There’s a new episode of The Night Shift coming up on Thursday night, and whether it be for this installment or the rest of season 4, be prepared for a wide array of stories when it comes to Kenny. The character’s been at the center of some humor here and there with Cain (Mark Consuelos) so far this season, but the further things progress, the more you’ll see a deeper, more emotional side to the nurse we’ve been invested in for the past several seasons.
We recently had a chance to speak with JR Lemon about his character, the process of finding out about the show’s renewal for this season, and a whole lot more. Also, at the bottom of the article be sure to check out an Exclusive sneak peek for the episode.
CarterMatt – So how’s your comfort level with Kenny right now?
JR Lemon – The comfort level’s good! I think you’ll see that this season. So far we’ve seen a happy-go-lucky Kenny — everybody’s best friend and a practical jokester. This season, we get to see what happens when bad things happen to a good person. You see some different colors come out when everything’s upended. In the first episode you find out that he’s given all of his money to the loan shark, so he’s just broke now. He’s really getting as low has he can, and instead of being a person who does extra for everyone, you see what happens when he’s in a situation like ‘I do things for you all the time — would you do the same thing for me?’
One of the cool things to explore with Kenny this year is the reason why he’s everybody’s best friend, the reason why he plays jokes, and he wants to be on everybody’s good side. Many times, that comes from a place of vulnerability and a need for sanity. I’ve always looked at Kenny’s backstory as not really having a strong family growing up, a young mom, a matriarchal grandmother who was the rock in the family, and passed away and left his sister and mother alone. It made Kenny the responsible one. The football thing, where he thought he was going to go to the NFL, that was the way out.
The thing with Kenny is it’s been interesting to explore that vulnerability. We’re going to see some trauma happen.
For you, I feel like that has to be really exciting, and I’m sure the past few years you’ve asked Gabe [Sachs] and Jeff [Judah] what Kenny’s backstory was.
Yeah, totally. In truth, I had it almost created beforehand. One of the cool things about Jeff and Gabe is that they’ll watch dailies, and a lot of times they’ll create more from the dailies. So my job was to take bits and pieces from Kenny’s practical jokes, and then create this full human being.
It was really a lesson in the business, to be honest with you — you have to do what’s necessary, and you have to do all of the work. If you do all of the work your character becomes more and more interesting and people want to write for you. This season has been a lot of fun because as the season goes on you’ll get to see some of those vulnerabilities.
Let’s go back to the first episode. What was it like working with this new character in Cain who turned out to be a little bit different than how he first presented himself?
It wasn’t shown a lot, but at the end of last season Kenny owed all of this money to the loan shark, and Paul was supposed to help him out, but he wasn’t able to. We see what happens because of that — Kenny ends up with this black eye.
Kenny already has a feel for people in the underworld — loan sharks and people who are a bit shadier. So I think the initial feel for Cain is that he’s in that world, and that he knows this guy. He’s thinking [like] ‘you guys in the ER, you don’t know this side of it. I’m close to the bottom — you guys make a ton of money, you’ve never even thought of these things. But, I’m from the hood, and not only that, but I just got beat up from someone from the underworld. I smell underworld on this guy.’ That happens when he steps over the line and I get to know him a little more. So I think that [suspicion] was the initial sort of [thinking], but that got a little upended.
I do still think Kenny has some suspicion towards him, but I think we’re going to see some jokes played on Kenny.
The news broke before filming that Ken [Leung] was leaving the show, but we didn’t learn until this past episode what happened to the Topher character. When did you first find out about him getting killed off, and what was the reaction to that with everybody?
We didn’t know how he was going to be killed off. We knew that he had moved on to another project — we thought that maybe he would guest star, but timing is sometimes so hard to get right.
It was interesting — we had characters leave before, but this was the first one where there was major story around him, and there is even more story coming up. It’s about paying respect to him, because he’s such a great guy and a great team member. It’s just our way of saying that we miss him. (Note: The sneak peek at the bottom of this article shows you how Kenny is going to honor Topher’s memory at the hospital.)
Is there anything that you can say about Kenny romantically this season?
[His love life] actually takes a sharp turn upwards [later this season], but when it does that we don’t know if it’s a good thing or a dangerous thing because it’s so abrupt. Let’s just leave it at that.
One of the best things about this show is that you guys do get an opportunity to be thrown into different situations and to do a lot of different things. Is there anything in particular you’re stoked for people to see?
Episode 6 is going to be Kenny’s biggest test so far. In episode 5 he’s tested a bit when he feels that he’s being taken for granted, and episode 6 is when everything that Kenny has left, and everything that he ties his identity to, is taken away.
Do you pay attention to the ratings and some of the reaction that comes in, or do you put blinders onto that during filming?
I look at that stuff all of the time, for sure.
I know it’s putting the cart before the horse a little bit here, but are you starting to think and hope already for a season 5?
It’d be wonderful. It’s funny that we’re just so used to this feeling of not knowing [if we’re coming back](laughs). It’s always like ‘oh, you’re on the bubble, and maybe you’ll have to wait until the very last second for a renewal.’
This season, it’s tough because we feel like the show is only getting better, and we also see and feel like the exposure and publicity for it is going the other way, to the point where with the first episode, I don’t really know how many people knew it was on. The ratings jump [for episode 2] actually makes sense, because people may have saw it in their DVR and said ‘hey, Night Shift’s back on. It’s definitely stuff that we pay attention to. It’s a little bit frustrating when you do want more visibility out there, especially when you think that you’re product is great, but you gotta roll with the punches, I guess.
Let’s go back to when the show was renewed last time — how nervous was everyone that it wouldn’t be coming back?
I think we were all shaking in our boots. I know a few of us had just settled down a little bit — I had just moved into LA a little bit more, and was just trying to figure out a game plan … It’s a long wait, and you always want it to happen [quickly], but the powers-that-be have a different agenda going on. It’s not wrong, but their agenda is just different than yours. They may just not feel as pressed.
But yeah, we were definitely calling each other and being like ‘we’ll see what happens.’
More Night Shift coverage
Just in case you want to get some further news when it comes to The Night Shift, including some recent episode reviews and teasers for what lies ahead, be sure to visit the link here right now. Also, be sure to share your thoughts on this interview and our exclusive sneak peek in the comments! (Photo: NBC.)