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'Scandal' star bridges 'The Divide'

Tony Goldwyn doesn’t mind flexing fake-presidential muscle if it brings viewers to his new set-in-Philly TV show.

Marin Ireland , in a "Divide" scene with an actor playing a Philly cop. Note the authentic uniform.
Marin Ireland , in a "Divide" scene with an actor playing a Philly cop. Note the authentic uniform.Read more

* THE DIVIDE. 9 tonight, WE tv.

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Tony Goldwyn is probably used to being taken seriously.

The 54-year-old grandson of Hollywood mogul Samuel Goldwyn isn't only an actor: He's long been a mover and shaker behind the scenes.

But playing the president of the United States on ABC's "Scandal" may have added a layer of authority.

"I'm not totally sure. I think having been a director and a producer helped me be the president, because you have to take charge," said Goldwyn in an interview last week during the Television Critics Association's summer meetings. "So, it was very helpful, and it was different from my nature, when I was just an actor.

"But I must say," he added, laughing, "people do treat me differently, and it's a little easier to command attention . . . which always surprises me."

Goldwyn is willing to use whatever clout comes with a fake presidency to promote "The Divide," a new, Philadelphia-set drama he co-created with Richard LaGravenese ("The Fisher King"), which premieres tonight on WE tv.

"You leverage one thing to raise another," said Goldwyn, who's helped raise money for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which works to overturn and prevent unjust convictions.

"So, in the same way that I will leverage the influence of 'Scandal' to help a charity like the Innocence Project, it allows me to get attention for this project that I feel very passionate about," he said.

The AMC sister network's first scripted series, "The Divide" stars Marin Ireland ("Homeland," "The Killing"), as fictional Innocence Initiative caseworker Christine Rosa, and Damon Gupton ("Prime Suspect"), as the Philadelphia district attorney, Adam Page, who made his reputation on the conviction that Christine's working to have overturned.

Nia Long plays the D.A.'s wife, Billie, a lawyer who sometimes challenges his thinking, and Clarke Peters ("The Wire") is Adam's father - and Philly's police commissioner.

Rosa has a personal interest in trying to free a death-row inmate she believes was wrongfully convicted in the murder of a family 11 years earlier.

Goldwyn's interest in the issue of wrongful convictions grew out of "Conviction," the 2010 movie he directed starring Hilary Swank as an uneducated woman who goes to law school to help free her brother from prison.

Making that movie, based on a true story, Goldwyn said, "got me fascinated with these issues that we explore in 'The Divide': the gray areas in our justice system and the meaning of justice and what constitutes innocence or guilt, and the way that that extends to our own sense of morality in our world and in our families and in our politics and our racial politics."

The show's set in Philadelphia in part because of the city's racial makeup, he said.

"In addition to . . . dramatizing the Innocence Project, the show also explores racial divides in our society, which you cannot separate" from the justice system, he said.

"And we kind of wanted to turn that expectation on its head," he said, "in terms of the conventions [in the first season's big case, the victims were black, the two men convicted white] and we thought, 'OK, where do we set this show? We don't feel like we want to set it in the South, we didn't want to set it in a big city like New York, or L.A.' "

They considered Chicago, "but it felt like the Northeast [had] the right vibe, and . . . we felt Philly's such a fascinating city because it's like a small big city and it's like this iconic American city and it is a city of tremendous contrasts, both socioeconomically, culturally," he said.

"The ethnic identities in Philly feel really vibrant still, whereas so many American cities have become homogenized. And Philly has such a personality to it."

If only it didn't also have to contend with the cap on the Pennsylvania tax credit for TV and film production.

"The Divide" brought actors to the city for a few days of exterior shooting that give tonight's two-hour pilot more of a Philadelphia look than most projects filmed elsewhere, but it was largely shot in that other iconic American city - Toronto.

"We fought pretty hard" to have it filmed in Philadelphia, but AMC "held the purse strings, and Canada's very, very competitive," Goldwyn said.

"The Divide" cast did make it to Philly on June 25 for a premiere screening at the Roxy Theatre, where Gupton talked with his real-life counterpart, District Attorney Seth Williams.

"It was incredible," Gupton said, calling Williams "larger than life."

"The first thing out of his mouth was, 'You need a flag. The D.A. has an American flag on his lapel.' "

Williams "also had some insight into what his job was," Gupton said. "He was very, very, very informative. Not just now, but when we first did the original pilot."

Goldwyn will soon be back on the other side of the cameras, returning to work on "Scandal" on July 28.

We already know that his character, Fitzgerald Grant, is in a bad place - re-elected, but mourning the loss of his older son.

"Oh, my God," Goldwyn said of the way last season ended. It was "fabulous dramatically, but devastating. Devastating."

He may be president, but on "Scandal," he waits like anyone else in the cast to find out what happens to them next.

Any ideas?

"Not a clue!" he said. "I don't even think there's a script yet, but they're all really excited by what they're coming up with."

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray