time I told my agent, “No more uniforms. Stop sending me out on that kind of stuff.” Of course stuff came up but I kept saying no, no, no. Then when “The Killing” came along, I was like, “This is the one.” 

It seemed like such a tough role, it was hard anyway but you were shooting in Vancouver and it always seemed dark and rainy.

Sure, that was part of the tone of the show. They used rain towers on a lot of that. A lot of rain can’t be seen on film, just regular rain. You need really big fat drops so it picks up.

How much did that weigh on you?

It’s intense, yeah. It was hard work, but it was rewarding work for me as well.

What got you into acting in the first place?

One of the things was Sidney Lumet. I watched 12 Angry Men when I was a kid. It blew me away definitely. That was one thing that happened when I was younger definitely. 

For people who might compare this character on “Ironside” to “The Killing” with the guilt, how do you distinguish their conflicts?

It’s a different conflict. Definitely there’s some of that involved. The transition, the long transition of Gary coming back to the force and being a cop again, that’s interesting to me. And, it’s not just what happened to his partner being in a wheelchair, it’s every event that accumulated. This is a high-pressure job. These are humans in jobs of service that are expected to be super human, with the boundary conditions of black and white, good and evil, right and wrong.

Cops cannot break the law. When dealing with a criminal element, you’re sort of put up against something that knocks you against those boundaries, and I think that’s where all the gray areas come in. I think it ends up taking its toll and he realizes that self-medicating is not necessarily the way to get through it.