Charmed On the WB's Witch Hunt
Dorian Gregory's in the unenviable position of playing the straight man on a supernatural series, but that doesn't bother him any. As policeman Darrel Morris, he's not buying the possibility that lovely sisters Prue, Piper, and Phoebe may be involved with powers beyond his imagining: like Dana Scully on The X-Files, he's stuck being the non-believer in a world where the fantastic is real.
"Darrel's not easily swayed in terms of thinking that some mystical, strange, magical thing has happened; he's seen things like that before and it always came back to, 'No,'" notes the actor with a laugh. "He has a definite rulebook that he follows as far as life is concerned; things follow in certain patterns, and it's just a matter of figuring out what pattern it is. Everything repeats itself."
There's nothing supernatural about the success of Charmed, but it hasn't followed any expected pattern. When the WB network decided to break up its extremely successful Tuesday night pairing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dawson's Creek, it brought on two hot new shows - one of which, Felicity, was launched with huge hype, but Charmed was not. Despite being in the same time slot as two strong competitors - UPN's Star Trek Voyager, which pulls science fiction fans, and Party of Five, which draws a large female audience - the debut of Charmed scored the highest rating for a new series in the young network's history.
The show has continued to earn good numbers, and the three women who play the witch sisters - Shannen Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs - were on last week's TV Guide cover. As that magazine pointed out, shows about witches have been successful in the past (Dark Shadows, Bewitched, Sabrina). With the cancellation of Mercy Point, WB now has as much genre on the air as UPN. But it was gutsy to pair this adult supernatural soap with the smash teen success Dawson's Creek, rather than the similarly fantastical Buffy, which would seem a natural predecessor.
Darrel Morris is one of the more grown-up members of this already mature cast: he seems older than Gregory, whose enthusiasm makes him seem more youthful. "My energy is young, but Darrel's perspective is more centered - what makes him seem older is that he's more centered about life," says the actor. "His life is more defined. There's no naivete about him." Playing Darrel appealed to Gregory because of "his realistic take on life, his sense of humor, the fact that he's been around and he's seen so much that very little takes him aback. I feel that in life, when you've seen a lot - tragic experiences and joyful experiences - you have a different kind of edge, and you learn to flow with life. He's a homicide detective, and in order to get to homicide you have to get through all the ranks as far as the police force is concerned. He's been in around for some time."
Gregory has appeared in five episodes of the series so far, and now that the show has been picked up for a full season, more are likely to follow. "As far as the backstory's concerned, usually they want to see what you bring to the table - I auditioned with the guy who plays my partner, T.W. King, and the main thing they were looking for was the chemistry between these two guys," he explains. "We really enjoyed each other, and they were looking for that energy - it had to look like he's not some guy I met yesterday."
Does Gregory believe in witchcraft? "It's a paranormal thing," he laughs when the phone line dies mid-conversation. "I hate to say what Dorian personally believes because people are watching Darrel. Darrel doesn't! It's not a question of believing in witchcraft, it's a question of believing that we co-exist with many things. I believe there's a reasonable, rational explanation for things which are unexplainable, and we don't know everything. It's not a question of what's paranormal." The possibilities of the storyline excite him: "The wonderful thing about this show, the doors are wide open. They come in contact with shapeshifters, they come in contact with demons, they come in contact with warlocks and other witches, they come in contact with ghosts. It's going to give it such a long-lasting life." In terms of his hopes for Darrel, "They're not talking romantic interest yet, but you know what, with a lot of letters..."
Gregory describes the cast of Charmed as "extraordinarily comfortable," a set where "everybody really likes each other, everybody gets along" (despite Doherty's reportedly tense parting with producer Aaron Spelling from Beverly Hills 90210, both say they are delighted to be working together again, and the three actresses have many similarities in terms of their careers and backgrounds). Gregory believes "one of the things that brings us all together is that we enjoy the storyline and the characters. That makes the energy positive - it's really difficult to be negative or have a bad attitude when you're given something you can have fun with."
The actor played cops before on several television series, and works with the Los Angeles Police Department in the Jeopardy Program to assist children at risk, so getting inside Darrel's head isn't a problem for him. Asked what shows he'd like to be on, he gravitates again towards police series: "Homicide, NYPD Blue, shows of that nature, any Bochko production." Yet he says his role models for Darrel were not officers but family. "My role models are people who are involved in my life: my mother, my father, people I have observed, extraordinarily wise people who are not really affected by much - not that they don't take life in, but it's real hard to knock them off their center," he says. "I think I'm getting to that point where I accept people for what they are. I allow people to be frail, to have their eccentricities. As life goes on, you enjoy the differences in people and things that earlier in life you might have called a flaw, now you call it endearing. Things that used to really irritate me and get on my nerves don't anymore."
A performer and writer since youth, Gregory "went from writing to modeling and at the same time I was involved in music, I was writing and singing, then I was doing theater at the same time." A firm believer that what makes an artist is "the diversity of their experiences, you need a thousand years of life," he has taken an active part in the direction of his career. "I feel that artists, creators, have an extreme responsibility as far as the message we put out there," he states. "We're blessed with the opportunity of having people be influenced or entertained by what we're doing, so you therefore have a responsibility in terms of what you put out there and how it's going to affect those who are watching. I'm very careful and I try to be selective about the roles I will go after. What I want to do right now is grow, and the only way I can grow is to give myself and my experiences as much diversity as possible as far as role choice is concerned and the jobs that I choose to pursue in this business, whether it be in front of the camera or behind the camera."
An aspiring producer as well as an actor and writer, Gregory is one of the founding members of the Epiphany Theater Group, and also hosted "Lighten Up," a "politically incorrect" radio show which he describes as "a free-for-all about being honest about what we love and hate in life...and we would do it with a sense of humor." He has been featured on Baywatch Nights, Murder She Wrote, Pacific Blue, Lois and Clark, and Prey, as well as several comedies.
In addition to his career ambitions, Gregory is involved in a lot of volunteer work. He is the national spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association, a condition he has had for 18 years. "This is something I've lived with, and it's been such a ride. For years I fought what was necessary for me to co-exist with diabetes, but you can't do that, because you're not going to win. You do things that sabotage your own life because you try to disassociate yourself from it. I came to a point where I found out that no matter what I did, I wasn't going to get rid of this thing. And it's not such a horrific thing, it's only horrific when you fight it. When I got to the point in my life when I decided I wasn't going to fight anymore, then my whole state of mind became healthy."
Though he is involved with fundraising, Gregory's major role is in talking to young adults with the disease. "This thing, when you get it so young and you're just trying to figure out what life is all about - boy, is that tough. This is the last thing on earth that you want to concern yourself with. I try to give some insight on battles that I went through, and no matter how strong I thought that I was, I was defeated by these battles. That segued into talking to kids about their lives and planning for their future and making the right choices. I love talking to people and I love getting their perspective on things. I try to add and I try to receive."
Like Darrel Morris, Dorian Gregory says that he finally feels centered "and accepting life for all that it has - the good, the bad, the evil, and the ugly. The ride is the experience of the audience, and I thank them for the opportunity to take it with them." As for his current job, "It's a wonderful cast and crew, everybody who's put this together. And the network is behind the show, the numbers have just been growing every week. I think people can read how much everyone onscreen is enjoying what we're doing. I feel, for lack of a better word, charmed."