Eric Johnson may not be a “Rookie Blue” regular anymore, but he still feels at home any time he returns as Detective Luke Callaghan.
He does so again in “Skeletons,” Thursday’s (July 25) episode as Season 4 of the Canadian-made ABC police drama continues. Luke is back at 15 Division to work with the cops — including his ex-fiancee, Officer Andy McNally (Missy Peregrym) — to find a missing girl who may have been taken by a kidnapper copying the felon who abducted Officer Gail Peck (Charlotte Sullivan) last season.
“There were times in the second season where they really didn’t know what to do with Luke,” the friendly Johnson allows to Zap2it. “Once the relationship with Andy broke down, what was he gonna do? You don’t want the mopey ex-boyfriend wandering the halls for 20 episodes, because it’s just not interesting.
“What I love about coming back now,” adds Johnson, “is that whenever Luke is back, something big is going on. You know there’s trouble when Luke is walking around, and I love playing the detective who’s figuring things out.
“It’s incredibly enjoyable for me, and the whole cast and crew are fantastic people. It really feels like coming home, honestly, and I’m flattered every time they ask me to come back. The same people who do ‘Rookie Blue’ also do a show called ‘Saving Hope,’ and they’ve just invited me to do an episode of that, so it’s very much a family affair.”
The latest “Rookie Blue” episode isn’t the only time Edmonton, Alberta, native Johnson reappears this season. He’ll be back at the end of the season “as stuff starts hitting the fan,” he says, and he’s grateful that executive producer and co-creator Tassie Cameron has kept him in the show’s fabric.
“I said, ‘We all need to be aware that there’s no coming back from this,'” Johnson recalls of Luke and Andy’s breakup … though Luke ended up saving her life shortly thereafter, when a criminal took her captive while she was probing a hunch Luke had about a case.
“You don’t cheat on the lead of a show and be forgiven in TV land,” muses Johnson, “which was something I learned very early on, on ‘Smallville.’ Once you’ve strung up the hero of the show in a cornfield, it’s very hard to win the audience back. It’s not a change I was against at all (on ‘Rookie Blue’), I just understood the implications of it.
“By my going away and then coming back in, it almost allowed us to get a fresh start with the character. ‘Let’s not make this about Luke and Andy, let those sleeping dogs lie and let’s move forward. They’re cops, so let’s catch the bad guys.’ I love the intensity of it all.”
The last time Luke was pivotal was at the end of Season 3, when he sent Andy on the undercover assignment she and Officer Nick Collins (Peter Mooney) still were on as Season 4 opened.
‘One thing I really love about ‘Rookie Blue’ is that it’s always shades of grey,” Johnson reflects. ‘There’s always a justification for why people do things; they may be making the wrong choices for the right reasons. Sometimes, you may be making the right call by arresting somebody, but it doesn’t feel good. That’s probably one of the biggest appeals of the show, that it’s about how you feel about being a cop.”
While he was away from “Rookle Blue,” Johnson — also a former TV “Flash Gordon” — had time for guest shots on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” (as the brother of Thomas Gibson‘s Hotchner) and BBC America’s “Orphan Black.” Collectively, those roles have enabled Johnson to grow up in front of viewers since his “Smallville” days as Whitney.
“It’s been a tremendous learning experience,” he confirms. “Not that it hasn’t had its bumps, where maybe your confidence is a little rocked at times, but it really is a maturation. I’ve been lucky enough to do this for over 20 years, and it’s definitely serious, adult business now.”