Sarah Shahi is the lead in the new USA Network show, Fairly Legal. Small Screen Scoop took part in a conference call with Shahi to talk about how she landed the role of Kate Reed,why she almost didn’t take it, and one of the most memorable episodes she’s filmed so far.
Shahi had a memorable audition story to share. “I was about five weeks postpartum and I went in to the— I read the slides. I didn’t read the script, and I thought she’d be a fun girl to be for ten minutes in an auditioning room. I was not sure if I wanted to get back into TV because of my baby. It’s kind of funny, I went into the audition wearing my husband’s t-shirt, Nike running pants, a blazer, and heels because that’s the only thing that fit me just after five weeks of having my baby. I went in, I read, and I think towards the end of my audition I felt myself lactating and I was wearing a white t-shirt, and I kind of ran out of there as fast I could.
They called and said that they really like me but they thought I was wearing some interesting wardrobe. They wanted me to come back, but this time put a button-down on. For me the only thing that fit was my husband’s country western button down t-shirt from a Halloween costume that he had, so I wore that. Once again, they were like, ‘What the f is this girl thinking?’
So yeah, that’s what it was. It was a two round audition and then they wanted me to test. Once again, I still wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to go back in TV, so I sat down with them and I had a meeting with them before the test. I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be just an actor for hire. I kind of want to have a say in the story lines and in the character and the other casting. If that’s something you guys are not interested in having, then I’m not your girl.’ It turns out that’s probably exactly what they wanted to hear because that was the character.”
Of course, Shahi almost didn’t want the role. “I had just come off of a show called Life where we worked for two seasons for 18 hours a day, and we ended up getting cancelled, so I kind of had a bitter taste in my mind about TV. I also worked up until I was six and a half months pregnant on the show, and they didn’t reduce my hours until later on in my pregnancy. So I just wasn’t sure if this was something that do I want to get back into this kind of schedule again, and especially now that I have a child to take care of, and still not really feel the love from the audience or the network. It’s that that I just was not sure of.
When I went into my meeting with Michael Sardo and Steve Stark and I just said, ‘Look, I’m flattered that you guys want me for this, but I’m at a different place where I’ve done this before and I didn’t really get much back in terms of recognition from the work.’ It was going to be a much different case for me this time around because I had had a baby and the stakes were just so much higher. I don’t know if you have kids, but when I have to spend a moment away from my kid, it better be worth it.
So that’s kind of how I felt about it this time. It was like if I’m going to commit myself to another season of television with these hours and this work schedule, I want to be a big dog. I don’t want to just be another actor for hire with it. If they just wanted me to be the actor who comes to work, delivers the lines, and then beyond that I didn’t have any sort of creative say, meanwhile being the title role, it was not something I wanted to do.”
Apparently the payoff for the first season will be incredibly. The Fairly Legal Finale is a while off, but it’s Shahi’s favorite episode. Shahi said, “the finale is incredible, a lot of unexpected things happen in the finale. I love the finale; it’s my favorite episode.”
Then I got into some specifics with Shahi!
Jessica Rae: Happy belated birthday. I noticed that you’re a middle child, and in the psychology of birth order, middle children are the ones that are peacemakers, strong negotiators, the diplomats. Did you know about that and have you felt like that’s who you’ve been through your life?
Sarah Shahi: That’s funny because I didn’t know about that, but I’ve strangely always been in the position where people are telling me their life stories. I will meet somebody—I was at a party recently with my husband and there was a dresser who was just had been so cold to everybody on set, never talking and for whatever reason, within the first five minutes, he’s sitting next to me bawling telling me that his wife that just died and his children and this whole thing. I was happy to listen to him, but by the end of it, my husband could not believe that this guy was opening up to me because people thought he was such a dick, but it turned out to be he was just going through some stuff.
It’s funny you tell me that because I have always wondered, “Why do I have that? Why do people do that to me?” But yes, I kind of have been in that position. Even to this day, if my mom and sister fight, they’re each calling me asking me to sort it out with the other person. I don’t know why, maybe because— I don’t know.
I don’t know about other people because I hate generalities, but I know with my situation my father left when I was eight. My brother is eight years older than me, so he was out of the house pretty early in my life. So I had one working mother. I had a single parent who worked, and then it was me and my younger sister so in a way I was in charge of a lot of things. I was in charge of the house. I was in charge of my sister. My mom wasn’t around. I had to be the second mom in a way. So I don’t know, maybe that’s why I kind of have that thing going. I don’t know, but interesting.
I don’t really know if I answered your question. I don’t even know if you asked me a question. I just know I just gave you a paragraph.
Jessica Rae: You may actually be more of a first-born. They say it depends. In the pilot, my favorite part is the first mediation she does, which it’s not a technical one. Do you have a specific mediation that you’ve filmed that you can talk about a little bit and just tell us why that one stands out to you?
Sarah Shahi: How many episodes did you see, just the pilot?
Jessica Rae: Yes, and I know you don’t want spoil anything for other people, but is there one that just resonated with you and you said, “This is a really cool one that I just really love getting into?”
Sarah Shahi: I don’t know if it’s the second episode or what it is, but … there was this one story line where he played a guy who was wrongly imprisoned. He was imprisoned for 25 years, and the whole mediation was about how much is a man’s life worth. The State of California only offers $100 a day. My character was fighting for a lot more than that, and it turns out that what he wanted was not necessarily money. He wanted his life. He didn’t want money. He wanted his life back.
So that was challenging to say, but the way in which she gets his character to open up just was so hard. The way she gets him to open up was very emotional and interesting, and if anything, that made the (inaudible) Kate. She goes about these very unconventional ways in a grocery store to get him to open up and tell her what it is that he wants specifically. So I think for me that was one of my favorites to play. I don’t want to give anything away.
Make sure to tune in to Fairly Legal, which premieres on the USA Network Thursday, January 20th at 10:00/9:00 Central.
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