We visit the set of Fairly Legal for a look at Season 2, debuting March 16th
It's funny the places you have to travel to when you visit the set of a movie or TV show, because most often, they are not shot in the places they're set in. Last month, I ventured up to Vancouver, British Columbia (or Hollywood North, as they call it) to visit the set of Fairly Legal, the USA Network show set in San Francisco, which returns for Season 2 Friday, March 16 at 9 PM ET with Episode 2.01: Satisfaction.
Before going on the set, we got to watch the Season 2 premiere episode before anyone else, because we're apparently special like that. The episode doesn't waste any time at all by introducing new cast member Ryan Johnson, who plays Ben. At first, he just seems like a smooth-talking dude, trying to hit on Kate Reed (Sarah Shahi) as she drinks alone in a bar, still reeling from her not-quite-finalized divorce with Justin (Michael Trucco). However, we learn just a few minutes later that he is actually an attorney working on a case which Reed & Reed is set to mediate.
Despite Kate previously being "fired" last season, she takes on the case, and what follows is a fun "battle" of sorts between the morally-sound Kate and Ben, who will do anything to win/make more money. We also learn early on that Reed & Reed is in financial trouble, and Kate's stepmother Lauren (Virginia Williams) tries to get Kate on board to help keep the firm afloat. And that's just the first 15 minutes, folks! We also get a shocking revelation from Justin, and a final scene which will lead to both Kate and Lauren spending a lot more time together outside of the office. It's quite the busy premiere and a fantastic episode to get Season 2 started.
Sadly, when we got to the set, we were told that series star Sarah Shahi would not be on the set, due to a sudden case of strep throat. They were initially slated to wrap up Episode 10 on that day, but, they were forced to move on and start Episode 11 since their lead actress is on the sidelines. We got to watch a scene where District Attorney Aaron Davidson (Esai Morales) is talking to the press. The stakes get raised a bit for Davidson this season, after Justin revealed he plans to run against him in the District Attorney election. Speaking of Justin, we got to sit down with Michael Trucco during a break in shooting, and he told us where the relationship between Justin and Kate is heading, his D.A. campaign, and more.
Michael Trucco - Justin Patrick
In the season premiere, you dropped a really big bomb. So, where do we go from here?
Michael Trucco: Yeah, we did drop that bomb. We know that in Episode 1, right? Let's just say that that weighs heavily on the direction of the, the nature of the relationship between Justin and Kate. There is definitely a dynamic shift in the paradigm between Justin and Kate. But I think, strangely enough, it's not what you would assume that that will come to be. I think that in some ways that information, weirdly enough, I think it almost brings the characters closer together. I think it breaks down a few doors that may have been up before. But it still remains complicated, and as far as we know, at least deep into Season 2 it's we are unresolved in that scope now. And that's all I'm going to say about that.
I know you can't give us too many details, but could you tell us a little bit about your character is going to grow or progress and the generalization of the arc?
Michael Trucco: Yeah. I think, and speaking in broad strokes, all of the characters have room to expand from Season 1 to Season 2, and I think that's something that with the transition of the changes with the writers and whatnot. I feel like this season there are more character based stories, meaning the core of the cast, and with the addition of this character, Ben, we get deeper into the characters, less about say the particulars of the mediations and of the cases that we're doing and more about background and character study, which makes me happy in general for the show. Specifically for Justin's purposes, right now we literally just came off the set of a courtroom. I want to see Justin do what he does. He's an Assistant District Attorney. He's a prosecutor and he's a trial attorney, and I wanted a chance to see Justin in his domain. You know, a lot of the time it was on the phone, he's in his office. It's dealing with Kate. What I like is that there is a storyline that is growing outside. Justin is just not a singular entity for Kate's purposes only. There is a storyline growing about the election and running for the office of District Attorney, and seeing him in his element helps me, the actor, get my teeth into this character a little deeper.
Can you talk about the relationship with Ben and Justin?
Michael Trucco: Yeah. It's also complicated. They actually end up together at the end of it. We have a little bit of a romance going. We went on a man date the other night. That's another facet that I like about Season 2, is the introduction of this character Benm to which I'd be lying in the beginning, my hair was up a little bit on the back of my neck. I'm the guy in this show. I'm Kate's guy. I'm, you know, her man, and suddenly we introduce a character who's spending a lot of time with her. He's becoming a central character, and deservedly so. I think he's worthy of it. So, in the beginning when I first read the scripts and when I was first introduced to him, we were kind of, yeah, hey, man, nice to meet you. How's it going? And it actually plays really well into the show because that's the nature of the relationship between Justin and Ben. There's an episode, I think it's Episode seven, so it's about midway through the second season, where we actually get a nice juicy storyline and you get to see the dynamic between Ben and Justin, and it escalates. And there's some playful banter and some flirting, you know, and it's a classic territorial thing, two guys trying to stake their claim on the same territory, the same property. It was a lot of fun. I hope they explore that more. There's a healthy respect, a mutual respect between the two characters, but I'm not so sure that they've completely integrated their friendship yet.
As the season goes on, how do you get into your campaign? Is it going to be resolved at the end of the season?
Michael Trucco: I don't know. To be honest, I thought yes, and it still might be, and we still have, you know, two or three more to shoot. We have Esai Morales who recurs as the boss, as the DA, and they have also explored that, and they didn't drop the ball and just say bring this thing up a couple of times, say, "Hey, you're going to run for DA." They've kept that storyline alive, and they've definitely raised the stakes between his character and my character. So, I think resolution is coming, but I think there's value in stringing it out a little bit, because they are building on it, and they are revisiting it. It wasn't just something they brought up in the beginning of the season and then we kind of forgot about it. There's no resolution yet. I'm not sure if the obvious choice is Justin becomes the new DA of San Francisco, or is it? Can you mine more drama out of the fact that maybe he doesn't? I don't know. I can honestly say I'm not sure which direction it's going to go right now.
If it's drama, there's also that sort of wry kind of humor or undertone to things because the characters that kind of lends another unique personality to the show.
Michael Trucco: Yeah.
How do you guys mitigate between when it should be played serious, or do you try it two different ways? Sometimes you come to rehearsals, or you see them while shooting?
Michael Trucco: Yeah, we do.
Okay. Which works and doesn't? How much do you invest in your character, or choose to, or not?
Michael Trucco: You know, the tone of the show, and I think all of USA network shows there is a theme to all of them and that is they're all in a one-hour format. They're not out and out dramas. They're not slapstick comedies, but they find that tone. The word dramedy is overused. I like finding the irony and the humor. There are times when we shoot a scene that hits a note, a dramatic note that we all like when, Holy shit, that was, that got heavy. But it's okay. It felt real. It felt right, and that makes those lighter moments really stand out. And conversely, it makes those dramatic moments really stand out when we're playing the humor because if you play everything tongue-in-cheek, then you aren't invested in the characters. It can get heavy sometimes with the scenes between Justin and Kate because there's a lot at stake there. And in reference to Justin and Davidson, the DA, obviously, the stakes are high, and we kind of get in each other's faces. But there's also some great banter between the two, and we do try to find the lighter stuff. You know, shooting with Esai, it's hard to keep a straight face sometimes, you know. So, we try to bring that element into it so that it doesn't just become laden and be a heavy legal drama, but you actually walk that line between comedy and drama.
Next up we got to speak with Ryan Johnson, who plays the new kid on this Fairly Legal, the suave attorney Ben Grogan. Ben goes through quite an arc in just this first episode alone, starting off as a random guy trying to hit on Kate, then turning into somewhat of a money-hungry foil to the moralistic Kate, to a major part of Reed & Reed. Take a look at what this Australian actor had to say below.
Ryan Johnson - Ben Grogan
So, we just had Michael in here and he was discussing the Justin and Ben dynamic and how it starts off a little bit adversarial. Can you explain then your perspective of how you're the newcomer coming into established territory?
Ryan Johnson: Yeah. So, in the first episode, as you saw, Ben turns up. I think he's a little intrigued by this woman, a little bit excited by her. He sees as kind of a worthy adversary because often, I get the impression that Ben's the kind of guy that can work his way into a lady's pants a little easier than some. But then, when he meets Kate she shuts him down immediately. And so I think he's interested in her and she's really smart and she's a lawyer, and there's just something about her that's interesting and different. And so when he finds out that the ex is an ADA and their paths cross, there's a lot of tail sniffing. That's fun for Ben because then it's a lot of chest puffing and bobbing, and just trying to kind of get a rise out of this guy as much as he can, and because he's so by the book and so stiff. Ben has a field day with it.
So, you like to poke the stick at the dog?
Ryan Johnson: He does a little. Yeah, till it barks, then he runs. You've got to keep it from getting too schoolyard. But yeah, because Trucco has this real calm, and he's very relaxed and he's very charismatic, and so even though his character is quite rigid, he brings this kind of effortlessness to everything that he does. So, that's also a real challenge because it's harder to rattle.
Does this open up the avenue for a romantic relationship between Ben and Kate?
Ryan Johnson: She's definitely burning a candle for the ex. As much as Ben may, at times, be new and interesting, I think there's something about the stability and comfort of her ex husband. So, it's like all the things that were kind of wrong about him are the things that she goes back to in some ways, which is like that stability that Justin has. I think perhaps in Ben's mind it's less exciting, and I think the fact that Kate and Ben argue so much and the fact that they're so passionate about what they do and the fact that they're so fiery, that's the kind of other option, and that's what she's playing up.
It looks like what you're going to bring to show is part of like there's the dynamic, and you're opposite of the moralistic kind of who they are. But over the course of the season is your character going to be influenced at all by their like morality?
Ryan Johnson: Well, not so much his, but I think he learns to admire Justin, and I think within the battle there's a mutual respect that kind of comes along, and there's a really fun storyline where they get paired up with a cougar judge, who takes a fancy to both of them. So that's all I can say. But within that they learn a lot about each other and a mutual respect develops. But with Kate, like Ben refers to her as someone who tilts at windmills, and she sort of heads off into the fields looking for problems. Ben comes from the working class, and he's kind of worked his way into being a self-made man, and this is the first time he's had to work in a team. But she's kind of like a poor little rich girl in many ways, and she's always worried that the puppy hasn't got water to drink. And Ben's like, well, it's a corporation. They're never going to tell us the truth, so we might as well get as much money out of these bastards as we can. But then, in time she starts kind of chipping away at that side of him, and he learns that it's not always about the win and that sometimes it is about the truth, to a certain degree. But if he got too much like that he'd just be wet and boring.
How much of Ben's background as the guy who's on the side of the bus, do we get to see? Do you get to see anything from his legal past, his personal past?
Ryan Johnson: A little bit. You do learn a little bit about Ben's past and, again, Ben and Kate really learn some things about each other in that situation too because they realize that they're both from very different backgrounds but at the same time, they have a few similar kind of angsts between them.
How has it been being sort of the new guy on the show, and is there any sort of like welcome aboard?
Ryan Johnson: I would love to have some stories about my first Hollywood experience and all the jerks that I'm working with. But everyone has been, and I'm not winking or pulling my ear or scratching my nose, they have been incredibly welcoming and incredibly awesome. Sarah (Shahi) hosted drinks, you know, within three days of me being here, not specifically for me, but to get everyone together, and everyone was just running out to me, giving me their number and saying, we're all here for five months. Let's hang out. And you know, as the grind has gone on it's more like we just connect each day at work and think, I'm going to collapse and, hey, maybe have a drink on the weekend when we can, when people are in town.
Can you talk about the relationship between Ben and Lauren?
Ryan Johnson: Yeah. Well, Lauren, it could have gone two ways. She could have been a real two-dimensional gold digger, but Virginia has brought so much integrity to that character, and really she just works so hard on that character to make her have as many dimensions as she does. So here's this girl who, who did marry a wealthy man, but you really get the impression that she cared for Teddy, and she would have flown the coup a long time ago if she didn't care about Reed & Reed. And so she brings so much kind of discipline to the firm because she's all about the reputation. But in many ways she kind of appeals to Ben's perspective I think. It's a little bit more old school in that she's probably part of a riding club, those clubs where you have to wear a jacket and does lunches with clients there. Whereas Ben would probably find some fun burger joint that does cool martinis and he'd host a meeting there. It's also with Kate and Ben, it's like the kids are loose, and for her she's constantly trying to rein them in. She has established a lot of the relationship. She's got a lot of the old clients, and Ben just keeps bringing in these weird and wonderful randoms that no one really knows what to do with. A real fun kind of chemistry erupts from that because, because Virginia is just so awesome, and on an actor's perspective like she's, she's so experienced, and she's got so much training, and she's like this really kind of hot character actress in many ways. And so it doesn't matter what you throw at her, she just responds, and so it's one of those wonderful things when you're working with her that no matter what you're doing and/or saying she will just adapt and, and come back at you with something.
Among the other changes we see right away in the Season 2 premiere involves Baron Vaughn, who provides much of the comic relief as Leo. This season, his new job working directly for Lauren, doesn't sit well with Kate at first, although they fall into a nice rhythm by the time the episode ends. Baron Vaughn also told us that the "sandwich girl" from last season, won't be popping up in Season 2, but there is a new romantic interest on the horizon, who comes into play in Episode 8.
"The sandwich girl is no more. But there's a new girl. That's the kind of relationships Leo keeps. He's like, two months I'm out, I'm done. He's very non-committal, I don't know. No, there's a new character that comes in, who is very different than the sandwich girl. Which like in my own personal life there's, if you lined up every girl that I have been with, there's really very little in common. They're very different the two, the sandwich girl to the more punky girl, if you will, with streaks in the hair and leather."
It's worth noting that all of these interviews took place in the Reed & Reed conference room set. Since they were not shooting on that particular set while we were there, it provided an interesting environment. Normally, all of the "windows" show a backdrop featuring the San Francisco skyline, to make it look like, you know, they are actually in San Francisco. When we were there, they only had half of the backdrop up, so half of the windows showed the lovely San Francisco skyline, and the other half had huge flood lights aiming right at us. Got to love TV magic, folks.
We also got to sit down with Virginia Williams, who plays Lauren Reed, Kate's stepmother and is running Reed & Reed after the death of Kate's father. The premiere sets up the animosity that Kate has for Lauren... and how much Lauren ends up needing Kate, despite firing her last year. Lauren is very serious and straight-laced, and last season we didn't really see her outside of the office too much, but the actress told us on the set that will change in Season 2.
"I feel this season we see me in different settings. We get to see me going on a date. Now, unfortunately, we don't get to see the whole thing play out, but we do get to see the moments. I mean, my God, her husband died, and she did love him. I hope that that came through in season one. That she wasn't a gold digger, and that she did love him very much. It doesn't make sense to the outside world, and she doesn't care. There's a really great, a series of really great scenes with Gerald McRaney, who plays Nicastro. In episode three, where he basically tells her in his fabulous Nicastro way, 'Get over it. Your husband would want you to move on. You got your whole life ahead of you.' And she kind of reluctantly decides, 'Okay, okay, I'll go on a date.' So we'll see as this develops."
Esai Morales only appeared on one episode of Fairly Legal Season 1, but he'll be one five or six episodes this season, which makes sense since he will be campaigning against Justin for his own job. Here's what he had to say about how things escalate during his campaign against Justin.
"Well I think the stakes slowly get raised more and more as I try to maneuver around this fact that he is charming and he has that beginner's luck appeal, you know? He's green, he's wet behind the ears and he's a handsome guy. I just said they want somebody they can count on to do what's right for them. So that's what my character realizes. Human nature is much more selfish."
That about wraps it up from my day on the set of Fairly Legal, which kicks off Season 2 Friday, March 16 at 9 PM ET with Episode 2.01: Satisfaction. It's a fantastic season premiere, and I'm very intrigued to see where the season takes us, after everything that is set up in the first episode. Also make sure to stay tuned for my exclusive interview with Virginia Williams, which happened just after my visit to the set.