Michael Rabe Talks About Playing The Tough Role in Big Dogs [Exclusive Interview]

Michael Rabe
Michael Rabe in Big Dogs

For Michael Rabe, Big Dogs is the most significant action-drama project in his career. And, the most challenging one.

Based on the book series from Adam Dunn, Rabe portrays More, a tag-along vigilante-style law enforcer. He partnered with a by-the-book police officer, who they must investigate a drug ring that plagued New York City.

Here’s the official synopsis:

In a New York City besieged by the financial collapse and a surging crime wave, an underworld economy of “speaks,” illegal, debaucherous after-hours clubs linked by a web of taxicabs, is thriving.

For extra cash, fashion photographer Renny has been moving party drugs through the taxi network for his boss, Reza, the local front man for an international crime syndicate looking to take over the city. When Renny is forced by Reza to step up his game as a dealer to a dangerous degree, he soon finds himself in the cross-hairs of both Reza and Detective Sixto Santiago, whose experimental unit is using undercover taxis to crack down on the chaotic drug trade. After Santiago’s commander Captain McKeutchen partners him with the mysterious and brutal new arrival Everett More, the two become entangled in a web of numerous government agencies and crime organizations a beleaguered New York, exposing a fight for control of both the city and the country at large.

The cast includes Brett Cullen (Joker, The Dark Knight Rises), Manny Perez (The Night Of), Michael Rabe (Homeland), Micheal Richardson (Cold Pursuit), Land Henrikson (Aliens), Jeff Kober, Scott Cohen, Deirdre Lovejoy, and Bonnie Swencionis.

The series is directed by David Platt, Darnell Martin, Matthew Penn, and Tony Glazer.

LRM Online spoke with actor Michael Rabe over the phone about his character and experiences on the production.

Big Dogs is currently playing on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi today.

Read the full interview below.

Gig Patta: What initially brought you on to a project like Big Dogs?

Michael Rabe: I had shot a movie with Tony [Glazer] and Summer [Crockett Moore], who are the producers. Tony is a director and co-writer of Big Dogs. So I had a familiarity with them for that project. They reached out to me about it. We began discussing this show on their vision for it and then talking about more on the character. Once I heard a little bit More, I was very excited. I auditioned a couple of times, and it worked out. He’s an enjoyable character to have the opportunity to play.

Gig Patta: What specifically did you like about this unusual law enforcement officer More?

Michael Rabe: Honestly, I loved that he didn’t talk a lot. A lot is going on with him. He’s not a simple guy. Due to an injury, he doesn’t speak much. It’s figuring out how to play him on something like that.

Then it’s the simple, sheer fun of getting to jump out of cars, shoot guns and get into some fights was also very appealing. He’s the odd man out. He knows the most of what’s going on, but he’s still the odd man out in the show. By figuring that out and working on that was fun every day.

Gig Patta: I’m going to back up the truck a little bit here. Did you say you jumped out of the car? You did your stunts here?

Michael Rabe: I did a lot of them. There were certain moments where they were like, “Michael, you can’t do that.” I tried to do all of them. I got them to let me do a fair amount to whatever was deemed safe. It was a blast.

Gig Patta: How did you pull off jumping out of the taxi cabs? Was it really slow, and they speed it up for you? What’s going on?

Michael Rabe: It was some, some camera trickery. We shot it a few different ways. Sometimes it was with a green screen or with the car rolling. And sometimes it was into a little pad bundle then speeding away.

Gig Patta: Sounds like a lot of fun for you to do your stunts.

Michael Rabe: It was a blast. Then you get into the arms training at firing ranges. We call it “work.” It was a pleasure.

Gig Patta: So you did do a lot of preparation before you took on the role of More.

Michael Rabe: They got us set up with armed specialists. And I have a few friends who had served. So by talking to them, it’s the training that Big Dogs set up along with personal research as someone who’s at the level of more in the military is highly efficient with how he does everything. You have to take the time to get as familiar as possible with all his many tricks and tools employed through the season.

Gig Patta: For more than half of this season, you didn’t have very much dialogue at all. How was that like not talking and relying on your facial expressions to do the acting?

Michael Rabe: It took a little getting used to. It was challenging and exciting every day. I talked to Tony or David Platt, who was also directing, to make sure that I was conveying what I was trying to. As I got more and more familiar with him, you get a physical shorthand to convey these things by establishing his behaviors so that the audience isn’t totally in the dark.

It was challenging, but it was fun. We ended up getting a pretty good product. You can tell that he’s a pretty complicated guy, but he doesn’t open his mouth until halfway through the season.

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Gig Patta: That’s true. Did it sometimes frustrate you that you couldn’t communicate with the other characters?

Michael Rabe: It frustrates them more. The less anyone knows about what he’s doing, there’s less of a chance they’ll get in the way. For me, as the actor, it was fun to have everyone peppering me with questions and demands. I simply stare at them until they backed off. It was never frustrating. It was pretty fun to be a thorn in the side of people are trying to make sense of what is going on.

Gig Patta: In the other half of the season, you did have chances to talk, but that’s not your normal voice. What I’m hearing now is your normal voice. Talk about the voice that you developed for the other half of the season.

Michael Rabe: Through conversations and the books, More sustained an injury while he was in service to his throat. One of the reasons he doesn’t speak a lot is that his voice apparatus is damaged. The voice we came up with is that he’s pushing through a lot of scar tissue. It’s a nuisance for him to speak for someone who’s solely about efficiency. He does away with it as much as he can.

That voice we came up with was after I listened to recordings of people who had similar injuries. I have to change it a bit when he’s doing large pieces of monologue to make sure it all gets through. We had some meetings to land on that tone being the best bet.

Gig Patta: A lot of your scenes are inside a cab through these series. What was that experience like being inside a car, whether it’s a green screen or on the streets of New York?

Michael Rabe: It was interesting. You get familiar with that. We were in that same cab for six and a half months. It became our second home. Manny is usually my driver. It was so fantastic that it was fun. In between the setups, you can’t hop out. Things get pretty funny.

The green screen is tricky because you’re not sitting still. After watching the playback, that makes you pay attention to when you’re driving a real car on how it affects your body and then trying to translate that into the green screen.

Gig Patta: I forgot to ask you because you said you did a lot of stunts. But, you also had a lot of fist to fistfight scenes. Did you do training for that? How was the coordination with those other stunt people?

Michael Rabe: It was great. I have a bit of training in my background. We were working with Cory Pierno, who was the stunt coordinator. We had a lot of rehearsal in making sure everyone felt safe and comfortable. Then we have at it. Those days were fun. It’s wild. You throw the same block 30 times, ending up with some funny bruises. I hadn’t got to do anything to that extent either way by taking weapons away and throwing people over cars. I’ve got a big smile on my face. Those were fun days.

Gig Patta: I’m very impressed that you know how to remove the gun clip pretty easily. [Laughs]

Michael Rabe: I bought this stunt gun even when I wasn’t on set, I could be practicing all day.

Gig Patta: Oh, really?

Michael Rabe: Just unholstering it. A guy like More, he’s about as good as it gets in that terrain. So I just wanted to do this. It was blue [gun] and not mistakable. It’s to get into the habit in my hand out of what I was reading lines, walking around, or we stayed to shoot. I would be holstering it and unholstering it. I’ve taken the clip out and getting very comfortable.

Gig Patta: I’m curious. Is this your first action type of project for your career?

Michael Rabe: Yeah. Yeah, it was.

Gig Patta: So all of this is a new experience. This must be a total delight for you.

Michael Rabe: I had done a little bit here and there, but now nothing of this scope. There were the steps in the fighting, the days of the sniper rifle, coming out of a huge trash pile, and all decked out. They, they made sure everything was safe and stuff. So you could focus on the work and getting it to be as exciting to watch as possible.

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Gig Patta: What was your relationship like with Manny [Perez] who plays your partner throughout the entire series?

Michael Rabe: It was weird that we’d never met before. I knew who Manny Perez was. He is a great guy and a great actor. He was very helpful that we would talk a lot. Since I couldn’t speak, we’d talk a lot about how things were coming across and what things look like and how we were getting it done. We had a lot of time in that Cab together. He’s the only one that More develops a fondness for. It helped that I was a big fan of Manny and the character. It was enjoyable.

Gig Patta: A lot of your interactions through the series was also with Brett Cullen, who is your captain in the precinct. He has this particular relationship with your character in a way. Could you talk about developing that for the show?

Michael Rabe: Brett was awesome. It was amazing to work with him. He’s a pro by watching him and his efficiency. He’s also a very funny guy.

By establishing that relationship, Captain McKeutchen is very wary of me because he knows that I’m the result. He knows that I’m not there on the good side of things. The result is with a lot of bad decisions being made one after the other. He’s very wary of me, and he knows who I’m connected to. But, he’s still trying to do his job. That was a very fun, delicate dance to sort out with him.

Gig Patta: I’m going to take a right turn into the subject about Big Dogs here on the timeliness of a cop show. A lot of the issues in this show is very timely about what’s happening today. Could you a remark about that?

Michael Rabe: It’s an interesting time. When we were shooting it, the state of affairs that’s going on right now was not in our view. Certain cops are doing some horrendous things. It doesn’t work out. The concept is that the fish rots at the head. For the situation the show, it’s an action show that’s for entertainment. It proves how south things can go with poor leadership. Hopefully, if it’s sparking any conversations, we need to reassess and forge a new path forward.

Gig Patta: Aren’t you worried that your character is perceived in the wrong direction since that is what a lot of protests are against? The figure is jumping out of cars and arresting people–more like a vigilante type of style of justice.

Michael Rabe: Nobody comes out looking too good. It’s entertaining. This behavior is the kind of policing we would want to be avoided.

Gig Patta: Absolutely. By chance, did you get a chance to read the book?

Michael Rabe: I did. I read all the three books that are out. It was very helpful. For More notably, he doesn’t speak much in the scripts, so there was little gaze into his thought process. The book explores that with him. That was super helpful in establishing the world and to see the minutia of literature. Then at a certain point, stepping away from that, that’s the book, and we’re making the show. Our creative impulses run free.

By having the writer Adam [Dunn] on set, he keeps it in check and line with his vision. It was nice to have that as a starting point. As an actor, you’re, you’re focused on what you’re doing and how to tell the story best.

Gig Patta: Was there anything about more we didn’t see in the series that was portrayed in the book?

Michael Rabe: It would get covered in a season two if there’s a season two. It’s pretty much in there. As you know, by episode six, seven, eight, you get most of the inner workings of the series. It’s how he’s ended up, where he’s ended up and why.

Gig Patta: I’ll wrap things up out with you. It’s an obligatory question to ask, and it’s bizarre to ask during times like this, but do you have other upcoming projects for yourself?

Michael Rabe: I’ve also worked a lot in the theater, so that’s very much on hold. There’s a film that I’ve been helping to develop for about a year now in which I’m playing a Vietnam veteran. We shall see. There’s certainly so much going on in the world right now and should be focused on. Hopefully, we’ll figure out a way to get that production shot.

Gig Patta: Excellent. It sounds like you still want to do action drama. That’s an excellent sign. Thank you very much, Michael. I enjoyed the show, and I hope to see you more jumping out of cabs.

Michael Rabe: It was a blast to talk to you. Thank you.

Big Dogs is currently playing on Amazon Prime Video and Tubi today.

Source: LRM Online Exclusive, Big Dogs

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