Interview With Rising Stars of ABC’s For The People
I’m always excited about new television shows, and during the #WrinkleInTimeEvent we had the chance to screen a few new ones from ABC. I was so excited about the new show For the People because it’s about the law. After the screening, we had the opportunity to chat with Jasmin Savoy Brown (“Allison Adams”), Susannah Flood (“Kate Littlejohn”) & Wesam Keesh (“Jay Simmons”) Regé-Jean Page (“Leonard Knox”) Creator & Executive Producer Paul William Davies and Executive Producer Tom Verica.
About the Show:
Set in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (a.k.a. “The Mother Court”), the new Shondaland series 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. These lawyers will be put to the test both personally and professionally as their lives intersect in and out of America’s most prestigious trial court, on “For The People,” TUESDAY, MARCH 13 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EDT), on The ABC Television Network, streaming and on demand.
“For The People” stars Britt Robertson as Sandra Bell, Jasmin Savoy Brown as Allison Adams, Ben Rappaport as Seth Oliver, Susannah Flood as Kate Littlejohn, Wesam Keesh as Jay Simmons, Regé-Jean Page as Leonard Knox, Ben Shenkman as Roger Gunn, Hope Davis as Jill Carlan, Vondie Curtis-Hall as Judge Nicholas Byrne and Anna Deavere Smith as Tina Krissman.
How Did the Show Get Started
We first started by asking about how the show got started and who came up with the idea and why did they choose to go with the court in New York.
Paul William Davies: I brought this idea to Shonda and I had been kind of playing around with two ideas for a while. One of them was a a show set in the Southern District of New York the Mother Court, which in legal circles is kind of the highest most prestigious trial court in the United States. And I thought a show set in that court with the kinds of cases that come out of that court and the lawyers that work in that court could be really interesting. I also wanted to do something that showed the perspective of both sides. And not like in a formulaic way but just kind of in a way that you got a richer sense of how the law works and how justice is made in America.
And so I thought having that dual perspective could be an interesting new way to approach a legal show. And so I brought those ideas to Shonda and we talked them through and ended up combining those two ideas into what has become this show. So that’s how it got started.
Preparing For the Role
We asked the talent present how did they prepare for their roles in the show. We didn’t know if any of them had experience prior to the show.
Wesam Keesh: 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 it was very eye opening, there’s a lot of dark humor behind the scenes which plays into it.
Jasmin Savoy Brown: I also have a public defender that I Skype with who’s in New York and that’s invaluable. Even just while we’re Skyping she got like five calls in half an hour and just understanding the nature of what that actually looks like and her critiquing the show, just from the trailer that’s not what it’s like, I’m like wait, you’ll see when you watch, I promise. Yeah it’s really it’s been really good.
Regé-Jean Page: I got into contact with a couple of folks in this city and 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.
Bringing In Real World Cases
When you’re dealing with shows like this, one thing that we all want to know is if they will be using things that are ripped from the headlines. The episode we previewed seemed to bring in some aspects of things we deal with every day.
Paul William Davies: Shondaland is a big tent and there are certain themes that underlie a lot of what comes out of Shondaland but the work also reflects everybody who’s doing it and their individual sensibilities. And so I think this show will be a bit more grounded and I think that’s just more what I set out to do. And I think what fits the show better, and I think it will be relevant, it’s not a ripped from the headlines show, but it is definitely going to have real world relevance and a lot of the stuff that we do in the first season are real topics in law today. And I think people recognize and hopefully appreciate that.
Dealing With Heavy Cases From the Show
The one episode we saw was very intense. So we asked the cast if they felt any of the episodes were too intense or heavy for them during and after they were filming.
Regé-Jean Page: 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.
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.
Susannah Flood: 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 timely to be in a conversation that feels like it matters. So I really don’t find it too intense at all really, I really love it.
Susannah Flood Opens Up About Her Character
We talked a bit about Susannah’s character because she seems to have this tough exterior but as the pilot progressed we got to learn more about her and see that she isn’t what we think she is. She shared a bit with us about the multiple layers of Katie Littlejohn.
I want to address this point about like the humanity that we get hinted at by the end of the pilot. 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. And you come into it, and you’re like thrilled, and you’re also like holy shit how am I going to do this. And there’s no way for you to know at that moment what you don’t know already. And 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 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. And not a kind of emotional space.
Regé-Jean Page Talks About an Old Role
Some of the ladies on the trip remembered him in his role as Chicken George in the remake of Roots a few years ago. So we talked to the up and coming star about that icon role.
I think there’s a certain weight to having a character that’s already owned by an audience particularly in the case of George. In that case by millions of people. My own mother was ready to disown me if I messed that one up and I wish that was a joke. And that kind of bugged me for a little while. And it’s the same kind of coming in and working in this country where I’m representing a culture and people that I haven’t necessarily grown up directly around.
And so you kind of have to do people justice in every sense of the word. It’s a bit like it’s a millstone around your neck, right, there’s this weight. I tried to flip it backwards so it’s on my back rather than hanging forwards, because that way it’s getting momentum, you see what I mean, like that way can be a gift. The fact that it matters so much is a motivation and it means that there are stakes to the work, it means that we’re not just going to go to work and playing around in the dress-up box and indulging myself, there is a reason to do this, there’s an important reason to do this.
And there are quite literally millions of people relying on you giving them something with nutritional value. And so that’s how I try to approach that both through George and with this because I think this is incredibly important. I think that it will always be relevant but certainly at the moment, how you interact in a human way with the institutions that prop up and create this country and what does actually make it great is incredibly important.
And humanizing that and delivering that and having a conversation about that and being able to keep that in the forefront in people’s minds is important, and when it’s important then it’s easy to go to work.
Tom Verica Talks Casting
We asked about the casting process and how they ended up with the cast because they all seemed so close during our interviews and they were so amazing together in the show.
As we jumped in the process, we never know who these voices are and how they’re going to line up and literally we had a lot of different people who were terrific on certain things and I think that a first actually? Each of these actors came to us at different times in our process and we were very kind of specific.
Suggestions from the studio and the network and ultimately it just came down to kind of Paul’s vision of who these characters were and each one of these guys really just jumped out. And I think we had that feeling as they came in. I mean I remember Susannah’s tape, it was like it was just we saw her reading and it was just hands on I mean she was up against five- four other girls who read for this thing and it was just it wasn’t even a question. So I think those voices and their abilities just really popped and that merge just happens.
And you can’t always design that and say this person is definitely, this person that was on this hit show last year would be perfect for this. We really tried to stay authentic to these voices and these characters and finding people we didn’t look at did they have to have so many credits, it’s really who really popped in these particular roles.
For the People premieres tonight on ABC Network at 10 PM|9 C be sure to tune in, you won’t want to miss a minute of this new show.