Chicago Justice sees Philip Winchester trade fist fights for verbal sparring
In his past two TV shows – Strike Back and The Player – American actor Philip Winchester played men of action who faced death on a daily basis.
That makes his new series a considerable change of pace – he stars as a crusading prosecutor in Chicago Justice, the latest addition to the Chicago franchise overseen by TV producer Dick Wolf (Law & Order).
"I sat down with Dick Wolf," Winchester explains to TV Guide. "This was the very first conversation we were having and I said, 'Dick, I jump out of helicopters and punch people in the face. I don't know if I'm your guy'.
"And he said, 'I don't know if you're my guy either' then we sat there for a little bit and he said, 'Shall we give it a shot?' and I said, 'Yeah let's give it a shot'."
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The shot was clearly worth it as Winchester secured the role, but he admits to having to adjust to a much more verbose style of acting.
"Dick said, 'Look, I can promise you the words are going to be good' and they are amazing and it's a huge learning curve. Every episode is a new challenge because of that."
Wolf continues the story.
"I said to him (Winchester) at that first meeting, I said, 'Look you're not going to be able to knock people out with your fists. You're going to have to do it with your eyes."
"It's just a different muscle this one," responds Winchester. "They really challenge me with some really high-concept stuff. So I had to learn to put all that other (action) stuff aside and appreciate the language and appreciate the courtroom.
"I can tell you one thing I really do love about this show – the courtroom is a little stage and I've been missing the stage lately. It ticks all the boxes because you're able to talk about things that are really important and do it without any problems, without screaming and shouting."
Winchester's character, Peter Stone, was introduced to the larger Chicago universe via an episode of Chicago PD, which the actor says has helped to smooth the transition to the new role.
"For me it was like coming home. I knew some of the people on the other shows and had worked with them in the past. It was a very warm welcome. It felt very natural."
Wolf's expanding empire started with Chicago Fire, branched into Chicago PD, then Chicago Med and now Chicago Justice. The producer has a unique way of describing the quartet of shows.
"The four shows are a joy because it's kind of like the human body," Wolf says. "Fire is the crotch, PD is the muscle, Med is the heart and this show is the brain."
Wolf speaks of his cast like a proud father.
"It's a very strange thing when you've got 32 or 33 actors under contract in Chicago and they hang out. I thought, 'This is really a great publicity angle', but it's true.
"We had the 100th episode of Chicago Fire party and literally everybody from all four shows showed up."
Winchester's character in Chicago Justice has an even deeper Dick Wolf connection.
"Peter Stone is the son of Ben Stone, Michael Moriarty's character from the original Law & Order series," explains Winchester.
It is a relationship that defines the younger Stone in many ways.
"Peter wanted to go into baseball and he blew his elbow out and then he fell back on what he knew, what he grew up with.
"So even though he agrees to disagree with his father, I think there are some fundamental similarities that he doesn't want to acknowledge. And those are the challenges every time he steps into court. He always has the whispers of his dad in the back of his head.
"And for an actor, we all want to play characters that have flaws because that's more interesting. We're all flawed. We all operate out of lies that we believe in ourselves.
"And I think that the sooner we dive into those things, the better it is for all of us on the show, and the better it is for you as an audience, and Peter has a lot of those things.
"He covers them very well. He masks them because that's his job, but they're always simmering under the surface."
Chicago Justice, Prime, starts Wednesday July 26.
- TV Guide