In most TV shows set in New York City, cops are tough, no-nonsense authority figures. From Law and Order: SVU to NYPD Blue, the hard-nosed officers are an extension of the city’s grit and resilience. That’s why when a memorable detective like Avraham “Avi” Avraham (Jeff Wilbusch) in The Calling comes along, it stands out.
As a detective in the NYPD, Avi applies empathy and spirituality to a job that’s both physically and emotionally taxing. Avi would rather de-escalate a situation with his words instead of his gun. When a missing person investigation takes an unexpected turn, Avi’s morals are put to the test, as well as his faith in humanity. While usually working alone, Avi must rely on his unit – Detective Janine Harris (Juliana Canfield), Detective Earl Malzone (Michael Mosley), and Captain Kathleen Davies (Karen Robinson) – to find the answers he so desperately seeks.
In an interview with Digital Trends, the cast of The Calling talk about Avi and why he’s such a magnetic character. Plus, they share their experience working with David E. Kelley and Barry Levinson on a New York cop show.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Avi is a mysterious and spiritual detective. Jeff, how would you describe him?
Jeff Wilbusch: Avi’s calling, everything he does, is solving cases. He’s such an unusual detective because he has so much feeling inside of him. He cares so much for people, and he has such deep empathy for the world. This is what guides him, and I learned a lot playing this character.
On the flip side, Janine wants to learn from Avi, and they form this unlikely, charming partnership. Juliana, why do you think Janine gravitates toward Avi the way she does?
Juliana Canfield: I think Avi is the kind of detective you can’t learn to be in school. I think Janine’s a straight-A, teacher’s pet, and an always-prepared student. She comes to the precinct ready to try out all that she’s learned in the classroom, in the field. But, Avi sort of transcends the capacity of what you can learn from being a good student.
I think that Janine sees that he’s operating above and beyond the literal, the obvious, the black and white, and he plays in these shades of gray. He sees and hears things in silence and stillness. That’s true genius. Like many ambitious young people, when you see someone who’s a genius, you want to figure out how they got there.
Karen, you took on the role of a Captain in the NYPD. What stood out to you about Captain Davies?
Karen Robinson: She spoke in very short sentences. I love that. There is nothing about this writing that’s expository. They have cut all the extra stuff. When you see a script and David Kelly is somewhere on the front page of that script, you know that you’re in pretty good hands. So turning those pages, of course, proved that to be true. Yeah. I love my character because she is succinct, she is to the point, and everybody can understand what she’s talking about because she then couples that with a look.
Michael, when you see David E. Kelley’s name on the show, was it an automatic yes?
Michael Mosley: Yes, and Barry Levinson and a cop drama in New York in the summer. Gritty. Yes, it was a no-brainer. I was pinching myself. I thought it was fantastic. Then having Jeff, you know, the creep from Unorthodox. That guy who played that villain…
Great role, though.
Mosley: So great! So stressful. Every time this guy would come on screen, I was just like, “Oh, god. This is not good any time that guy was around.” So to have him now in a position of being a protagonist and a guy we’re rooting for, I think it’s really interesting. He just does so well, and I can’t wait for people to see that.
The hallmark of a good cop show is the cast, and each character in this ensemble brings their own flair. What was the set like with this cast?
Canfield: Boring. Very dour.
Wilbusch: Very boring. Never laughed. [Laughs]
Canfield: Everyone just had their headphones in and kept to themselves. No, that was kind of my favorite thing, the scenes where the four of us got to be in the precinct together. I think each of us has such a different energy, but the common thread among us, I think, is we’re there to have a good time.
There’s a certain looseness and egolessness that I found in my three costars. Willingness to be silly and goofy and to make a mistake. That was the best environment to be in, especially when you’re dealing with pretty dark and twisted material. I just think it’s imperative that you have a group of people you can laugh with.
Mosely: It was a blast. I mean everybody came in so open and ready to go. Everybody was ready to kind of ping-pong off each other. If something funny happened, it usually floated and we would usually keep it, or Barry would point it out and be like, “Yeah, that’s funny. Do that,” or, “That’s right, do that.” It was really great. We were very lucky to have this core here, and we’re really lucky to have Jeff because what he’s doing with this very, very strange character is just fascinating to watch.
Jeff, what were your conversations like with David when building this character?
Wilbusch: When I met David, I came with a list of questions. He spent hours with me. He’s very busy, and the phone kept ringing.
He has a lot of shows.
Wilbusch: Yeah, I know. A lot. Very busy. It was a great honor to talk to him for so long, and I had a lot of questions. It was amazing. I was so excited that I had to write down all the questions because I didn’t want to forget anything. I got all my questions answered. It’s a dream, you know?
There’s such a collection of talent behind the scenes. Barry Levinson, Hans Zimmer, etc. With all of this talent, did it give the series a greater sense of specialness?
Mosley: I don’t know if you can think about it like that, you know? I think you kind of just get in there and do your work. But, I mean in your head, there’s the little kid in me like, “Barry Levinson? Yeah, that’s pretty cool.” The little kid in me is still there and still a fan of this stuff that we get to do. But, I think if you if you put too much importance on it, I think you might strangle it. Just keep it loose.
Robinson: Because eventually Barry Levinson is going to say action, and you got to bring it. If your brain is somewhere else, you can’t do the job. Then when he says cut, he’s going to let you know, and you don’t want that from Barry Levinson. [Laughs]
Mosley: [Laughs] You don’t waste Barry’s film. Each take counts.
Canfield: I think when I got the audition in my inbox, seeing David Kelley’s name on that title page just instantly endowed the project. I just knew that it would be done skillfully and that if David were involved, there were going to be other great people involved because great talent attracts other great talents. I just love working with people who are experienced and on the top of their game because they’re just so secure in what they do, what they know how to do, and they’re generous with all that they’ve learned. I really feel so lucky and honored to work with a team of veterans, frankly.
Wilbusch: If I may add to that, they do what they do because they have to. If it’s Hans Zimmer doing music, Barry Levinson directing, or David E. Kelly has another show, it’s something they really…
Canfield: Want to do.
Wilbusch: [They] Want to do that, and it’s fun for them to do that, and they believe in that.
The series is based on the Israeli book series by author Dror Mishani. Jeff, can you describe the importance of playing this protagonist?
Wilbusch: Great books. Loved reading them. They were so successful in Israel, and I think also very unique to the genre in Israel. We met on set. He [Dror] came. Such such a talented, kind man.
Canfield: A lovely man.
Wilbusch: Great books. Loved reading them. They definitely added to my research. But it’s so beautiful to see how David E. Kelley took those great books and loosely based the show on them, and added unique characters and cases. So the package is good.
This is a cop show in New York, but with a new spin. It’s more sympathetic and compassionate. What can the series bring to those looking for a new take on a cop show?
Robinson: It really leads you. It asks you to lead with your humanity because you are looking at all of these people. Not only your main characters but everyone that we bring into the story. You’re looking at all of them through the lens of their humanity. Actually, through the way Avi perceives them, he always goes to the heart of the person first. It takes you into their lives. Your neighbor is in your apartment building or on your street or the people that you see on transit.
It takes you into their rooms. It takes you into the conversations that they have in those rooms. I love that because it’s not a whodunit. It’s more of a why are these people the way they are without it being something that’s prurient in a way. It’s not that. It’s sort of peeling back the layers of people’s lives, and I love that. As someone who watched some of it, I found myself really drawn in by that aspect of it.
All eight episodes of The Calling are now available to stream on Peacock.