Actor James McDaniel says he thinks he's as much a politician as he is an artist.
The actor who played the memorable Lt. Arthur Fancy in "NYPD Blue" for eight years says, "I'm a black man, and a lot of my stuff comes from being a black man and the way I present myself, the things I do, the things I say. I have control over what the perception of what a black man is and what a black man can be."
He insists he has to play both the good and the bad because his obligation is to the truth, "not just keeping a good image."
That said, TV audiences know him best as a military authority or tough police officer -- a figure such as Gen. Maynard from "Stargate SG-1," Gen. Beers on "Taken" and Detective Johnson from "The Good Wife." But on stage he's been a bisexual jazz musician, a doctor dying of consumption and a slave returning from war.
And he'll be back on the beat Sept. 21 when he co-stars in ABC's gritty new cop series, "Detroit 1-8-7."
The show's producers have decided to remove the invasive documentary style they applied to the pilot. That doesn't bother McDaniel. "I've been doing this for so long the brain shifts gears much quicker now," he says.
"When somebody says, 'You don't have a job,' it might've crushed me for about a month when I was younger. But now it takes on the average one-and-a-half, two minutes. You've been crushed so many times you expect to be crushed coming out of the gate, so it doesn't matter. It took me a second to redirect my brain."
He's redirected his brain in more ways than one. He's finally reached the point where he doesn't second-guess himself. "With every project, I'm getting closer to not caring at all what you think about me. It's a journey. It's a fortunate place that I'm in in my life. It's 30 years of doing this. It's really where you should be. And it's almost like I'm giving away a secret, where my acting has evolved to. Now my work has gotten to a point where I don't care what anybody thinks. I perform it the way my character would under those circumstances, and I walk away from it. And I never look back."
He earned that confidence, he says. "Having gotten through my life, raised my kids and they're OK, having a lot of support at home, having achieved a certain degree of financial success, having lived 52 years and said to myself, 'Wait a second, I'm 52 years old. It's not what somebody else thinks about this planet, it's what I think about this planet. Mine is the one that counts, and nobody can dissuade me from what I believe it's really about. I can't be tricked anymore. I've seen too many high school football stars and prom queens get married and 10 years down the line he's selling insurance and she wants to get a divorce.' "
He's happily married to Hannelore, who is a multimedia artist. They have two sons, 19 and 22. "I was 24 when I decided to marry her," he recalls.
"She just opened a whole world up to me. She was just the finest person I'd ever met. I was so fortunate. I wouldn't have anything if it wasn't for her. She's such a great mother. You meet someone who is totally selfless and that makes you selfless. It allows you to be who you are. Everybody loves her. My good friends, when they meet her, they like her better than they like me," he says with a laugh.
He credits his mother, who reared him alone, with teaching him values. "My mother died my first year in New York when I came to New York to be an actor, so she never saw me act. She was my person. She was my No. 1. I lost the No. 1 person in my life at a young age. That was the most profound change in my life."
Never before, but in the past three years McDaniel confesses he's contemplated quitting. "I've never been a fan of the way the industry has changed. I find that I was having less and less fun doing it. I looked at my friends and people were doing it, but nobody was having fun like in the old days.
"I played with the idea (of quitting) and -- being the kind of man who likes to make up his mind -- I decided hey, if you think about quitting and I'm not quitting yet, then do what you want to do. So I'm at that point now where I only work with people I like."