In a late September filming of an episode of the TV show “S.W.A.T.” actor Jay Harrington gave former NHL enforcer John Scott some easily relatable advice on how to get into character.
“He was like, ‘Just be like Brent Burns, dumb it down a little bit.’ I knew exactly what he was talking about, so I channeled my inner Burnzie and played stupid, so it worked out well,” Scott joked to ESPN.com via phone.
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The decision by Scott to play visiting hockey player Bobby Strock who injured a home team player in an earlier game and needed SWAT security detail on the road in Los Angeles made sense in many ways. It gave the retired enforcer, and 2016 NHL All-Star Game MVP, something to do with his time and provided enjoyment in retirement. The episode will air at 10 p.m. ET Thursday on CBS.
“It was weird because I never expected to do a TV show or let alone get as big a part as I got in the show, so it was just another random thing that happened in my life,” Scott said.
It was also another entry point for Scott into Hollywood. In 2016, Scott’s story, about how he went from a journeyman enforcer to an NHL All-Star Game MVP thanks to a viral fan vote, was purchased by Mandalay Sports Media, and author Mitch Albom was tasked with writing the script.
The 35-year-old Scott doesn’t see himself as having “gone Hollywood,” but instead looks at these opportunities as fun experiences brought forth by his All-Star experience.
“It’s still so surreal what happened and what is continuing to happen. I feel like I’m just a normal guy, and then all this stuff happens and like, ‘Man, that’s pretty stinkin’ cool,'” Scott said.
We talked with Scott, “S.W.A.T.” executive producer Shawn Ryan, a former recreational hockey player, and Harrington, a big Boston Bruins fan and current recreational player who acts as David “Deacon” Kay on the show, about Scott’s role in the episode, hockey culture in Hollywood and whether this episode is indeed art imitating life.
ESPN.com: Shawn, so how did John end up getting cast for the part?
Ryan: “Well, I’m a big hockey fan, and we had crafted this story for a while, and I also have a producer on the show, Paul Bernard, who is a big hockey fan and knows a lot of ex-players and current players, and we started having conversations. Initially my instinct was to find a current player, but what we realized was the filming of this episode spanned across training camp, so all the current players were unavailable for us as a result.
I was really looking for some authenticity in this role. We wanted this character out on skates, and people can tell if somebody really knows what they’re doing versus faking it. I also wanted some real physicality to the role. This is a character who in our story has angered the entire city of Los Angeles with injuring one of their favorite players, and John was someone my producer, Paul Bernard, had mentioned. I was certainly aware of John because of the All-Star Game.
Jay, what was the overall reaction to John getting cast? Being someone who plays locally and is a big hockey and Boston Bruins fan, I assume you knew his story well.
Harrington: I talked to [Toronto Marlies forward] Rich [Clune] about players, and he had forwarded me some names like Colton Orr and Derek Armstrong. Somebody knew John, and his story is just so great, so John put himself on tape and producers looked over and said, “That’s not bad.” And I knew who he was. I was very familiar with him with his story recently, but also as a Bruins fan with wherever he played.
John, was there anyone on set who was just giddy you were there and asked a bunch of questions about your career? Did you have questions for anyone on set? A commonly stated phrase is that actors want to be athletes and athletes want to be actors.
Scott: Jay Harrington, he grew up in Boston, so he played high school hockey in Boston, and he was peppering me with questions the whole time I was there. I love talking about hockey, and I can talk about it all day to anybody. I would pepper them with questions about acting, like, “Who have you worked with? What sets have you been on?” So it was kind of cool to go back and forth and pick apart each other’s professions a little bit. It was neat.
John, your character in the show needs security detail. Have you ever seen something along those lines in your time playing hockey where a teammate needed security detail?
Scott: I remember in Chicago we had a security guy who traveled with us 24/7. So if guys went out to dinner or guys were going out for a few beers, he would come with us and he would make sure nothing would happen to us. He would always be around sitting in the corner. Like we would be hanging out and we’d be like, “Where is he?” And then there he is, like Batman in the corner looking, making sure nothing bad is going to happen. I think players are targets in certain markets. For a team, they’re your investment. You don’t want anything bad to happen to them, so yeah … guys hire security every now and then.
There’s a scene where you were heckled by local fans. Were you ever heckled in your career a way that stands out?
Scott: We were in Vancouver when we were in the playoffs when I was in Chicago, and some old lady, who must have been in her 90s drove by us and honked her horn, and we were like, “Oh nice,” and she flipped us the [middle finger] and slowly drove by, and I was like, “Oh, that’s really funny.”
Jay, there’s a scene where you get checked by John. Was the rule kind of like, ‘Anything but the face?’
Harrington: Yeah, but it was all for the shot, so it was OK. Whatever it takes!
I grew up playing, so I played up through high school where there was contact. I’ve had random collisions playing in men’s league where two guys who aren’t looking where they are get hit. To know it was coming and to see his size and … the mistake I made, and my brother is the stunt double for the episode, we both went too fast, which made it much worse. Once I figured out to slow down and kind of clock him coming, it got better. My brother played it much more that he didn’t even see him, so he took probably 15 hits really hard.
John, what was it like hitting Jay?
Scott: He was like, “I want to make it look realistic, I don’t want some weenie check that doesn’t make it look real.” So he said, “Just hit me, man, I’ll brace myself for it.” So I hit him and it looked great, but the poor guy went flying.
Shawn, supposedly there’s a sort of a culture of people in Hollywood who play hockey recreationally. For example, there’s this famous league associated with producer Jerry Bruckheimer of entertainment folks who play together. What lends to hockey culture in Hollywood specifically?
Ryan: Hollywood as a culture is less about something that’s ingrained and more about the people who are coming here and bringing something to it, and so you have a lot of people who grew up as hockey fans. I grew up playing club hockey and played intramural in college. I played recreationally up until a few years ago. I played here with a bunch of Finnish guys where everyone on the team had the same name [laughs]. I’m from Illinois and played. Jay is from the Boston area. You have a lot of Canadians. David Shore, who created “House,” is a friend of mine. He’s Canadian. He plays hockey recreationally. Jerry Bruckheimer famously has sort of a league he plays in with entertainment folks. You get a lot of people who sort of bring their culture to Hollywood and try to keep up with it.
John, how is the movie about your life going?
Scott: We have some actors signed on and a director signed on. I keep saying “we,” but it’s not me at all, it’s them. They’re looking for actors, and they’ve kind of given the scripts to a couple of pretty big-named actors. Hollywood is weird. You can’t just send out a script to 20 actors and hopefully one takes it. They have to go one by one because they want to feel special. They’re trying to court some big names right now, and if that works out, then they’re going to take the next step. It’s still in the process, but it takes such a long time, which is maddening.
Jay, what’s your take on ‘John Scott: The Movie?’
Harrington: I’m hoping that story gets told, because it’s pretty great. I was like, “What’s the role for me John? What do you got?”
Maybe Scott Niedermayer in there somehow or some wily veteran with some silver [hair] streaks that can get in there, but unfortunately, I’m not 25, so I can’t do any of that.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.