Tuesday, February 14, 2017 / 2:59 pm
Setting The Stage For Doubt
On February 9, Katherine Heigl and Tony Phelan spoke to the press in a conference call to promote their new legal drama series Doubt, which begins on CBS Wednesday night.
Doubt reunites Katherine with Grey’s Anatomy writers Phelan and Joan Rater, who also created the show and wrote the pilot. She plays Sadie Ellis, a brilliant attorney at a boutique firm who starts to fall for her charismatic client, Billy Brennan (Steven Pasquale), an altruistic pediatric surgeon recently accused of murdering his girlfriend 24 years ago.
Sadie is hiding her growing feelings from everyone, including her close friend and colleague, Albert Cobb (Dulé Hill), who thinks he knows everything about her. Working on other cases at the practice is Cameron Wirth (Laverne Cox), a transgender Ivy League graduate who fights passionately for her clients since she’s experienced injustice first hand; Tiffany Simon (Dreama Walker), a second-year associate who is quickly learning the ropes from Wirth; and Nick, a former felon who earned his degree while serving time. They all consider it a privilege to work for Isaiah Roth (Elliot Gould), a revered legal lion and ‘lefty’ legend, whose approval is their holy grail.
Sadie’s decision to become involved with her client could put her career, as well as her happiness, at risk if Billy is found guilty, which means she needs to work all the harder to prove reasonable doubt, even if she has some herself.
What was it about the premise of this show and your character that made you want to be part of it?
KATHERINE HEIGL: Well, there were a lot of things that excited me about this show. First and foremost, what got my attention was Tony [Phelan] and Joan [Rater] ’cause I’ve worked with them before and I know how talented, smart, funny, and amazing their work is. That piqued my interest. And then, when I read the pilot and went in and talked to them, I was just so blown away by the premise, by the character, and by their overall story outline for the season. It’s really, really good, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard. I was just so excited to be a part of it and get to tell a story like this. And it’s a character that I really respect and admire, and I love playing. I love playing a smart, ambitious, talented women. Who doesn’t? That’s really fun for me. On top of that, she’s charming, funny, sexy, and complicated. She’s an actress’ overall dream character.
Because you had such a successful relationship with Tony and Joan on Grey’s Anatomy, do you feel like they wrote this character with you in mind?
HEIGL: I didn’t really because I don’t think they were thinking of me, initially, for this role. I don’t think they wrote it with me in mind. But I definitely felt like she was a familiar character, in a lot of ways, and somebody where I definitely felt I could get under her skin and relate to her. That’s not because they know me so well, but just because they’re very good at writing interesting women.
What do you think it is about Tony and Joan that makes their work unique?
HEIGL: For me, it’s the level of sophistication of the stories and the humanity of these characters. I feel they’re very well-rounded. There’s more to them than just their professionalism, especially with Sadie. She’s got this complicated backstory, she’s got a sense of humor, and she’s got these vulnerabilities and flaws that come into play. She’s got this career that means so much to her because it speaks to her humanity and how she was raised by Isaiah. All of those things just make her fabulously interesting and a well-developed character.
Was there a moment or scene that made you feel like you were making a TV series that stood about from the other shows of this type?
HEIGL: The biggest moment for me was when I was meeting with Tony and Joan about the scope of the show, before I came on, and I realized how clever and thoughtful and truly unique their ideas were. That was the moment where I went, “That is special.” You never know exactly how it’s going to come alive. It can look awesome on the page, but then you don’t know if it’s going to come alive, in the same way. For me, the second moment where I realized we had a special project on our hands was when the lawyers were all together, as a group. I noticed that the dynamic among us, as performers and as characters, and the way we engaged with each other and made each other laugh, and the chemistry that we automatically had, was not only great on the page, but it was coming alive in a really exciting, fun and engaging way. I feel like when we’re having that much fun together, it’s really evident on camera and it’s fun for the audience. Those are the shows that I most love to watch, when there is that chemistry among the characters, and there are these relationships that are fun to watch and be a part of. I felt like we had that, right away.
Did you talk to any lawyers that helped you with your work on this?
HEIGL: We did have writers on set, who have court experience and lawyer experience, and it was very interesting to talk to them about things that you would think would be simple, like approaching a jury for opening and closing statements. It is almost like a performance, and you really are trying to rope people onto your side of the matter. So, it was fun to get to talk to actual used-to-be lawyers about what they would do in a situation like that and how far they push it. There was a lot to learn, actually.
What can you say about Sadie’s evolution, this season?
HEIGL: Sadie goes through quite a bit, this season, and it was really satisfying, as an actor, to get to play all of these beats and moments for her. She’s dealing with not only her mother’s upcoming parole hearing, but she is also falling in love with a client, which is obviously not kosher. There is a lot that she is emotionally dealing with and still trying to maintain a level of professionalism, still trying to do her job well, and still trying to win. By the end of the season, it’s so good that it’s so hard for me not to tell you, but by that point, all of it culminates into this one amazing moment. I’m just really excited to see what will happen for her next season and how she will deal with the outcome of all of it.
What are you enjoying most about exploring the dynamic with Sadie and Billy (Steven Pasquale)?
HEIGL: It’s such a tug and pull, emotionally, for her, wanting to and obviously believing that she should remain professional in this situation, but also not being able to help the way she feels and the way this man makes her feel, and not having really ever had anyone make her feel that way. So, it’s the moral dilemma for her of, does she risk everything and go for it, ’cause will this great feeling of love ever come around for her again, or does she give it up so she can maintain her status in her firm and career? It’s just a really fun, juicy, interesting and emotional roller coaster to get to play.
Sadie is a defense attorney who falls for her client. Do you see any shades of Izzie Stevens, in this character, with the Denny storyline on Grey’s Anatomy, and her falling for a patient?
HEIGL: That’s so funny, ’cause I didn’t until you just said that. I don’t know why I didn’t even make that connection, at all. Yeah, you are right! It is similar, in a way. It’s that forbidden love thing. It was really fun to play on Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s, once again, really fun to play on Doubt.
PHELAN: Now that you say it, it does seem somewhat similar. I think that the big difference is that, in Izzie’s case, Izzie was very much still a student and figuring out who she was and how she wanted to be in her career and how important her career was going to be versus her personal life and Sadie is very much an established, professional woman and, so, that is a slightly different dynamic on kind of the same landscape. Also, Katie, as an actress, just brings so much more grounding and depth in her portrayal of Sadie. I think the audience is going to enjoy that parallel, if they get it, but it is going to feel different.
HEIGL: I’m 10 years older.
You recently came off of State of Affairs, where you were the star and a producer. Did you just want to focus on the acting, when it came to Doubt?
HEIGL: I had an extraordinary experience on State of Affairs. It was the first time, in my career, that I had an active producing role. I had had producing titles before on things, but to be quite frank, it was more of a vanity title than me actually doing anything. State of Affairs was my first real opportunity to get involved, as a producer, with decisions like casting, the storylines, writers, or marketing. It was really incredibly satisfying, incredibly fun for me, and a wonderful evolution of my career. I’ve been doing this a really long time, so to get to tell a story from the other side of the camera was extraordinary. I loved every second of it. But this project was already well-established and well in place before I came on board. When you are attached as a producer, it’s usually when you’re bringing the project to the table. That’s not to say that I won’t be hitting up Tony and Joan for an opportunity to produce, at some point, on this show, if it’s successful and we keep going. But, it’s totally different. As a performer/producer, there’s just far more work that one has to do. As just a performer, less of me is involved, other than just the acting aspect of it.
As a character, Sadie seems to be more rational than emotional. Do you feel like the absence of her mother has had any influence on that?
HEIGL: Yes, absolutely! I do think that definitely influences that side of her personality. I think she tries to contain her emotional reactions to things, as much as possible. She’s very uncomfortable with emotional vulnerability and revealing too much of that part of herself to others. I think the only person who sees that part of her is Dulé Hill’s character, Albert, and of course, Isaiah (Elliott Gould). Mostly, she’s functioning from a place that is more rational than emotional, not because that’s who she is, but because that’s who she believes she should be.
How much of you will we see in Sadie?
HEIGL: Actually a lot. I do tend to play characters that are like me. I wouldn’t say that Sadie is more ambitious than I am, but she feels a bit more of a grown-up than I do because my job feels like play, and her job feels real. We are similar, in that I think she’s a compassionate person and I think she cares very much about humanity, obviously, and the people that she represents. She believes in the good in people. I think her first instinct is to believe in the inherent good in humanity, and I hope that’s me, as well. And I think she’s funny and a little OCD, so we’re kind of the same.
There are many legal dramas both good and bad that have been made through the years. At what point in the process did you realize, ‘Hey we have something special here that the audience is going to love?’
TONY PHELAN: When Joan and I came to, we signed a deal with CBS to develop our own shows after leaving Grey’s Anatomy and when you do that, you kind of look over the landscape and see what is on the air right now and what kind of fits. And one of the things we noticed is since 9/11, there have been a lot of shows about prosecutors and about putting people in prison and catching bad guys. We felt like the other side of that dynamic was missing. And the other thing that struck us as we were reading the news and paying attention to what’s going on in the world is that up until I think very recently, there seemed to be some consensus between Republicans and Democrats that our criminal justice system has some very serious flaws in it, in the way that it’s operating right now. And a chance to tell those stories and to tell the story of these lawyers who, god forbid, you find yourself accused of a crime and the full weight of the government is coming down on you — who is that person; who is going to stand at your side and give you a vigorous defense? A vigorous defense that everyone in the United States is entitled to. So the chance to tell those stories felt like that was something that I didn’t really see on television so that really excited us. I think as we went further and further into the show and assembled the cast and really started writing the cases that were coming into us, it was very exciting and challenging to kind of create a legal show where the audience is always feeling as our characters are feeling. That they’re kind of caught in the middle. There are pluses and minuses to both sides so dealing with that kind of gray world is exciting and what makes perfect drama.
Often we associate actresses and actors with characters they have played in the past despite other accomplishments, like charity work and stuff they have done. When you look in the mirror, who is Katherine Heigl to you?
HEIGL: Hmm, (laughter) I don’t know. I think for me I just see myself mostly as… I guess how I hope that my family sees me. I hope that I’m mostly funny, sometimes stern and patient, and loving and compassionate, and a little upbeat.
Are there already plans for a second season?
PHELAN: It’s fun, because the structure of this show is to have a procedural that also has personal elements in it. The great thing about a law show like this is that everyday, in the news, online, or just from talking to different lawyers, there are hundreds of possible stories of cases that could walk in the door. Coupled with that is the great advantage that we have with this tremendous cast – you can write anything for any of them. Joan and I, started to get very excited as the season went on, knowing that each time we set up an acting challenge for someone in the cast, they just hit it out of the park. We are continuing to knock around what we could do in season 2. We leave season 1 on a great cliffhanger, and the ability to deliver that to the audience and move on from that cliffhanger and see where everybody’s lives are going to go beyond episode 13 would be fantastic. We hope that the audience is going to be as invested in the people and the work that they do as we are.
Were you looking for a series when this came up?
HEIGL: I wasn’t. I was actually more focused at being at home in Utah with my family. Then I got the script. I wasn’t thinking I would say yes. I was like, "Yeah, sure, I’ll take a look at it." But then I was like, "Oooh, this is a really good character and really intriguing."
What intrigued you about her?
HEIGL: She’s a real idealist, which I don’t think I’ve really ever played before and she really does have these high moral standards that she holds herself to and just assumes everybody else does, too, which I find really interesting for a defense attorney. She isn’t jaded by it. She really does think she’s doing God’s work saving the defenseless and the voiceless and the powerless.
How does she reconcile sleeping with a client?
HEIGL: She is obviously clouded a bit by her not terribly professional feelings for this man. But she’s so determined to save him and to prove his innocence that she’s trying to separate herself emotionally, but struggling with it. And I feel like that struggle can go one of two ways: not realistic at all or it can feel very human. And that’s what I think we’re trying to do, keep it feeling very relatable and human.
In April, you star in Unforgettable with Rosario Dawson, playing a psychotic stalker who makes life hell for her ex’s new wife.
HEIGL: It’s a very, very different role for me, and a fun role to play. Kind of like Glenn Close… In Fatal Attraction? Yes. Rosario is incredible and we had such a blast. It was a very strong, female-driven project, which was kind of amazing and really inspiring. There’s a lot of freedom playing a role where someone is that disturbed.
Would you be interested in doing romantic comedies again?
HEIGL: Oh God, I would love to. Are you kidding? I have so many good ideas, I just need someone to buy them! I think it’s time. I think I wore out my welcome a little bit. I did too many and it was an onslaught, but it was such an exciting, fun time and I just loved every one of them. It was so fun.
What’s the greatest career advice that you’ve ever received?
There’s been so much. Probably, not to take myself too seriously, and that I think is an age thing. You kind of get there with age. Your twenties are all so narcissistic and you think that everybody is judging you and everyone is thinking about all of the things you do wrong. And then you get to an age where you’re like: "I don’t care. I’ll be fine. As long as my family loves me."