In the A&E series The Cleaner, which premiered its second season last night, actor Benjamin Bratt plays William Banks, a recovering addict dedicated to helping others get clean. This character was inspired by real-life “extreme interventionist” Warren Boyd, who co-executive produces the show. The new season opened with high praise from outlets like The New York Daily News, which commended the episode’s “seamless ensemble,” as Bratt was joined by fellow stars Whoppi Goldberg and Gary Cole. The Los Angeles Times singled out Bratt himself, admiring his “beautifully captured” characterization of William Banks.
In a recent interview with both Bratt and Boyd, the two previewed what’s to come this season and how they think their show is not only a high-drama, suspenseful ride for viewers, but also a vehicle for social awareness.
Being that the show is based on Boyd’s experiences, he explained that much of the storylines featured in it are captured from his addict days, causing a strange blast from the past sensation. “The mechanics of the show are very close to my real life, which sets me back about 13 to 14 years. What you see on the show is where I was about that long ago. We keep things as authentic as we possibly can and Ben’s really good at doing that,” he said.
In terns of playing Warren (William) on the show, for Bratt, no previous acting gig comes close in its complexity. It’s unusual for an actor to play a man as well as work with him. But this seems to only heighten the experience for Bratt. “I kid him [that] he’s like the candy bar with that crunchy outer shell with a gooey center in the middle. But what he’s really exceptional at which comes from a truly earnest and organic place, and that to me makes him beautiful. And when you combine that soft center with an exterior that’s been in part hammered by the school of hard knocks that makes for a really pretty interesting character to play and to know,” he said.
Bratt hinted that his own family’s “tragic stories” relating to the subject matter are also factored in to why he believes The Cleaner is an important show, but what makes it a ground-breaking drama comes from both the awareness the show brings its viewers and the ability for us to comprehend a world many are reluctant to admit understanding. “As far as I know we’re one of the first, if not the first, one hour drama’s to have at the center of our show a discourse on substance abuse and recovery. We have over 22 million addicts in this country and if you extrapolate those numbers into the numbers of lives that are affected by these addicts and their behaviors, that’s a whole lot of people,” he confessed.
Since the show’s debut in 2007 both Bratt and Boyd can attest to the affect it seems to have on viewers. “What I found in participating in this project and hearing the responses of the people who watch it is that it really resonates with folks who happen to tune in because of its prevalence. Because of the prevalence of substance abuse and how it really affects most of us, whether we have direct contact with it or not,” Bratt said.
Boyd, who still helps addicts through their recovery processes at various facilities throughout the US, said people are reaching out through the website saying they were so “easily able to relate to the episodes because of having an afflicted family member or an extended loved one of some sort that [a given problem presented on the show] took place with.” While we won’t see any of the stories people are sharing with him on the show itself (Boyd said he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that), he assures viewers he’s got plenty of material to come. “In my past 18 years I have taken bits and pieces from stories and from cases that I’ve been involved in and put them into episodes as far as the mechanics and the real aspects of those episodes…. And there’s so many really cool things that people haven’t seen yet that I’m sure that all of this is going to shake out into a sensible fashion for the audience,” he enthused.
With an influx of celebrity rehab reality shows (and celebs entering rehab at an, let’s face it, alarming rate) “The Cleaner” stands alone as a gritty, real-life point-of-view, something that’s been lacking, Bratt claimed: “The subject matter that it explores, which is equally life and death stakes, is something that is here to before been considered taboo. An open discussion about substance abuse is not something people were really willing to talk about ten years ago, so the timing was really right.”
And speaking of timing—the show was green-lit for a second season after what seemed to be an usually long lag-time, a move that actually appears to be related to how deeply the show had touched it’s viewers. “[We] really were intent on having us get it right. And so with a little bit of research and then in a very open, creative discussion with ourselves and the head writers, there was a refocusing of the show and reformatting, which by all accounts on this side has lent itself to a much improved series. So as good as it was last year, I think it’s dramatically improved this year. And that increase in qualitative level has resulted in bringing some really accomplished performers on board to play with us,” Bratt boasted.
If last night’s episode is any indication, this second season of The Cleaner was worth the wait. Bratt said the episode he is looking most forward to (and the one he feels is the best so far) will air June 30th. “It’s a very simple story and I think that’s what allowed the show to be so compelling that the story telling was simple and elegant. It’s about these parallel lives two struggling alcoholics who come from very different backgrounds, very different socioeconomic makeup’s. I won’t tell you what happens in the end, but Joe Don Baker and Michael Beach both killed it and they will break your heart, I promise you,” he said.