Cormac Cullinan. Photo: KING |

Cormac Cullinane. Photo: KING|

If you ever have the pleasure of spending time with Cormac Cullinane, of listening to his energetic tone and thoughtful responses, there is only one question you will leave with: “Wait, I thought nice guys were supposed to finish last?” Well, contrary to popular belief, nice guys don’t always finish last. Sometimes they’re handpicked by Steven Spielberg to star in a new hit television show with some of the greatest talent in Hollywood.

With only a small list of credits to his name, Cullinane managed to land the much coveted role of James Muldoon in TNT’s original crime-drama Public Morals — a role which is loosely based on actor Edward Burns’ (Mob City, Alex Cross) childhood. Burns, who created, wrote and starred in the show, plays Terry Muldoon, the father of James. If that seems intimidating, Cullinane doesn’t let it faze him. In fact, he spends much of his time trying to glean as much as he can from each of the actors. “He really lets you be in control, so it’s very natural and genuine,” he says of the way Burns runs the set.

After scoring a part like his, many in the industry would be tempted to take the time to coast on their laurels. Not Cullinane, though. The Irish-American is still hard at work at making his mark on the industry — and not only in acting. As a lifelong musician, he has his first debut album in the works. Showcasing that he understands the meaning of hard work and the necessity of humility, when he’s not on set, he is attending high school with his peers (he’s even an honor student!), doing competitive Jiu-Jitsu, and participating in community service. These are just some of the many things that make Cullinane a nice guy who’s finishing first.

In this exclusive interview, Cullinane reveals to GALO how he feels about being handpicked by Spielberg, what surprised him about the ’60s, and which scene in the pilot really happened when Burns was growing up.

GALO: You are playing James Muldoon on TNT’s newest crime drama, Public Morals, a role which Steven Spielberg handpicked you for. That moment must have been incredible for you and your family, especially with you being new to TV. Why do you think it was so important for him to have you in that role? And with that in your mind, did it add to the pressure of portraying the character?

Cormac Cullinane: I honestly don’t know. I just feel so blessed that I was able to have that opportunity. It’s just phenomenal that I was blessed with this. It does [add to the pressure], just a little bit, though, because Ed (Edward Burns) and the cast just make you feel so welcome. It takes a lot of the pressure off, just because they’re so loving.

GALO: You and your character actually have a lot of similarities, like coming from an Irish-American family and growing up in New York. How did those experiences help you in portraying your character and in keeping him true to real life, while still managing to keep him separate from your own identity?

CC: Well, we definitely have a lot of similarities, but it’s also hard! James is kind of a bad boy, and I don’t like to call myself that bad. It’s definitely new to me, but that makes it all the more exciting to portray.

GALO: What did you have to draw from to learn how to be a “bad kid?”

CC: [Laughs] It kind of all came naturally, whether I’d like to admit it or not! It’s a lot of fun!

GALO: In other words, you may be living a little vicariously through your character!

CC: [Laughs]

GALO: For someone like you who was born multiple decades after the ’60s occurred, what has been the strangest part of working on a period drama?

CC: Definitely watching the extras — it’s crazy! In one scene, Ed and I were in a car parking [lot] and there were at least 55 extras walking around. Every single one [of them] had their hair done and costumes on, and it was insane. They had the roads blocked like three blocks down in each direction and there were all these vintage cars parked. It was pretty sick, but it was definitely very weird!

GALO: You, of course, did a lot of research for the role, but was there anything that you didn’t know about the ’60s and were surprised to find out while filming?

CC: I guess I was surprised by the language that they used. I noticed in the show that they used “dummy” a lot. Like if you got in a fight now, and you started calling the guy “dummy…” It was pretty popular back then.

GALO: Your previous work has been in family-oriented productions. What was the difference like of working with a storyline with a bit of a darker undercurrent? Was it something you have enjoyed as a performer?

CC: It wasn’t that hard because I’ve always really loved drama. Even though I did a lot of musical theatre, I have always really loved it! When I’ve got an audition and I’ve read the script for a drama, I’ve always thought, ‘Oh I really want this!’ So it was a dream come true when I got Public Morals.

GALO: Do you see yourself ever getting back into musical theatre?

CC: Not really, as unfortunate as it is. It’s not that I don’t love music — I love music — but as far as musical theatre, it’s not my favorite right now. I’d put it between drama, television, and just regular music.

Edward Burns stars in TNT's "Public Morals." Photo Credit: TNT.

Edward Burns stars in TNT’s “Public Morals.” Photo Credit: TNT.

Edward Burns stars in TNT's "Public Morals." Photo Credit: TNT.

Edward Burns stars in TNT’s “Public Morals.” Photo Credit: TNT.

GALO: This is your first professional television role, during which you have already gotten to work alongside very talented performers. Is there anything poignant about this experience that you know will stick with you for the rest of your career? What have you been able to glean from stars like Edward Burns, for instance?

CC: Well, Ed, the way that he would run the set, he is so lenient with what you do. He really lets you be in control, so it’s very natural and genuine. Like, he won’t correct you or tell you, “I want you to act this scene as if…” [Instead], he will let you do what you want with the character. It’s an incredible experience.

GALO: Have you seen anything from him or the other actors that you really want to integrate into your professional experience down the road?

CC: Actually, Ed would always be telling me about his childhood. Because my character James is almost him when he was young, it was very interesting. He told me these crazy stories from when he was a kid and a lot of the scenes were from his real life, so that made it extremely interesting to hear, especially from a person who actually experienced it.

GALO: Can you tell me about any particular scenes that were based on a true life event for him?

CC: Yes! The one in the pilot where I get home from school with my brother and he threatens to tell dad about something that I did, so I bend his arm behind his back and start cursing at him — and then the dad walks in. I’ve been told that’s actually from Ed’s life! I actually got to meet Ed’s brother.

GALO: That’s crazy! Did he say that scene was true to life?

CC: Yes, he did! [Laughs]

GALO: Beyond acting, you have an extensive musical background. You have played with Mariah Carey and performed for President Obama, and from what I hear, you’re now working on your own project. You have previously described your sound as pop-rock with an indie twist, and you also have a background in Broadway and musical theatre. So what can we expect from your latest musical venture? Is there a release date set yet?

CC: Right now, it’s really unclear when it might be released. I am just working on a lot of stuff, but it’s coming along really well.

GALO: And you play six instruments? That is an incredible feat, to say the least. Are there any that we will get to hear you play on your new record?

CC: Definitely the guitar, probably the piano, and maybe the trumpet and the drums.

GALO: How did you first get into music?

CC: Well, I started piano when I was around two and a half years old. I was just messing around on the keys, and then my mom put me in lessons for a few years. From the piano, it went on to the guitar. They’re all connected, so the piano was a good base to start off with.

GALO: You are currently attending high school, correct? Is there a reason that you chose the traditional high school route instead of opting for homeschooling like a lot of young actors seem to do? Do you have any friends that are also managing school while navigating the entertainment industry?

CC: We do have a tutor on set, but I really wanted the high school experience. Also, the high school that I’m going to, it’s an all-boys Jesuit school. But a lot of the people on set, and also the cast, are actually graduates and huge supporters of acting.

GALO: Well, we wish you ongoing success with your acting, and we can’t wait to hear your album when it drops. Thanks for chatting with us!

Want to learn more about Cormac Cullinane? Follow him on Twitter @Cormacullinane. “Public Morals” premiered on TNT on August 25. You can watch all of season one on TNT’s official website through November 18.