Kathy Bates impressive acting range in film and television has earned her an Academy Award, Golden Globes Award, numerous award nominations and a key role in NBC’s new drama series, ‘Harry’s Law’. Bates, the Oscar-winning actress, plays Harriet “Harry” Korn, a curmudgeonly ex-patent lawyer who is recently fired from her cushy job and forced to search for a fresh start.
In an interview, Kathy Bates discussed starting over, a possible love interest for Harry and joining the multi-award winning team of executive producer and writer, David E. Kelly.
“Harry’s Law” premieres Monday, January 17th at 10pm on NBC.
Emmy Award–winning writer/producer David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal,” “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal”) weaves his rich storytelling into a new legal dramedy starring Academy Award winner Kathy Bates in the title role — about how people can embrace the unexpected and other curveballs that life can throw at them.
Harriet “Harry” Korn (Kathy Bates, “Misery,” “About Schmidt”) doesn’t believe things happen for a reason, but she discovers that they sometimes do. A curmudgeonly ex-patent lawyer, Harry is abruptly fired from her blue-chip law firm, forcing her to search for a fresh start. She finds it when her world unexpectedly collides, literally, with Malcolm Davies (Aml Ameen, “Kidulthood”), a kind-hearted college student who desperately needs Harry’s help with his pending court case and he subsequently goes to work for her.
What attracted you to the role on Harry’s Law?
Kathy Bates: I got the script from my manager sometime last spring and was immediately attracted to this wonderful character who’s rumpled and disillusioned and confused about her life and dissatisfied with things. I understand the role was originally written for a man. And at one point they changed the name to Harriet. And I said no, no, no, you can’t change it to Harriet. It has to be Harry. It still has to be that. I wanted it to be still this woman who’s very forceful and eccentric and loveable at the same time. She has a hard time showing her love to people. And she doesn’t quite understand people who are bright and sunny as Jenna is and Malcolm. But she loves being with them and begins to love her new digs in the shoe store when we get going.
Did you study real-life jury trial lawyers in action in the name of research?
Kathy Bates: Oh absolutely. I’m addicted to shows like 48 Hours, Mystery and Dateline, you know, for ID and all of those shows. And I love watching the lawyers there because I keep thinking well they have a lectern. You know, why don’t we have a lectern on our show? I’d like to have that and seeing how they – how emotional they are with the jury and how it’s interesting to watch and especially in some murder cases. So that’s been my little bit of backyard research.
What is it about David Kelley’s writing that you like? And were you a fan of his previous shows?
Kathy Bates: I have to back up here. Yes I was a bit of a fan at the beginning. I watched some of the practice and Boston Legal although I’m not an inveterate, you know, TV watcher per se. So I have to say I didn’t see all of the shows. What I like about David’s writing is that it’s what I call contra puddle. It’s in the middle of a gang scene, you know, where the tension is running high and Harry’s trying to get them to calm down and they all want to kill each other there’s a moment — I don’t know if it’s in or not. I hear it keeps coming in and going out. But there’s a moment where one of the guys they’ve been given name tags by the little girl in the office so they can keep everybody straight. And that in and of itself just tells me so much about David’s eccentricity and his quirk there that this little girl wants to give all the gang bangers name tags. But in the middle of the fight one of the gangers looks over and sees his friend actually wearing one of the name tags and glares at him and gets him to take it off. And to me that was really quintessential David, you know, that this kind of ironic look at life and people. You know, his – what I think is – draws – drew me to doing the show was the character of Harry. And since then there have been so many amazing characters who’ve walked in that door of the shoe store. We never know as David said to me once, you never know who you’re going to get, who’s going to walk in the door. And it’s true. And the way he crafts his characters I find so interesting and so full of life and reality.
Kathy what’s challenging or different for you playing a character over a course of several episodes versus when you do a movie or some of the other work you’ve done?
Kathy Bates: Well the main thing is working with different directors. We get a new director coming in once every eight days. And I find that particularly challenging. There’s no time to really get to know each other and you really hit the ground running with different people with different styles, different ways of approaching the material and some who are better at talking to actors than others. I find that to be the most challenging of the whole experience.
Kathy you just said that Harry – you – when you heard of the character you thought she fit you like a glove. So can you tell us how you as a person are most like Harry and how are you most different?
Kathy Bates: Well I think, in my private life I’m probably just as curmudgeonly as Harry, that’s for sure. And I share her disillusionment at times with this crazy business I’ve had a career in for so many years. And her upfront honesty with people, she suffers fools, you know, she suffers – what – how do you say that she doesn’t suffer fools gladly or whatever but, you know, all of those elements are similar to me in tone. And she has a very irreverent sense of humor which I do also. And she tells it like it is and pulls a right eye at the young kids coming up. She’s got a lot of youngsters around her in the shoe store. And she’s very – she finds their shenanigans falling in and out of love so quickly, she finds it all crazy and insane and – which I do too. So there are a lot of things that are like Harry. Sometimes I think David’s been, doing some kind of background research on me because I’ll read a new script and I’ll say well how does he know that? He’ll give me a certain line to say and I’ll wonder well how does he – how did he figure out I felt that way? So it’s a very close fit and I’m enjoying it. I – just quickly I worked with Marcello Mastroianni many, many years ago. And he said as a young man you want to pile on the masks. You want to put on a lot of masks and play a lot of different characters. And as you get older you want to remove those masks and just play yourself, play closer to your own self. And I found that to be true, especially in this case.
Would we be seeing any of Harry’s personal life reflected in the show and would you want your character to develop a romantic interest or would you think that would hurt the show or your character to have that?
Kathy Bates: There is actually a show that we have a storyline where we get to meet one of Harriet’s old boyfriends played by Richard Kind who’s a wonderful, wonderful actor. And so we get an element of that in this season actually. And I’ve been sort of dreading the day when David starts to come in with some kind of romantic relationship. It keeps happening all around me. And I’m afraid one of these days the ax is going to fall on my head. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll tell you I – that’s never been my bailiwick as an actress. So I would really be a fish out of water.
What are your feelings on lawyers and the legal profession and have they changed at all since playing Harry?
Kathy Bates: Well I don’t know about the law that – the lawyers themselves, although yes this is I guess changed too. I’m certainly looking at them through a very narrow glass here if I say I’m watching, investigation discovery. But in some of these cases the tougher cold cases, it just – it makes me realize how tenuous the law is and how tenuous it is for detectives and police to really get involved with the case to begin with and, the legalities surrounding whether or not they can get involved on a case, whether a case meets a certain criteria and how many cases slip through the cracks and how difficult it is to prove whether a case is – or a crime has been committed and whether they can actually bring, you know, a defendant to trial and to justice and to go through all the appeals and all that. The morass of legality and red tape and bureaucracy is just mind blowing to me. I think that more than anything else has been an eye-opener for me. And I think we do point that out in some of our cases that we dealt with on Harry’s Law these technicalities that madden people when they get into a particular case.
“Harry’s Law” is produced by Bonanza Productions Inc. in association with David E. Kelley Productions and Warner Bros. Television. David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal,” “The Practice”) and Bill D’Elia (“Boston Legal,” “The Practice”) serve as executive producers. D’Elia also serves as director.