‘Shades of Blue’ Scene Stealer Gino Anthony Pesi on Life in Pittsburgh, Early Roles and Playing a Good Guy

Shades of Blue - Anthony Gino Pesi
Maarten de Boer/NBC Universal

He Plays
Assistant DA James Nava, a fairy-tale prince stuck in a nightmarish tale of NYPD misconduct. Need a hot cup o’ tea or a sturdy shoulder to lean on? Nava’s your man. And he provides a much-needed happy place—plus plenty of sexual healing—for tightly wound dirty cop Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez). “Nava is by-the-book when it comes to crime, and Harlee writes her own book,” Pesi says. “He knows she paints outside the lines—he just doesn’t know how far outside.” Nava will get some scary clarity on that in this week’s episode when he becomes the target of a Mafia kingpin seeking revenge on Harlee.

Where You’ve Seen Him Before
The Pittsburgh-born heartthrob came to Hollywood fresh out of college and spent seven years juggling bartending gigs with unimpressive bit parts (Bad Guy No. 1 on Chuck) until he landed his first big movie role as alien fighter Nick Stavrou in 2011’s Battle: Los Angeles. Soon after, he was cast as doomed warlock Maddox on The Vampire Diaries. But even then his family wasn’t too sure about this acting thing. Recalls Pesi, “They kept saying, ‘Are you really sure you wanna stick with this? When are you moving home?’” Not anytime soon.

Why We Love Him
It ain’t easy being the good guy in a sea of delicious baddies, but nobody steals Pesi’s light. And he looks damn fine in a three-piece suit. “Gino projects strength, integrity and optimism,” says showrunner Jack Orman. “His character personifies hope for Harlee in a world of corruption.” But Shades is no happily-ever-after kind of show. “Nava has a lot to figure out,” Pesi says. “Will he allow himself to be drawn into the more sordid aspects of Harlee’s life? Can he look the other way? Does he join in the corruption, or will he throw her under the bus? Those questions will haunt him all season.”

Shades of Blue, Sundays, 10/9c, NBC