Time to hit the local drug store and pick up a bottle of your fave hair-hardening product. Dudes, get out your denim, your leather. Dudesses, make sure you look prettier than your dudes. Time to rock it old-school hair-metal style in Wicked City.
Jeremy Sisto stars in the new ABC show, plopping him smack in the middle of the infamous Sunset Strip in the 1980s as a detective investigating a serial-killing charmer who ravages the pool of female youth ever present in the historic rock clubs of the era. Of course, the world famous Whisky-a-Go-Go is the backdrop of the premiere episode, shown here at the height of its popularity, with the likes of Billy Idol and Mickey Ratt gracing the stage. If you blink, you may miss a rock star cameo.
Sisto, who’s no stranger to television success with roles in Law & Order, The U.S. version of The Returned, Suburgatory, and Six Feet Under, took some time to chat with Rotten Tomatoes about the show, his fondness for hair metal, and how his role of Detective Jack Roth compares to other fan favorites.
Kerr Lordygan for Rotten Tomatoes: I’m a big metal-head from the 1980s myself, which is part of what initially draws me to the magic of Wicked City. Were you into that music scene?
Jeremy Sisto: Yeah, man. I’ve actually been listening to Hair Nation on Sirius recently. And I kinda thought, “Oh, it was before my time,” but not really. I mean, I was into rock in high school and, you know, Poison comes up, and Tesla, and Ugly Kid Joe. And these were all songs that I danced to. [Bands] like Ratt were a little before me, I think — but there’s Bon Jovi and that “Blaze of Glory” stuff. So I definitely hit the tail end of it. There’s a real sweet spot in my heart for good guitar solos.
Rotten Tomatoes: Me too, man. And I’m loving how there are all these band-doubles playing at the Whisky — in Wicked City‘s version of the Whisky anyway — like Mickey Ratt, later known as Ratt.
Sisto: Yeah, and then we have some of the real people from back in the day that, if you did live in that time, you’ll recognize.
Rotten Tomatoes: I saw Stephen Pearcy as the bouncer.
Sisto: Yeah, that’s right.
Rotten Tomatoes: Are there more surprises like that coming?
Sisto: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. we’ve got some good ones.
Rotten Tomatoes: That’s a trip. And then the other side of this coin is that the show’s about a serial killer investigation. It’s a really dark thing happening in this hair metal environment.
Sisto: So this particular case is based more on the time. It was the serial killer capital of the world at the time. There was a lot — there was the reign of the Hillside Strangler and the Night Stalker. There was a slew of them. So the idea of the show is that these sick people came to Hollywood to kinda make a name for themselves, just like so many other people throughout the world came to Hollywood for the same reasons — just with not quite as dark intentions. And it’s really all kind of mixed up in the murders — it’s all mixed up in what this world is. It’s so intent on making superficial aspects the most important things in life: how you look and who you know, what drugs you’re on. You know, you’re living the dream, but the dream is actually a little darker. You talk to anyone who lived through those 1980s times, and it’s not like, “Oh, it’s was an amazing time.” Its like, “Yeah, it was a wild time. I can’t believe the things I did.” There is an underbelly of something more wicked, and I think that’s what the show is.
Rotten Tomatoes: We all saw Decline of Western Civilization Part Two: The Metal Years. We all saw the kind of mayhem that was going on. Did you learn anything fascinating or disturbing while you were researching or working on this role?
Sisto: I think as a young actor, like many young actors, you get obsessed with serial killers when you’re first starting out as an actor. Probably because those are the brains that are the furthest gone and —
Rotten Tomatoes: Or that’s our next stop as actors.
Sisto: (Laughing) Exactly, exactly. And it’s just like, all strippers are in school for psychology — all actors are obsessed with serial killers. I didn’t have to pick up any new books and, to be honest, I have a couple of small kids, so I’m not trying to read a bunch of stuff about serial killers right now. That’s the show. My character thinks serial killers should not be out there. And they mess up his understanding of the world, and yet he has his own dark side that the show goes into. But his connection to serial killers isn’t so much that he wants to be a serial killer himself. Somebody who actually is out there killing people [and] it screws up our notion of humanity and what to expect in the world. So, I think anyone who is aware there is that kind of evil in the world — so bad, that it’s a part of their daily life — it can definitely be traumatic, but it also is addictive. You talk to any homicide detectives that have been on these cases; when they retire, they miss it more than anything in the whole world.
Rotten Tomatoes: Is it difficult to be in that world?
Sisto: Well, I just pretend to [laughing]. So that’s the key. My brother’s a cop. I go on drive-alongs with him. The people doing the real thing are the ones it’s difficult to live in. We’re portraying them. And this is a fun show. Not that we don’t go into some really cool character stuff, and I think people will have a notion and ideas about human [nature]. I think it’ll bring up all the cool things that great TV shows do, but at the same time we want you to have a good time for the hour. Because we think in this show, it’s entertainment. We want to get people excited and thrilled and I think as the season continues, it gets pretty amazing, pretty intense. So I’m really excited for people to check it out.
Rotten Tomatoes: I definitely got drawn in by this first episode. I need to know what happens next.
Sisto: Yeah, the second one is awesome.
Sisto: Well in Law & Order, I think, if you’re into crime sort of drama, then obviously we have that. What’s fun about this show [is the] technology… This is 1982. So obviously, no cellphones. We have beepers. I think we just have the first computer: this big hulking beast that’s super slow. So we’re really having to do police work that is very different than today. We don’t have any DNA stuff. And it’s all very grassroots kind of police work. So I think that’s really fun to watch. But then I think the fans of Six Feet Under might be interested in some of the layers that the writers are writing for the characters. I have a teenage daughter again, so maybe Suburgatory fans will want to tune in to see what my other teenage daughter relationship is like. I don’t know. I’m not sure how I’m gonna pull Clueless fans in. They were young — well, it is Hollywood — a different side of Hollywood–
Rotten Tomatoes: 1980s, though —
Sisto: Cher would’ve been maybe 5 or 6, I think. 1982? No, she was probably born right around then.
Rotten Tomatoes: So we can call it a prequel to Clueless.
Sisto: [Laughing]It’s a prequel to Clueless that’s exactly right.
Rotten Tomatoes: And it is such a great, all-star cast. How did you get involved?
Sisto: They had shot a pilot and they decided to go a different way with my role and another role. You know, they do that sometimes. I don’t understand it all that much, but in this situation, I was the beneficiary of the recasting. So I sat down with them — and honestly I wasn’t interested in doing a crime procedural thing again where every week there’s a new case. Obviously, it’d be great — I’d be lucky to do that again if that happens. But at the time, I was trying to not do that as much just because it’s not really my taste. I like things to go on for longer — I like storylines to continue and change in a much bigger way. They pitched me what they wanted to do with the character, and I said yes and we started our journey. And the cast was a real deciding factor. I’ve known Erika [Christensen] a long time. She’s a killer actress — no pun intended — and everyone brings some great stuff to the show.