The USA Network has made a specialty of creating
character-driven series which are able to juggle comedy with drama.
Over the years, the network has brought out such favorites as Monk,
Burn Notice, Psych, Royal Pains and White Collar. The latest
series to join the lineup is Fairly Legal, which stars Sarah
Shahi (Life, The L Word) as Kate Reed, the daughter of a famous
deceased lawyer who has to navigate the choppy waters of the firm with
her trophy-wife mother-in-law and her ex-husband. Kate doesnít like
practicing law herself, so she takes a position as a mediator on legal
We recently had the opportunity to join in with a group of
websites to speak with Shahi about the new series.
How did you start working on the show? Did you
I did. I was about five weeks postpartum. I read the
sides, I didnít read the script. I thought sheíd be a fun girl to be
for ten minutes in an auditioning room. I was not sure if I wanted to
get back into TV because of my baby. Itís kind of funny, I went into
the audition wearing my husbandís t-shirt, Nike running pants, a blazer,
and heels because thatís the only thing that fit me just after five
weeks of having my baby. I went in, I read, and I think towards the end
of my audition I felt myself lactating and I was wearing a white
t-shirt, and I kind of ran out of there as fast I could. They called
and said that they really liked me but they thought I was wearing some
interesting wardrobe. They wanted me to come back, but this time put a
button-down on. For me the only thing that fit was my husbandís country
western button down t-shirt from a Halloween costume that he had, so I
wore that. Once again, they were like, ďWhat the f is this girl
thinking?Ē So yeah, thatís what it was. It was a two round audition
and then they wanted me to test. Once again, I still wasnít sure
whether or not I wanted to go back in TV, so I sat down with them and I
had a meeting with them before the test. I said, ďLook, I donít want to
be just an actor for hire. I kind of want to have a say in the story
lines and in the character and the other casting. If thatís something
you guys are not interested in having, then Iím not your girl.Ē It
turns out thatís probably exactly what they wanted to hear because that
was the character. Thatís how it happened. Then I tested and I got the
you talk about working with Richard Dean Anderson this season?
Richard is interesting. Heís very quiet, gets very excited
when he talks about his daughter, but other than that he and I didnít
really engage too much with each other. There was a lot of mystery
surrounding our relationship with one another on the show, and I think
we kind of kept that for ourselves off screen as well just because it
helped on screen.
What were some of the biggest challenges for you
in bringing this character of Kate to life on screen in this show?
There were a couple. By the way, I like that question.
Iíve done so many interviews so far and nobody has ever asked that
question. One of the challenges was, for me, this is a character who
just goes on her heart. She becomes so involved with the people that
sheís dealing with, whether itís in her personal life or itís a working
relationship. The challenge was/is allowing myself as an actor to allow
Kate to be emotional about it, but then at the same time she had to be
professional. A note that I was constantly getting from certain
producers were, ďYou need to be more business-like. You need to be more
business-like,Ē but I think thatís the opposite of this character.
Thatís why people like her; sheís so anti-business. Sheís so
anti-corporate. Thereís nothing about her thatís business necessarily.
I think the struggle with her is just trying to find that balance
between what are the things that she does that she just runs with her
emotions on, and then what are the things she has more of a business
approach. It turns out that there wasnít a lot that had a business
approach. The beauty of this character is that she is so emotional.
She gets caught up so much with what she does, and a lot of times she
gets in trouble for it and her head doesnít necessarily always follow
what her heart tells her to do.
What do viewers need to know about your
character that might not be apparent from the premiere episode?
I donít know if thereís much because what you see is what
you get with Kate. Thatís the thing. You can pretty much be guaranteed
that thereís always going to be a surprise. (chuckles) You
wonít really know what that is. Sheíll go to any length that she needs
to to help people and solve their cases. Sheís a no bullshit kind of
girl. I think that comes across in the pilot and you continue to see
more of that. The dynamics between the characters are further explored
as the series goes on, but as far as Kate goes you just see her. Thatís
are some of the guest stars we can expect to see this season?
Well we have
Richard Dean Anderson whoís probably the most well-known guest star.
Dean Norris from Breaking Bad was another one whoís amazing.
Those are kind of the heavy hitters. The rest of them are wonderful
actors, but not necessarily any names.
Why do you think
people will want to take their time to tune in and watch
I donít know.
Thatís not a question for me. I think thatís a question for the people
who hopefully tune in to watch it, but hereís what I do hope for the
show. I hope that people watch it because they just want to see a good
story, and this storyline, and I hope people get caught up in the
fantasy of TV. Itís not taking itself too seriously. The show is very
light. Itís kind of cheeky and flirty. Itís not a procedural. So I
just hope people tune in because they want to laugh or sometimes cry and
just be entertained really.
Fairly Legal is
kind of a new take on the lawyer genre. I just want to know, how
familiar were you with mediators before you joined?
Not very. I
actually didnít even know what a mediator was when I auditioned for the
show. I thought it was like a lawyer that didnít pass the bar so they
are just a mediator. (laughs) But to me with this character it
was not important to hover down as a mediator because if anything sheís
the anti-corporate corporate girl. To me it was important to get to the
heart, to understand her passion. Why she fights so hard for the things
that she believes in. Why she is somewhat childlike in her personal
relationship. For me, that was the most important. It wasnít
necessarily, ďDo I think this is what itís like as a real mediator?Ē It
was more important for me to get her heart.
Can you talk about
the relationship between Kate and Leonardo and what that dynamic brings
to the show?
Yes, Kate and Leo,
heís the only one there in the show that doesnít quite fawn over Kate.
We were very careful when making the show to try not to present a blank
persona. We wanted somebody who could fail, who had flaws. This Leo
character and Kate, they have a very brotherly sisterly relationship,
and heís the kind of guy who knows her better than she knows herself.
He knows what sheís going to do two steps before she does it. So itís
actually been pretty great to have somebody like that on her side.
was wondering if you are anything like Kate. Are there qualities there
that you brought to the character?
Yes, I think the
things that she and I have in common Ė weíre both kind of flirty, feisty
characters, kind of grab life by the balls kind of girls, and the what
you see is what you get kind of attitude. But the part where she and I
vastly differ is sheís a lot more immature than I am. Sheís very
childlike with her emotions and the way that she kind of handles her
stepmother, her ex-husband. Sheís very sort of just, ďLove me, love me,
love me,Ē but then sheíll push you away with the other hand, whereas Iím
not like that. If I have a situation or a problem in my personal life,
I like to tackle it head on just to get it over with and have some
clarity. Kate sort of avoids conflict in her personal life at all
costs, but when it comes to her work life, she dives head first in it.
So those are the ways in which we differ.
What can you tease
about her love life in the first season? I know in the pilot episode
sheís sort of with her ex-husband. So what can you tease about whatís
Well, the tease
is, I guess Ė the finale is incredible, a lot of unexpected things
happen in the finale. I love the finale; itís my favorite episode. But
itís more exploration of the dynamics of her and Justin. Itís like when
we first meet them he is her soon to be ex-husband, so at one point Iím
presented with divorce papers, but I donít know if I want to sign them
or not. So itís interesting because a lot of times in TV shows, the
dynamic between the male and female lead is sort of a will they wonít
they, but this time itís the opposite. Itís they already have and
theyíve kind of fallen apart. So now the exploration is will they or
wonít they get back together? Will they or wonít they get divorced? So
thatís sort of the biggest relationship tease in the story. Then
thereís just more sort of unexpected and out of controlÖ Kateís like a
tornado sometimes the way she kind of comes in and settles situations,
so definitely a lot more tornados.
In watching the
first episode, you can see that Kate has a strained relationship with
her stepmother. How do you see that relationship evolving throughout
It doesnít evolve
much beyond what you see. Kate is very straightforward. In the pilot
where she says, ďI thought my mother made him happy and then he met you
so I donít know what to do about that so I hate you. Itís simpler that
way.Ē I canít believe I just recited those lines from the pilot. That
was so long ago. Kate has a lot of reasons for not liking her
stepmother. She took her father away and now her fatherís dead so if
anything for Kate she blames her fatherís loss on her stepmother. We do
have to work together at some point, Lauren and Kate, so there is a bit
of a nicer exchange that happens between the two of them, but as far as
that relationship evolving, I think in Kateís mind; Lauren would have to
drop dead before she liked her.
does the role of Kate differ from your previous roles in shows like
Word and Life?
Oh, God, theyíre
vastly different. My character on Life was very troubled, a lot
darker than Kate. Kate, of course what I liked about her so much were
her flaws. She can fix everybody but herself kind of thing. I think
generally, she is a happy person. Sheís very whimsical and
spontaneous. My character on Life was not like that at all. She
was the opposite; very by the book, very sort of calculated what she was
going to do because she just didnít want to mess up. On The L Word
to play a character like Carmen who was a DJÖ she was raised in a
Catholic household, a lot of hidden Ė whatís the word Iím looking for?
Not agendas, but just hidden secrets Ė a lot of secrets from her
families. So yes, theyíre greatly different.
You had mentioned
earlier on the call that you were a little maybe hesitant about getting
back into TV or not necessarily looking to get into TV, and I was
wondering if you could just talk a little more about that.
I had just come
off of a show called Life where we worked for two seasons for 18
hours a day, and we ended up getting cancelled, so I kind of had a
bitter taste in my mind about TV. I also worked up until I was six and
a half months pregnant on the show, and they didnít reduce my hours
until later on in my pregnancy. So I just wasnít sure if this was
something that do I want to get back into this kind of schedule again,
and especially now that I have a child to take care of, and still not
really feel the love from the audience or the network. Itís that that I
just was not sure of. When I went into my meeting with Michael Sardo
and Steve Stark and I just said, ďLook, Iím flattered that you guys want
me for this, but Iím at a different place where Iíve done this before
and I didnít really get much back in terms of recognition from the
work.Ē It was going to be a much different case for me this time around
because I had had a baby and the stakes were just so much higher. I
donít know if you have kids, but when I have to spend a moment away from
my kid, it better fucking be worth it. So thatís kind of how I felt
about it this time. It was like if Iím going to commit myself to
another season of television with these hours and this work schedule, I
want to be a big dog. I donít want to just be another actor for hire
with it. If they just wanted me to be the actor who comes to work,
delivers the lines, and then beyond that I didnít have any sort of
creative say, meanwhile being the title role, it was not something I
wanted to do.
talked about in
Life you were a
lead character and youíve had these roles, but this is a series thatís
really built around your character. What feels different about that? Do
you feel more responsibility or anything different about having a series
based around your character?
There is more
responsibility. Thank God, Iíve had a Ė knock on wood Ė long career in
episodic television so as far as the hours were concerned that really
was something I was very comfortable with actually. Itís funny, I did a
sitcom one time and I didnít know how to react at all when I had the
time off. I was like, ďWhat is this?Ē I felt really odd being on a
sitcom and getting off at three every day. I was like, ďWhat do I do
with my time? This is really weird.Ē Being on an episodic is like
being home in a way. Itís weird. It was just a lot more responsibility
in terms of I felt like I had to look after, in a way, all the
characterís story lines. To an extent, of course, I say this very
loosely. Michael Sardo and Steve Stark and the network have been so
gracious and generous with making me a part of the creative process so I
was careful not to push those boundaries, but Iím sure I will next
year. (laughs) But yes, there was a lot of responsibility
because I feel like the show has a certain amount of integrity and we
wanted to obtain that within all the story lines.
Sort of a
follow-up to the last question you had actually, USA Network prides
itself on, ďCharacters Welcome.Ē The show is very much based on your
character. I mean there is the story line, there are a few legal
storylines in there, but very much based on how appealing the audience
is going to find you in this role to be. How does that impact how you
approach the role? Does that put any extra pressure on? Does it kind
of give you a little bit of excitement knowing that so much of this
showís appeal and success is going to be based on whether they do buy
Kate Reed as a likeable, charming, powerful female character?
Oh, gosh, Brian if
I had thought about that as I was filming Iím sure I would have come
across differently on screen. I did not think about that at all. I
donít know how the audience is going to react towards me. Iím a bit
nervous about that, but I do feel like I serviced this character and I
serviced the stories that I was telling. If anything, thatís always my
goal when I am playing somebody is Iím not thinking about, ďWell what is
the audience going to like, not like.Ē I just try to be as true as I
can to the character and the story that Iím telling. Then hopefully
within that truth, people will find her charming and adorable and all
those things I hope people see.
sort of following up, obviously in the premiere there was a lot of
emphasis to do the right thing, and there was that kind of heartwarming
side to the otherwise fairly lighthearted legal cases, at least compared
to say something like
The Practice or
something like that. Going forward, are there going to be more heavy
handed cases or is most of it going to be kind of more comedic, more
fun, but still adding that little bit of character development and drama
along the way?
Thereís going to
be both. We donít have 46 minutes of straight seriousness in our life
or 46 minutes of straight comedy in our life. So I think thereís going
to be a good mix of both of those.
What I wanted to
know is where you pull from to get that father-daughter dynamic in the
story since your father isnít actually on screen?
My father in my
life is absent. So for me, anything that has to do with fatherly
issues, Iíve got that in spades. I have a whole closet, I have a house
dedicated to my father issues so that part I have a lot to draw on in
I just know a lot
of people in my area have lost or are losing their fathers.
Oh no, Iím so
sorry. My father is still alive, but he was an addict, well is an
addict, and so heís been absent for almost ten years. Before that, we
were very sort of in and out with one another. My heart goes out to the
people that you know who are losing their fathers because Ė knock on
wood Ė I havenít lost a family member like that yet, but I do know what
it feels like to not have a father.
was reading online that you originally moved to Hollywood after the
late, great director Robert Altman suggested that you give it a try.
What exactly happened there?
Yes. Okay, hereís
what happened. I was going to SMU (Southern Methodist University) at
the time. I always wanted to be an actor, but I wasnít sure how to do
it. I was in a production of Chicago, I sang, and there was this
girl that was a background dancer who said, ďWhy donít you try out for
the Dallas football cheerleaders,Ē because back in 1995 they were on
Saturday Night Live. I thought, ďGreat. Thatís my way in.Ē I
tried out for the Dallas football cheerleaders. I made the team, and
Robert Altman decided to come to Texas and use our facilities to shoot
Dr. T and the Women. So he came to the ranch and the
cheerleaders, we were all sort of extras; we were background in the
movie for about two weeks. I had no idea who he was. (chuckles)
For whatever reason, maybe itís because I didnít know who he was, he
took a liking to me and we hung out with each other every day for two
weeks, and he said towards the end, ďWhat is it that you want to do?Ē I
said, ďWell, I want to be an actor but I donít how do it.Ē He looks at
me and he goes, ďI think you have what it takes. I think you should
move to LA.Ē So I went home that night. I Googled him, (laughs)
and from all the movies that heís done, Iím embarrassed to say the only
one I knew about was Popeye. I told my mom through the screen
door. Sheís in the kitchen and I was in my room, ďThe guy who directed
Popeye is telling me Iíve got a shot.Ē So we packed up my truck
and we moved to LA. He gave me his mobile number and his office number
and he said, ďWhen you get to LA, I want you to call me. I want to help
you.Ē For three months, he and I traded phone calls. We never actually
connected, and then by the time I owed him Ė it was my turn to call him
back. At that point, I had been educated on who he was and I told the
story enough times around town that people were like, ďReally? You and
Altman?Ē After that I was intimidated, and I was like, ďOh my gosh, I
donít know what to say to him anymore,Ē and I never returned his phone
call. So I go into every meeting now not knowing who they are. I met
Harvey Weinstein recently, and I did not have a clue, but anyway, Iím
honored to say that Iíve got a story about him.
I was also reading
that you have a movie coming out called
East Fifth Bliss
with Michael C. Hall. What can you tell us about that?
Itís kind of a
coming of age character story. Michael is the lead of it, and itís me,
Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Lucy Liu, and itís a wonderful cast. We all
sort of play very quirky characters that intertwine with Michaelís
life. He plays a guy whoís kind of a loser. He still lives at home
with his dad played by Peter Fonda. He talks a big game, but heís
really never done anything in his life, one of those guys, and by the
end of the story, heís inspired to finally do something.
belated birthday. I noticed that youíre a middle child, and in the
psychology of birth order, middle children are the ones that are
peacemakers, strong negotiators, the diplomats. Did you know about that
and have you felt like thatís who youíve been through your life?
because I didnít know about that, but Iíve strangely always been in the
position where people are telling me their life stories. I will meet
somebodyÖ I was at a party recently with my husband and there was a
dresser who was just had been so cold to everybody on set, never talking
and for whatever reason, within the first five minutes, heís sitting
next to me bawling telling me that his wife that just died and his
children and this whole thing. I was happy to listen to him, but by the
end of it, my husband could not believe that this guy was opening up to
me because people thought he was such a dick, but it turned out to be he
was just going through some stuff. Itís funny you tell me that because
I have always wondered, ďWhy do I have that? Why do people do that to
me?Ē But yes, I kind of have been in that position. Even to this day,
if my mom and sister fight, theyíre each calling me asking me to sort it
out with the other person. I donít know why, maybe because Ė I donít
know. I donít know about other people because I hate generalities, but
I know with my situation my father left when I was eight. My brother is
eight years older than me, so he was out of the house pretty early in my
life. So I had one working mother. I had a single parent who worked,
and then it was me and my younger sister so in a way I was in charge of
a lot of things. I was in charge of the house. I was in charge of my
sister if my mom wasnít around. I had to be the second mom in a way.
So I donít know, maybe thatís why I kind of have that thing going. I
donít know, but interesting. I donít really know if I answered your
question. I donít even know if you asked me a question. I just know I
just gave you a paragraph.
You may actually
be more of a first-born. They say it depends. Thereís all this stuff
they say, I donít know. In the pilot, my favorite part is the first
mediation she does, which itís not a technical one. But do you have a
specific mediation that youíve filmed that you can talk about a little
bit and just tell us why that one stands out to you?
How many episodes
did you see, just the pilot?
Yes, so I know you
donít want spoil anything for other people too, but is there one that
just resonated with you and you said, ďThis is a really cool one that I
just really love getting into?Ē
I donít know if
itís the second episode or what it is, but Paul Schulze Ė by the way I
donít know if the lady who asked about the guest stars, Paul Schulze
from Nurse Jackie was also on the show and a brilliant actor.
There was this one story line where he played a guy who was wrongly
imprisoned. He was prisoned for 25 years, and the whole mediation was
about how much is a manís life worth. The State of California only
offers $100 a day. My character was fighting for a lot more than that,
and it turns out that what he wanted was not necessarily money. He
wanted his life. He didnít want money. He wanted his life back. So
that was challenging to say, but the way in which she gets Paul
Schulzeís character to open up just was so hard. The way she gets him
to open up was very emotional and interesting, and if anything, that
redefines Kate. She goes about these very unconventional ways in a
grocery store to get him to open up and tell her what it is that he
wants specifically. So I think for me that was one of my favorites to
play. I donít want to give anything away.
watched the pilot and I think itís amazing, and I just had a quick
question. It kind of relates back to questions someone else had about
you coming back to television, everything after you had your baby, and
the decision to do that. What is it about this character that made you
want to play her and go after that and give up spending time with your
It was her flaws.
I knew what I was going to say before you finished your question.
Things that I love most about this character are her flaws. I think,
often times on TV, they try to put people up who are perfect people.
Who kind of have it all figured out and if anything, we wanted to do the
opposite of that. We wanted to do somebody who was very confident in
their job, but at the same time, she was internally incredibly flawed
and had a lot of faults. Thatís what I wanted to play. That was the
other thing that I was talking to Michael Sardo and Steve Stark about
was that I wasnít interested in playing a perfect person. I wanted to
play somebody who struggled, and because for me thatís real. I think
itís real for people to struggle, and itís refreshing to see a character
like that on TV, not a character whoís just willing to sell toothpaste.
Often times TV gets kind of knocked, saying the space in between the
commercials. I wanted to make sure that this character was not going to
be playing to that. It was, in a sense, going to be representing a real
person and some real struggles, and we were going to get a chance to
explore that and to see her. To see her fail, to see her try to pick
herself back up. Thatís was I was interested in playing.
To that same
extent then, do you have anything you would want to change about Kate
yet or have you gotten enough into her to get to that point?
I donít know if
thereís anything I want to change about Kate right now. Sheís mentally
and emotionally at a very interesting place. I donít want to see her
evolve quite yet because I think there are more stories to tell with her
at where sheís at, but I do, as an actor, like to constantly be
surprised. I donít know whatís in store for her. I donít know how Iím
going to play her, and I enjoy the mystery. I hope I continue to
we spoke with Michael Sardo, he mentioned that the opening scene out of
all the actors that auditioned for Kate you were the only one that
didnít back away from the gun. Can you tell us about filming that
Yes, I did that in
the audition. I felt like this was a character that thrived on
conflict. If anything, she gets excited by this kind of stuff, a bit of
an adrenaline junky I guess. I figured in that situation the only way
you could solve a conflict is by heading towards it. So for me, thatís
what made the most sense. The character was that if this character sees
a gun she has the strength and the confidence to believe that she can
disarm the situation. Whether or not thatís true, thatís a different
story because there are certain story lines where Kate feels like she
has the confidence to fix it and if anything she ends up making it
worse. But in this situation she does solve it and she solves it by
walking towards it so thatís why I made that choice.
What is it like
working with Michael Sardo and the cast of
Itís amazing. I
could pinch myself working with Michael. He is one of the most egoless
show runners I have ever come across and such an amazing writer. I
donít want to make his head too big because I say how brilliant he is
all the time, but I donít want to do this interview and then he not give
me what I want next season because I gave him a big ego, but yes, heís
wonderful to work with. Heís such a collaborator. Heís so creative, so
smart, one of the wittiest people I know. Iím sure if you talked to his
wife sheíd say something different, but from my perspective thatís my
experience with him. The cast is great. We find it so easy for
whatever reason and I think we just got lucky. The dynamics that you
see are real, in a way, and if Leonardo and Kate are annoyed with each
other, thatís kind of how Baron and I can be with each other in real
life. Virginia and I, we get along, and itís really easy to play that
we donít like each other because we like each other so much. So itís
fun. We try to out bitch one another in the scenes actually.
(tongue in cheek) Michael Trucco is, unfortunately, so fucking ugly
that itís hard to play love scenes with him because what girl would want
to kiss a guy with blue eyes that looks like a Greek mythological
figure, like Adonis or something with a body of a fucking God? I hate
him. So yes, the dynamics are awesome in the cast. Itís amazing. Like
I said earlier, I could pinch myself because the job comes easy.
What would be your
ultimate dream role aside from this? Is there someone specific you want
to work with in the future that you havenít?
Bridges is someone Iím dying to get my hands on. The list is so long,
of course, Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock, Iím just in love with.
Penelope Cruz, Iím crazy about. Tom Hanks, Iíve been infatuated with
since I was eight. So if any of you guys on the call know any of these
people, please put in a word for me. (laughs) Like I said
earlier, I like surprising myself. I donít know where my careerís going
to go. I donít know who Iím going to play. The show could come out and
suck, and people never want to see me again, and then Iím going to have
to find an amazing thing to do on stage. I donít know what I would do;
maybe do Indies for a while. I donít know, but the beauty and the
downfall of this business is that it is constantly a surprise and you
donít know what youíre going to get. I think it takes a person who kind
of gets off on that kind of thing to do this, and I like the surprises.
I like not knowing whatís next for me. So I donít know what Iím going
you ever be interested in writing or directing?
Not writing. I
donít feel like I have not even one molecule of a writer in my body.
But directing is something that I would have interest in doing, not to
sound too clichť, because I feel like every actor at some point kind of
transitions into becoming a director. That doesnít necessarily mean
that theyíre good. So if the right project came along, and I felt like
I had the chops, I wouldnít do it just to say that I could do it. I
would love to, yes.
I asked Michael
Sardo the same question about one of the quotes you said in the
premier. You said, ďI hate you. Itís simpler that way.Ē You even
mentioned the line during this conference call. Will you discuss a
little about what that meant? What are your thoughts?
about the part when I tell Lauren Ė yes, when Iím telling her Ė sheís
like, ďIs it me you hate or lawyers in general?Ē I just say, ďMy mom
made him happy until he met you, and I hate you for that; itís simpler
that way.Ē That meant a few things. First of all, you kind of get the
impression that Kate is a no bullshit kind of girl. She says what she
means and she means what she says. So sheís very straightforward so
thatís one. Two: With Lauren and Kate, specifically sheís not making
any apologies for how she feels about her. Kate was [comfortable in her
family life with her parents]. Then all the
sudden he meets this woman whoís less than half of his age, and Kate
kind of gets stuck to the corner and hereís the new wife, the trophy
wife, and Kate hates it for a lot of reasons. I think itís just her way
of saying, ďLook, Iím never going to like you. Iím never going to
forgive you and there you have it.Ē Sheís very unapologetic about her
disdain for Lauren and she just tells her right there.