Across a crystalline phone line from New Jersey, a man is heard loading a dishwasher, then running a disposal. "It's my job to get the kitchen ship-shape," he explains, before vigorously and decisively blowing his nose.
"I got the crud," Andre Braugher says, in the same savory "To be or not to be" voice -- the voice of TV's late avenging angel of death, Francis Xavier Pembleton.
For those who haven't seen Braugher's post-"Homicide" work, the last image of him might be when he hoisted an Emmy for best dramatic actor in 1998 and toasted Baltimore. By then, he had already departed the long-running drama, left his rented Homeland home for new digs in New Jersey.
"Homicide" proceeded to limp through its seventh and final season without Braugher, who felt Pembleton's character had been spent after six years. But the show -- and Braugher's character -- will not die.
Canceled by NBC last May, "Homicide" returns this month to its Fells Point set, where a two-hour movie will be filmed. Nearly every cast member in the show's history will take part.
The returning cast, led by Braugher and Kyle Secor (Pembleton's old partner, Tim Bayliss), will find most of the old neighborhood unchanged. The Waterfront bar is still open, and the faux police station, with its chipped blue paint and twin lamp-posts, still posts a "Closed Set" sign in its entrance. But another "Homicide" haunt, the Daily Grind coffeehouse, has been stylishly transformed. The Grind's floor is even level now.
"I remember," says a sentimental Braugher, "the time it wasn't swanky."
We had first called him in the afternoon, but "I got to take Michael [his 7-year-old son] to basketball at the Y. Then, we're doing the pumpkin thing," the 37-year-old family man had said. He and his wife, actress Ami Brabson, had planned to adopt a second child. Then the home pregnancy test returned with a blue verdict. Their other son, Isaiah, is now 2.
Braugher called us back to discuss the urgent issues in life: coffeehouses, kitchen work, Emmy awards, Pembleton's state of mind, Braugher's state of health. (He's been treadmilling in preparation for a 10K. Not a walk in the park for a man who once said the men in his family are predisposed to resembling the Michelin Man.)
What do you imagine Frank has been doing since he stopped being a detective? Running his own coffeehouse? Yoga?
Maybe something very civilian, a very civilian and nondeadly pursuit. Maybe he's brushing up on his Greek and Latin.
Is Frank, a human stroke waiting to happen (as it did on "Homicide"), finally at peace?
I would have to say he's taken stock in life from another side -- the living side rather than the dying side. It relieves him of being that "avenging angel."
Have you seen the script for "Homicide: The Movie"?
I got it yesterday and did a lightning read of it just to see who I would be acting with. Of course, it's Bayliss and Pembleton.
How do you dredge up Frank again?
What I need to do is survey the land, pick and choose my moments, and do the grunt work and learn my lines. The character springs out of the lines. You know, acting is not as mysterious as it's made out to be.
Would you ever return to TV drama?
I would love to, but it needs to be a terrific idea. I don't want to jump into another cast.
Have you seen Richard Belzer playing Munch in the "Law & Order" spinoff?
No, but I'm not a TV watcher.
Where do you keep your Emmy?
(He laughs -- or possibly clears his cruddy throat.) "I keep it on top of a file cabinet in my office. We don't have a mantle.
Do you ever just hold it?
I can't remember the last time I held it. The house doesn't revolve around the Emmy.
So how do you like Jersey?
We like the Garden State. Ami put in a garden, and I built her a new fence. But we're just renting, temporarily "visiting" the Garden State.
Does this mean you are a Yankees fan?
The O's! How did Albert Belle do?
He got his stats long after the season was lost. You heard about Miller?
They fired Ray Miller?
Yeah. ... You'll be back in Baltimore for the shoot, then the movie is out in the spring. Will it settle all outstanding plot debts?
Would it be "Homicide" if we tied up every loose end and didn't leave some questions floating out there?