Natasha Lyonne and Benjamin Bratt star in "Poker Face." Photo courtesy of Peacock
NEW YORK, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Law & Order and Private Practice alum Benjamin Bratt says his latest character is a wealthy casino owner's henchman tasked with hunting a troublesome former employee across the United States in the new Peacock mystery-dramedy, Poker Face.
Premiering Thursday, the Columbo and Murder She Wrote-style show was created by Knives Out filmmaker Rian Johnson. It focuses on Charlie (Natasha Lyonne), an affable drifter with a preternatural gift for detecting when people are lying.
Bratt's character, Cliff Legrand, is the head of security for the Frost Casino. He is ordered to kill Charlie after she tries to ruin the gambling parlor's owners, who had her best friend murdered after she learned a terrible secret about one of their high-rolling guests.
"The one-line description that Rian gives to [Cliff] in the pilot that kind of told me all that I need to know in terms of how to play the guy is that he is ex-military, well-muscled in his suit. I remember that description very clearly and, from that, as an actor, it was my job to extrapolate a whole backstory," Bratt told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
"For me, it's a guy who, as an ex-soldier, dutifully acknowledges a chain of command, is deeply loyal to his employer and recognizes that, no matter what he is asked to do, he needs to accomplish the task and what we come quickly to learn within the pilot is that means killing somebody."
Cliff is a very dangerous person, he emphasized.
"He is the personification of 'menace.' That's an idea that I wanted to work with, just in terms of the way he lurks and lingers in the background over people's shoulders," the 59-year-old actor added.
"There is something very shark-like about him, with an efficiency of movement."
Each of the show's 10 episodes takes Charlie to a new location in which she reluctantly solves a mystery, while trying to stay one step ahead of Cliff by traveling in an old car and not using her credit cards or cell phone.
"By the end of the pilot, Charlie Cale, having upset the owner of the casino and Cliff, ends up on the run. That, in a way, becomes a ticking clock for the show," Bratt said.
"Cliff will be chasing her throughout the season. Every week, wherever she ends up landing, she'll have a new job, there will be a new set of people she will be interacting with.
"Invariably, somebody always ends up dead, and she will be using her innate, incredibly impressive power -- the ability to be able to tell when someone is lying -- to help solve how and why that person was killed."
Bratt quoted Johnson as describing the show, which blends comedy and drama, as a "Howcatchem?" as opposed to a "Whodunnit?" since viewers know who the killer and victim are right from the start.
"The fun is going to be watching as Charlie catches that person and presses them for the truth and watching them squirm as they try to wriggle out of it," the actor noted.
"Rian's trademark in shining a light on this genre is to point out the absurd, sometimes violent behavior of human beings and how oftentimes that can lead shockingly to humor."
Bratt joked that Lyonne wouldn't want him to say nice things about her, but added how inspired he was by her, anyway.
"She's an altogether impressive person," he said, recalling how he and the Orange is the New Black and Russian Doll star became "fast friends" when they started filming Poker Face.
"This was a part that was custom-tailored for her, for her personality, for her manner of speaking, for her abilities as an actor," he said.
"She's also an accomplished creator of content herself. She co-created, produced and often directed for Russian Doll. She brings to the table an immense skill set. She is one not to be toyed with. She's a professional."
Bratt also enjoyed the collaborative atmosphere Johnson fostered during the production.
"When you are on the set with Rian, one of the easiest, nicest guys in the business, you recognize you have a place of comfort and ease to explore these characters and have a good time doing it. That's a pretty ideal day at work if you ask me."
The stellar guest cast for this season of Poker Face includes Brandon Michael Hall, Chelsea Frei, Cherry Jones, Chloë Sevigny, Clea DuVall, Ellen Barkin, Hong Chau, Jameela Jamil, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Judith Light, Leslie Silva, Lil Rel Howery, Luis Guzmán, Nick Nolte, Reed Birney, Rhea Perlman, Ron Perlman, Rowan Blanchard, S. Epatha Merkerson and Tim Blake Nelson.
Unfortunately, Cliff doesn't get to share the screen with many of the characters they play, with the exception of Adrien Brody, who portrays his boss in the pilot episode.
"One of the great joys for a viewer watching it is just chockablock filled with incredibly talented, very recognizable actors," Bratt said.
"I didn't get the opportunity to work with that many because my character's singular pursuit as a lone wolf is to find that lead, track her down and bring her back. I will probably enjoy, as much as you and the audience will, watching who she gets to interact with."