James Badge Dale of Hightown on STARZ talks to Awards Daily about the mysteries behind his character Ray Abruzzo and what it’s like playing an assh***.
The last time you may have seen him, he was on the big screen as a drug addicted war vet in the indie flick Mickey and the Bear. But on STARZ’s Hightown, James Badge Dale plays a narcotics officer trying to track down drug kingpins and solve a murder in the vacation spot of Provincetown, Mass.
In an age when cops are being examined more closely for their behavior, Badge Dale’s Ray should certainly be placed under a microscope, especially when he has sexual relationships with informants, getting a little too close to the action of his work. His relationship with Monica Raymund’s Jackie Quiñones is a fresh will-they-or-won’t-they, only it isn’t romantic—it’s just the two competing to outdo one another in bad decisions. Yet it’s also what makes this show so compelling, its characters being some of the most interesting on TV in 2020.
Badge Dale plays Ray with swagger and an underlying sadness that Season 1 only scratches the surface at. I asked him the important Hightown questions, like why doesn’t Ray get on Tinder instead of hooking up with informants and just drink a milkshake once in a while?
Awards Daily: I love the relationship between Ray and Renee, and I really thought that Ray cared about her throughout most of the season. But then when she finds out he’s been taking her on dates as an informant, I was crushed for her. Why did he do that? I thought he really cared!
James Badge Dale: What we love to do is live in those gray areas, so you shouldn’t know. I think it’s that whole idea that Ray and Renee are constantly in this game of cat and mouse, they’re constantly playing this chest game. And also Frankie. It’s kind of a three-person relationship there! (Laughs) It’s always good to leave a little mystery there.
AD: He likes to have relationships with pretty informants, like Sherry Henry, who winds up murdered. How many of these types of relationships does he have? Is this frequent? Why can’t he go on Tinder or something?
JBD: (Laughs) I know, what’s wrong with Ray?! You’d think he’d find an easier way to get a date, poor guy. I love playing with this character and this world that Rebecca Cutter has created, because all of these characters are so flawed. I don’t think it’s a new thing for Ray. What you see with Ray is probably the product of 20 years of a certain type of behavior. What I’m excited about is, does Ray change? Where does Ray go from now? Because as people, we all change, we all grow, and whether we learn these lessons or not, there’s a metamorphosis into something else. Ray is bottoming out, for a lack of a better term here.
AD: Do you think Ray is a sex addict? Is that part of his thing or his issues?
JBD: I think about that all the time. That’s something I talked about with Rebecca, and that’s also a gray area. Does Ray use women to make himself feel better or sex to make himself feel better? Yeah, I think he does. I think there’s a certain level of loneliness to Ray. I think anybody who becomes obsessed with their job, because it’s obvious that Ray has an obsession with his work, and his obsession with his work has destroyed his home life. I think all of us can relate to that battle, whatever occupation we have. (Laughs) Ray’s got some issues, man!
AD: I think it’s interesting how he never eats milkshakes or sweets, when they’re watching Dirty Dancing. He seems to be health conscious. What does that say about him, that he doesn’t give into that temptation, but everything else he gives into?
JBD: That was something that we talked about, these little quirks with him, his regulating his own intake of food. We were messing around and we started thinking he’s the type of guy who’s burning calories standing still. So he’s just eating almonds all day long. We were like, let’s play up this almond thing, wherever we could fit it in—he’s chewing almonds. We were doing an interrogation scene, and we were like, let’s let him be actively chewing on almonds at the top of the scene, and we counted afterwards: I ate 140 almonds that day.
AD: That’s really funny.
JBD: It didn’t feel good. I’d rather drink milkshakes—me, personally.
AD: Do you think he has any friends? Even his partner doesn’t seem to like him very much.
JBD: When I was playing Ray, I think by month three, I wondered if I had any friends left. It’s kind of a running theme on the show that Ray’s an asshole. Everyone kind of acknowledges it. There’s so much beauty to the attraction that Renee and Ray have together—that’s real. As much as they’re playing games, that is real, and yet at the same time, Jackie and Ray’s burgeoning friendship, is also real. That’s what’s so heartbreaking about that at the end, when you look at it, you see that Ray probably has no one else in his life, except for Jackie in that moment.
AD: Did your work on Mickey and the Bear, which deals with addiction, help you in understanding a character like Jackie? Did you want to bring that into the role? Or did you try to remove that from your mind?
JBD: No, I think it all informs it. My experience with narcotics officers is that they know this world in and out. There is a true empathy in relation toward the disease and addiction. We all bring these personal stories to whatever role we’re playing. Obviously, Mickey and the Bear was an experience for me; I was playing with a lot of things that I had experienced with friends and family members. At the same time, I bring that to Ray. I think he gets Jackie. He genuinely gets Jackie and likes Jackie.
AD: I told Monica that I think Season 1 is the origin story for their friendship.
JBD: I gotta tell you the truth. We just got that Season 2 pickup: I’ve never done a Season 2 of anything in my life! I’ve never played a character twice. And I’m so scared, nervous, and excited for the potential there. And I’m also dreading being an asshole again, for four months of my life.
Catch up on Hightown on STARZ and the STARZ App. Finale will be Sunday, July 12th at 8pm PT/ET on STARZ.