A LAW UNTO HERSELF
Kathy Bates is wild about Harry – her character on Harry’s Law, the new series from the maker of Boston Legal. And Guy Davis swears to tell nothing but the truth about their show.
Without wishing to seem sexist or anything, it’s kind of a natural assumption on a TV viewer’s part that when they tune in to a legal drama called Harry’s Law, they expect the Harry in question to be a Harold. A Harrison. A man.
And that’s the way it was going to be on Boston Legal creator David E. Kelley’s new show. Until Kathy Bates showed up, that is.
While the central character of Harry Korn was written with a man in mind, Kelley and his collaborators were finding it difficult to locate an actor who truly embodied the part to their satisfaction.
So Kelley – no stranger to creating interesting, three-dimensional roles for women – decided to switch genders.
“ The adjustment of the character was surprisingly very little,” Kelley said. “ I mean, the character as originally conceived was this card-carrying curmudgeon, a brilliant lawyer but one who had become disillusioned with the law. And truthfully that could have been a woman just as easily as a man. So the adjustments were very, very small.”
Bates, an Oscar winner for her unforgettable work in Misery, was one of the first names that sprang to mind.
Of course, the challenge was then getting her on board. After all, while she’d long been pursued for series television, she had yet to find a project that appealed to her.
But upon reading the pilot script for Harry’s Law, Bates was immediately taken with the lead character – a patent lawyer who, after being given the boot from her blue-chip firm, sets up her own unconventional practice in an abandoned shoe store – and wanted to be part of it.
“ I was attracted to this wonderful character who’s rumpled and disillusioned and confused about her life and dissatisfied about things,” she said. “ She’s very forceful and eccentric and loveable, all at the same time.”
There was only one condition: “ At one point, they changed the name to Harriet,” Bates said. “ And I said ‘ No, no, no, you can’t change it to Harriet – it has to be Harry. It still has to be that’.”
And while terms such as “ curmudgeon” and “ eccentric” are tossed about in relation to Harry Korn, Bates views her as, well, relatively normal.
“ My mother used to say ‘ Why do you have to play all these characters with afflictions?’ she laughed. “ Because I seem to play the crazy ones, the odd ones, and Harry to me just seems totally normal.
“ She just has lived a certain amount of years and she can only take so much from certain people and she doesn’t mind saying so. She doesn’t mind speaking her mind.”
And Kelley is counting on Harry’s forthright nature being a major drawcard for the show’s audience.
“ Obviously you want to cultivate an investment in your lead character,” he said. “ You want the audience to care about this person and welcome them into the living room week after week.
“ And the joy with Kathy is we didn’t have to give her lines or scenes that sort of revealed her tender side or moments that would say to the audience ‘ See, I’m really a likeable person after all’. She oozes that naturally.
“ So we could make her as tough and disgruntled as we wanted to and she would take care of the rest. We felt confident that the audience would find affection for her. She just sort of exudes that.”
Warmth and fuzziness is one thing, and it’s something Kelley knows how to pull off. But any trademark of his legal shows is having his characters occasionally get up on a soapbox to make grand declarations about faults and flaws within the system or society in general. ( Boston Legal’s James Spader could be counted upon to do this at least once an episode!)
And Kelley says that Harry’s Law will adopt this tactic once in a while, saying that Harry may face being disbarred for her attacks on the legal system in future episodes.
“ But I do feel that the one thing that may be very timely is you’ve got a 60-year-old woman starting her life over, getting fired from her job and having to start her life over,” he said.
“ This isn’t a show about a righteous lawyer who leaves the big firm to go fight for the little guy. It’s a show about a woman who’s been basically bounced out of her office and she has to find a way now to make a living in a very, very difficult economy where a lot of people, young and old, are struggling.
“ She has no more affection for the little guy than she does the big ones. But she has to make a living, so she opens up a store and as luck – good or bad – would have it, the only people walking through her door are people very down on their luck.
“ So I hope that the audience can connect with that struggle, and the idea of this woman having to begin her life anew at the age of 60.”
Courting drama: Kathy Bates with her Harry’s Law co-stars, Brittany Snow, Nathan Corddry and Aml Ameen.