Chi McBride studies the menu intently. This is a man who enjoys his food and picks his drink even more carefully.
Once the chicken sandwich and ale are chosen, he settles his massive frame into a leather chair to discuss playing a cop on CBS’ “Golden Boy.” The midseason drama, about the meteoric rise of a police commissioner, was not on the fall lineup at this writing.
Talking as the Tuesday show was launching, McBride was hopeful but guarded. He would move his family to New York, where the show shoots, if it became a hit.
McBride, 51, says he models his character, Detective Don Owen, after other actors who play cops whom he respects.
“I am a fan of ‘NYPD Blue’ and ‘Law & Order,’ ” he tells Zap2it. “I have great affection for both because two guys — [Dennis] Farina and [Dennis] Franz — are two guys I will always be chasing. They are real cops.”
He has smoked cigars with them, listened to them and learned from them.
“You look in their eyes,” McBride says. “They are lovely, charming, funny guys. You don’t want to be on the wrong end of that.”
McBride, natty in a three-piece suit accented with a pocket square and wearing French cuffs, acknowledges he knows a bit about being charming, referencing his wife.
“I am a damned lucky man,” he says of his wife of 10 years. “You see my wife and say, ‘I know he must be charming because I see he ain’t good-looking.'”
McBride — whose given first name is Kenneth but goes by the nickname after his beloved hometown of Chicago — didn’t come to acting until he was 30. He worked for the phone company, where he did “as little as possible.”
Co-workers kept telling him how funny he was and how he ought to be on TV.
“But how do I do it?” he says he recalls thinking. He cut a record. “It went plastic.”
He broke in playing small roles but “never had an acting lesson,” McBride says. “I memorize my lines two or three minutes before I got to say them.”
McBride watches “The First 48,” which he calls “the best thing on TV,” to inform his character.
“I know a lot of real coppers.”
Pals with some members of the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, McBride relays an incident that unfolded one night in a bar. Being on TV and in movies and standing over 6 feet 4 inches, the strapping McBride is a target for drunks looking to prove themselves.
One night, a man wanted to fight because he thought McBride was flirting with his girlfriend. McBride’s officer friend told the drunk, “You don’t want to go jail, but we will. And we probably are going to have to make a stop first — we’ll stop by the hospital.”
The guy retreated. McBride laughs at the story. He loves it, but not as much as the story of him singing with Prince.
He looks disappointed that this isn’t common knowledge but happily shares. When McBride was on “Pushing Daisies,” co-star Kristin Chenoweth sent a text: “You want to go to Prince’s house?”
McBride had long been a major fan. “I got to sing ‘Play That Funky Music, White Boy’ with Prince backing me up,” he says. “For a month, I answered my phone, ‘Yeah, I sang with Prince.'”
The memory of that night washes over him, and he smiles, then sips ale. Though McBride has an enviable wine cellar of 1,600 bottles, they’re not for show.
“I am intending to drink them all,” he says. “I am not a collector. I drink my wine.”