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“FBI: Most Wanted” Dylan McDermott Reflects on His Career

Golden Globe winner (The Practice) Dylan McDermott has just wrapped a fourth season of FBI: Most Wanted, the CBS and Dick Wolf procedural about an FBI Fugitive Task Force that goes after notorious criminals on the Bureau’s Most Wanted list. Wolf’s franchises have been some of the most successful shows in television, with the first Law & Order originating in 1990.

As the lead of FBI: Most Wanted for the past two years, Dylan McDermott finds himself doing what he does best: leading a television show that consistently brings in viewers. Over the span of his career the father of two has worked with some of the most successful showrunners in the industry. Besides Wolf, McDermott is also a favorite of Ryan Murphy and David E. Kelley.

At the Monte-Carlo Television Festival he spoke to us about his expansive career, the importance of writers, working with his daughter, his dog, why Marlon Brando wasn’t always good, and the value of the audience knowing your character’s name.

You’ve been the bad guy many times. How do you feel now playing a hero again?

I love it. The New York Times wrote an article about it. It was time for me to be good again because I’d been playing questionable people. I knew it. I could see the road ahead. Probably, I stayed at the party a little too long. It was time to go back to playing a hero.

Dick had the foresight to see me as Remy Scott. Luckily, he took a gamble. I didn’t see it because I’d been such a well-known criminal character on Law & Order: Organized Crime. That’s why you want to work with people like Dick Wolf and Ryan Murphy. Ryan cast me in Hollywood. I didn’t see myself as that character either. They have vision to see beyond.

Did you have any input?

I didn’t want to be just another FBI agent tracking down another bad guy. On these longstanding shows you can see the actor getting a bit lost or bored by the repetition of a drama over time. I had done a show for seven years. I had seen that happen. I wanted to ensure I had some hooks in me so that wouldn’t happen. I knew I’d probably be on this show for a minute. I wanted to make it personal. I do that with every character. It keeps me rooted.

I felt it important to have loss in his life. It provided motivation and informed his character. He does the job because his brother was murdered. He’s trying to resolve it psychologically. I even say it in the show, “Every bad guy I catch, I do it for my brother.” That was important for me.

A lot of actors struggle in procedurals. You’re a master of them. What’s the secret?

The ‘procedural’ is somewhat of a dirty word. I like that. There’s a confinement that people are afraid of. They’ve decided there’s only so much you can do within the confines of a procedural. I love that because that means we can blow it up. That’s cool.

You have to create a character in order to come out of a procedure – which is the hardest thing to do. The story is the star. You either have to have a big personality or you have a character that’s dynamic, so people are like, “Oh yeah.” Once they know your name, Remy Scott, you have it. A lot of actors can’t do it. They get caught up in the lines, in just the character they’re playing.

Whatever set I’m on – comedy, movie, or show – you have to be like a dog. What does a dog do? First thing is: lay down their scent. As an actor you have to lay down your scent, otherwise you got another dog peeing right on top of you. It’s very important that you establish that immediately. Otherwise you’re done.

Talking of dogs, your dog is starring in the show too.

He did a great job. He played the character of ‘Rocky.’ It was funny. In the scene I’d say “Rocky, stay.” He was confused, but he did it.


Remy is obsessed with the job. It impacts his life. Is that something you share?

It’s hard when you’re working all the time. It’s 22 episodes. What do you have to give? Actors lose friends and relationships because all you’re doing is working.

Do you think you would make a good FBI agent because that job requires a degree of acting as well?

I don’t know if you want to dedicate your life to being a lawyer or criminal. It seems exhausting. The great thing about being an actor is that you get to be many people in one lifetime. What’s better than that?

Did you ever get lost in any of them?

Absolutely. A couple of times. Hollywood, I got lost in. There was something so magical about that character that took me. I could’ve played him forever.

Given the physicality of the show, how do you stay nimble and prevent injury?

I’m not 31; I’m 61 suddenly. I haven’t allowed myself to slow down. I do Barry’s Bootcamp twice a week, even with a grueling schedule. I try to eat right, take care of myself. If you take care of your body, mind, and spirit, the triangle, you can hopefully live a long, healthy life. In Buddhism they talk about the four sufferings that none of us can escape: birth, old age, sickness, death. We all have to deal with them.

You worked with your daughter in episode 16 of season four. How was it?

She’s probably the most evolved of everyone in the family. If anything, I’ll look to her for advice. I trust her implicitly. She is a star – a wonderful actress. It’s a matter of time before the world catches up with her, so I left her alone.

Do you advise her on acting?

I offer advice for auditions. Sometimes, she’ll take it. Or not. It’s this fine line, acting. There are people who study forever and they’re brilliant. There are those who never studied and win Oscars. Having studied, I find technique comes in handy. It’s better to have than not. Technique has helped me with building a character. I think it’s good to study, to know what you’re doing, to have in your back pocket. You need the wrench as a plumber. Technique is a metaphorical wrench.

Working with Dick Wolf, David E. Kelly, Ryan Murphy, is what you do technically the same with each? Or are you an entirely different actor based on the nature of the writer?

I grew up in theater, valuing the writer. Eugene O’Neill was one of the reasons I became an actor. When I said his words for the first time, it was like I arrived home. I didn’t have the vocabulary at that time to express how I felt. Eugene O’Neill gave me the words. It was like I arrived home. I never knew that was possible – the poetry that could come out of body, mind, spirit. Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Eve Ensler. I grew up loving writers.

I think writers should have everything. They’re not getting enough. Some can’t even make their insurance. The studios are making all the money. How is that fair? Writers have to be compensated, have to be able to live. An actor is nothing without a writer. Give them what they want. Everybody will be happier. It’s common sense. Ultimately, if Marlon Brando can’t be better than the script, none of us can. And he tried. He did some really terrible movies. He wasn’t better because he didn’t have a good script.