After over two decades as an action film star, Steven Seagal now has his first scripted television show, True Justice, which debuts tonight, at 9 p.m., on the Reelz Channel. Still, it’s not much of a departure for him. His character, Elijah Kane, leads a special investigative police team in Seattle. Based on the first two episodes, Kane is a tough, no-nonsense cop, and, of course, quite the ass-kicker.
In addition to acting, the 59-year-old Seagal is also a 7th degree black belt in Aikido, a blues guitarist, a reserve deputy sheriff, and a sage of sorts to UFC stars Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida. Seagal called in from his Vancouver set to briefly chat about True Justice, his new album, and big business’ chokehold on the nation’s environmental policy—really!
Interview by Thomas Golianopoulos (@golianopoulos)
Why do a television show at this point in your career?
We tried to set up a situation where I could test the waters of television to see if I could make the most realistic TV show that’s ever been made. I’ve been a cop for 20-some-odd years and one of the original writers was a cop for twenty some-odd years. It was something that I thought was an interesting challenge and that’s sort of the way I walked in the door on this one.
These days, it seems like there is more potential for storytelling and creativity on television than in feature films. Did that influence the move?
Absolutely. I feel like nowadays, television is really changing. You can reach more people, tell a greater story, and get a lot more creative control.
One of the more interesting things about True Justice is that you’re leading an ensemble. Your characters are usually lone wolves.
That seems to be the formula that everybody loves. I can’t do a television show by myself. They want young pretty girls and young handsome guys and they want a team that can go out there and do interesting things together. That’s just the smart way to write the show.
Did you have any influences when writing the show?
My life and my own police experiences. It’s not like I watched Serpico one day and was like, ‘I want to write a movie like that.’ I write from experiences in my life.
What is your writing process like?
I’m not somebody who is like, "Here’s where I am when I start writing." I write anywhere. When the inspiration comes to me, I write.
Is there any difference between writing a television series and writing a song?
I think there are a lot of differences. It’s all the creative nectar flowing from the divine if you believe in that.
How far along are you with your next album?
I really want to finish my album. I just haven’t had time yet. It’s really frustrating for me.
Will it be blues-based like the first two?
Well, I’ll always stay blues-based. This album is quite different in the sense that I took a piece of history in the deep south, which is called Hill Country—music that only existed for probably existed for 20, 30 years in time. I brought in some great bluegrass legends and some of the modern blues legends and had this kind of combination of music to create this Hill Country mixed with blues, which has almost never been done before.
“Not For Sale” was one of your best records. Can you explain the lyric, “Man’s law will make the righteous powerless”?
Really, that’s a song about lawyers. There’s a little bit of sarcasm there. What it means is that man’s law, which are the lawyers, takes the greatest denomination of human dignity and human honor and human splendor and tries to obliterate it through skullduggery and truth manipulation of all that is right and good.
Let’s talk about some of your old films. Even though On Deadly Ground wasn’t your biggest box office hit, it seems like the theme of that movie is still relevant today. How discouraged are you by the continued power of oil companies?
You have to understand that what Al Gore did, he got a Nobel Peace Prize and Academy Award for… On Deadly Ground was exactly the same movie, 17 years earlier. My movie and the speech that I gave at the end of that movie will stand up any time, any place against his movie or any other environmental movie.
There were rumors that the studio made you trim that speech at the end of On Deadly Ground?
The truth is now that I am now not a family member of Warner Bros. any more; the truth is that I made a pure environmental movie. They saw it and they said, "Yeah, it’s really a great environmental piece. Now we want you to put in twelve more shootings and five more fight scenes and if you don’t do that then we’ll take the movie over." I was directing it. They would have put a new director on it. I didn’t want that so I did what they asked.
It seemed like a very personal work.
That and Fire Down Below were both very telling about the environment.
What will it take for this country’s environmental policy to change?
If there were ever a way that we the people could go back to being able to electorally wanted to represent us, we could have a whole new world because a lot of the pollution that we have to this day—destroying our environment is just one of them—is due to the fact that big business is controlling most of our elections and most of our ability to say who we want.
You’ve also worked with some MMA stars. Did you really teach Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida those kicked they used to knock out recent opponents?
That is true. They are great fighters, number one world champions, but they asked me to teach them because they know I know stuff that they don’t know. I showed them that stuff and they knocked guys out… Yeah.
Are you interested in doing more coaching?
I still do the martial arts and I still teach the martial arts.
What is your training like these days?
We’re going to have to wrap this up pretty soon because they are going to call me [onto set] but it’s running on the treadmill, stretching and doing martial arts.
You’re probably the biggest action star that didn’t appear in The Expendables. Why weren’t you in that one, or this summer’s sequel?
As you know, they all asked me to do that movie. As you know, I turned it down. I won’t go into detail. I turned it down because I am a very ethical person and I don’t want to reward bad behavior and I don’t want to be around people who are just not of like mind with me.