Morris Chestnut
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

In the pilot episode of Rosewood, which premieres Wednesday on Fox, Dr. Beaumont Rosewood Jr., a Miami-based private pathologist (in other words, a medical examiner who is not on the municipal payroll), comes upon a crime scene and deduces the cause of death and the scenario leading to it in a matter of minutes. And he does it with charm and humor to boot.

Based on the evidence, he figures that the deceased suffered from pancreatic cancer and died from it; thus, it’s not a murder, so the cops can stop their investigation and let the suspects go, and they can all turn their thoughts to happier matters, like dinner. 

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Yes, Rosewood is a show that aims to be as sunny and breezy as its setting, even if the subject is death and its causes. Morris Chestnut, who has starred in The Perfect Guy, The Best Man and many other films and television series since his breakout in the 1991 classic Boyz n the Hood, plays the show’s title character. The show also stars Jaina Lee Ortiz, as Detective Villa, Rosewood’s most frequent working partner, as well as Lorraine Toussaint (who played Vee in Orange Is the New Black) and Gabrielle Dennis (The Game) as his mother and sister respectively. The show is slotted as the lead-in to Empire, a sign that Fox is all in on the show’s success.

Chestnut was working on another Fox production—albeit one that aired on TNT, called Legends, in which he portrayed a quick-witted FBI agent—when he heard about the script for Rosewood.

“It appealed to me immediately,” he said during a phone interview last week. “I liked the fact that he’s smart, witty, compassionate and optimistic.” Chestnut paused for a second. “In a way, it was just what I was looking for.”

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Dr. Rosewood drives a car that tries to steal any scene it’s in. It’s a vintage bright-yellow Pontiac GTO. “We thought about something standard, like a Ferrari,” explained Chestnut, “[but] he’s his own man, so we went with something unique.” He added that the car’s color accents his character’s core values: “Yellow is the color of optimism.” 

Chestnut, 46, is also the lead supporting actor in The Perfect Guy, which opened at No. 1 at the box office a few weekends ago. Dude, what’s it like having the No. 1 movie?

“I felt we had something really strong,” he said. He noted that the movie tested great in all the markets where they screened it. “You could tell that it really resonated with people. I didn’t know we’d do better than The Visit, but I knew we’d be right there.”

The 25th anniversary of Boyz n the Hood is next year, and coincidentally, when asked which role he’d most like to revisit, Chestnut said Ricky. “What if he didn’t die?” he asked rhetorically. “He was so young, just starting life,” he continued, and then paused. “I’d like to see where he could have gone.”

Perhaps Chestnut’s most impressive achievement is offscreen. He and his wife, Pam Byse, have been married for 20 years, an eternity and then some for someone in the entertainment business. What’s the secret?

“We’ve been lucky, but we work on it,” he said. “We’ve grown together and build on our mutual respect and communication.”

Martin Johnson writes about music for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate and beer for Eater, and he blogs at both the Joy of Cheese and Rotations. Follow him on Twitter