While in LA, we screened the premiere episode of For The People and then interviewed stars Jasmin Savoy Brown (“Allison Adams”), Regé-Jean Page (“Leonard Knox”), Susannah Flood (“Kate Littlejohn”) and Wesam Keesh (“Jay Simmons”). We also interviewed Tom Verica, executive producer and director of the pilot and Paul Davies, writer and executive producer.
Keesh, Brown, and Britt Robertson play public defenders. Ben Rappaport, Page and Flood play prosecutors.
I really liked this show. I have always liked legal shows and this is a fun spin having the young attorneys and the different perspectives.
Set in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (a.k.a. “The Mother Court”), the new Shondaland series show follows six talented young lawyers working on opposite sides of the law and handling the most high-profile and high-stakes federal cases in the country. The show premieres tonight, Tuesday, March 13 at 10|9c.
On preparing for the show
Wesam shared about what he did to prepare to play a public defender.
No, I actually did shadow a public defender at the L.A. courthouse and that was an amazing experience, just what the public defenders have to deal with within a few hours, from like a bicycle theft case to a sexual assault case to somebody showing up for their prison sentence, to a juvenile trying to not get jail time. So they have to deal with a lot and yeah it was very eye opening, there’s a lot of dark humor behind the scenes which, you know, plays into it.
Regé-Jean plays a prosecutor and had this to say about preparing for the role.
I went to court in Compton, which is an experience. And I didn’t know before I started working this that everyone has the right to go and just watch justice be done, like you can turn up and watch a case with very-very few exceptions which is incredible because it is so important for justice not just to be done but to be seen to be done.
And just kind of being in that environment, in a courthouse environment and feeling people work at an incredibly high level, with people’s lives in their hands every single day is an extraordinary thing and something you kind of need to feel palpably before you can kind of take it on. Just the fact they walk into this courtroom every day, real people’s lives incredibly intricate complicated stories. And you have to boil that down and deliver it to jury with all the technicalities involved and essentially either save lives or not and with ten other cases on your back and five calls coming in every ten minutes.
And just kind of seeing people work in that kind of rhythm is both inspiring and a responsibility because you then have to represent that in its best light. I noticed Paul confessing to being a lawyer over there, [LAUGHTER] which I found very interesting. And so maybe if we do this right we can go to in some ways kind of rehabilitating lawyers as people who run what is possibly the most important institution in this country, the justice system. It should be something that’s on our side at all times, even though it doesn’t feel like it is. And so hopefully people won’t have to confess to being lawyers.
On dealing with intense themes
The actors were asked if there were any moments that were too intense while filming. Wesam thought “intense” was a good way to put it.
I don’t know if too intense is the right word for me, I feel very connected with the writing in the show. A lot of that credit goes to Paul. And it’s to say the very least, it’s exceptionally good. And as you watch the show, especially my character, it is very closely connected with a very similar background where I come from. So the writing connected with my emotions to like my family and the future is just there. And so I guess intense is a, you know, accurate word, yeah.
Regé-Jean had to figure out how to take care of himself in the process of making the show, depending on the episode.
I think Paul and his team have a gift for kind of making sure that they touch on the personal whilst you’re dealing with very large themes, and I think that very much comes through this. Certainly one case that I dealt with where I kind of needed to detox my brain for a couple of days afterwards, because they threw me a real heavy curveball. And that was again inspired, certainly drew some very close parallels to some real events. And you’re reminded that whilst we often keep it on a light tone, these are incredibly important things that we deal with. These are incredibly-
Sometimes the world is a little bit dark and you need protection from that and you need people to kind of be torch bearers in that world on both sides, in the prosecution and the defense. And so there are times when yeah the weight of the thing can get very-very intense, but I also think that’s one of the gifts that this team has is in managing that tone and presenting the real world in its lightness and its darkness as a complete package that you can digest and take on and grow from.
Jasmin found the experience to be cathartic.
I found it really cathartic to be working on something that feels that it speaks to the times that we’re actually living in. I think a lot of people are walking around with a lot to say about a whole host of worthy issues and it feels like, it feels really timely to be in a conversation that feels like it matters. So I really- I don’t find it too intense at all really, I really love it.
What to expect in the coming season
The cast’s enthusiasm for the show was so clear. I really liked what Jasmin had to say about what we should expect.
And I think that the joy in this season is being able to explore the faults or the ways in which these young people don’t yet know how to do what it is they’re responsible for doing.
And so it’s like any of us at any moment where we’ve entered a professional threshold, anyone in this room has entered a professional threshold in their life that is much larger than what they’ve operated in up to that moment. There’s no way for you to know at that moment what you don’t know already. And you have to- you have to learn by encountering what you don’t already know.
And I think the bravado of all of these characters in the first thirty minutes of the show is really true and appropriate to the actual lawyers in the Southern District. They’re all very like they’re very New York in that way, they’re like Wolf of Wall Street in that way. They’re fronting with this kind of ambition that derives from a passion for principle. They’re all civil servants, they’re not getting paid that much money, they’re only in their jobs because of the principle of being in the job.
And so that passion is expressed towards thoroughness in the job and that comes across a certain way but you get to know it a little bit better as you spend more time with it. And I’m really thrilled in my character that like we get to see a woman occupy this space of precision, analysis, thoroughness, diligence.
Director Tom Verica mused about how the characters are revealed. Anyone else get a kick out of the Breakfast Club reference?
I was going to say look, if we do our jobs right with Paul’s writing and the crafting of this, you want to- you want accessibility.
You want to leap in and know, oh I know who this character is I know who that character is. So we set up kind of what the forum is and then slowly bit by bit you find out a little bit about these characters. And since we have a little bit of hindsight having done ten episodes, we delved into each of these characters’ personal stories and it’s quite revealing and surprising. And Paul and the writing team have done a really phenomenal job with peeling back those layers, seemingly what seems, you know, that you’re able to say well this one is the jock.
You know, all those classic Breakfast Club things where you sort of put these characters in those boxes, I’m dating myself. Put those people in those boxes- have you guys seen that. But you do sort of see what makes each of them tick, and I think you’re dealing with the jumping in point is these guys are on their first day on the job and they are wearing their armor and they are wearing, they have their protective coats on. And as they sort of get into it and you sort of see a little or a lot of the gray area about what makes them tick, why.
You know, completely different sides of a public defender and a prosecutor, they come at it from a completely different way. It’s really great to see the human element and their interaction with one another, which dramatically hopefully we pull that off.
For The People premieres tonight at 10|9c. I’m excited for y’all to check it out. The cast is so kind and talented.
Disclosure: ABC/Disney flew me to LA for the press junkets. Travel and accommodations were paid for. All opinions are my own. For The People photos courtesy of ABC and interview photos courtesy of Louise Bishop.