Shemar Moore takes a leap of faith from ‘Criminal Minds’ to ‘S.W.A.T.’
The award-winning producer/actor (and former college pitcher) wants his new show to feed dialogue about today’s culture of distrust
Shemar Moore is ready to make a statement. The Oakland, California, native is starring in CBS’ new S.W.A.T., which is based on ABC’s original series of the same name (1975-76) and the successful 2003 feature film directed by Clark Johnson and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell and LL Cool J.
This moment has been a long time coming. Moore, 47, went to the University of Santa Clara on a baseball scholarship, had a 90 mph fastball and was taught how to throw a forkball by Dave Stewart. Moore once aspired to be a professional player, but he started modeling as a student and was introduced to the world in the mid-’90s on CBS’ The Young and The Restless as sexy newcomer Malcolm Winters. From there he hosted signature series The Soul Train, starred in films such as The Brothers alongside talent like Morris Chestnut, and found his way back to CBS to co-star in long-running procedural Criminal Minds, a role that earned him eight NAACP Image Awards.
It’s all led to this moment: Finally, and after more than 20 years of putting in work, Moore is starring in a series. A black man leads a cast. On CBS. It’s a network that’s taken hits with regard to diversity. But as Hondo, Moore leads a diverse cast of characters in a Southern California tactical law enforcement unit, and in the first episode they pull no punches, immediately tapping into issues of cops policing black communities. Moore’s character is local to the neighborhoods that his squad monitors, and yet there’s conflict. “We’re talking about the Trump … without talking about Trump,” Moore said. “We’re not going to talk about politics, but we are going to talk about real issues, real topics. Things that are being debated. We’re talking about injustices.”
Can a television show lead to progress? Moore says he hopes it raises questions. “I hope it feeds dialogue. … I hope it inspires people to talk to each other rather than to just look at each other and judge each other. Listen to everybody’s stories and judge from there,” he said. “There’s a lot of fear, there’s a lot of racism, there’s a lot of distrust going on in this country, and I think S.W.A.T. is going to address that, but … not in a preachy way.”
What’s the key to your consistency?
I don’t know if it’s consistency or just being hardheaded! It refuses to go away. I always want to challenge myself. I’ve taken what’s given to me and I try to put my mark on it, make it my own. Hopefully I have a performance that makes people feel. I don’t want you to just watch me; I want you to feel me. This is a show that’s not only going to be fun to watch, it’s going to mean something. It’s going to be valid. It’s going to be relevant to what’s going on today.
You’ve been at this for more than 20 years — what makes you say yes to projects at this point in your career?
I left Criminal Minds because I felt like I’d done all I can do with the character for Derek Morgan. And also, Shemar Moore is personally, emotionally and physically — I was tired. Not exhausted, but I was tired. I knew I needed a break because I had been pursuing and fighting for the career, and fighting for respect, fighting for validation. And I got a certain amount of that along the way because, as you say, I was consistent. When I left Criminal Minds, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know what the next step was going to be. My mother gave me a very simple, profound card when I left Criminal Minds, and it sits on my mantel. It says, ‘Leap, and the net will appear.’ I interpret that as, ‘Let your faith be bigger than your fear. Believe in you. If you really believe, don’t talk about it, be about it. You got to trust that net will be there. Trust that you will land.’ And I jumped.
It feels like S.W.A.T. itself is directly challenging the conversation about the lack of representation in television.
I knew that was the intent before I sat down, before I ever signed up. I said, ‘Look, I don’t need to come back on television just to come back on television. What’s the vision of this show?’ CBS, admittedly so, has been lacking in diversity. But the stories we’re talking about are diverse. Even the content of the stories we’re talking about is diverse.
This is the first time you’re fronting a series —
I’d be lying if I didn’t take a lot of pride in being No. 1 on the call sheet — but then again, there’s a lot of responsibility, and I’ve got to lead by example. What I’m even more proud of, by being No. 1 on the call sheet, is that I get to be a leader. I get to lead these actors. I’m also a producer, so have some say for the good of the entire show, not just for myself.
Does being a producer now change how you approach the material as an actor?
I have to do my homework. I can’t just be cute. I can’t just be cheap with delivery. I have to do my homework and make sure that I make it as authentic as possible. I want the facts to check out. I want the etiquette to check out. I want the behavior to check out. I’m not just an actor with a gun. I’m researching and being trained by LAPD SWAT, San Diego PD SWAT, SEAL Team 6. We have the men and women of the real law enforcement that are out in the trenches every day, teaching us how to move, teaching us … how they maintain their temperaments. How they disconnect from what they’ve been a part of, to maintain their own lives. To go home to their families, to their loved ones. To still fight for the rights of relative strangers. We’re playing pretend, but we’re trying to simulate real life. I want this show to resonate and to matter, and I want it to help change perceptions and views. And I would love it if in some small form, that this show could help change the temperament and the fear and the distrust. … Maybe there’s a different approach which will create a little more harmony than we seem to be lacking right now.
S.W.A.T. premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. EST.