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FBI partners rattle off guns, banter in ‘Standoff’

Romantically-involved agents work together on crisis team in new drama
Rosemarie DeWitt, left, and Ron Livingston work on the set for Fox's new crime series \"Standoff,\" Monday, Aug. 14, 2006, in Redondo Beach, Calif. The show premieres at 8 p.m., EDT, Tuesday, Sept. 5.Ric Francis / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Blue sea. Blue skies. Palm trees. Gunfire.

Squealing tires and popping bullets interrupt an idyllic California beach scene as a blue Mustang speeds away, the driver shooting wildly.

A man and woman in leather jackets, on foot with weapons raised, immediately rattle off a volley of return fire.

"This stuff is fun!" exclaims Ron Livingston moments later, as he waits for a retake on the set of "Standoff," a new Fox crime series premiering Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 9 p.m. EDT.

Clearly relishing the role of action hero, Livingston is the man in the leather jacket, Matt Flannery, an agent in the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit. The woman in the leather jacket is Flannery's partner, Emily Lehman, played by Rosemarie DeWitt. She seems to be having an equally good time.

The agents' partnership is more than professional — they're sleeping together. Their bosses don't like it, but it's not illegal, and the couple's skillful teamwork is too valuable for reassignment to be an option.

''Mad About You' with guns'"Sometimes it's ‘Mad About You,' with guns, but the last couple of episodes we've shot have been more guns with `Mad About You,' Livingston chuckles, as he explains the show's mix of romance and danger, comedy and drama.

Livingston, who starred in "Band of Brothers" and "Sex and the City," believes building a show around lead characters who are FBI crisis negotiators — especially FBI crisis negotiators in love — sets it apart from the plethora of crime series on TV.

"A lot of the crime solving shows are about catching the guy after the crime," Livingston explains. "In this one, most of the situations are happening in present time, so there's a little bit of that racing-against-the-clock element."

He also says, "It's less about people solving crimes. It's more about listening to people who are having a REALLY bad day."

If only Flannery and Lehman listened more to each other. His character tends to act instinctively. Her character is prone to analysis.

"There's banter. A lot of this show is about banter," Livingston grins.

DeWitt quickly interjects. "It's interesting playing two people who are so great about getting inside people's heads, but then when they want to get inside each other's heads, it's completely dismal. A whole different ball game."

Instant rapportThe shoot-out scene completed, the actors are talking in a makeup trailer. They chat amiably as they recall the audition for their on-screen partnership, where they immediately sensed a rapport that would work for the couple's push-pull relationship.

Livingston: "The first time I read through it. It just kind of jumped. It was the stairwell scene ...

DeWitt: "When I come in the next day to work and he doesn't talk to me. I want to get inside his brain, you know, and he won't let me. He's like Fort Knox. And I say ‘I just want to know what you are thinking, right now!' That was the scene, right?"

Livingston: "Yes, that's right.

DeWitt: "Yeah, Yeah. It was fun. Sometimes you just luck out."

OK, we had to ask. Has either actor ever mixed work and romance?

DeWitt tosses the ball: "I know Ron wants to field that question."

Livingston ducks: "None that I would care to admit to."

So which one is best with a gun?

DeWitt: "He is! Definitely. I would love to try to own that, but ...

Livingston: "In a few weeks you'll be fine ...

DeWitt: "We went to the shooting range once right before we started filming. It wasn't enough. It was fun, but a little scary."

But both actors believe that today's audiences, accustomed to reality shows and news footage, don't expect artificially crafted perfection.

"As audiences get used to seeing shows like ‘Cops,' we realize they get a visual language for what this stuff looks like. We have to match that, rather than match ‘Adam 12.'" says Livingston.

"It's amazing how much that seeps in," says DeWitt, who has guest-starred in several episodes of "Rescue Me" and played a supporting role in "Cinderella Man."

"Just this morning," she recalls, "when they were showing me the specific firing for the gun, I said, ‘I couldn't sleep last night, so at three in the morning I was watching ‘Cops' and there was a guy firing with one hand.' And they said, ‘Well, let's do that!' You know they become your go-to-guys, those reality shows."