Joel McKinnon Miller and Dirk Blocker on Seasoning the “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Palate

TV Features Brooklyn Nine-Nine
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Midway through shooting the first season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Joe Lo Truglio, who plays Lieutenant Charles Boyle on the hit Fox police comedy, invited the whole cast to his wedding. His cast members Joel McKinnon Miller and Dirk Blocker both decided to attend with their wives. To their surprise and delight, and without any planning on anyone’s part, the onscreen dynamic duo pulled into the parking lot at the exact same time—driving the exact same Honda SUV.

“God, I’m so glad we got along because it could be a nightmare if we hadn’t,” Blocker says in a joint interview with Miller. “Joel, if you were a pain in the ass, I would hate this job!”

Instead, the duo is oddly in sync. Similar to their wedding day arrival, they often emerge from their trailers or head out of the door at the end of the workday at exactly the same moment.

That chemistry shines through on the margins of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in which Miller and Blocker play Detectives Scully and Hitchcock, respectively. They’re the oldest and least productive officers in the colorful precinct, spending their days eating, crafting and shirking their responsibilities. They started out as bit players in the first season, but their onscreen time has steadily—and rightfully—increased.

Miller and Blocker are both industry veterans whose credits stretch back several decades—to the late ‘90s for Miller, and to the late ‘70s for Blocker. Miller played Don Embry on all five season of HBO’s polygamy drama Big Love, and also appeared in episodes of Murphy Brown, Malcolm in the Middle and Everybody Loves Raymond, among others. Blocker’s credits include M*A*S*H, 90210 and Quantum Leap, and his father is Dan Blocker, one of the stars of the classic TV Western Bonanza.

Despite having both guest-starred on ER and The X-Files, the pair met for the first time on the first day of shooting the Brooklyn Nine-Nine pilot. They’d seen each other’s names on audition lists, and occasionally glimpsed each other from afar at functions around Hollywood, but they’d never bothered to introduce themselves. The two immediately hit it off.

“Dirk and I have a rapport and a chemistry,” Miller says. “We genuinely like each other.”

The two attribute their success as a team to the show’s casting director Allison Jones, who’s well-known and well-respected in the entertainment industry for her shrewd eye for talent.

“Joel and Dirk are great character actors I have known for a long time,” Jones says. “They seemed like good-natured cop types, and I knew they could handle a lot more than was required in the pilot—both very funny and both believable”

Much of the production’s energy in the early stages went in to developing the main cast, which put Miller and Blocker in a position to invent their characters out of whole cloth. Blocker likes to think Hitchcock spent his whole childhood dreaming of being a cop, but once he got the job, he realized it wasn’t so much fun anymore. He explains that the erratic behavior on the job represents Hitchcock’s attempts to revert back to childhood.

Miller also suggests Scully and Hitchcock must have both accomplished something heroic in their early days on the force, to justify their shoddy performance at work.

In that sense, Miller and Blocker can’t relate to their characters. Early on in the first season, episode directors asked them both to come up with small activities to complete in the background of shots featuring the main characters. Their business quickly drew the attention of series star Andy Samberg, also a producer.

“There’s nothing more satisfying when you’re trying to be funny, than making someone as funny as Andy laugh,” Blocker says. “That started happening more and more, and Joel and I both started getting the idea that this feels pretty good. They might keep us around for a little while!”

As of Season Two, the production bumped Miller and Blocker up to series regulars. But unlike on most shows, that promotion didn’t necessarily signify a major shift, because the pair already felt like part of the show’s family. Miller recalls showing up to the set on the first day of shooting for Season One, and marveling at the short distance between his parking spot and the studio.

“They showed me a map. I drove over there, and it’s right next to the stage,” he says. “And my name was on the parking spot. I took a picture of it and sent it to my wife.”

And Brooklyn Nine-Nine executive producer Dan Goor is a big fan of the work these comedians do.

“Dirk and Joel are two of the funniest actors I’ve worked with,” Goor says. “Even when they don’t have lines, they are improvising and creating hilarious moments in the background. It is worth watching every bullpen scene a second time to see what they’re doing.”

Even with elite parking status and individual attention, Miller and Blocker understand they’re never going to have the most screentime—and they like it better that way. For one, it affords them the opportunity to live normal lives outside of the show. Also, being the “salt and pepper” (Blocker’s analogy) of the Brooklyn Nine-Nine entree means the older duo can relax on set.

“We’re part of the furniture, we’re part of the environment,” Miller explains. “It’s come to the point where if we weren’t there, you’d probably think, ‘Where’s Scully and Hitchcock? Are they in the bathroom? Are they getting another snack?’”

Both actors have worked this way since their careers began, racking up guest spots and getting experience on a wide variety of sets. Brooklyn Nine-Nine is Blocker’s longest continuous gig and Miller’s second longest, after Big Love. They admit that they look at younger castmates, like Samberg, and wish they’d had the same energy and professionalism at their age.

“I remember when I was there, and I was finding my way through a lot of it—I think that my level of comfort probably wasn’t equal to theirs,” Blocker says. “I’m kind of in awe. I sit back and watch these guys do their thing, and I might be learning more from them than they are from me.”

For both of these talents, the plan is to keep watching and learning, as long as the show will have them.

“This is the job I’ve been looking for 40 years,” Blocker says.

If Hitchcock and Scully are living the dream—both on and off camera—we’re all lucky to watch as it unfolds on the Nine-Nine.

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