‘American Crime’ Star Timothy Hutton on Show’s Controversial Themes: ‘It’s Especially Relevant’

Series explores real conversations families have when violence rocks a community, veteran actor tells TheWrap

“American Crime” is a risky proposition for ABC – a slow burning drama that challenges viewers to think about how drugs, race and violence affect their community. But if the limited series by “12 Years a Slave” writer John Ridley has an ounce of the draw on audiences as it had on lead actor Timothy Hutton, network execs can breathe easy.

When the script for “American Crime” crossed Hutton’s path during pilot season last year, it spoke to the veteran actor in a way no other did.

“I read some really great pilots, and then I read ‘American Crime,’ which for me was just in a completely different category,” Hutton told TheWrap.

“It really was an incredible story, an in depth portrait of disconnected characters in this community that are brought together by this terrible tragedy.”

Hutton said it was that focus on the lives of the characters and the impact of the central crime on the families and community at large that sets “American Crime” apart from other projects in the genre.

“The main thing that captured me was that this was not a standard procedural at all. It was going to deal to some extent with the investigation, but primarily it was going to be a story about the families and how the families deal with each other in this type of crisis and how the community deals with it,” Hutton said.

Though that may sound like an insular plot, Ridley’s story fits into the tense political climate of the country about to receive it. In one of the first few episodes is a scene in which police officers shoot a suspect in the leg — bringing to mind recent police shootings in Ferguson, Missouri and Cleveland, Ohio.

“I do think it’s especially relevant,” Hutton said.

“I don’t think that John necessarily set out to present what we’ve seen in the headlines over the past year,” he added. “Those events unfortunately occurred outside of this story, but this story is reflective of real things that are happening: What happens to the family, what they talk about in their living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, as opposed to what people talk about on television on the news. This, I think, gets into the private area of how people are affected.”

This role marks a shift for Hutton, who was the youngest actor ever to receive an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Robert Redford‘s 1980 film “Ordinary People.” Before starring as frazzled yet fair-minded Russ Skokie on “American Crime,” the actor portrayed Nate Ford on TNT’s “Leverage,” leader of a team of crafty thieves.

“It was such a departure from ‘Leverage,’ such a different character, such a different story, different tone, all kinds of things that, objectively, it felt like [an] interesting place to go next,” Hutton said.

And Hutton had nothing but praise for the team behind “American Crime.”

“[John] Ridley – I mean he put together this amazing group of people, the cinematographer, the production designer, the camera crew,” he said. “Everybody that worked on that set had a real understanding of the story and how to create the proper environment to work in, and there was just an incredible amount of mutual respect between the cast and the crew.”

“In my case a lot of my scenes were with Felicity [Huffman], and I felt very lucky that she was playing Barb, because she’s so brilliant as an actor and also just an incredible human being to be around,” Hutton added.

“American Crime” premieres tonight at 10/9c on ABC.