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Harry's Law Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Harry's Law

This is an interview with Christopher McDonald and Mark Valley on March 5, 2012 about the show Harry's Law.

Question:
Can you talk about how you got to know each other as actors in order for Tommy and Oliver to work together effectively?

Mark Valley:
My process was basically showing up and just meeting Chris and being relieved that he wasn't actually Tommy Jefferson. And then it's pretty much really just kind of in the script, and we just kind of play off each other and have a good time. It's a little more like a basketball court in there to be honest with you, so it's a lot of fun.

Christopher McDonald:
I'd have to agree. If we were on a page where we didn't like each other we'd be of course contentious in life too, because that's what kind of actors we are.

Mark Valley:
We'd stab each other in the back in a heartbeat, the competition is pretty stiff.

Christopher McDonald:
We manage, yes. I actually like Mark Valley.

Mark Valley:
Yes I like you too. But here's the thing, I don't like Chris as much as he likes me. So I just want to make sure that's clear.

Question:
Chris, what do you like about Tommy, who Tommy is now as compared to when you first started with the character?

Christopher McDonald:
Each week is like opening up a gift from David Kelley and his team of talented writers. I never know where they're going to take me next, and I find that extremely challenging. Last week I had to cry a bit and I had to pull that one out, and a perfect example is the show that's on Sunday. Now Tommy was a blowhard in Season 1, he just came through and would let both guns go blasting away.

In this episode I'm caught with my current girlfriend who catches me in a tryst with two other girls, not exactly but I buy them shoes at the same place. I got a great deal. And in desperation I come up and ask Oliver Richard to help me because this woman is also a lawyer. She's going to sue me for breach of contract or something.

It's really interesting to go to dark places with - and funny at the same time, which is great about David's writing is it's pretty dark to be caught and then tell this woman how much you love her in front of a co-star even, you know. When you're working with somebody in the office and you're not really working with them, you need their help badly. It turned out quite moving though, and funny.

Mark Valley:
Yes it was an interesting opportunity for Oliver to get to know Tommy a little bit better too. I mean I think it was also an opportunity for him to see, "Oh wow, there's some tragic flaws here in his character." I love this guy.

Christopher McDonald:
Yes it's true. So to answer your question in a nutshell basically, from like both barrels blazing away you get to peeling away the layers of this character and finding his weaknesses, which is always really fun to play. But like I say, "I'm surprised every week where they're going to have me going."

Question:
What is it about your particular roles that you find give Harry's Law an edge?

Christopher McDonald:
I think that one of the great things we have Harry played by the great Kathy Bates, and she does all the heavy lifting to be honest with you. Mostly every show she's got three or four page closings. And and really great arguments for very, very difficult cases that are popping up. And what Tommy Jefferson adds is basically a different spin on the law, he's all about - or used to be all about basically getting them most press conferences he can in a year because he doesn't want to go court at all. He just wants to settle cases and be on the news. He likes all that attention.

So he's kind of a comic relief/friend to Harry, because we're closest in age and I get to remind her how short life is and this is a great moment we're living. And we're she's got these cases that are front page that I would kill for. Meanwhile I'm dealing with lesser cases and being shut down by the big firms I used to work for.

It's almost like an actor's career where it goes up and down and up and down. Tommy's life is going up and down, up and down and it's great to have that. And what makes it different from other shows is that a great show that I love to watch is the Good Wife, but they're pretty much straight ahead. It's the law, they get in trouble here and there, but they don't have a lot of humor on it and that's what I think is unique to David Kelley's writing.

Mark Valley:
Kathy Bates just has an amazing amount of work to do. I mean she is she's doing the heavy lifting on the show and it's cool to kind of be around her. But I hate to say that for Oliver's character in particular, I mean every character kind of has a sort of kind of zany sort of David Kelley character bits, and Oliver included. I think he has some problems with women.

But if I had to say what would Oliver provides that's distinct from everyone else, I think Oliver from a Law & Order show and he learns a certain sort of rational sense that Harry can kind of bounce things off of. And I would say, "It's probably the least whacked of all the characters on the show."

Question:
Can you share with us one of the funniest things that may have happened on the set of Harry's Law?

Mark Valley:
I don't think anybody's really I think a practical joker or anything. The funniest thing I can remember was a scene with Nate when we're both trying to act really tough in the kitchen, and we couldn't keep a straight face for some reason. And that sort of happens quite a bit, because a lot of our enjoyment is actually playing David Kelley's writing and playing some of the humorous situations that are even funnier when we bring them to life than they are on the page. So that's me.

Christopher McDonald:
That's true though. They have moments, like I had a moment in the Christmas episode where I had to hold Adam up on the ladder with hand on his ass the whole time and I'm thinking, "This is absolutely crazy and funny and everything like that." But when Kathy Bates steps out on the set it's go time. And although she's a riot and she's fun and she's as great as they all - as she's one of the one of the guys. She's really great that way.

But we get down to business and some of the scenes are very, very funny on the page and we have to get through them. And she'll laugh the first couple of takes and then we'll just bear down. But there have been accidents on the set where, I know Nate one day did a spit take when he was dealing with the over-sexual advances from my intern, played by Dana Sorman. And he essentially did a spit take.

So I'm sure that's going to show up in some gag reel after Season 4 or something, I'm hoping. But basically it's on the page because these guys write it pretty funny as well as giving us the straight stuff they give us a lot of good comic stuff.

Question:
For the remainder of the season can you give us any hints about exciting storylines that may be on the horizon?

Christopher McDonald:
I'll give you one. Starting this week we have Christian Clemenson coming on. You know him from CSI Miami, but he's guesting a few times as this bizarre talented corporate lawyer that used to work where Harry Korn. He plays Sam Berman. He comes in this episode with a nail in his head, and he basically is he builds boats on the side. But a long story short is he has a big bet with Harry about and it's tantamount to like $3 million this bet about our firms.

And we go and do this basically to raise money for charity and everything in Cincinnati, all the people come. It's tantamount to a wet T-Shirt contest for lawyers. So we're all doing this runway not with wet T-shirts, but we're dancing. Oliver and Cassie dance, I do a little magic. Chunhua played by Irene Keng, she does this amazing sexy dance. And of course my secretary goes crazy and goes over the top. But it's absolutely hysterical, and we had a really brilliant time shooting it.

Mark Valley:
Yes, it was great time. It was like Harry's Law meets American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Smash all in the same episode.

Question:
What brought you to the role that you play?

Christopher McDonald:
For me it was simple. I heard David Kelley and I've been dying to work with him. I've loved his work for years. And then I heard Kathy Bates and I didn't even have to read it, I was like, "Yes, I'll definitely do it." But I just came on a guest star and David liked what I did and he kept on writing it. So the thespian gods were smiling on me and I got to become a series regular this year.

Mark Valley:
For me I was unemployed and that's what drew me to the role personally. It's actually I thought, "Man it would be nice to play a lawyer and just wear a suit and a tie every day and walk around in an air-conditioned place and say smart things with really talented actors." So that's what appealed to me.

Question:
How prepared are you when you guys when you get to the set?

Mark Valley:
I have to say, "If I have really paragraphs or a scene that's longer than a half-a-page I memorize it home, but sometimes I'll just memorize it the morning of if it's really small and just sort of see where the scene is going and just react off of what's happening but yes, I have to memorize the night before or else I can't really hold on to it that well."

Christopher McDonald:
I'm the same way, if it's smaller bits it's great to watch the scene and you know, how the whole scene envelopes into it's tone as it were. And it's great to keep it spontaneous so you're not like, "Boy that sounded really better in the shower."

But if it's a closing argument I work on it exhaustingly. I spend hours and hours and hours prepping it, like a lawyer would I think, because you really have to be convincing. If you can convince a jury, and if you're really down and your closing can really make a huge difference and turn the whole case, you really have great conviction.

And the last thing you want to be thinking about is your lines. You want to be really thinking about the action on how to turn their minds around to your point of view. So there's been hours and hours of preparation. And that's why I marvel so much at Kathy Bates because literally she does every episode she'll do a closing argument that is truly remarkable. I watch it, and so I know that she's putting the hours in too. So I take my hat to her.

Question:
What's your advice to actors?

Christopher McDonald:
Preparation, preparation, preparation, Shakespeare said it best, "Readiness is all." That's what I think. I think if you're ready and prepared when you show up on a set you can let it sing. It's like being in show, like a stage show, and your closing night you're so much better than you were opening night, because you know you've lived with this character a long time.

So I think the more prepared you are before you step on the stage for any scene, the more relaxed you'll be, the more confident you'll be and the more you can have the lucky accidents which make a good scene great.

Mark Valley:
Yes I agree, it's preparation. I think preparation in other areas as well is important. I mean you know, to understand the issue, to understand the scene, to listen to the other actors, to understand the script and so forth. And those things also weigh in with your overall preparation. Yes, be prepared. Have fun.

Question:
How does your military background helped prepare you to become an actor?

Mark Valley:
It's interesting, because I mean people will often say that they could never deal with being in the military or having someone telling them what to do. And you know, Chris and I have chosen a profession where largely there's somebody else telling what to say, what to wear, where to stand, how to say it, where to say it and when to do it, you know.

So I'd have to say that, "There are quite few parallels in being able to take - more or less take orders but still maintain your own individuality and put your own sort of creative stamp on something.

Question:
For the remainder of the season I think you had mentioned Christian Clemenson would be guest starring, but are there any other guest stars for the remainder of the season that you could share with that you know of?

Christopher McDonald:
Yes there are couple of really great ones. We've brought on a girl, one of our biggest problems they say was our 18 to 49 thing, which I think is antiqued personally because the people with the money are the people are the Baby Boomers and they're a bit older than that. So we're skewing older as a show. But we have this young, beautiful girl that was just added to the cast named Justine Loop. And she's fresh out of Julliard and she is a cross between Gwyneth Paltrow and a goddess. I don't know she's just absolutely beautiful and really quirky and really funny. And she starts this episode this week and she becomes a series regular, which is terrific. And we have Irene Keng who is doing a great job as Chunhua and Christian Clemenson does a beautiful arc. Like the beginning of this season we had the wonderful actors starting to help me out Mark.

Melinda McGraw plays my girlfriend on the show coming up, and she's terrific. What's different about this reincarnation of it is because we've been off the air for about a month-and-a-half, is that it's much more personal stories. We're in the law, we stay with the law and there's one huge case or maybe two cases going, but a lot of cases don't even get to the courtroom. They are settled in the conference room. And you get to see more and more of these guy's personal lives, these characters, which is I think very watchable.

And I think it will keep the thing moving quite fast and it's exciting because there's more players now. We interact a lot more than we used to and it's exciting to do that.

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