‘Prodigal Son’ star Frank Harts on JT’s Challenge: ‘It’s a Serious Rock & a Hard Place’
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 2, Episode 2 of Prodigal Son, “Speak of the Devil.”]
Who can Detective JT Tarmel (Frank Harts) trust to have his back in the NYPD?
That’s the question at the beginning of Prodigal Son Season 2. First, the cops who should have been his backup turn on him — one pins him to the side of a building with an arm against his throat — then refuse to send additional units while he and the rest of Major Crimes were in the field.
Here, Harts discusses tackling this storyline for JT.
Was there anything specifically you wanted included when you tackled systemic racism with JT?
Frank Harts: After George Floyd was murdered, I wanted to set up a Zoom with [showrunners] Chris [Fedak] and Sam [Sklaver] because I found myself losing a lot of sleep at night knowing I was about to go back as a Black man and continue to play a cop on television in this post-Floyd, post-Taylor, and all the rest world. I knew we weren’t going to be able to solve racism in one phone call, but at least we could start the conversation and figure out what was next. Chris and Sam were so very open to hearing all my thoughts and prayers. What you see in 201 and 202 resulted from those conversations.
This is probably the biggest challenge JT has faced so far. Is he reconsidering making a statement after not receiving backup?
It’s definitely an ongoing situation for JT. You’re right, this is the hardest thing he’s ever had to deal with. Over many tours in the military, growing up in the streets of New York, almost being shot [and] blown up, he has never had to deal with a fellow officer, another person who bleeds blue just like he does, doing this to him and letting JT’s Black skin in the way.
Another conversation I had over the summer with Chris and Sam was how when we approach this I didn’t want it to be a one-off episode tied up in some neat little bow, like “brush your shoulders off, racism solved, now we can move on.” It was about having the conversation onscreen for people to experience and along that journey, moving towards justice but not being exactly sure how it was going to end up. For JT, he still isn’t sure whether or not he’s going to bring that complaint. He’s got a son on the way. He’s got a family to think about. He doesn’t want to lose his job. At the same time, he does want to speak truth to power. It’s a serious rock and a hard place.
Because with the NYPD, it’s a betrayal. He has the team on his side, but he doesn’t really know if there’s anyone else.
Exactly. Even though we’re all brown-skinned individuals — it’s one of the things that excited me about doing the show to begin with, the diversity in the police force — in the end, we’re all cops, and so when something like this happens, you don’t know what people’s beliefs, political or anything else, are. All you know is we all wear the badge.
He’s definitely comforted to find out his NYPD family — Dani (Aurora Perrineau) and Gil (Lou Diamond Phillips) and even Bright (Tom Payne) — is on his side and with him to the bitter end no matter what happens. We’ll have the opportunity to see that unfold throughout the season. JT definitely has not given up. He’s just trying to figure out how to navigate this in the most diplomatic fashion to keep himself sane and ready for fatherhood.
What kind of father is JT going to be?
He’s going to be the kind of guy who teaches his son the realities of the world and the rules of the road but at the same time lets him learn to appreciate his own signature and what he has to offer.
JT was acting head of major crimes while Gil was recovering. Was that giving JT a taste of what he wanted to see in his future career-wise?
Absolutely. JT is a go-getter, always has been. He was more than able and excited to take over this position while at the same time feeling a deep hole with the absence of his dear friend and mentor Gil and praying for him to come back at every turn. To me, it was exciting to see the young Black man take on this responsibility but at the same time not being comfortable with the lights and the cameras. He’s all about doing the job.
It’s going to be tough. He was always a skeptic to begin with. He’s grown to really appreciate what Bright has to offer and respect him more as a person. He would really be deeply wounded by that. It’s tricky because he’s such a loyal dude. I can’t tell if JT will end up helping him with the situation or shunning him. My guess is somehow he’ll try to help in the most just way he can find, even though it’s going to hurt him deeply to see Bright has done this thing that is so terrible. But at the same time, understanding family and how deeply that runs, especially having a kid on the way that he would do anything for, he would die for.
Martin (Michael Sheen) is planning to escape Claremont. Might we get some JT and Martin scenes?
From your mouth to God’s ears. That would be television fireworks. Chris and Sam said they want to have all the characters in scenes together. It will happen at some point and I cannot wait until it does because we are going to have a rip-roaring time. I get excited just thinking about it. We have such great actors on this show. That’s part of the fun. It’s the reason you go through the slog of four long years of training at a place like Juilliard so you can come out and work with actors who take their job seriously. Michael is one of those people, and so am I.
Prodigal Son, Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox