As a young actor, A.J. Buckley aspired to be John McClane.
The “Die Hard” franchise hasn't come calling yet for the Irish-born Canadian actor. But Buckley, who first made his mark with American viewers as lab geek Adam on CSI: New York, is currently on display as a couple of wise-ass action heroes, Bronco Novak on Pure and Sonny Quinn on SEAL Team.
Pure Season 1 wraps up Wednesday night on WGN America. Pure Second 2 will air later this year.
Bronco, Buckley's character on Pure, is still waiting for his second act. A star quarterback at the small local high school, cop Bronco is divorced and on probation at work.
Bronco recruits local Mennonite Pastor Noah Funk (played by Ryan Robbins), who has been drafted into the drug-running Mennonite mob, to collect incriminating information on mob boss Eli Voss.
The two have history, as Bronco bullied Mennonite students who went to school with him, including Noah, and Noah married Anna, the girl they had both dated in high school.
On his California ride to work for SEAL Team, Buckley talks about Bronco and Noah's prickly relationship, their bumbling investigation and his burgeoning acting career.
How did you get involved with Pure?
My agent had called and sent me the script. I remember reading the first introduction of Bronco, the scene with the hooker in the motel room. Originally it was in his Mustang. I remember just laughing out loud about how pathetic this guy was.
I hadn't really played a character like this before, so I called my agent back and let him know I was interested. Then I had a call with the director and the showrunner and that was kind of it. Bronco was born.
When viewers first meet Bronco, he's divorced, on probation at work, and is stiffing a prostitute who steals his badge. How did he reach that low point?
At the beginning of the series, Bronco is incredibly out of shape and bloated and looked like shit.
In prepping for this role, it was fun and torturous in a sense. I wanted to try and gain as much weight as possible and look as unhealthy as possible prior to filming. I told the director and showrunner that I was going to look as bloated and disgusting and lost as far as the physical aspect.
Then, over the course of the story, as he starts to find his way, I would hone in on my nutrition and workouts and get in the best physical shape in a short amount of time that I can.
I probably put on 15-16 pounds before I got there. I worked with this amazing trainer in Nova Scotia, Adrian Veinot. I was on such a strict diet. Nova Scotia has all these great little breweries and all this great food and I was eating whitefish and turnip for 3 1/2-4 months. I ended up losing 25 pounds in total.
I really wanted to do this to show the physical side of this character transformation. I believe in any major transformation physical things sort of happens to you. I wanted his clarity to come through his physical appearance. I came out of it in great shape.
Is bringing down Eli Voss and the Mennonite mob Bronco's last chance to redeem himself?
I think yes and no. He was the star quarterback in high school, but he hasn't accomplished anything in his life since. He's lived off the glory of being Bronco Novak the football player in this small town.
He is tired of looking at himself in the mirror and seeing no accomplishments. It's more of a personal thing to hang his hat on, to show a new beginning to his life.
Describe the relationship between Bronco and Noah.
Another reason that I jumped on the project is that I was a fan of Ryan Robbins' work. When I found out he was cast, I thought that that was such a great choice in casting.
He was somebody I'd always wanted to work with. We'd known of each other up in Canada but we hadn't had the opportunity to cross paths. So that helped to seal the deal, knowing he was there.
On the set, we had this great chemistry. We kind of decided that Bronco was this kind of high school quarterback/bully that made fun of Mennonites, and just was that dick. So when the tables were turned, when he actually looks at Noah, he sees what it is to be a man, to be a good father, to be loyal, to have a family.
Whatever race or religion you are, it's about what type of person you are at the end of the day. For the first time, he looks up to Noah and thinks “He's actually a good dude. I should aspire to be like that.”
How in over their heads are Bronco and Noah in this investigation?
They're in the deep end with a lot of clothing on in cold water. They're not going to last long. Once that blood is shed, they're down the hole. Either they've got to fight their way out or die.
What can viewers expect as Season 1 wraps up?
The twists and turns of the writing, the quality of the show, it's something career-wise that I'm really proud to be a part of, because of just how well executed it was. The payoff of how Season 1 ends is well worth the time spent in front of the TV.
Even though this interview is about Pure, I'd be remiss not to ask about SEAL Team. How do you enjoy playing Sonny?
It's a dream role. I get to fly around in Blackhawks and blow things up. It's every guy's dream. I get to work with a great cast.
I'm proud to be part of a show that represents the veteran community and does it in such a way that sheds light on PTSD and what it's like for these guys when they come home. The real battle is at home, a different fight they have to deal with.
I'm really proud that over half of our crew are veterans. Our entire stunt team is retired Special Forces. They've gone out of their way to give the veteran community a place to come and work after they come home from war.
American viewers first became aware of you when you played lab geek Adam on CSI: New York. How did you make the transition to big, colorful characters such as Bronco and Sonny?
Part luck. I was recurring on CSI: New York playing Adam and on Supernatural playing Ed Zeddmore, another sort of nerdy guy.
I was terrified that I was going to be pigeonholed as that type of character when deep down inside my favorite character of all time is John McClane. I'd always loved the original “Die Hard” and always wanted to play that type of character.
I had decided after CSI to get in the best shape of my life, put on whatever size I could, train as hard as I possibly could for any role that would come my way. That was the beginning of the physical aspect of things.
I got really picky and passed on a lot of big projects that had similar characters to Adam and Ed. It was scary at times because I had a family that was coming and I was passing on work. But I knew in my heart that the right role would come along and I'd be able to sink my teeth in and steer that role.
It started with Danny Crowe on Justified. People got to see me in that light, as a sociopathic redneck. I got some buzz off that, which enabled me to get into other rooms. It started moving in that direction that I'd been working so hard to get it in.
The Pure season finale airs at 10/9c Wednesday, Feb. 27, on WGN America.
Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.