Gay DEA agent out for revenge on ‘Weeds’

It doesn’t look like the smoke is going to clear any time soon for “Weeds. ” The dark comedy/drama kicked off its fifth season this month as one of the most popular shows on Showtime.

When “Weeds” debuted in 2005, it was almost quaint in its misadventures about a recently widowed suburban mother, Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker), who started selling marijuana to her fellow suburbanites to keep her family afloat.

Now in its fifth season, Nancy’s business has mutated into a more precarious and complex operation, where she finds herself involved in trafficking as well as keeping dangerous company with ruthless drug cartels and driven DEA agents.

Jack Stehlin, who plays DEA agent Capt. Roy Till, said that, given the subject matter, the show is almost obligated to ratchet up the dramatic tension each season.

“It seems to be building in momentum and the stakes,” he said. “Nancy starts out as a pot mom and who’s hurt? She sells a few bags of pot and they have some fun. Now we have the Mexican cartels killing DEA agents over the situation she’s in. That’s just huge. It seems to me they’re going to have to deliver on that level.”

Lots of popular shows feature law-breaking protagonists, but Stehlin said he’s often surprised at how many teetotalers are fans of the show.

“It’s an amazing nerve that the show strikes out there in the world,” he said. “I’m always amazed about the people who I think of as stodgy and conservative really liking it. Obviously us liberals and people with an open mind are really going to like it. So what could that be? There’s a certain honesty in it. People are really complex. People have family members who are one thing and they find out that they’re a bunch of different things. The show does a good job of showing people in a really complex light.

Till is definitely one of those complex characters. This season, the crass but sharp DEA agent, who viewers recently found out is gay — or at least bisexual — is hell-bent on avenging last season’s murder of his partner, who was also secretly his lover.

Stehlin, who is straight, said Till’s character wasn’t originally written as gay when he debuted on the series in 2006.

“They threw it in later,” he said. “It wasn’t even until the third season. My feeling about it was they were just working to get an interesting twist on it. That idea just appeared in the writers’ room and it just worked.”

Stehlin added the writers also seem to be tapping into the escalating real-life violence surrounding the drug trade in Mexico and bordering U.S. states.

“I know that the writers are acutely aware of what’s going on in the world,” he said. “That’s where it’s happening. The show is set in Southern California. It’s impossible for them to not be affected by that reality.”

Stehlin is used to playing authoritative hard-asses, having played characters with personalities similar to Till’s on shows like “JAG,” “The Practice” and “NYPD Blue.” Still, he admits he doesn’t know whether his character is remotely accurate in depicting a real DEA agent, as these agents usually aren’t at liberty to discuss trade secrets.

“I can imagine if I did get in a conversation with a real DEA guy, it would be doubtful that they would tell me how willing they are to do what is necessary to get the job done,” he said. “You can’t even imagine how tough that is. These people who do undercover and the people who are really right on the edge with these people, the things they have to do to survive, you can only imagine. I’ve approached Roy Till as someone who truly believes in the law and is trying to do the right thing. He has to do things sometimes to get the job done.”

Stehlin said with half of the new season already filmed, he still doesn’t know what fate awaits his character.

“We’re only doing one week at a time,” he said. “I really don’t know from week to week what is going to happen. They are known for their curve balls and their secrecy. Anything could happen.”

“Weeds” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on Showtime. For more information on Stehlin, visit

Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].