Fairly Legal – OTB Meets Sarah Shahi

Attractive women were always pleased to see Michael..
Attractive women were always pleased to see Michael..
Telling the story of implausibly sexy lawyer-turned-mediator Kate Reed, and starring the lovely Sarah Shahi, Fairly Legal will be making its UK debut on the Universal Channel this weekend (Sunday 8pm). Despite the serious sounding premise, the show is a charming blend of drama and comedy that has already been likened favourably to Ally McBeal (well the early episodes anyway..) If you’re looking for a new take on the much-tested area of legal drama, this is it. OTB caught up with the show’s star Sarah Shahi for a chat.


Hi Sarah, How are you?
I’m Good.

Enjoying being in London?
I am, but it’s been a tease because I’ve been so busy – ever since I got off the plane I haven’t had much time to do anything and then I leave this afternoon, so…

Not really been able to see anything then, is it your first time here?
Yeah, but I really wanna come back. I really like it.

We’re sure they’ll be an opportunity…
I hope so – if you write a good enough review maybe there will be!

Haha, maybe! Could you give us a summary of the show?
How would I describe it? Well, um, [to PR] You’ve heard this so many times today! Here’s the best way to describe the show honestly, you know, I’ve tried to come up with a different way, but this is the best way. It is: Law and Order meets Sex and the City with a lot more sex than law! That’s what it is.

Quite a good sell. So, seeing as I am a 25-year-old guy – probably not the target audience – how would you sell it to me?
I wear underwear. [PR –“you wear underwear or you don’t wear underwear?â€?] No, no! I mean – haha that did sound a bit weird didn’t it! I don’t wear underwear – there you go! Um, no, I, there’s – now I’m just gonna sound like an asshole – No, there are quite a few scenes where, you know, where we have me waking up in bed and I’m just wearing underwear. But, that’ll at least give you a starting place and then if you like what you see maybe you’ll keep watching! The show is definitely very young and male friendly – we actually have more male audience than female audience believe it or not, and so there’s a hot blond, there’s a hot brunette – I don’t think you guys really need anything more…that just sounded really bad!

Obviously you play Kate Reed, what are the key elements of her personality?
Well the biggest thing with her I think is her heart, she’s one of those people who never thinks about what she’s gonna do. She just kinda leads with her heart and very blindly goes into whatever it is, be it a relationship, a room, a work situation, a personal situation and then her mind sometimes follows and sometimes doesn’t. I think, with that said, she can also get herself into trouble but I think that’s part of what makes her so unique and so charming, possibly, is that she’s very childlike and just dives right into things – sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.

Right. I’ll apologise now in case I call you Kate at any point, by the way. Is there any way in which you feel that you relate to her?
Do I relate to her? I don’t know, we have some similarities, both of us; we’re both very outspoken people, and flirty, feisty people by nature. I think those could be the ways in which I relate to her. But then in some ways we’re very different. The struggles she has as a character have never quite been the struggles that I have as me. Emotionally she is incredibly immature, there’s a lot of situations in her life that she can’t confront, and I’m a wife and a mom and – if anything – I have to do nothing but confront situations. But I will say that when I am Kate, it’s nice because I have these moments of escapism where I get to be completely free and uninhibited and not think about any consequences which is what Kate does.

Do you have a particular favourite moment from this first series?
Um… I have a particular favourite off-camera moment. We try to keep a very – not we try, we do –we keep a very relaxed atmosphere on set. The creator, Michael Sardo and I encourage the actors to go off-book, to improv, if you’re feeling something in the moment don’t ignore it, just listen to whatever bit of inspiration that is and do it. So it’s a very fun place to work, but there was this one time when there was a director, the other actor and myself, we staged this huge fight – the two guys almost got into a brawl with it, almost got into a fistfight, and people were yelling and screaming at each other and I emailed one of our producers who had just left to go home for the evening – it was his first night off and I just wrote ‘my god, I don’t know who the fuck this guy thinks he is, you better come back immediately, this joker is going to ruin the show’. And [laughing] he comes back, and he was mortified, he was the brightest shade of red I had ever seen – that was lots of fun.

Have you had any fan mail from mediators? Are they impressed they’re finally on TV and it’s not all about lawyers any more?
[Laughs] No! But what it funny is that I just got an invitation to go speak at a mediator conference in November – which I think is strange because, as I was saying earlier, it’s like asking Jesse Eisenburg [who plays Mark Zuckerburg in The Social Network] to go speak at a computer programming conference, or something. So it’s a bit weird, but in a way it kinda makes me feel good, cos I’m like ‘okay, maybe I’m fooling somebody over there’, I don’t know.

Okay, on a slightly different note, you used to be a cheerleader for the [Dallas] Cowboys, and you’re playing a role in a show set in San Francisco – if Kate turns out to be a [San Francisco] 49ers fan, do you think you’re gonna be banned from Texas forever?
[Amidst fits of laughter] YES. Yes, I would. I, yeah, that’s funny. That’s a good question – I haven’t been asked that question yet, that’s great!

You went to the Super Bowl this year as well?
Yeah my first Super Bowl – that was great. If you ever get an opportunity to go you’ve got to go, it’s in Miami next year I think [it will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but we’ll forgive her]. Have you ever been to Miami?

No, never been to the States, unfortunately.
Oh my gosh!

Also, I saw that on Twitter there is @AskKateReed, is that actually you?
No… okay… No… But, here’s what that is – and it’s why the USA networks are so brilliant with their marketing, you go into that app, and you type in a key work, like ‘frustrated with boss’, or ‘cheating wife’ or ‘cheating husband’ or whatever – and I’ve recorded a set of over 300 possible videos that could answers these different key words. So, that Twitter feed is not me but you do go into a video that I have done, in character, trying to help whatever situation it is that the person’s twittering about.

So I’ve been reading the American reviews of your show and Entertainment Weekly and USA Today were both very complimentary about your performance, do you read a lot of your press, or do you try to ignore it, or what?
I’m still trying to figure that out! I don’t know, I like to read the good ones! I dunno – do you guys know who Reba McEntire is here? The country singer? [we didn’t] – wow! She’s like a legend in the States! Oh my god! Okay, anyway, I guess I’m not gonna use her as a reference then! So, I think…I don’t know what I think to be honest with you, I have read the reviews, and then it only took my first bad one for me to go: ‘why the fuck am I reading these reviews?!’ And then – and what do they know! But what’s interesting about it, is, when I do come across something that is positive it does make me feel good, it kind of is that little pat on the back that, as actors, we feel like we’re constantly searching for validation. And then the ones that haven’t been as nice, I try to maybe look at it as ‘well are they right? Are they bringing up something that was possibly missed?’ or, ‘do I really disagree with them’ so it does make you think and I feel like any time there’s two opposing thoughts on whatever it is, it’s good because it does make you think. If somebody calls you a great writer in one review in one situation, then the next day [someone else] calls you the worst writer ever, you would at least think about you as a writer and if there’s anything you can do to improve, or [smiles] if you think the other guy’s just a piece of shit that doesn’t know what he’s talking about! You know what I mean? And then, the third thought is, I go ‘well, I’m not making the show for the reviews, I’m doing it for a completely different set of reasons so why am I looking to them for validation – my credit should come from my peers, my family, the audience – these guys [critics] just have opinions and everybody has an opinion. So I don’t know, to be honest with you! I don’t know how I feel about reviews yet.

Okay! So you went from doing English at SMU [Southern Methodist University in Texas], to a cheerleader [she interrupts ‘I just keep dumbing down don’t I?!] to an actress. How did you make the transition? Did you always want to act?
Yes. I had always wanted to be an actress and from the time that I was little I would watch TV or movies, whatever it was, and I would always picture myself in the lead character’s situation and see how I would do it, how I would do things. When I watched Robin Hood for the first time I wasn’t trying to be Maid Marian, I wanted to be Robin Hood – what would I do if I were Robin Hood? So I was playing make-believe my entire life and then the cheerleading bit, the way that happened is – I was in a production of Chicago at my university and I was studying English and communications at the time, this background dancer said ‘if you wanna be an actress you should maybe try out for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders’ because, back in 1995, they were on Saturday Night Live. So I figured that was my way in. So I tried out – I’d never been a cheerleader before – I made the team. Then Robert Altman [director of MASH, The Player and Short Cuts] came to Texas to film Dr T and the Women, used our rehearsal facilities as his set – I had no clue who he was. For whatever reason we really got along – he was there for 2 weeks, we had lunch together, we talked to each other, I set with him at the monitors, we never talked about acting but talked about everything else and then on the last day he said ‘well what is it that you wanna do?’ and I said ‘I dunno, I really want to be an actress but I just don’t know how to do it out here’, and he goes ‘well, I think you have something, I think you have what it takes, you need to move to L.A.’ So I went home that night, I Google him because I still didn’t know who he was – who is this guy, what does he know about acting? – and of all his credits the only movie I recognised was Popeye! So I told my mom, ‘mom the guy who directed Popeye is telling me I’ve got a shot, I think I need to go.’ And that’s what I did.

So what’s your ultimate ambition with your career? Do you look that far ahead?
Yeah, I do. Not all the time, but I do, absolutely. I would love to get to a place where I’m in a position where I can be incredibly picky and I don’t have to work unless I HAVE to and the role just really captivates me and I could have my choice of what medium I’d like to do whether it’s stage, whether it’s movies, whether it’s television. A mix between Cate Blanchett and Gwenyth Paltrow, that is the long term goal, yeah.

Have you got anything else that you’re working on at the moment besides Fairly Legal?
Yeah, I just finished 2 things. I just finished this independent movie called The Congress which is kind of like an animation meets live action almost like an Avatar type thing with Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel and Paul Giamatti. And then I did this other movie called I Don’t Know How She Does It with Sarah-Jessica Parker in New York most recently.

Thank You, Sarah.