When Shakespeare advocated in “Henry VI” that all lawyers should be killed, he probably had no idea that his infamous words would ring throughout history. But in the world of Kate Reed, she took his words to heart and chose to be a mediator instead of following in the esteemed footsteps for her prestigious father, firmly believing that personal and legal disputes were best served outside of the courtroom. Alas, in the first season of FAIRLY LEGAL, Kate’s world was rocked to the core upon learning of her father’s untimely death.
After a tumultuous and, at vary times, comedic journey last season, the second season of FAIRLY LEGAL invites viewers back into Kate’s “Wizard of Oz” world, where she has her own versions of an evil witch (her stepmother and co-owner of her father’s firm, Lauren), a tin man (her ex-husband,, Justin), a cowardly lion (her faithful assistant, Leo), and now a straw man (the firm’s new partner, Ben). FAIRLY LEGAL is not so much a show focusing on legal cases, it is about Kate’s journey down her own personal “yellow brick road.” She must navigate the thorny obstacles thrown in her path and discover that the answers she seeks may have been with her all along.
In a recent conference call with press, star Sarah Shahi candidly shared what kind of journey Kate faces this season and how she adapts to the personal changes around her.
Can you just talk about what we can expect this season in general?
SARAH: This year, the goal kind of was to make Kate uncomfortable actually. We’re going to take away her security blankets — the things that she thought that she could rely on the most. Like Justin for example. Something kind of big is going to happen there. We’re going to find there’s a big reveal in the first episode and that kind of colors the rest of the season for their relationship. And then Kate’s boat blows up, and she ends up moving in with Lauren. So there’s room for defiantly more funny situations. But the overall goal is to kind of push this character, who part of her charm is really in not growing up and not wanting responsibility and being kind of child-like, and to push her at possibly being an adult, having to grow up, having consequences for some of the things that go wrong at work — which they will this year — and to see how she does. And if I know Kate Reed, she’s not going to do too well at it. But that’s the main difference between this year and last year, and also we’re building to this really nice little love triangle between Kate, Justin, and Ben.
What have you found most challenging this year for you?
SARAH: I think the hardest part of the show for me: it’s the hours. It’s about 16 hours every day, and that’s the challenging part. It’s a marathon and Tony Shalhoub once told me that you’re like a hamster in a cage. You kind of put your head down and you don’t really come up for air. Every once in a while you get to come up for air, but then you can’t get too used to it. You just put your head down and you just keep going. So it’s the hours really that are the most challenging for me.
Now that we’re a season into your series, what about the role keeps you challenged?
SARAH: That’s a good question. It’s how do you define Kate. What I love about her — why I wanted to be this girl so badly — is I love her flaws, and I love that she’s a character that is incredibly unapologetic about everything too. She’s a very strong female voice. Now the trick with that comes in because the nature of the show is procedural, but in my opinion, that’s not the heart of the show. So the challenge kind of comes in finding the different levels of emotion within everything. If I had my pick, I think I’d probably play Kate to the highest dramatical sense in every scene. Everything would be life and death, which isn’t necessarily always right. So I guess, that’s the thing about her is finding the emotional level that is at stake within everything.
Is there anything the viewers should know about Kate that hasn’t been apparent so far?
SARAH: No, not necessarily. The other beauty about this girl is: what you see is what you get. She’s pretty up front. There is “no holds barred” and she’s not hiding anything. You’re going to know what she thinks about you at any given situation. So she’s not hiding anything.
This season we have Ben, and he’s interesting, what would you say he brings to the show aside from annoying everyone?
SARAH: Well, he’s very quickly become a “thorn in everyone’s side,” but with his character comes more comedy, which is always nice. And he is going to spark something in Kate. So something between Kate and Ben is going to be sparked between them and, again, we are building to that lovely little triangle. But that’s the stuff that I love. It’s like I’m really glad that they brought this character in because I’m interested – that’s the stuff that I want to see when I watch TV is I want to see what the romantic interests are and what people’s emotions are doing and how that’s coloring how they work. And that is what is so great about his character is he’s definitely coloring Kate’s heart in a different way. Kind of unbeknownst to herself in the beginning. And he’s definitely coming in and he’s stirring everything up, which is just changing everyone’s emotions. So it’s nice. There’s a lot of payoffs that comes with his character. . . Ben’s a different character than everyone else. Kate has a very moral objective and she just wants what’s right, and he just wants money and he’s very up-front about it. Just like how Kate is very up-front about the things that she wants to get. And, in the beginning and all the way through she finds him kind of repulsive for that. Because if anything, that’s the last thing that she’s concerned with.
As the first episode sets up, Kate’s never in a great place. But she used to be in a really bad place at the beginning with her both boat and with Justin. Is she ever going to get somewhat happier towards the end of the season?
SARAH: Well, I think with her this season, it’s really the goal to kind of show a character that goes two-steps forward and then three-steps back, and then one-step forward and then one-step, and then she’s at zero — and then she’s going half a step forward and a full step back. It’s to keep her kind of dancing and to keep her on her toes. She is going to have happy. I mean Kate, by nature, is definitely a funny character. Within those moments of solitude that things go wrong with her. But she wants to be happy and she’ll find it. But again, it’s not consistent. It’s going to be very up-and-down this year.
Are we going to see more development between Kate and Lauren’s relationship, and how is that going to play out?
SARAH: Yes. There is going to be more development between them. That’s another one where we’re going to take a couple steps forward and then take gigantic leaps back. Kate ends up moving in with Lauren and they are very different people. It’s like at the end of the day, I don’t think Kate has the maturity yet to accept that this woman [Lauren] did not cause the death of her father, which is the whole reason why Kate doesn’t like her. She blames the initial distancing of dad and Kate — she blames that on Lauren because Kate and her father were very close and here comes the other woman and takes Daddy away. Now dad’s dead, and at this point in the stage, I don’t think Kate has the emotional maturity to understand that it’s not Lauren’s fault. So she’s going to pin everything on Lauren still and still enjoy watching Lauren writhe every time she calls her step-mom. But when it to work, there are few times where Kate and Lauren both come to each other’s aid, and Kate is a big enough person in those moments to recognize that, “Okay, she needs help and I’m going to help her.” Because at the end of the day, even if they are very different people, Lauren is very pristine and neat, and Kate just kind of comes in and makes a mess of Lauren’s place. At the end of the day, they would give the shirt off of their backs to help the other person, because they are family. And if there is one thing that keeps them together, it is the firm and it is Teddy. So I think in honor of Kate’s father, she would never do anything that would put Lauren out. But it’s going to quite a while before we see full change in their relationship — a full evolvement in their relationship. But there are some situations this year in which they have to come together and help each other. But then the kind of is back to square one.
Can you talk about having Ryan as a cast member and the addition of him behind the scenes?
SARAH: Ryan? We went through a big audition process, months long before we finally found him, and I had a great deal to do with his being on the show. It kind of felt like Mae West in a way, just going through a lineup of men and going, “You, come with me,” So it was kind of like that. And right off the bat I recognized he had a very comedic sensibility and he was funny and had that kind of randomness that Ben has, and he’s been great. Look, I’m not going to lie, when you spend 16 hours a day with somebody, it doesn’t matter who they are, they’re going to get on your nerves. So we are a dysfunctional family at its best — the cast — and the dynamics that you see — what’s been so fortunate about the show is there hasn’t been real acting involved. Everything that’s happening is very organic. What you see. And Ryan and I a lot of times we do spat like an old married couple. But then again I do that with Justin. I do that with Leo. I mean what’s there in the dynamic is very much brother/sister. We’re constantly pulling on each other’s pigtails. With Lauren, it’s the same. It’s all there as well. But Ryan fits right in honestly. The cast is very jokey with each other. We dish it out left and right. We’re not nice to each other at times and Ryan and his Aussie sensibility – the Dingo, I call him the Dingo — he fits right in with everything. So it was a very easy fit and he brings so much. He brings a very light, comedic sensibility, just like his character does to the cast.
How has playing Kate helped you become a better negotiator or peacemaker in your personal life, in your real life at all?
SARAH: Well, you would think it would’ve, but no. I’m not that smart. Here’s what I’ve gotten from her: Kate is a woman — and again, this is part of her — it’s part of her charm and its part of her flaw. She’s incredibly in-the-moment and she’s very spontaneous, and if anything, that’s the thing that I’ve personally from her. Being a wife, being a new mom, you feel like you have everything planned out, or at least you try to have everything planned out, and then there’s nothing like a 2-year old to show you that you’re wrong. So the thing that I’ve really gotten from her is to really just kind of have no expectations and to just go after what my heart wants and to be spontaneous and to be a little unpredictable. And I’ve become more like that, which I have to say, I really like. But that’s the stuff that I’ve gotten from her. I can’t say I use her negotiating tactics as much.
How will the relationships on the show change this season? It seems like in the first episode back there’s a lot of conflict. But will there be more bonding and more levity as well?
SARAH: Yes, we’re definitely using the main cast more this year than we were able to last year and so we are going to see more interaction between everyone. It’s more of those dynamics that were established last year, but then better because, again, we’re spending more time with them. So it’s all that stuff. With Lauren, it’s a love/hate relationship with more of the hate apparent than the love, though it is there. With Justin, it’s very up-and-down. We get divorced but then we’re back together, and then it’s not going to work out. But then we’re going to give it another shot and then maybe it doesn’t work out. But wait a minute, there’s a guy named Ben, and with Ben, he gets under Kate’s skin very quickly and then becomes to find out that she’s got feelings for him and he obviously has liked her from the beginning. With Leo, he is being pulled in a bunch of different directions. Since the firm is losing money and cutting back, he’s having to be Kate’s assistant, Ben’s assistant, Lauren’s assistant. So it kind of makes his head spin a little bit. So, if anything, he has a little bit different dynamic to play because he’s being torn in different directions.
Then as a playful thing, in that one scene in the very first episode, Ben comes in after seeing Kate for the second time and he says, “Fate is a fickle b*tch!” How hard or funny was that scene to film?
SARAH: It was good. It was more surprising than funny because Kate is so thrown when she sees the guy from the bar. But it wasn’t really necessarily funny per se. I guess it’s probably funnier to watch than it is to film. But it threw Kate off. It was more surprising and kind of knocked her back on her feet, than it was funny.
As an actor, was that hard to stay in character for that moment, or were you just able to roll with it?
SARAH: No, that one was fine. I was able to roll with that. The one moment in the first episode that I had a hard time filming, because we just could not hold a straight face, is when Ben and Kate are in the car together and we pull up to Ben’s bus ad, and then he’s like, “Huh-huh-huh? Look at that.” And that moment for me, I just could not keep a straight face and I just broke take after take after take. Eventually, I think the cut of me that they had to use was me breaking because they just don’t have one of me reacting the way the character should be. I just couldn’t help it. It was too funny!
In the show each, Kate, Ben, and Justin kind of have their own idea of what is morally right. How throughout the season will they rub off on each other and maybe see other each other’s perspectives?
SARAH: I think they do. They are able to see the other person’s perspective. But, then again, that’s what’s so great about the show is every character is so unique and distinct in what they believe, and not so very easily swayed. So, even for Justin, to see Ben’s side or for me to see – well, Kate never sees Ben’s side. If anything, Ben starts coming more around to Kate’s objectives. And Lauren’s goal at this point is just to keep the lights on. When a character does become persuaded by another, there’s a lot of work involved. It doesn’t happen easily. If anything, that just becomes the main objective of that character’s storyline. But the ideas do start to rub-off on each other. I will say, nobody is coloring Kate’s mind. Kate’s objective is the show. It’s the heart of the show. So Kate will never go over and see Ben’s perspective or Justin’s or Lauren’s. Though she will help them out in a moment. There’s a situation that Lauren gets in — she’s being investigated for misconduct in one episode and she has her reasons for doing it — and Kate kind of goes along with it just to help her. But then afterwards, she definitely puts it to her and tells her how wrong and how inappropriate she was for doing this and how she did put everyone at stake for the decision that she made. So, again, it’s like other characters will be colored by Kate’s point of view, but I don’t think Kate ever really becomes persuaded by anybody else’s.
In Season 1, Leo has a lot of fun stuff on his desk and this season Kate actually has some fun stuff on her desk, like the gumball machine. Is there something that brings that about?
SARAH: It was trying to find the randomness in the character and trying to portray a picture of somebody who is in this corporate world but is so not of this corporate world. So I have a record player there too, which we end up using in some of the later episodes. Kate’s listening to her records. So it was all done in a way to portray that this is again a character who is in this very black-and-white world, but she is nothing of that. We just filmed something yesterday at Lauren’s house and Kate’s boat blows up. She ends up moving in with Lauren, and I had them put up the sign in the window that Kate wrote saying, “Help me. I’m homeless.” So, again, it’s just the little things like that to try to color that this — it may look like a procedural show, but it’s definitely not.
How does this show differ from all the other legal shows on television?
SARAH: I don’t feel like the heart of the show is that it’s a law show. I mean, I actually am not a fan of procedurals myself. If anything, I fight tooth-and-nail every day to keep this from being a procedural show. Maybe that’s the one thing. Other than the procedural that I was on before this [“Life”], I’ve never really seen another procedural show. Because the things that keep me invested is the “heart” stuff, and that’s what I continue to play. So, if anything, I hope this show is different because it comes across as so much more than a procedural.
At the close of Season 1, after producers announced that there’d be a bit of retooling of the show, you were reported as saying something like you had some ideas. Did you in fact write any ideas as they worked on the Season 2 changes?
SARAH: Well, the changes, it was the change in the showrunner. That was the big change and I had an idea that things were moving in that direction. I mean being the lead of the show — being the face of the show — there’s very little creative decisions that can be made without me knowing them. So I did have a clue in what they were; it was that we were changing showrunners, which then by its nature brings a very different element to the show in itself.
How would you describe that? Based on the second season premiere, the tone was somewhat more adult. How do you describe it?
SARAH: It was. I think the first season of any show more or less are kind of a trial period, and the fact that we got brought back to do a second season was great because then we were able to take all the things from the first season that didn’t work and change them. One of the things that didn’t work is the show sometimes last year felt a little silly. Sometimes the mediations felt a little silly and we needed to ground it a little bit more. So that’s what this season has been about. And Kate’ stance this year is: Is she going to grow up? She’s constantly surrounded by and she’s in this adult world — very corporate world — and she’s just struggling tooth-and-nail to not be a part of that.
You talked about maturity, and that being a constant struggle for Kate. How do you balance the need for Kate to grow in her storyline and grow up a bit and maintain sort of the naïve charm she uses to be so good at what she does?
SARAH: That’s a good question. Because in her heart this is a character that’s very playful by nature. She’s a very spirited person. So here’s the thing, they haven’t really written anything. We haven’t really earned Kate growing up. It’s like we’re only in the second season in, so if we’re going to make some really big changes to her personality in that respect, I think it has to be earned and we’ve got to be a few seasons in. So we can’t force our hand and join the stuffy adults too soon. . . The thing is it’s not necessarily that she’s adult about [her work] because Kate is constantly breaking the rules. She’s constantly breaking the rules in her professional life. She really doesn’t care about roles so much. She has a case and her heart kind of draws her to what is the right thing to do, regardless of what the law says, regardless of what two people want. She has the ability to prod, and prod, and prod until they really reveal what they want from each other, even if it’s not what they initially thought going into the mediation. And if anything, that’s what drives her. It’s not necessarily that she is an adult in this professional world but she’s not in her personal life; it’s the fact that she’s just so passionate, and she’s very defiant in what she believe and how she feels, and that’s what she goes after. And again, it’s kind of the same in her personal life, except at the moment it’s kind of murky what she feels. So if anything, that’s what drives her in that professional life. It’s that passionate heart. But she gets into trouble. You’ll see this season that she will be held in contempt. She gets clients into deeper-waters than they initially started, and she’s got to work harder to get them out. She’s not always able to fix everyone, it’s a pendulum. It does go in both worlds. . . . The thing that’s so great about her — I kind of play her with “no vanity” and so I’m not afraid of having a character that’s a little bitchy at times. A character that is sometimes just mean to Lauren. A character who, does get a little too flirty with somebody else, right in front of Ben. A character who may not be exactly likable at all times, because I just think that’s human. And that’s just going back to the other question about: do I think she’s relatable? I think it’s just real. No one is perfect and I don’t like when characters on TV are portrayed as just constantly likable all the time.
Could you compare and contrast the real Sarah Shahi and the character you play?
SARAH: Here’s the thing, at the end of the day, Kate is a big part of me and it’s nice to be able to play something that is so closely related to myself. That is a part of myself that I can kind of slip into without any vanity, as I said. But the ways in which we’re similar, we’re both very, very feisty, very passionate, and love life. The kind of people and take charge of life. We’re flirty and love clothes. The ways in which we’re different? Kate is kind of irresponsible and she is a bit childish and immature; whereas I’m a wife and a mother, and I just don’t have that much room for immaturity in my life, though I would love to have more. But everyone knows that it is kind of the woman that holds the family together in a way, so I do feel that responsibility.
What about Leonardo? Are going to get to see more of him and Kate’s relationship?
SARAH: Yes, we do. We get to see Kate’s relationship more with everyone this year, which is nice. But Leo and Kate are kind of unflappable in a way. They’re like brother and sister. He knows her better than she knows herself. He knows what she’s going to do before she even does it, and so it’s more of that. Their dynamic really doesn’t change too much this year. The only difference is Leo is having to serve everyone that sits in the office, and Kate doesn’t really like that too much. But he has to come to Kate’s defense from time-to-time with some of the other characters. But other than that, Kate and Leo are true-and-true.
Do you get to give input a lot? Like with character development and maybe with some of your lines?
SARAH: Yes, I do. As far as the writing staff goes, not that I’m a writer, but I’m just saying the cast was kind of the only returning members from the change-in-regime. So in the beginning, Peter did rely very heavily on me and the dynamics that were written between the characters, and we did spend a lot of time in pre-production finding the voice and the dynamics. And it’s because Peter is such a great writer, such a confident writer that he has no problems with me coming in and changing things or suggesting to change things; he’s always taken my ideas and it’s a very good, open, collaborative relationship.
Is there any guest stars you could talk about that are coming this season?
SARAH: Yes. Well, the biggest has been Meatloaf. Meatloaf comes by — and he prefers to be called Meat — and he was wonderful. Kate and him kind of go head to head and get into a screaming match, which is kind of fun. I almost matched him in decibels, which I was proud of. But he comes by and he plays a union worker. There’s a union going to go on strike because the agency that’s funding wants to cut their wages, and Kate kind of gets in the middle and finds out that there’s more underneath the surface than what it appears to be. So he comes by and he was wonderful.
You’ve said that the major point of this season seems to be to make Kate as uncomfortable as possible. So will we see her thrown off balance to the point where she ever actually loses that fearlessness for any reason? Is she someone who would bounce back from that quickly, or would it really shake her?
SARAH: Well, the situation that she is in — that she is not as fearless as she says she is — — it’s a personal thing. Kate, when it comes to her work especially, she’s the kind of person that she sees the fire and she walks into it. She’s just drawn to it. She cannot help it. But when it comes to her personal life, again she’s a little bit more unclear and there is more fear with that that she’d like to believe. So the situation that she does kind of get really thrown off her feet, and it happens to be a personal one with Ben where he kind of challenges her in a way that she challenged him in the beginning. And she doesn’t act. And she doesn’t recover well from that. But as far as her work goes, this is a character that we have created so far that she’s drawn to conflict. She has to have it. She loves it. She lives it. She breathes it. So when it comes to her work stuff, she’s going to keep remaining fearless. But, again, the thing that drives her is her heart. So it’s not to say that she doesn’t go into a circumstance, without any kind of fear or doubting things. But it’s the fact that she does it. She doesn’t back away from anything when it comes to her work. But when it comes to her personal life this year, she does.
Ben and Katie have a very David-and-Maddie type chemistry, what’s it like to play that?
SARAH: Well, after awhile, all the scripts kind of start getting very confusing in my head and I do kind of forget where I left off with what was the last dynamic with Ben or with Justin. So I have to be very certain of how the relationship has evolved. And because we do shoot out of order, that’s something that takes a little bit of going back and remembering where we last stood and also knowing what we’re building to. It is kind of how we strategically are playing the scenes. And it’s like placing the pieces of the puzzle to build to this really nice picture in the end. So it’s a dance. It’s a definite dance. But then again, that’s the stuff that I love playing. That’s what I feel like I’m actually good at. So we’ll see if everyone else agrees.
Do we get to see anyone else more outside of the office? Will we get to see more of Justin with his campaign a little bit more?
SARAH: Yes. Justin and the campaign, that comes along and from the later episodes. And actually, we see every character in their home a few times throughout the season.
Can you go into a bit of detail about what’s going to happen between Kate and Michael Trucco’s character Justin?
SARAH: It just gets even better between us. There’s just so much natural chemistry that it’s so fun to watch. We are going to go through with [the divorce]. He’s going to drop the hammer on me in the first episode on how he behaved during our marriage, and then from that it’s the roller-coaster. We get divorced. Kate becomes a little cold towards him. She starts being a flirtier towards other people, and then they get back together and they’re going to try being together. But they’re just sleeping together. They’re not really dating. And then he kind of comes to her and he’s like, “Okay, well why don’t we start dating?” And she’s like, “Okay, why not? Let’s just start dating.” And then there’s Ben, and then Kate starts looking at Ben a little more and starts holding his gaze a little too long, and she goes back and just isn’t sure about Justin anymore. So we’re just going to keep going round and round and round until the season finale.
Kate’s dance with Ben and Justin may be a dizzying love-triangle, but it is also guaranteed to be humorous, heart-tugging and lots of fun. Be sure to tune in for the second season premiere of FAIRLY LEGAL on Friday, March 16th at 9PM on USA Network.
Tiffany Vogt is the Senior West Coast Editor, contributing as a columnist and entertainment reporter to TheTVaddict.com. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).