Big Picture: Kevin Rankin cleans up his act in Victoria-shot Gracepoint

When Kevin Rankin got the chance to play a clean-cut clergyman in Gracepoint, it was an offer he couldn’t resist — even if it meant he’d have to start shaving again, he said.

“This looks more like I am normally,” said the Louisiana-born actor, smiling as he stroked his smooth skin and neatly combed hair on Island View Beach.

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Rankin, who often plays scruffy bad guys, had returned to the scene of the crime that propels Gracepoint, this time for a photo shoot with David Tennant and his co-stars in the 10-episode remake of the British crime drama Broadchurch.

The series, which premières Oct. 2 on the Fox network, was filmed in and around Victoria from January until May.

Rankin doesn’t usually wear an Episcopalian priest’s collar as he does this day. It’s for his role as Rev. Paul Coates, the moral compass for the northern California community devastated by a local boy’s murder. Tennant plays Emmett Carver, the intense homicide detective brought in to head the investigation, which initially annoys Det. Ellie Miller (Anna Gunn), his partner who assumed she would get the top job.

Rankin’s virtuous appearance is in sharp contrast to his villainous characters such as Kenny, the neo-Nazi associate of Uncle Jack in Breaking Bad; right-wing terrorist Carl Killick in White House Down; and T.J., rodeo cowboy Ron Woodroof’s hard-partying old friend who turns on him after Woodroof is diagnosed with AIDS in Dallas Buyers Club.

That was particularly memorable, Rankin says, and not just because Dallas Buyers Club’s star Matthew McConaughey put him in a chokehold during a fight scene.

“It was instrumental in me being cast [in Gracepoint]” he said. “[Shine America CEO] Rich Ross saw that film and it got his mind rolling on wanting me to be part of this.”

Rankin, whose other roles include Tyler Briggs, a gay San Francisco paramedic in the NBC series Trauma; McVeigh in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes; and Herc, the hell-on-wheels quadriplegic athlete in Friday Night Lights, said while many actors are content “playing a certain kind of character” he wanted to make sure “I wasn’t in a box” by the time he made a name for himself.

“I saw the first episode of Broadchurch just to get an idea of the tone of the show, and then I came in with my own take and found out [Gracepoint] is very different,” he explained.

“I knew Broadchurch was a phenomenon. It almost had the Breaking Bad effect. People really responded over there.”

It wasn’t until Rankin learned that producers Dan Futterman, Anya Epstein and John Goldwyn were involved that he realized Gracepoint was a project worth pursuing.

“And when Anna Gunn signed on I said: ‘Wow. What am I doing? I have got to sign on to this.’ ”

While Rankin is accustomed to being asked about Breaking Bad, he said it wasn’t a big topic of conversation on set with Gunn, whose portrayal of Skyler generated controversy for her metamorphosis from Walter White’s ordinary wife into a ferociously protective partner-in-crime in the hit drama.

“I don’t get tired of Breaking Bad, but maybe Anna does,” he said. “It’s still one of my favourite shows.”

Rankin’s relationship to Gunn in Gracepoint couldn’t be further away from what connected them in Breaking Bad.

“It’s a lot different,” he says. “In this one, she’s a congregant. She’s part of my flock, so when David Tennant comes to town and starts pointing fingers at everyone, I almost take it out on her.”

Without revealing key details, he said “there’s a bit of me wagging my finger” when he blames her for letting an outsider come into town and start accusing everyone of murder.

As constricting as the clergyman’s collar could be for an actor accustomed to toting guns and wearing camouflage tank tops, Rankin said it helped him with character development.

“This is his leash to the Lord,” he said. “I feel like Paul Coates wears this as a reminder to himself as much as to anyone else. I feel it’s sort of like psychotherapy or psychiatrists who get into that because they have problems. They work out their own problems by helping other people through theirs.”

Like his Gracepoint co-stars, Rankin had no idea who the culprit would be, only that Gracepoint has a dramatically different tone and outcome than Broadchurch.

Rankin said he felt at home here during his extended stay with his wife, actress Jill Farley, and their 17-month-old daughter, who took part in play groups and swimming programs.

“This is the favourite place we’ve ever shot,” said Rankin, who could return if there’s a second season. “We moved right in. I hope we get to come back.”

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