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Sarah Shahi Previews the New USA Show, 'Fairly Legal'

by Kim Potts, posted Jan 20th 2011 3:00PM
Fairly Legal Sarah ShahiYou may know her as Carmen, who was left at the altar by Shane on 'The L Word,' or as Dani Reese, the detective and recovering drug addict on NBC's short-lived cop drama 'Life.'

Or you may even remember Sarah Shahi from the one -- but very memorable one -- episode of 'The Sopranos,' in which her stripper/college student character spent a lost weekend with Tony in Las Vegas.

But now Shahi is back on the tube with her first cable leading lady role, as lawyer-turned-mediator Kate Reed on USA Network's 'Fairly Legal,' which premieres tonight (10PM ET).

Kate's father has recently died, and now her stepmother, Lauren (Virginia Williams), who was left in charge of Kate's dad's law firm, wants Kate to help save the firm by working her mediator magic on its behalf. The two women clash, to say the least.

And if Kate were to describe her relationship with her District Attorney ex-husband Justin ('Battlestar Galactica's' Michael Trucco) on Facebook, it would definitely be "complicated," as the two may have ended their marriage, but their professional, and personal, lives are still very much tangled up together.

The day after her recent birthday, Shahi, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and Maxim Hot 100 listee, talked to TV Squad about juggling her new show with her very hectic schedule as a new mom -- she and 'Shameless' star hubby Steve Howey welcomed son William Wolf Howey in July 2009 -- about her other high-profile roles and about her own complicated relationship ... with social media.

Happy Belated Birthday! How did you celebrate?
I went out with a bunch of my girlfriends, no husbands. (Laughing) We went to cutest restaurant, Casa Vegas, which is in the valley, and I got incredibly drunk and ate a bunch of tacos, and then I was home and in bed by like, 9. It was awesome!

That sounds like a good, compact celebration -- maximum fun, in a short time space.
(Laughing) Yep, that's how I do it.

And you and your husband both have these big shows premiering in the same month ... lots of reasons to celebrate for you in January?
Yes, definitely! The 'Shameless' premiere did wonderfully, and the show is just great. I would watch his show even if he weren't on it.

Sarah Shahi and Steve HoweyOn to your own show ... what drew you to 'Fairly Legal'?
I was at a place, when I auditioned for the show, I had just had a baby, I was five weeks post-partum, and I just felt like if I wanted to get back into the game and away from my child, it better be in something that was worth it, and that could really be life-changing for a career and our (family) position.

Also, I wanted to play the role because I was attracted to Kate. She is a character who's all cool on the outside, and may look like she has things figured out, but when it comes down to it, she doesn't. She struggles a lot. She struggles with her relationship with her stepmother, with her relationship with her ex-husband ... there's a whole aspect of her dealing with the death of her dad. There's a lot going on that lead to these great internal conflicts for her, and I really wanted to play those out.

What's the most fun part of playing Kate?
Just dealing with all her relationships with these different people. She's very emotionally immature, and I'm the complete opposite of that, so it's fun to explore.

You mentioned being a new mom, that must make for a pretty intense schedule when you're the series lead, and in nearly every scene. How are you juggling all of that?
You know, that was actually the most challenging thing. People think it's the workload, but, no, it's not just the workload. It's the fact that you're in every scene, every day, and, even my lunches, for example, are not lunches where I eat lunch, but times where I can get done what I couldn't get done while I was filming. If I didn't have a script meeting or a wardrobe fitting, I brought my son to the set and I chased him around for an hour. And then on the weekends, the nanny was gone, so it was up, bright and early, 6AM, and I was also still breastfeeding, so I was having to do that throughout the night, so it's a lot.

Fairly LegalSo you've already filmed the whole first season of 'Fairly Legal' ... what now?
Yeah, I'm excited and nervous. I don't know whether (viewers) are going to like Kate, or how they will interpret her. I know what I hope. I hope that people will find her charming and vulnerable ... kind of the perfect mess, in a way. So it's exciting, but also kind of nervewracking in a way.

In the pilot, we get a general sense of what made Kate quit being an attorney, but, as the season goes along, will we find out that there was a specific case or incident that led to her career change?
We do find out a lot more throughout the season. "This is why I hate lawyers, this is why I became a mediator ..." kinda thing. Basically, there was not really one case that did it. She was a lawyer at some point, and what she realized was that, a lot of times, the innocent get accused, the guilty ones are set free and there are a lot of deficits in the legal system. And she didn't want to be a part of that system. She wanted to be her own system. That's her viewpoint: She fights for what's right, no matter what the legal system says. She's passionate about people. So, we don't really get one big incident that (led her to quit law), but, throughout the storylines, we do find out a lot more about why she became a mediator.

As you mentioned, Kate's unresolved issues with her father continue to haunt her, and at the end of the pilot, she has an emotional chat with his ashes ... is that going to be a regular thing throughout the season?
No. The dad is referenced a lot, and there is something that happens in the season finale with the dad and the ashes, but no, the fireside chats (laughing) are not something we really do the rest of the season. He does continue to be this sort of all-knowing, all-seeing presence in Kate's life, though. She relied on him a lot, and thought he'd always be there, and now that he isn't, she's struggling.

Michael Trucco and Sarah ShahiYou're on Twitter and Facebook and have your own YouTube channel, which is nice for fans to have that chance to have direct communication with you. But a lot of celebrities shy away from that ... what made you embrace social media in that way?
Well, to be honest with you, I struggle with it a little bit, too. I feel like, I became an actor so I could help tell stories, on TV, in movies ... I didn't become an actor so I could Twitter about going to Starbucks. And I think that's why a lot of celebrities don't do it, because that's not what it's about.

At the same time, I kind of have this viewpoint that, well, that's kind of where everything's heading. And if you want to stay relevant, and want to stay in the game, you might as well join them. So that's why I do it, and it is nice to be able to have the direct communication with fans. There are times when it can get a little weird, and then you think, 'Okay, this is why I shouldn't be communicating directly,' but for the most part, everyone is nice, and they just want to praise, and they like your work and the characters you play, and they want to extend their support. And it's nice to be able to go back to them with my appreciation for that.

Sarah ShahiWhen fans touch base on Twitter, which role do they most often talk about? 'The L Word,' 'Life' or the very memorable episode of 'The Sopranos' you did?
Hmmm, you know, I think it's 'The L Word.' That show was so original and was such a cultural movement for the lesbian community. In a way, I think 'The L Word' is a part of history, and it's the show I get most recognized for, though there are fans of 'The Sopranos' and 'Life' that reach out, too.

'Life' was a good show -- with a good cast -- that didn't really get a chance to dig in and make its mark on the NBC schedule. Was that frustrating?
Oh, thank you. You know, 'Life' ... it was tough time to be over at NBC. I loved being in that cast, and I wish I could have explored my character further, gone darker and deeper into her, but, hey, you know, everything happens for a reason, and I sure do love my new show!

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I was ex tremely offended that your character in Fairly Legal used the name of God as a curse. I turned it off at that point and will not watch this show again. How come you bleep out the 'F' word and leave in such an offensive curse of the God I worship. Shame on you.

January 22 2011 at 10:19 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks so much for the great interview! Sarah Shahi is fantastic, we're so luck to have her attached to our show. I work with USA and just wanted to see how everyone liked last night's premiere. If you missed it, you can watch the episode for free at usanetwork.com. Enjoy!

January 21 2011 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hah! Wasn't Casa Vega the restaurant whose makeover was one of the ongoing story lines of the most recent season of 'Flipping Out'? Jeff Lewis and crew would stop by every week to check out the progress and see if he could cadge a free lunch from the owners.

January 20 2011 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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