Jason Lee would like to correct misconceptions about his June 22-debuting TNT “Memphis Beat” series – which a number of critics have already referred to as the best of this summer’s crop of new TV offerings.
First, “People started talking about this show as being about a cop who’s an Elvis impersonator, but that’s not what it is. We’re taking a very, very sincere approach, absolutely without being silly or gimmicky,” he says.
Lee, clean-shaven and looking much different from his mustachioed Earl Hickey persona in “My Name is Earl,” plays a dyed-in-the-wool Memphian who is passionate about his city and his music, and who is cop and who does go out and perform at night. “It’s a massive release for him,” he says. And for Lee himself, “It’s great, it’s fantastic performing ‘Love Me Tender’ with a guitar onstage. It’s really special. It feels comfortable.”
Second — fear not, Memphis. The “Memphis Beat” company has been shooting in Louisiana, a fact that Memphis media have noted with some dismay, but “We’re going up there soon to actually shoot some stuff. I spent a little bit of time in Memphis before, but I can’t wait to go back within this context,” he says of the soulful drama that also stars Alfre Woodard and DJ Qualls – and is produced under the banner of George Clooney’s and Grand Heslov’s production company. “The city is a big part of this show and you’ve got to see it. You can’t fake it.”
Lee admits he’s still saddened by the loss of “Earl.” He says, “I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next when the show ended. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m glad it became this thing. It’s something I’ve not gotten to do yet, and very, very exciting for me.”
The shooting schedule “is tough,” however. “We have fewer episodes than a network drama, which is great, but the workload is pretty intense, especially in the heat. You just take a lot of water and pace yourself. It’s a fun, exciting gig and that certainly helps a lot. But I’m definitely going to take a break once we’re finished, a much-needed break. I’ll probably just kind of go camping.”