In his 24-year career as an actor, Shemar Moore has been on the soap opera The Young and the Restless, guest-starred on several series, appeared in movies and played the beloved character Derek Morgan on Criminal Minds, where he popularized the term of endearment “Baby Girl,” Derek’s pet name for his FBI colleague Penelope Garcia. It spread like fire on the internet with millions of female fans calling themselves Baby Girls. Moore surprised the industry and shocked fans when he chose to leave Criminal Minds. He tells TV Drama why he took that step and joined S.W.A.T., the high-adrenaline series that imparts messages about the world we live in today
TV DRAMA: How did you hear about S.W.A.T. and what appealed to you about the role of Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson?
MOORE: I knew the TV show from the ’70s and the movie. And I knew S.W.A.T. [Special Weapons and Tactics] teams are super cops running around doing some really cool, incredible stuff to save lives. I was going to play this cool dude, Hondo. I had the opportunity to be the lead of a show, working with Shawn Ryan, who’s known for The Shield, The Unit and Nash Bridges—a phenomenal writer, with a phenomenal mind for story and characters. That got my attention, and the script was great. Justin Lin directed the pilot and he’s Mr. Action, so I thought, Damn, it’s as if I got cast to do a high-budget action movie with some of the major players, but for television. Yes, I’m the lead of the show. [Last season I was] the only African American male lead in a non-black one-hour drama on network television. I’m proud of that accomplishment, but I also understand the responsibility that comes with that. I represent diversity and diversifying the landscape of television, the stories that are being told and who’s telling them. So if S.W.A.T. were to fail, they wouldn’t look at Shawn Ryan, they wouldn’t look at CBS, they would look at me first. I know that, and that’s why I put pressure on myself to do my best and give 150 percent, because, Oh, Shemar Moore can’t carry a show, or, Diversifying television may not be the direction that you want to go—who knows what dialogue would come from that.
But now the show is in season two. It’s successful; people in over 200 countries around the world want to watch it. So I’m just a guy living my dream, taking risks and entertaining people for a living, and people actually want to watch me. I pinch myself that for 24 years my homies, fans and Baby Girls have been so loyal and people around the world watch [my] shows. If I can help broaden the horizon of diversifying television—not just for black actors and actresses, but for people of all colors, Asian, Latino—[that’s great].
TV DRAMA: What does being the lead actor entail?
MOORE: You don’t get days off; it’s a grind. But you do what you’ve got to do—you sleep right, you work out. I’m not only the lead actor; I’m a producer. It doesn’t mean I get to say, Do it this way, or, Do it that way. But I’ve earned my place at the table to be a part of the discussions and the ideas. I love that creative side of it, where I can influence the type of stories and how we tell them. I’m corralling and maintaining the camaraderie with the cast and crew. I’m leading by example, working hard, delivering my performances and stressing the importance of team. As proud as I am of being the lead actor, I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m smart enough and humble enough to know it can’t be The Shemar Moore Show. I might be the captain of the team, but I need a team. I know that I can’t do it by myself and I don’t want to do it by myself, because it’s more interesting for audiences to see the individual characters, understand their strengths and weaknesses, but then see them—especially in this scenario of being super cops—saving people who can’t save themselves. The teamwork is interesting and exciting. [I’m] part of a unique, original show that you really can’t compare to any other show on network television today. I get to be the leader of that and entertain people and thrill them with all the crazy action. But [the show is] also laced with messages of reality, real-life topics from Black Lives Matter to human trafficking to immigration to cyberbullying and so forth. That’s Shawn Ryan’s mind, and it’s great that we’re able to talk about the Trump years without talking about Trump. It’s not a political show, we’re not preaching to you, but we are giving you doses of things that are happening in real life. And we’re trying to give you a more optimistic perspective; maybe a TV show can broaden people’s mindsets, create a little more compromise, a little more patience and compassion, and maybe that can lead to a little more unity and togetherness, and a little less judgment and stereotyping. Those are heavy notions, so it sounds like S.W.A.T. is heavy—no, S.W.A.T. is fun, but it has depth and it has relevance to what’s going on in the world.
TV DRAMA: Tell us about Hondo and the community he is serving.
MOORE: Because Hondo is black and he’s from the streets of South L.A., he represents the underdog, the struggle, chasing the dream, but [in a way that] all people can relate to. He understands the black story because he’s black. You may not relate to the specifics of what Hondo’s been through, but you can relate to the mindset of what he’s done to overcome and succeed and make it bigger than himself. He comes from the streets; he’s seen a lot of injustices. His father [told him when he was a kid], If you want things to change, you can complain all day long, but it’s not going to fix anything; be a part of the change. That helped him choose his path and instead of staying in the streets, he said, What can I do to help people? So he got into the military; he’s an ex-Marine. He joined law enforcement because his dream was to be the best of the best, not only for the accolade of being the best but because he wanted to promote change. And that’s what you’re watching, Hondo, with his team, taking on the injustices that you see in the United States and around the world. With the stories that are being told, he’s a catalyst for humanity, understanding right from wrong and that we can do better. That’s the message of S.W.A.T. and that’s the message of what Hondo stands for—we, collectively, as human beings, can do better.
TV DRAMA: It was a gutsy decision to leave Criminal Minds. What drove that?
MOORE: My mother gave me a card when I left Criminal Minds; it sits on the mantel in my living room and it says, “Leap and the net will appear.” That’s the way she lived her life and that’s the way she raised me. My mother has a far more interesting story than I do. My father, with all his dysfunction, has a far more interesting story than I do. My story before Hollywood is more interesting than my Hollywood story. We, collectively, lived outside of the box. We broke boundaries. We created our own path. I’m the type of person who always wants to grow; I don’t want to get too comfortable. Comfort is good, money is good, but I always want to challenge myself. When I left The Young and the Restless, I knew that the next step was prime time. How do I grow? How do I get credibility? How do I broaden the scope of what I’m doing as an actor and try different types of roles? You have to take chances. Then I landed on Criminal Minds. I did that for 11 years, and [when I left] there was nothing on the horizon—S.W.A.T. was not there. I was unemployed, trying to figure out what the next move would be. But I believed in myself. I always say, I don’t wear a lot of hats, but if I choose to wear a hat, I’m going to make sure it fits. So the pieces fell into place, and it was not just about being the lead in a show. It was about working with Shawn Ryan and Justin Lin to play a character that represents humanity and that we can do better and still entertain. And to be an action hero—fly around in helicopters, propel down buildings, fight, be in car and motorcycle chases, wear a cool cop suit and carry a big gun—everybody wants to do that. When you’re a kid, you want to be a fireman or a cop, and now, here I am on television, getting to live out that childhood dream.
TV DRAMA: Do you have consultants on the show?
MOORE: Yeah, we don’t want to just be cool actors carrying guns and doing cool stuff on TV. I don’t want it to just be fake and fun. I want it to be fun and real. For two-and-a-half months prior to the first episode of the first season, we trained with members of LAPD S.W.A.T., San Diego PD S.W.A.T., SEAL Team Six. We trained in weaponry, shooting ranges, tactics, how to move and flow as a team, how to communicate verbally, nonverbally. Physically we understood what the demands were, learning how to fight a certain type of hand-to-hand combat, and knowing what to do if you run out of bullets and you have to protect yourself.
TV DRAMA: Did you already know a good amount of that because of Criminal Minds?
MOORE: Not S.W.A.T. training, no. From Criminal Minds, I knew basic hand-to-hand combat, which is fighting, and I knew the basics of handling a pistol. We had consultants, so I went out to shooting ranges and understood how guns worked. But on Criminal Minds, I just had a pistol on my belt and a heavy foot kicking down doors. That’s why I say Hondo in S.W.A.T. is Derek Morgan on steroids because it’s just a whole different playing field. The stakes are so much higher and so is the skillset that you need to be these guys. That’s why it’s so hard to make S.W.A.T. You have to be highly trained to make the squad. These guys and gals are no joke.