'NYPD Blue': Familiar beat for 'cop actor' Franz

October 05, 1993|By Gail Shister | Gail Shister,Knight-Ridder News Service

Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop. Cop.

"Producers take one look at my face and think 'cop,' " says Dennis Franz of ABC's "NYPD Blue," whose Detective Andy Sipowicz is his 28th police role.

Mr. Franz, 48, a burly guy with the look of an unmade bed, knows it's more than just his mug. "Evidently, it's also my attitude and body language -- an always-suspicious, over-the-shoulder way I seem to have about me, when I'm asked to be that way," he said recently in Los Angeles.

Sipowicz, a down-on-his-luck detective with a drinking problem, is Mr. Franz's first cop since the memorable Detective Norman Buntz on Steven Bochco's "Hill Street Blues." After "Hill Street" and its "Beverly Hills Buntz" spinoff, Mr. Franz was hoping to break out of that mold, "maybe play the nice guy next door."

Instead, "I spent a year and a half waiting for those knocks on the door and they never came." Eventually, one did. It was from his old pal Mr. Bochco, who cast him in the pilot of his ABC series, "Civil Wars," as a guy who thought he was Elvis. (Buntz as The King -- what a concept!)

"I tried to talk him out of it," Mr. Franz recalls. "I said I couldn't pull it off. I was walking around my house for an hour and a half, trying to figure out how to be Elvis Presley. My household walked in on me singing 'My Way' many times, and they had to close the doors."

Mr. Franz's police debut was in a 1977 Chicago stage play called, uh, "Cops," with Joe Mantegna. After that, the die was cast. His characters often had to bite the bullet, including his first "Hill Street" role, bad cop Lieutenant Benedetto.

"I've been killed on 'Hunter,' 'T.J. Hooker,' twice on 'Riptide,'" he says. "In my first series ("Chicago Story"), I spent half of the first episode in a hospital bed after being shot." Ditto for Sipowicz in the "NYPD" pilot.

Although Buntz, the king of polyester, is different from his new role, Mr. Franz says it was hard fighting his natural Buntzisms: "I had to stop myself from grabbing my tie, adjusting my clothes, chewing gum."

As characters, he says, Buntz "was a good cop who never strayed from that. Sipowicz is a good cop who has gone bad. Buntz never really knew what was on his mind. Sipowicz wears his emotions on his sleeve. We're catching Sipowicz at the lowest point of his life. We never saw Buntz at that point."

In real life, Mr. Franz, a father of two teen-age daughters, is totally different from his screen image.

"Viewers would be surprised that I'm so much less reactionary than the characters I play," he says. "The characters I play are pretty high-strung and ready to snap. I'm pretty calm, almost to the point of being boring."

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