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The Sunday Conversation

June 21, 2009|Choire Sicha

NEW YORK — Benjamin Bratt stars as A&E's extreme drug and alcohol interventionist "The Cleaner," which returns for its second season Tuesday. We grabbed Bratt during his lunch break just as the show was busy shooting its 10th of 13 episodes this season.

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The end of the tunnel is in sight!

It's very, very faint at this point, but there is a pinhole of light. I'm barreling towards it faster and faster, much at the urging at my wife and children, I might add. All kidding aside, it's a pretty hellacious schedule! There's been a reformatting in terms of how it was done last year: There's more focus on the central character and the guest, and what that results in is me being top to bottom on the schedule all day, every day. The good news is it's fantastic to be employed. And more importantly to be employed on a series that seems to be moving people.

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You sound like a TV veteran now.

Well, I'm sure if you recall any other actor from a major network show that does 22 or 23 episodes a year -- well, it's a lot. The hope is that within all the hard work you find moments of redemption. Is what I'm doing worth all the trouble?

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Your laughter sounds almost slightly hysterical.

My laughter really belies my complete and utter exhaustion. I'm really excited about the season kicking off on air finally. I'm excited because as well-received as the show was last year, and as emotional as it got at times and compelling, I think we've done a much better job this year. I think lending more focus to the client of the week, if you will, and whatever emotional state they're in or whatever addiction they're dealing with, it upped the emotional stakes for the show. You probably already read we have Whoopi Goldberg joining us.

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Which is wild.

The story of that, man. She was a fan of the show! She reached out to the show runner and said, 'I found it moving.' And it struck up a friendship between them and now our season opener stars Whoopi Goldberg. With an opportunity to recur on the show.

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Do you hear stuff from people in the recovery community, both pro and con?

I hear a lot of comments. In a supermarket or a parking lot or a town car, I have people volunteering deeply personal information within seconds.

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This [co-executive producer Warren] Boyd character [on whom Bratt's character is based]: Is he a trip?

He's complicated! He's complicated; he's moody. And yet at the end of the day he's entirely focused on getting the job done, whatever that means. As often as he is on the set, and as I reach out to him for insight, he can invariably be found working two different digital devices. He's got a team of people and he's always on the move. What he does is somewhat shrouded in mystery -- we try to remove some of that mystery on the show.

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What are you going to do when you're done?

The first thing I'm going to do is get on a plane and go back to New York City. I've had a place there for 10 years. We'll reacquaint ourselves with the city. My wife was born in Brooklyn. My idea of relaxation! I'm also focused on releasing a film I produced with my brother called "La Mission." It'll be opening the LA Outfest on July 9, opening night film. And on July 19, the Latin American film fest in New York.

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What's up with that?

It's a hometown story. It's about an old-school lowrider, a former bad boy, who's a humble bus driver who hangs out with his buddies and builds lowrider cars. He discovers his son, his pride and joy, is gay and has a violent reaction to it. It's about this man's journey to find acceptance and tolerance, and takes place in the Mission District in San Francisco, a neighborhood I'm very rooted to, as is my family.

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I was just in the Mission a couple months ago -- it's looking awesome!

You see what an amazing vibrant place that is. It's changed a lot, hasn't it? Some of the changes are what we take issue with in the film -- we address the cultural vibrancy that remains and is right there living side by side with everyday gang violence, which seems to be overlooked. It's a complicated environment to drop our little story in the middle of.

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In L.A., people are a little more segregated.

Oh, much more so. I would argue that as culturally diverse as L.A. is, and it's one of the most diverse places on the planet, it is shockingly segregated. And that's why I love New York so much and, on one level, San Francisco. You step out your door and you're swept up in a sea of humanity whether you want to be or not. You can stay in your car in L.A. and avoid anyone you want to.

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Are you becoming more political as you get older?

I think the short answer is yes. I grew up in an activist family, and so it's certainly part of my makeup to the extent I can make time to focus on it. And the key is to always remain outspoken.

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