How To Play The Flamboyantly Criminal Roommate to Rainn Wilson’s Cynically Misanthropic Detective

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On last night’s season premiere of Backstrom on Fox, we met Valentine. Played by Thomas Dekker, he’s a fashion-wearing, doctor-seducing oddball with a questionable past and an even more questionable present. And he’s the roommate of the shows title character, a police detective played by Rainn Wilson. Wilson’s character Backstrom is himself a bit questionable—drinking, smoking, and making insensitive jokes at every turn. And yet somehow the two create an equilibrium in each others lives, albeit an unsteady one. Therein lies the incredible potential for both these characters, and for the show in general.

For what’s ostensibly a network television police procedural to lead with such fascinatingly bizarre characters says a lot about the wild terrain that lies ahead for Backstrom. So we spoke to Thomas Dekker to get a little insight.

Valentine is the last person you’d expect to find in the cast of a police procedural (although admittedly, this show is a little unusual). So far we only see him in a few scenes, but he is full-on with every word and gesture. What’s it like for you diving head first into such a full blown “character” right from the get-go of a new series?

It’s electrifying. Simply to work beside Rainn Wilson and the rest of the weirdos that have been carefully selected for this seemingly normal but truly unique show. My character was created in total collaboration between myself and our showrunner Hart Hanson which is very rare in television. For an actor to have that much of a say in who he is playing is a true gift. That collaboration took place over the course of shooting the season so in many ways I feel like I finally got to know Valentine properly during the shoot of the last couple episodes.

Probably related to the above, but what drew you to the role?

Valentine is truly one of a kind. He is very hard to define because he is a million things at once. He’s harsh and acerbic yet vulnerable and caring, he’s catty and cutting yet brilliant and protective, he’s flamboyant and outgoing but will kick your ass before you have time to know what happened. All these juxtapositions are just heaven for me or any actor to play with.

Tell us about your audition process.

When I was cast, Valentine changed dramatically from what was originally intended. Originally he was simply a flamboyant comedic character in pastels who’s purpose was to show up every now and again and humorously provide information to push the solving of certain crimes along. However, when I read the pilot script, I focused more on the fact that he had been a prostitute, lived on the street and nearly gone to jail.

So when I auditioned, I took the character in a very different direction from what was written. I did the mohawk, eyeliner, torn leather punk clothes, etc. that eventually became Valentine’s look. My theory was nobody can live that kind of life and survive it without a hard edge. Fortunately, Hart and the rest of the producers latched onto my interpretation and the character shifted accordingly. Again, a very special thing to happen for an actor in television.

When did you first meet Rainn Wilson? It must be a blast playing off of him. Can you tell us what that’s like?

We knew it was a good sign when a lot of the crew kept asking us how long we had spent working on our character’s chemistry prior to shooting when in fact we met literally minutes before we shot our first scene together. Rainn and I share a similar sense of humor, we’re both film and art nerds and we treat each other like siblings do. We’re horrendously mean to each other, rip on each other all day long but truly love and support each other. He is such an insanely talented actor and every scene I get to play with him is an honor. If we didn’t have such a natural chemistry, Valentine would not have grown into such an integral part of the show. That’s a fact.

What can you tell us about the slightly bizarre living arrangement that Valentine and Backstrom share?

Like a lot of things in this series, their living arrangement makes no sense on paper but on a deeper level, once you get to know the characters, it makes TOTAL sense. You’re dealing with two people who’s lifestyles are complete opposites yet they are both equally misanthropic and don’t trust anyone but each other. They keep each other in check, admire each others intelligence and protect one another at all costs. Backstrom keeps Valentine’s criminal affairs secret and Valentine brings Backstrom the aspirin for his hang over. Simple as that.

The rather colorful life and past of Valentine are fairly directly alluded to in the premiere—he’s obviously a guy with a lot going on below the surface. And his relationship with Backstrom looks like its going to be pretty important. Not sure how much you can say, but what are you hopes and dreams for this character?

Backstrom and Valentine’s history of how they met and why they care so much for each other is slowly revealed throughout the season. There are a lot of twists and turns I’m not permitted to reveal at this point but they are juicy, believe me. It’s fantastic that the show may appear to be a procedural when in fact the main focus really ends up landing on the character arcs of all involved. It’s a procedural where it DOES matter if you missed the last episode and I think that’s great.

As far as the future goes, the writers and I have concocted a bunch of fun surprises. Valentine will eventually reveal he’s a musician, he will drag Backstrom to a gay leather bar to help solve a case and he will have a romance with Gravely (Genevieve Angelson). Wait, oops, that last one is just what Genevieve and I want to happen because we love each other. But hey, one can dream.