Electric Review

Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms

An Interview With Dennis Franz

Given the fact that “NYPD Blue” has been on for 12 years, can you describe how your character has changed and evolved over that time.

Well, 12 years out of anybody’s life is quite a long time. It’s a long time in the terms of the character’s life, a long time in Dennis’ life. And over the course of that period Andy Sipowicz has learned to accept himself – something he was not either able to or prepared to do early on. Over the course of this 12 years, Andy has now acknowledged that he is no longer a young rogue cop, he’s not filled with the same questions and anxieties he was filled with when the series began. He’s grown as a human being and accepted tragedy. He’s aged, accepting the aging process. Now he knows he can’t compete with the younger generation and the police work that’s being done. Now he’s able to look at himself and accept his eventual mortality.

Can you attempt to analyze the idea of Franz as “Sipowicz” — discussing the metamorphosis that takes place here.

Well, Andy and I share a similar compassion for people and our fellow man. Sipowicz is perceived as a tough hard cop. But under that, he’s a very compassionate human being. And that’s similar to a lot of cops that I know. Andy’s no exception there: he has a rough exterior but he cares tremendously. I share that with him. I respect people and expect that kind of respect back. We also share a similar outlook on criminals – we have very little tolerance for them. And we have our priorities: his is law enforcement. Mine is this entertainment business. It’s hard to look at yourself realistically and see how you fit into the whole ‘thing.’ But Franz and Sipowicz share that sense of recognition with our professions.

Describe a bit about what you will miss when the series wraps up in a few weeks.

I’ll miss the camaraderie we have developed over the last 12 years. In a long-running series you hear a lot about the family feeling created among the cast. It’s become cliched -but it’s true nonetheless. And “NYPD Blue” is no exception. I’ll miss the relationships I have built with these actors. And the creative energy of so many people focused in the same direction. I’ll miss being with these people and the devotion we have to this work. I’ve had a false sense of permanence with this series. Over this length of time, the tendency is to think it will never end. There’s a sense of security there. But now I have to acknowledge that it’s ending and let it go somehow. (pauses) I’ll also miss the comments from the people on the street who love the show and who have felt its impact on the culture. I won’t miss the shooting schedule though and the 6 AM calls though. I also won’t miss having to squeeze all my free time into a few days, knowing I have to come back to these responsibilities. I’m the type of guy who can’t mix business with pleasure, who can’t remove myself from the seriousness of a situation and relax. So I’ll have some more time for myself soon.

Where do you go from here? Another series? Feature films? Directing and producing?

The next step is going to be more of a focus on feature film. At this time, I am not interested in considering another TV series. This one was a wonderful experience which will be hard to top. And it’s caused me to turn down several good feature film opportunities because of the schedule I’ve kept. But no, I’m not one of these actors who feels a pressing need to direct, and I have no plans to do it.

What’s season 12 been like with all these new people thrust into the mix?

Well, these changes have taken place since year one. When Caruso left that was a big change. From the first jump of the series we had to deal with change and we’ve been able to adapt nicely. Actually, it’s given us new opportunities for different characters and story lines and energies. In a perfect world, you would be able to hold onto everyone. But it’s not realistic. Fortunately for us, the changes with NYPD have been progressive and have taken the show to new levels. This is a wonderful cast filled with ideas and they come ready to work – full of deep energy.

As of today (this interview was completed on January 25th via telephone), 6 episodes are left to air. Can you tell me what your thoughts are as you reflect on this monumental ending…

Well, we’re actually into the shooting of the final two episodes, so there’s actually only 2 and half weeks of work left. And that is a hard acknowledgment, it’s hard for me to recognize that. As I mentioned before, there’s a sense of permanence with something like this. A feeling that there is no end in sight. Sometimes we thought it would go on forever. And the reality that this 12 year life is ending didn’t really sink in until three weeks ago when we filmed a particular scene* … (Franz declined to describe the scene since the episode hadn’t yet aired). There was Sipowicz going through this major life change, surrounded by the cast. And that suddenly hit me hard. It hit me real hard. I was so emotional. Choked up. I could hardly talk all day. That single scene got me to realize I’ll be cleaning out my trailer and saying good-bye soon. Collecting my memories. Realizing what a wonderful experience this has been.

*The scene that Franz refers to will no doubt go down in the lore of NYPD Blue history: The February 1st episode ends with Sipowicz dressed in his pressed blue uniform, descending the stairs, on his way to the ceremony where he will be formally decorated as a sergeant. Upon reaching the bottom stair, he notices that the whole precinct is standing at attention, falling into a simultaneous salute. Sipowicz’s eyes tear up and his lips begin to tremble, choked narrow with emotion. As quick as that, the true genius of Franz as Sipowicz becomes apparent: the actor consumed by the experience of his character, drenched in the scene that has become a breathing part of his personal history – and his life.

by John Aiello

This interview with Dennis Franz was conducted on January 25, during the last week of shooting on the set of NYPD Blue. A version of it was originally published by the TNT Drama Lounge.
Click here to read a 2003 interview with Dennis Franz.
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This entry was posted on August 1, 2008 by in 2008, Artist Profiles, August 2008, Features & Profiles, Quick Picks, Television and tagged , , , .
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