Last week’s series premiere of Public Morals was almost entirely focused on Katrina Bowden’s character, Fortune, but tonight’s episode is all about Lyndon Smith. The actress stars as Diedre on Ed Burns’s gritty new TNT drama (Tuesdays, 10/9c) about shady cops in 1960s New York, and so far, her character seems to be the closest thing to a moral compass on the show. Smith recently stopped by InStyle’s New York City offices, and she told us what to expect tonight and the rest of this season.
“We really get into my character’s story in the second episode,” Smith told InStyle. “She’s just a beatnik kid who grew up on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen with all of these gangsters, but the difference with her is that she was educated.” Deidre’s big dreams include becoming a journalist, but her family’s roots continue to stand in her way. “She’s the girl who would ultimately be storming the steps of Washington for Vietnam,” said Smith. “She wants to get out of the neighborhood, but her brother is a criminal who was just released from jail, and then she falls in love with a cop who’s tip-toeing the right and wrong side of the line. So through her choices, she just can’t get out—even though she has higher ambitions.”
The cop she falls for is Sean O’Bannon, played by Austin Stowell, and their fling quickly becomes serious after a twist of fate. “She decides she’s going to shack up with a man she doesn’t love and stay in Hell’s Kitchen,” said Smith. But ultimately, Deidre “breaks it off and says, ‘I’m not looking for that right now.’ She wants to be a free, independent woman, but her biggest obstacle is that she has this traditional idea of what it means to be a kid on the streets—and she won’t let go of that.”
Even so, Smith’s character is ahead of the times. “She’s going through an early sexual revolution, but at the same time she can’t fully commit to it,” she said, adding that deep down, Deidre “wants to do what her mother did before her.” The dichotomy between what was, at the time, viewed as right and wrong goes beyond just Smith’s role. In fact, we see the same internal struggle with each of the characters on Public Morals. And because Burns—who created, produced, and stars in the show—doesn’t portray the characters’ crimes “in any sort of accusatory fashion,” it’s easy to relate to their plights, according to Smith. “I think he’s been good at humanizing everybody,” she said of Burns, or “Eddie,” as she calls him. “These cops don’t want to throw a hooker in jail if she’s also a schoolteacher who’s just trying to make ends meet, but they have a pay-to-play system. So when some of these crimes and conflicts come up, you get to see and empathize with both sides.”
Further adding to what Smith calls the “sexy and raw” nature of the show? Its fashion. “I wear this one pair of leather thigh-high boots that are the most fantastic things ever,” said Smith. “I already told our costume designer that when the show ends, they are coming with me.” But while her character’s style may scream “summer of love,” the show isn’t dated by its wardrobe. “We are never pin-pointing what year it is exactly,” said Smith. Still, “You’ll know it is in the ‘60s—and I’m the first person to wear bell-bottoms on the show.”
Off-camera, Smith has a much more modern style icon: Burns’s wife, model Christy Turlington. “I have this mission that’s probably going to take multiple seasons, but I am going to have her take me under her wing as her little sister, and we are going to go through her closet together and I’ll get all of her hand-me-downs,” Smith said with a laugh. But her seasons-long quest may get cut short with Turlington’s husband at the helm of the show. “No one is safe,” said Smith. “That’s something [Burns] told us in the beginning. He was like, ‘I don’t know how many of you are staying, but I’ll give you fair warning [if you’re not].’”
To find out who stays and who gets killed off, tune in Public Morals on TNT, Tuesdays at 10/9c, or watch the first four episodes available now on-demand through VOD and at tntdrama.com.