Theo James’ Mr. Pamuk had about 20 minutes of TV time on Season 1 of “Downton Abbey” before dying in Lady Mary’s bed after having had sex. Obviously, it was a good 20 minutes, but it still left James a relative unknown to American audiences, who quickly got swept up in Lady Mary’s romance with Matthew and moved on.
But James’ unknown status should change tonight with the premiere of “Golden Boy,” CBS’ new series about Walter William Clark Jr. (James), the fictional, youngest-ever New York City Police Commissioner.
“When I turned up for the table read for the pilot, I am a young dude who is not known,” the Oxford-born actor recalls. “All of these actors have more experience than me in many ways. Inevitably we are good friends now, but there was a bit of: ‘Who is this guy? Where did he come from? Why is he playing a New York cop?’ I felt that. I was nervous at first, but then I thought, ‘I can use this to my advantage. I have to step up to the plate, otherwise, I am done.’”
“Golden Boy” is the story of the skyrocketing career of Clark, who after seven years on the NYPD homicide squad, goes on to become the youngest New York City Police Commissioner, which is an appointed position. The story is told in flashbacks from his position of prominence as he looks back at his rise through the ranks and how his partner Detective Don Owen (Chi McBride) taught him the ropes.
“Chi has been doing this for a long time,” James says. “We had a good natural chemistry. And that element of it is something that I really love ‑‑ the father and the son — the Obi‑Wan and Luke Skywalker — kind of thing.”
Watch the Pilot Episode of “Golden Boy” Before It Airs on TV:
Owen is a homicide detective who is just biding his time until retirement, until he gets partnered with Clark, who brings out the best in him. Whereas Clark, who was born into a crime family but decided that biology isn’t destiny, struggles with wanting to cut corners to get the job done.
“With me, he’s tempering my central morality between whether I choose the darker nature that I lean towards, or I use the law for the purpose of good, basically,” James says.
Playing an NYPD detective is a bit of a stretch for an Englishman, but James recalls that back when he was in school, he had thoughts about joining one of the British law enforcement agencies.
“In my undergrad at university, I thought about [it], but I ended up going a different direction,” he says. “It is a fantasy, really. What is interesting, as well, is how much power homicide detectives have and how much respect. They are kind of rock stars, especially in New York. There are not that many of them.”
In addition to “Downton Abbey,” James has appeared as Jed Harper in the U.K. supernatural series “Bedlam” for two seasons, and he says, in his opinion, that American and British TV are very different.
“In Britain, you do your job,” he says. “When you do an American TV show, there is a sense of being one with the crew, and there is a leadership element, which was a learning curve for me because it is very different culturally. In Britain, you just do it, leave and say, ‘thanks.’ …
“You normally don’t come back for a second season, so, I think, because [in America] you are in this as a group, in a weird way, you are all employing each other, you become friends with the crew and you feel responsible for each other and you feel responsible for trying to be a leader.”
“Golden Boy” premieres Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 10/9c on CBS.