NEW ORLEANS — Muscular and tanned, actor Shemar Moore is dressed in all black — baseball cap to boots — augmented by silver chains, including two draped down each side of his trousers.
He’s just flown in to New Orleans to screen the first episode of his new CBS series, “S.W.A.T.,” at the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists. The show is a reinvention of the 1970s television series and 2003 film, centered on a Special Weapons and Tactics team, the last-resort specialized unit of local police departments.
“We’ve got the same name and we’ve got the theme song: Na-na-naaa, na-na-naaa, na-na-naaa, na-na-naaa, na-na-NA-na,” Moore says, singing the dramatic melody familiar to many.
“But it’s the Trump years. It’s not about Trump. It’s not about politics. But we’re going to surprise you, because we’re talking about what’s going on in real life: Black Lives Matter, terrorism issues, race issues, you know, blue vs. civilians. We want to bring some humanity to what’s going on,” Moore says, before bringing up the breaking news of that day — violence sparked by a rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis that left a counterprotester dead and 19 injured.
“Look at what’s happening in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s a big standoff. Just in L.A. this week while we were working, there were three different standoffs [with] S.W.A.T.,” the actor says.
“Can we bridge the gap? Can we get people to exhale a little bit? Can we create a conversation? Can we create a little more attempt at unity?” he asks. “We’re all human, and I don’t care what color we are, I don’t care what gender we are. I don’t care about none of that. Let’s just try to have a little more patience with one another. With ‘S.W.A.T.’ hopefully, we’ll plant those seeds of compassion.”
The show, premiering Nov. 2, is billed as a “realistic and sensitive look at the brave men and women” of the L.A.P.D. Metro S.W.A.T. team. The one-hour series follows ex-Marine Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Moore) as he is promoted to leader of his own S.W.A.T. team following the accidental shooting of an innocent teenager by a S.W.A.T. officer. With the city on edge, the lifelong resident of South L.A. finds himself torn between his colleagues and his civilian neighbors, and has to find a way to bridge those worlds and bring a deadly crew of anarchists to justice before the city implodes.
“We have a good cast. Our executive producer is Shawn Ryan, who produced ‘The Shield,’ ‘The Unit.’ He’s done all kinds of amazing things. Also, Justin Lin, of ‘Fast and Furious’ and others. … It’s not to say that it’s never been done. I mean, ‘Hill Street Blues’ was a great show, ‘The Unit,’ ‘The Shield,’ ’24’ with Kiefer Sutherland. There’s been some very great shows. But this one showcases diversity: Diversity in storytelling. Diversity in the faces you see on the screen. And diversity in the content of the stories that we’re telling.”
The 47-year-old former fashion model stops traffic — female foot traffic, that is — as he makes his way to a ballroom at the convention. And as Moore chats with several reporters, it’s clear that the actor, who got his start on soap operas (he played Malcolm Winters on “The Young and the Restless” from 1994-2005) and made a name for himself as Investigator Derek Morgan on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” (coming on in 2005, and exiting after 11 seasons), is thrilled to finally land a lead role in a series.
“I’ve made the most out of what’s been available to me for 24 years. … I’m very proud of Derek Morgan and the evolution of that character on ‘Criminal Minds’ — but you know, I treat my acting career like school. ‘Young and the Restless’ reminds me of high school. I had to find my way. I had to earn my chops. And then I was ready to graduate, ready for the next step, whatever that would be. ‘Criminal Minds’ was college, and now ‘S.W.A.T.’ is grad school,” Moore says.
“And then the movie career. I want to be up there with Denzel, Will Smith, Jamie Foxx, you know, Jeremy Renner, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, all those. So I’m finding my way. … I’m excited to be the leader. But I also know that it’s bigger than me, and I’m humble enough to know that I can’t do it by myself,” he says.
“You’re gonna have a good time with ‘S.W.A.T.’ 2017, understanding who these men and women in blue are. Some are good. Some are bad. But that’s true for us as civilians, too. Some are good. Some are bad. We’re not hitting you over the head with the message. … We’re not going to fix nothing, but we’re going to create a conversation. We’re going to get you to think outside the box.”
Oh, and don’t compare him to previous actors who played Hondo.
“The last person to play Daniel ‘Hondo’ Harrelson was Sam Jackson in the movie. I’m not trying to touch Sam Jackson,” he says, laughing. “When you watch this show, all I want you to do when you finish watching ‘S.W.A.T.’ — I’d love for you to tell me how great I am as an actor. I’d love to hear that, and hopefully, I’ll hear that. But I just want one word from everybody: ‘Whoa!’ — O.K.? I wanna hear ‘Whoa!’ “