Body of Proof viewers met a new star in the third-season, two-part premiere – but Mark Valley is a familiar face to anyone who knows television over the last decade. He can’t seem to stay off the small screen, and that’s more than okay, because we can’t get enough of him.
On the ABC drama, Valley plays recently transplanted Detective Tommy Sullivan, who conveniently arrives still carrying a torch for Dr. Megan Hunt (played by series lead Dana Delany) from their affair two decades ago in New York. From Tommy’s very first scene, he and Megan are already snapping at one another, but unlike some of her previous suitors, he’s not going to be dispatched in a few episodes. No, Valley is a series regular, with third billing in the credits, and two episodes in it’s like he’s been there the whole time. He already looks comfortable bantering with Delany. (Possibly because TV buffs will recall that the pair co-starred together more than a decade ago in the short-lived soap Pasadena, playing characters who also had a spark for each other.)
Those same TV fans, however, will know and appreciate the chance to see Valley back again. It’s not hard to see how he keeps landing gigs; for the last ten years, he’s quietly given one good performance after another, with all the tools of a complete actor: talent, experience, charisma, wit, and the physical capability to kick in the door. From Keen Eddie to Body of Proof, he’s always aces.
His breakout role came as Keen Eddie‘s title character in 2003. Playing Eddie Arlette, the NYPD detective who found himself stuck in England, he was unquestionably the biggest reason why the FOX comedy remains a cult classic. He nailed every aspect of Eddie’s character, be it the world-weary cynicism that came with being a career cop, or his wide-eyed, flustered confusion as a “fish out of water” in a completely different culture. The show might not have lasted very long, but having created such a memorable lead, Valley left a distinct impression.
Next he had a brief stint playing antagonistic agent Warren Lytell in a few episodes of The 4400, before David E. Kelley snatched him up to play the straight man to James Spader’s Alan Shore in his spin-off from The Practice, Boston Legal. Valley spent three seasons on the ABC legal dramedy as buttoned-up Brad Chase, which brought him more into the public eye. But he was also all too often underused on a series that clearly belonged to Spader and William Shatner. If you really wanted to see what Valley was capable of, you had to look next to his 2007 guest spot on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In the ninth-season episode “Paternity,” the actor played a father who, during the course of the investigation into the murder of his son’s nanny, found out the child wasn’t his. It was one of SVU‘s best guest performances, with his last scene being downright heartwrenching.
Valley secured a small but significant place in pop-culture history the following year, when he booked the recurring role of FBI agent John Scott in FOX’s critically acclaimed cult hit Fringe. He might not have been around very long – in the conventional sense, anyway – but leave it to Valley to create a character that audiences still cared about in a relatively short period of time. Yes, we all knew Olivia would end up with Peter, but still, who wasn’t at least a little bit upset about what happened to John Scott? Poor guy.
Never fear, though, because the actor who played him just moved to a different show on the same network. In 2010, Valley landed the role he may as well have been born to play: that of Christopher Chance in the adaptation of DC Comics’ Human Target. Forget Rick Springfield – Valley’s version of Chance was akin to Christopher Reeve’s Superman – so good that it is the standard against which any future attempts of the character will be judged. There was simply no one who could have done it any better. With his military background, Valley looked the part of a professional hitman turned hero, and had the physical ability to pull off its exhaustive demands. He was also a capable actor who infused Chance with not only humor, but a constant undercurrent of emotional turmoil. There were always so many things going on with Chance, and Valley made them all seem natural.
It was one of the most perfect mergings of an actor with a role that there’s ever been on TV. Chance wasn’t just funny because the writers gave him the right words; Valley brought his own great sense of humor to the part, and was never caught uttering anything that sounded like a corny one-liner. Nor was the hero overly brooding like so many others who are allegedly tormented; audiences really felt his conflict and pain. Especially the pain, both emotional and physical. Chance took a beating every week, and so did Valley, who was game for all the ambitious stunts. He rose to the challenge in every aspect. That was what made him perfect for the part; even when Human Target went sideways in its second season, you could watch the show and tell that he was giving it everything he had, quite literally, and there was something really admirable about that.
Over the last ten years and near a dozen shows by now, we’ve seen Mark Valley leave his own unique signature on everything from lawyers to ghosts of FBI agents and comic book heroes (and did you spot his cameo in Oscar nominee Zero Dark Thirty?). No matter what he plays, you always know he’s there. Now he’s arrived on Body of Proof, and hopefully we’ll see Detective Tommy Sullivan around for awhile.