Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson doesn't just have difficult murders to solve. She also has difficult men to salve.
The steel magnolia cop played by Kyra Sedgwick on the popular TNT series "The Closer" is surrounded by a posse of male LAPD colleagues who team with her on high-profile homicides. But they've also had some attitude about working for a woman, especially a Southern newcomer such as Johnson.
"I think if she has any problem with men in the workplace it is that they let their egos get in the way, and their pride, and sometimes they act out of that, rather than out of righteousness and justice," says Sedgwick.
But through Johnson's confident yet caring command, her crusty cadre is gradually coming around with a grudging respect for her abilities; in some cases, she actually manages to reshape their basic attitudes.
Johnson's Priority Homicide Squad includes Detective Andy Flynn (Tony Denison), Cmdr. Taylor (Robert Gossett), Detective Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey), Sgt. David Gabriel (Corey Reynolds), Lt. Mike Tao (Michael Paul Chan) and Detective Julio Sanchez (Raymond Cruz). The only other woman on the team is Detective Irene Daniels (Gina Ravera).
"We are like planets, which revolve around her," says J.K. Simmons, who plays Assistant Police Chief Will Pope, Johnson's boss but also her one-time lover.
Johnson's new love interest is FBI agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) who has recently moved in with her and occasionally works on crimes she's investigating.
No matter how their characters may feel about Johnson, the actors who portray these men have no doubts about the satisfaction of working with Sedgwick, who's vying for an Emmy later this month for her "Closer" performance.
Sedgwick's depiction of Johnson — her bright red lips, flowing Southern-belle hair and unsophisticated dress offering a perplexing contrast to her steel-trap mind and cunning interrogation — has made "The Closer" the top-rated drama on basic cable.
"It's not only easier to do, it sometimes wiser to go with your personality because in series television you have to do it every day for weeks, months," says Gossett, a veteran stage performer with numerous film and TV credits. "But Kyra has taken the complete opposite approach. This is truly a character she has created out of her artistic sensibility. It's wonderful to see it."
Because Sedgwick — who's been married to Kevin Bacon nearly 18 years — has taken creative risks with Johnson's persona, Gossett says that "feeds throughout the cast, so we all want to come with our A game."
Gossett's Cmdr. Taylor, a veteran "who really likes being a cop," was bumped from the job Johnson now holds.
"There's certain antagonism to say the least," Gossett says of Taylor's relationship with Johnson. "But that's now tempered by a grudging respect for Brenda, because, as much as he hates to admit it, she does bring the suspect to the bar of justice."
Denison says his Detective Flynn — "basically one of those guys who walks around opening doors with his head" — also is changing his view of Johnson because she does "her job so damn well."
"Whether or not Brenda is my friend or not, at least I know where I stand with her and I know what she's capable of doing, and more importantly what she's not willing to do," says the actor, another veteran of stage and TV.
Reynolds — who starred in "Hairspray" on Broadway before being cast as Gabriel, the youngest of Johnson's detectives _ says he believes the show is an interesting depiction of both diversity and equality in the workplace.
Chatting between scenes at the Raleigh Studios, Reynolds says that the politically astute Gabriel was quick to recognize Johnson "knows what she's doing ... and that created instant respect, so he was probably the first one to come to her side.
"I think the resistance from the other characters probably comes from two things — bringing someone in from outside rather than promoting from within the ranks ... and being a woman new to L.A., from the South, with that accent and the way she handles things and changes everyone's methods."
So what's the deal with Brenda's new love affair with Fritz, the FBI guy?
Tenney, the star of several short-lived crime series, including "Equal Justice," says his character's relationship with Johnson reflects the overarching theme of the series' second season — "partnership in all its permutations."
"Though they are in the same line of work, he's much more of a pragmatist and she's much more of an idealist, and yet as far as love goes, I think he's much more able to embrace love ... she has more layers over her heart than Fritz does," says Tenney.
Tenney says having a woman as the lead affects the tone of the crime drama, making it more character-driven than action-oriented, but basically, "I just look at Kyra as being a terrific actress in a terrific role, and I think everybody understands how they fit into this larger picture."