We sat down with Morris Chestnut and Cassandra Freeman during a round table discussion about their respective roles in the FBI in a new TV drama, The Enemy Within. The stakes are high in this series as Will Keaton (Morris Chestnut) and Jaquelyn Pettigrew (Cassandra Freeman) set out to capture a terrorist named Tal.
What was it like preparing for the show physically?
Morris Chestnut: “That was the tough part about this show. The schedules were so tough, we were working so much. For the most part, for all the stunts, I would just go [workout] right before we started filming that day. A couple of times they tried to schedule some rehearsal time for the stunts prior to shooting that episode but it just never worked out that way.”
Cassandra Freeman: “I don’t really believe in stunts [laughter]. I do all my own stunts. I listened to Tom Cruise when he says you should do your own stunts [laughter]. No, there’s an episode where I’m under the car and I’m trying to undo the thing or whatever and [I just said], look, I’m done [laughter]. I started thinking: what if the tire goes out? So I’ve never told this story. And it’s so funny, if you’ve seen the show, my character appears in the third episode. But that’s because the pilot episode, which I was originally in, but the first day of shooting, I showed up and I was seven months pregnant, first of all. And then they were saying, ‘don’t worry, you don’t have any crazy stunts. This is the craziest thing you’ll have to do. You’re just gonna walk down this hallway and turn into the elevator.’ So I’ve got the gun and the flashlight and I’m like thank God, oh yeah, this is simple. And literally, when I turned into that elevator, I broke all three bones in my ankle. I went down! So the two things that I remember is the director saying, ‘I’m sure you can just walk it off, maybe you just sprained it.’ And I just looked at my foot—I’ve never broken a bone in my body. And I just looked at it like I don’t know. Everyone said, ‘should we call the ambulance?’ And Morris said, ‘yea, we should call the ambulance [laughter].’ So yea, I had to sit out those first two episodes, I had to have surgery. So then there was a new character in the show that they had to invent to take my spot. But the producers were so wonderful, they checked on me constantly. But now that I think about it, this is Hollywood, they could have Hollywood-ed me. They could have sent me a check and said, ‘we’re good.’ But it’s a blessing that it all worked out.”
How do you feel about playing roles that are similar to one another? Have we seen all of your range of acting skills?
Morris Chestnut: “People ask that question in different ways. They always say, ‘do you mind being typecast?’ And so, my answer to that is, I always go back to when I was starting out because I think that a lot of times, we all kind of forget where we come from and where we were at a certain time in our lives and in our careers. And there was one time when I got an agent and said, I just want to get a job. You would take anything. And then all of a sudden, you get a job. So I don’t mind being typecast. Do I have other ranges? Yea, I do. Do I always get the opportunity to play that? Not necessarily, but I’m just blessed to still be here and to be able to enjoy and work with beautiful people both on the inside and out.”
What is pilot season like now with all the opportunities for black leads in a show?
Cassandra Freeman: “Last year’s pilot season was me and all my black girlfriends who kept bumping into each other. And we would say, ‘this is what it’s like to be white [laughter].’ All my friends would say, ‘oh, it’s been such a crazy pilot season,’ and we would think that it’s been like crickets over here. Like, maybe three auditions a month. Kerry Washington getting Scandal–everybody went out for Scandal. That was the thing. And now today it’s like everyday there’s three different Scandals, not Scandal, but something where they need a lead black woman. And it could be a Sci-Fi, Thriller. I’m so happy not to be apart of pilot season and have a break because it’s a full time job now. And instead of being like I don’t want to be this black mama crying over her dead son, instead it’s like every show is something very unique. We’ll see which ones get picked up.”
Do either of you have any future plans to direct or produce?
Morris Chestnut: “I do. I’m developing a few things now as a producer. There’s a movie set up with Paramount Players that I’m producing and starring in. Television is a little bit more challenging because it’s a writer’s medium. Truly the writers are truly the stars in TV. If you look at all of the huge shows, like Grey’s Anatomy by Shonda Rhimes who has written like a million shows. Brian Murphy and all his shows. So the writers normally break stars on television, so it’s a little bit more challenging, but I’m expanding.”
Is the goal to catch Tal or will the show evolve from that?
Morris Chestnut: “I will just say this. I think that the goal of every television show is to go on for multiple seasons, for the most part.”
Cassandra Freeman: “Who knows, but even in politics, The New York Times keeps selling papers because there’s still always another story to break. So right now it’s Tal, and who knows. You can just think about who used to be in the headlines forever and ever as the number one terrorist for America, right? And then they said we killed the head, and then two more heads popped up. So who knows how long Tal will keep going, but even if Tal disappears, I don’t think the whole world will be safe. Because there’s always more danger.”
What was your research process like for the show especially in developing an understanding of the tension between the FBI and the CIA? Did you feel like you needed to take a side in order to play your roles?
Cassandra Freeman: “We had real people on the show who actually have S.W.A.T. backgrounds and military backgrounds who really helped.”
Morris Chestnut: “So that is true, there is tension between both agencies and we have an FBI consultant, a guy who is actually in the FBI who was there during [filming] and we exchanged phone numbers and every thing. The writers do a ton of research before they write so if I have any questions about anything I just call him.”
Cassandra Freeman: “This episode hasn’t happened yet, it’s later. Where that kind of comes to play about [choosing sides between FBI and CIA]. One thing that really occurred to me is being in the FBI and the CIA is like being in the military. I don’t think I thought about the CIA like that. I thought of them as more desk people, desk workers, which many of them are but it’s much more like being in the military and so, if that’s true and you have what your goal is, I think it’s hard to even switch sides, however, I say that though after seeing the first three or four episodes, it made me think, oh our enemies are our enemies because we’ve done something to them, like no one in the show has shown up like, ‘I’m just angry at America,’ instead, the storyline digs beneath the surface and so many of these people have a vendetta.”
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