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.

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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.

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