I am happy to see Blair Underwood back on TV. Did he watch the original TV series “Ironside” when he was a kid?
—Kristen Assimos, Reno, Nevada
Blair Underwood, 49, was just a kid when the previous “Ironside” aired from 1967 to 1975, so when he got the script for the updated version, he went back and watched several of the early seasons on DVD.
“So many people loved it,” says the Tacoma, Washington-born actor. “It’s amazing. People will say, ‘Not only do I remember “Ironside,”‘ but often I hear, “I love ‘Ironside.'” When I look at the show, I see why.”
Of course, in the new version, the character Ironside, while still in a wheelchair, is much more active than Raymond Burr was when he played the role. In fact, other than the name, the fact that he is a detective and in a wheelchair, everything else has been re-imagined. The show is set in a different city, it has new characters and fresh stories.
Also, in the 2013 version, Ironside has a sex life. Underwood says he questioned that when he first read the script and what he discovered is that every spinal cord injury is different.
One of the ways in which the former “L.A. Law” star researched the role was by consulting with his technical advisor David Bryant, who has been a paraplegic for 35 years, the result of a skiing accident.
“What David told me is everybody is different, depending on where it affects your spinal cord,” Underwood explains. “So, in Ironside’s case, he is able. He’s paralyzed at 12, from the waist down. Even though he’s from the waist down, it depends on the nerve endings, and he is able to.”
One really important element that Bryant inspired in Underwood is self-sufficiency. He advised the actor to take the chair, go out, and cruise around his neighborhood. They also spent a lot of time together, so Underwood could observe how Bryant operates in everyday circumstances.
“The first thing I noticed was there were no handles on his wheelchair,” Underwood recalls. “I said, ‘Dude, why don’t you have handles on your wheelchair?’ He said, ‘Why would I want to? Why would I want somebody to help me out? I’m independent — whatever I can do for myself, I’m going to do for myself.’ So the first thing we did was cut the handles off the wheelchair. That speaks to his independence.”