On a weekly basis, Alex Russell gets to stretch his acting muscles – and those biceps – on Global’s “S.W.A.T.” And with season 4 of the show returning on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT, ET Canada caught up with the actor to talk about COVID protocols on set, Shemar Moore’s recovery from the virus and his character’s upcoming love life.
Best known for performances in the movies “Chronicle” and “Carrie”, the Australian native preferred the feature film grind – travelling and playing different characters in a multitude of locations. Network television wasn’t even on Russell’s radar until the part of Jim Street presented itself.
“I turned down things, where I could have made really good money and I was flat broke or in debt,” Russell tells ET Canada. “Then, this came along and first of all, creator Shawn Ryan is so respected. And, since I was a kid, I have always been a lover of action. I’ve just loved a well-executed action movie.
“Then, I was very blessed because there’s conflict for everyone, but I have a very fun, showy role,” he continues. “On one hand, when a character is so larger-than-life and likeable and cool on the page, there’s a lot of responsibility and pressure that comes with that. But it’s also a real gift. I recognized that when I was reading that. Those things felt compelling enough to me to be like, ‘You know what? I could do this for nine months of the year and be very happy.’ And I have been.”
A member of an elite unit sworn to serve and protect the public, Street and his fellow officers regularly lock and load their firearms, scope out a situation, enter unknown premises and engage the bad guys. To simulate the proper protocols and techniques, Russell received special training and attended a S.W.A.T. bootcamp. The show also enlisted Otis “Odie” Gallop as its main technical advisor.
“Odie is San Diego S.W.A.T. and he did protective work for the mayor of San Diego,” Russell says. “He was in S.W.A.T. for decades. He keeps us from looking bad. By late season two, season three, the further on in the show that we got, he felt like a proud dad. He will see us fix things before he even needs to step in. Any time that we have anything tactile, I feel kinda naked if we don’t have Odie there now.”
A bit of a rule-breaker, Street started off as a lone wolf. His attitude and priorities gradually shifted under the guidance of his current sergeant, Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson, portrayed by Shemar Moore these days, Street is more disciplined and has proven himself time and time again out in the field.
“The backstory of Street is that he was S.W.A.T. in Long Beach, California, and something happened, he made a mistake, or he was unprofessional in a certain way, and so he got transferred here,” explains Russell. “Being in S.W.A.T., and being an officer, was the first thing that saved his life. But the most meaningful change of all is when Street comes to Hondo’s team.
“Street is coming in late in the game,” he adds. “He’s already been a S.W.A.T. officer for several years and feels like he knows what he is doing. Hondo is like, ‘You need to basically start again.’ The difference between the S.W.A.T. in the past and this S.W.A.T. team is this team becomes his family.”
When “S.W.A.T.” returns tonight, the rivalry between Street and colleague Chris heats up. The duo, along with their friend Tan, have been duking it out for a leadership position. But Chris appears to be more personally invested.
“There’s something about Chris that seems focused in a different kind of way than we’ve seen before,” Russell says. “It’s like she really needs this. There’s a bit of a miscommunication between the three of them about what this means to Chris. Tan and Street signed up thinking it was this fun competition. We will see how it plays out. Viewers can have faith that the love is always there, and that they can work it out. It just depends how long that takes.”
In addition, Street’s romantic life comes under fire. He has been dating and living with Molly, the daughter of Commander Hicks, a senior official within the LAPD Spec Ops Bureau. Russell notes, “It’s the first healthy relationship that Street has had as an adult, with a woman.” Unfortunately, the lovebirds are about to hit a rough patch.
“What I like about this dynamic from a story perspective is there is tension there with Chris,” Russell offers. “Chris sees a different side of Street now. She’s always seen Street as this guy who has been very happy-go-lucky, a daredevil. Until recently, he was on five different dating aps. He wasn’t the type to settle down. But they have their history. They clearly still feel deeply for each other. And now he can settle down with this girl…
“As an actor, I got excited about the potential conflict that could bring between Street and Commander Hicks should anything go wrong with the relationship,” he adds. “I’m not going to say if anything does go wrong. You can take that for what you will and think about what the repercussions would be for Street with Commander Hicks.”
“S.W.A.T.” isn’t your standard procedural. The series frequently incorporates heavy topics ripped from the headlines, including racism, protests against police brutality and Covid. Russell says he’s proud the writers address those social issues head-on.
“I’m also happy that we are a show that encourages productive conversation,” he says. “There are different versions of how you tackle important issues in storytelling. You can get a little too preachy or didactic, and potentially lose some of the conversation you might have had. What we have is a show that can reach the broadest audience. Different people, sitting on different sides of the political fence on various issues, could watch our show. Our show, first and foremost, is about entertainment and making people feel good. That’s the kind of show it is. The writers and everyone involved strike a meaningful balance.”
In 2020, “S.W.A.T.” made the news as the first hour-long TV drama to resume production during the global-altering pandemic. Scrupulous guidelines were implemented to keep cast and crew safe. Russell notes that in the beginning, the measures were “very strange” and a “very foreign concept daily.”
“The activity of introducing PPE and all the Covid protocols into a shooting set bring a lot of challenges,” Russell explains. “Suddenly, you realize certain things take much longer. You are exhausted. You want to take a bite of a protein bar or take a drink of water, but you realize you can’t do it. You have to go and find a place away from everyone else to face away, drop your mask and do it quickly. It’s definitely presented challenges, but I feel super-safe at work.”
Even the best of intention is not always good enough. “S.W.A.T.”’s leading man, Moore, announced on Instagram that he had tested positive for Covid. Right now, the series remains on hiatus.
“I checked in with him when he first revealed that,” Russell reports. “It kind of knocked him around a bit. I don’t know the full extent. I haven’t spoken in depth about it, but my understanding is he was really lethargic, just really low-energy. But, outside of that, he was toughing through it.”
Season four of “S.W.A.T.” returns Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Global.