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 youâre looking for a new take on the much-tested area of legal drama, this is it. OTB caught up with the showâs star Sarah Shahi for a chat.
Hi Sarah, How are you?
Enjoying being in London?
I am, but itâs been a tease because Iâve been so busy â ever since I got off the plane I havenât had much time to do anything and then I leave this afternoon, soâ¦
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.
Weâre sure theyâll be an opportunityâ¦
I hope so â 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] Youâve heard this so many times today! Hereâs the best way to describe the show honestly, you know, Iâve 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! Thatâs what it is.
Quite a good sell. So, seeing as I am a 25-year-old guy â probably not the target audience â how would you sell it to me?
I wear underwear. [PR ââyou wear underwear or you donât wear underwear?â?] No, no! I mean â haha that did sound a bit weird didnât it! I donât wear underwear â there you go! Um, no, I, thereâs â now Iâm just gonna sound like an asshole â No, there are quite a few scenes where, you know, where we have me waking up in bed and Iâm just wearing underwear. But, thatâll at least give you a starting place and then if you like what you see maybe youâll keep watching! The show is definitely very young and male friendly â we actually have more male audience than female audience believe it or not, and so thereâs a hot blond, thereâs a hot brunette â I donât think you guys really need anything moreâ¦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, sheâs one of those people who never thinks about what sheâs 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 doesnât. I think, with that said, she can also get herself into trouble but I think thatâs part of what makes her so unique and so charming, possibly, is that sheâs very childlike and just dives right into things â sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesnât.
Right. Iâll 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 donât know, we have some similarities, both of us; weâre 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 weâre 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, thereâs a lot of situations in her life that she canât confront, and Iâm 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, itâs 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 â not we try, we do âwe keep a very relaxed atmosphere on set. The creator, Michael Sardo and I encourage the actors to go off-book, to improv, if youâre feeling something in the moment donât ignore it, just listen to whatever bit of inspiration that is and do it. So itâs 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 â 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 â it was his first night off and I just wrote âmy god, I donât know who the fuck this guy thinks he is, you better come back immediately, this joker is going to ruin the showâ. And [laughing] he comes back, and he was mortified, he was the brightest shade of red I had ever seen â that was lots of fun.
Have you had any fan mail from mediators? Are they impressed theyâre finally on TV and itâs 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 â which I think is strange because, as I was saying earlier, itâs like asking Jesse Eisenburg [who plays Mark Zuckerburg in The Social Network] to go speak at a computer programming conference, or something. So itâs a bit weird, but in a way it kinda makes me feel good, cos Iâm like âokay, maybe Iâm fooling somebody over thereâ, I donât know.
Okay, on a slightly different note, you used to be a cheerleader for the [Dallas] Cowboys, and youâre playing a role in a show set in San Francisco â if Kate turns out to be a [San Francisco] 49ers fan, do you think youâre gonna be banned from Texas forever?
[Amidst fits of laughter] YES. Yes, I would. I, yeah, thatâs funny. Thatâs a good question â I havenât been asked that question yet, thatâs great!
You went to the Super Bowl this year as well?
Yeah my first Super Bowl â that was great. If you ever get an opportunity to go youâve got to go, itâs in Miami next year I think [it will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but weâll 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?
Noâ¦ okayâ¦ Noâ¦ But, hereâs what that is â and itâs why the USA networks are so brilliant with their marketing, you go into that app, and you type in a key work, like âfrustrated with bossâ, or âcheating wifeâ or âcheating husbandâ or whatever â and Iâve 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 personâs twittering about.
So Iâve 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?
Iâm still trying to figure that out! I donât know, I like to read the good ones! I dunno â do you guys know who Reba McEntire is here? The country singer? [we didnât] â wow! Sheâs like a legend in the States! Oh my god! Okay, anyway, I guess Iâm not gonna use her as a reference then! So, I thinkâ¦I donât 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: âwhy the fuck am I reading these reviews?!â And then â and what do they know! But whatâs 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 weâre constantly searching for validation. And then the ones that havenât been as nice, I try to maybe look at it as âwell are they right? Are they bringing up something that was possibly missed?â or, âdo I really disagree with themâ so it does make you think and I feel like any time thereâs two opposing thoughts on whatever it is, itâs 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 thereâs anything you can do to improve, or [smiles] if you think the other guyâs just a piece of shit that doesnât know what heâs talking about! You know what I mean? And then, the third thought is, I go âwell, Iâm not making the show for the reviews, Iâm doing it for a completely different set of reasons so why am I looking to them for validation â my credit should come from my peers, my family, the audience â these guys [critics] just have opinions and everybody has an opinion. So I donât know, to be honest with you! I donât 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 âI just keep dumbing down donât 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 characterâs situation and see how I would do it, how I would do things. When I watched Robin Hood for the first time I wasnât trying to be Maid Marian, I wanted to be Robin Hood â 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 âif you wanna be an actress you should maybe try out for the Dallas Cowboys cheerleadersâ because, back in 1995, they were on Saturday Night Live. So I figured that was my way in. So I tried out â Iâd never been a cheerleader before â 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 â I had no clue who he was. For whatever reason we really got along â 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 âwell what is it that you wanna do?â and I said âI dunno, I really want to be an actress but I just donât know how to do it out hereâ, and he goes âwell, I think you have something, I think you have what it takes, you need to move to L.A.â So I went home that night, I Google him because I still didnât know who he was â who is this guy, what does he know about acting? â and of all his credits the only movie I recognised was Popeye! So I told my mom, âmom the guy who directed Popeye is telling me Iâve got a shot, I think I need to go.â And thatâs what I did.
So whatâs 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 Iâm in a position where I can be incredibly picky and I donât have to work unless I HAVE to and the role just really captivates me and I could have my choice of what medium Iâd like to do whether itâs stage, whether itâs movies, whether itâs television. A mix between Cate Blanchett and Gwenyth Paltrow, that is the long term goal, yeah.
Have you got anything else that youâre 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 Donât Know How She Does It with Sarah-Jessica Parker in New York most recently.
Thank You, Sarah.