Rogue FBI agent Charles Barker, the lead character in A&E’s “The Beast,” is about as far as you can get from Johnny Castle, the sexy terpsichorean who stole Jennifer Grey’s heart in “Dirty Dancing.”
The 20-plus years between the parts lent Patrick Swayze gravitas and grit, but more than age alone allowed the thesp to inhabit the part of a government agent with a complicated relationship to the law.
“Beast” creators Vincent Angell and William Rotko say they didn’t have an actor’s voice in mind when they wrote the pilot; they had a character’s.
“When we sat down with Patrick to discuss the part,” recalls Rotko, “he was very anxious to determine who Barker was. Seeing that enthusiasm from a movie star is compelling when you’re trying to cast a pilot.”
Though Barker remains very much how Angell and Rotko first conceived him, Swayze has made the part his own.
“We thought of Barker as interesting and supremely capable,” Rotko says. “Patrick is likable, and he knows that’s how audiences see him, so he embraces that and twists it a little. He takes the audience down a familiar path and shows them a side that isn’t typical Patrick Swayze. That’s the strength of his performance. Some of the credit goes to the writing, but it’s really Patrick.”
Rotko has been especially impressed by Swayze’s refusal to play on people’s sympathy regarding his widely publicized illness.
“Patrick fought desperately not to be sentimental,” Rotko recalls. “This is a mainstream television show, not a Lars von Trier film. It would be easy for people to pull out their handkerchiefs and say this is his goodbye, but he never did that. That would have been the easy way, and he didn’t take the easy way. That takes a lot of courage.”
What do you like most about the character?
William Rotko: “Barker sees the system as failed and wants to fix it himself. He’s not unlike Jack Nicholson’s character in ‘A Few Good Men,’ or like a Bronson or Pacino character in films from the 1970s. Barker is willing to walk that very thin line where you can lose the little piece of yourself you still need to protect.”