Kathy Bates has made a splash with her guest starring role on The Office. Super-producer David E. Kelley was so taken with Bates’ Office turn, that he cast her as the fiery lawyer in Harry’s Law. Bates sat down recently in Los Angeles to discuss the finer workings of the latest show from TV hit-maker Kelley and why this role was the one for her to settle down into full-time TV after an Oscar-winning career in movies.
Bates stars in Harry’s Law, which premieres January 17 at 10 p.m on NBC.
Kathy Bates’ bounty of talent
SheKnows: What was it about this role that made you want to come to TV full-time after your delightful guest spots on The Office?
Kathy Bates: The role really attracted me. 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. And I understand the role was originally written for a man. 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.
SheKnows: What kind of background research did you do to find this lawyer on Harry’s Law?
Kathy Bates: I’m addicted to shows like 48 Hours, Mystery and Dateline 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. Seeing how they are with the jury, it’s interesting to watch, especially in some murder cases. So that’s been my little bit of backyard research.
Kathy Bates on David E. Kelley
SheKnows: What is it about the writing of David E. Kelley, as someone who gets to perform his words every day, that is so magical?
Kathy Bates: I was a bit of a fan (of his) at the beginning. I watched some of The Practice and Boston Legal, although I’m not an inveterate TV watcher per se. So I have to say I didn’t see all of the shows. What drew me to doing the show was the character of Harry. 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. The way he crafts his characters, I find so interesting and so full of life and reality.
SheKnows: How’s working on TV on one character week-in, week-out for years, hopefully, different from a movie role?
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. 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.
SheKnows: What do you think it is about your character that will keep people coming back week after week?
Kathy Bates: She has a wonderful sense of humor and I’m hoping that that will be something that the audience enjoys. But, you never know what an audience is going to hang on to. It’s very timely as Harry has just lost her job and is having to start over. I think certainly in today’s economy there are a lot of people out there Harriet’s age who can relate to that.
SheKnows: There’s both comedy and drama in Harry’s Law, was that another aspect of the appeal for you?
Kathy Bates: Yes, I’m enjoying that very much. The funnier Harry is the better I like it, although there’s some wonderful dramatic moments that I get to play. I love having both those elements in the show. Without it, I think the character would be a bit lopsided. That’s not the case. She’s a very rich and complex character and I love bouncing back and forth between those two elements of comedy and drama.
SheKnows: How close to you is the character of Harry?
Kathy Bates: Well, I think in my private life, I’m probably just as curmudgeonly as Harry, that’s for sure. 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 — all of those elements are similar to me in tone. She has a very irreverent sense of humor which I do also.
Kathy Bates on The Office
SheKnows: You’ve been so great on The Office, will you be on that show still?
Kathy Bates: I’m going to come back for a couple of episodes, I believe, in the spring.
SheKnows: Has that been a true joy?
Kathy Bates: Yes, I’ve really enjoyed working there. It’s a different type of show. Obviously, it’s run in a documentary-style format so it’s all handheld and very fast. My main joy over there has been to watch people like Steve Carell work and the other regulars who’ve made the show such a hit and watch how they do comedy. I’ve been trying to really take big notes from them and it’s such a wonderful expansive part to play there. And oddly enough, when we shot the pilot for Harry’s Law, I was shooting The Office at the same time. I kind of went back and forth a few times. So it was fun to do both characters back to back.
SheKnows: Lastly, will Harry have a love interest?
Kathy Bates: There is actually an episode where we have a storyline where we get to meet one of Harriet’s old boyfriends. So we get an element of that in this season actually. 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 [laughs]. So I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll tell you, that’s never been my bailiwick as an actress. So I would really be a fish out of water [laughs].