Bill Engvall talks about getting serious for ‘HawthoRNe’

Bill Engvall may be best known as a stand-up kind of guy (he started the Blue Collar Comedy Tour with Jeff Foxworthy), but he”s looking to get serious. And on a three episode arc of TNT”s “HawthoRNe” (Tues. 10 p.m. EST), he”s doing exactly that. As Internal Affairs investigator Jimmy Dupree, he”s sniffing around the very bad (but hey, pretty justified) behavior of Det. Nick Renata (Marc Anthony) following an attack on Christina (Jada Pinkett Smith). HitFix spoke to an upbeat Engvall (“If I felt any better I”d be twins,” he joked) about his dramatic future, his Angie Harmon dreams and why there isn”t likely to be a Blue Collar reunion anytime soon.

What”s with the dramatic angle? When I think about internal affairs detectives, your name doesn”t really come up.
And I’m glad to hear that. I had my own show on TBS, and when I was talking to the head honchos there at Turner, I said, “Listen, I’ve always wanted to do drama.” And they go “Really?” That”s my forbidden fruit there. Sure enough, last year they called me and they said they had a “Leverage” they wanted me to do where I’d play a bad guy for the first time. Then I end up getting jobs because I guess people noticed, and then I get this three episode arc playing this Internal Affairs guy. Jimmy Dupree is a good ol’ Southern boy cop who’s your buddy, hey we’re just talking hanging out, having a few beers, no worries, and the next thing you know, I’m throwing you in jail. And I love that guy.

Any chance we”ll see more of Jimmy?
From your ears to God’s. I haven’t been told anything. It actually started out as a one shot deal, then they moved it to a three show deal, so I guess they liked what I did. You never know. I might come back. I haven’t been told anything, but I’d love that. And I’d love to have my own drama. To me, that could be the best thing that could happen to me. That or Angie Harmon’s love interest on “Rizzoli & Isles.”
You”re going on tour next month. Are you sure you want to get called in for another episode?
I’d make it work. It’s fun for me. I look around and I am such a blessed individual, because I get to do what I love, which is stand-up, and I get to do my second love, which is drama. For me to complain would be like someone complaining the motor on their Rolls Royce is messed up.
Where did this passion for drama come from, anyway?
When I was a little boy growing up in Winslow, Arizona, my dad and I used to go to the drive-in movie theater to watch John Wayne movies. And I would watch people on the big screen and think, I want to do that. But when you’re living in Winslow, Arizona in the 60s, you don’t want to tell your dad you want to be an actor. You might as well say you want to be a ballerina. But we moved to Dallas and I started doing some plays. And I’d love to do some theater. I just like doing anything that stretches me as a performer and as a human being. Because if you do the same thing over and over, you just kind of become in a rut and you don’t really grow. And I think when people watch those three episodes of “HawthoRNe,” they’re going to be blown away. They’re going to say, “Wow, I didn’t think Engvall could do that.”
What was it like walking onto the set? Did you have to audition?
It was just a phone call. Obviously they checked me out, watched what I did on “Leverage,” stuff like that. So when I got on the set, I don’t know if I’m naive or just stupid, but I don’t put people on a pedestal, I’m fans of people, but in the end I think people are just people, so I just treat people like you or me. Let’s say you’re a huge star, I’d walk up and say, “I’m a huge fan, looking forward to working with you,” and then when it’s time to go to work, I’m on the same level as you. And I think people appreciate that. Sometimes my mouth can get me in trouble because I’m a little too honest sometimes. But I just wish everyone had the chance to work opposite a cast like the one on HawthoRNe. They were unbelievable. And TNT is such a family network. They expect you to do your job, and when you do they reward you for that with other parts. I hope one day I’ll be rewarded with my own drama series, which would be awesome because I’ve kind of done what I want to do in comedy, so this is the next chapter.
So you”ve been hosting a game show, writing a blog about the Anaheim Angels and now the dramatic thing. Are you working through a bucket list?
And don”t forget Angie Harmon”s love interest. But I think you hit the nail on the head there. I have been so blessed in this business. I was talking to a good friend of mine in Texas and he said, “Man, you’re getting to do everything you wanted to do!” And I said, “You know what? You’re exactly right.” And not a lot of people get that opportunity in their lives, so I’m gonna run with this. Someday this is all gonna be gone. My time will be up. Not death, but showbiz wise, and I want to be able to look back and say I did everything I wanted to do. And I’m getting that opportunity now, especially with doing the drama. The only other thing I really want to do is a Western.
They don”t make those as often as they used to, though.
With “True Grit,” I’m hoping they’re getting back into them. Hopefully they will. I’m one of those people that I believe if you just keep working hard and you put your mind to it and you focus, you will get to do what you want. Someday I’ll get to do my drama series and someday I’ll get to do my Western.
You could always make the Blue Collar Comedy Tour Western.
I don’t know. Those guys don’t really want to act. The other thing is, and I don’t mean this negative in any way at all, but the Blue Collar thing was great and it had its time, but it ran its course and now it’s time to let it sleep and try something new.

Like a role as Angie Harmon’s love interest on “Rizzoli & Isles”?
Why not? If you can’t dream big, get out!

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