Sarah Shahi is no stranger to memorable roles, having portrayed Carmen on the much loved The L Word and Dani Reese on the short-lived but terrific Life. She now has the potential for another in FAIRLY LEGAL, in which she stars as Kate Reed, a former litigator turned mediator who believes deeply in justice and can put any two people in a room and find an equitable result. Outside that room, though, her life is in flux. Her father recently died, she works for her stepmother, and she’s almost more or less divorced. Does that sound like a show that can slip right into USA’s line-up of dramedies or what?
Daemon’s TV was there when star Sarah answered questions about what makes Kate so interesting–both to play and to watch, why Kate dislikes her stepmother so much, and what Kate’s romantic life might hold.
It was Kate’s flaws that drew Sarah to the role. She said, “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. I wasn’t interested in playing a perfect person. I wanted to play somebody who struggled because for me, I think that’s real. I think it’s real for people to struggle, and I think it’s refreshing to see a character like that on TV, 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.”
Along with those flaws, though, Kate has a huge heart and gets very involved with whomever she`s dealing with, whether it`s in her personal or working life–something that can cause her some problems. “The beauty of this character is that she is so emotional,” Sarah explained. “She gets caught up so much with what she does, and a lot of times she gets in trouble for it and her head doesn’t necessarily always follow what her heart tells her to do.”
What you see is what you get with Kate. Sarah said, “Kate is a no bullshit kind of girl. She says what she means and she means what she says. So she’s very straightforward.” That doesn’t mean she’s predictable, though. Sarah said she is full of surprises and that “Kate’s like a tornado sometimes the way she kind of comes in and settles situations.”
Kate is also a bundle of contradictions. “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,” Sarah noted. “She’ll go to any length that she needs to help people and solve their cases. She can fix everybody but herself kind of thing.” Also, despite her success at her job, Sarah sees Kate as very “childlike with her emotions and the way that she kind of handles her stepmother, her ex-husband. She’s very sort of just, ‘Love me, love me, love me,’ but then she’ll push you away with the other hand, head on just to get it over with and have some clarity.”
Despite all the upheaval and sadness in her life, Sarah said that generally, Kate is “a happy person. She’s very whimsical and spontaneous.”
When asked what she would change about Kate, Sarah answered, “I don’t know if there’s anything I want to change about Kate right now. She’s mentally and emotionally at a very interesting place. I don’t want to see her evolve quite yet because I think there are more stories to tell with her at where she’s at.”
On Kate and her stepmother Lauren
Kate makes no apologies for the fact that she doesn’t like Lauren (Virginia Williams), a feeling which is entirely mutual, by the way. As Sarah explained, “Kate is very straightforward. In the pilot where she says, `I thought my mother made him happy and then he met you so I don’t know what to do about that so I hate you. It’s simpler that way.’ Kate has a lot of reasons for not liking her stepmother. She took her father away and now her father’s dead so if anything for Kate she blames her father’s loss on her stepmother.”
Sarah also said we shouldn’t expect that to change any time soon. “It doesn’t evolve much beyond what you see. Lauren and Kate do have to work together at some point, 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 Kate’s mind, Lauren would have to drop dead before she liked her.”
On Kate and her ex-husband Justin
Kate’s romantic life is mostly centered on Assistant District Attorney Justin Patrick (Michael Trucco), her not-quite ex-husband, and their complicated relationship. “It’s like when we first meet them he is her soon to be ex-husband, so at one point I’m presented with divorce papers, but I don’t know if I want to sign them or not,” Sarah said. “So it’s interesting because a lot of times in TV shows, the dynamic between the male and female lead is sort of a will they won’t they, but this time it’s the opposite. It’s they already have and they’ve kind of fallen apart. So now the exploration is will they or won’t they get back together? Will they or won’t they get divorced? So that’s sort of the biggest relationship tease in the story.”
That tease apparently lasts throughout the season. “The finale is incredible, a lot of unexpected things happen in the finale. I love the finale; it’s my favorite episode. But it’s more exploration of the dynamics of her and Justin. ”
On Kate and Leonardo
Kate’s assistant Leonardo (Baron Vaughn), AKA Leo, is arguably the most important person in her life, keeping her balanced and on track. Sarah explained that Kate and Leo “have a very brotherly sisterly relationship, and he’s the kind of guy who knows her better than she knows herself. He knows what she’s going to do two steps before she does it. So it’s actually been pretty great to have somebody like that on her side.”
Just because Leo is on Kate’s side doesn’t mean he doesn’t see her flaws. In fact, Sarah said Leo “is the only one there in the show that doesn’t quite fawn over Kate.”
On Fairly Legal’s tone
Like most USA shows, Fairly Legal balances comedy and drama, and Sarah assured us it never takes itself too seriously. “The show is very light. It’s kind of cheeky and flirty. It’s not a procedural, so I hope people tune in because they want to laugh or sometimes cry and just be entertained really. We don’t have 46 minutes of straight seriousness in our life or 46 minutes of straight comedy in our life, so I think there’s going to be a good mix of both of those.”
On Sarah’s upcoming film ‘East Fifth Bliss’
Sarah recently shot an independent film, ‘East Fifth Bliss’ with Michael C. Hall and Peter Fonda. When asked to describe it, she said, “It’s kind of a coming of age character story. Michael is the lead of it, and it’s me, Chris Messina, Brie Larson, Lucy Liu, and it’s a wonderful cast. We all sort of play very quirky characters that intertwine with Michael’s life. He plays a guy who’s kind of a loser. He still lives at home with his dad played by Peter Fonda. He talks a big game, but he’s really never done anything in his life, one of those guys, and by the end of the story, he’s inspired to finally do something.”
Fairly Legal premieres on USA Thursday, January 20 at 10pm eastern, 9pm central.
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