Kathy Bates: Storefront Lawyer On 'Harry's Law'

Oscar-winning actor Kathy Bates has taken her first leading role in a television series, NBC's Harry's Law. She plays a lawyer who, after a series of life-altering events, ends up running a law practice in a crime-ridden Cincinnati neighborhood.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

On the new NBC show "Harry's Law," Kathy Bates plays a patent lawyer gone rogue. After a series of random life-altering events, she ends up running a law office out of an abandoned shoe store in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Cincinnati and has to beg her insurance agent to extend malpractice coverage.

(Soundbite of TV series, "Harry's Law")

Unidentified Male (Actor): You work in a high-risk neighborhood.

Ms. KATHY BATES (Actor): (as Harriet Korn) The bad section is at least a block over. Ours...

Unidentified Male (Actor): Yes. Well, murderers have been known to take the occasional stroll.

Ms. BATES: (as Harriet Korn) I've had a homeowner's policy with you people for years.

Unidentified Male (Actor): Harry, you leave your cushy practice for -what are you doing?

Ms. BATES: (as Harriet Korn) Oh, if I knew, I'd tell you. It's possible I've lost my mind. The good news is I can still practice law as a lunatic, perhaps even more effectively. But I can't do it legally without malpractice insurance.

CONAN: Well, Harry goes on to win that argument, and so far, every case she has taken since the show premiered last week. Kathy Bates joins us in just a moment. If you've seen "Harry's Law" and have questions for Kathy Bates, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Kathy Bates is with us at our studios in NPR West in Culver City, California. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. BATES: Thanks very much, Neal. It's nice to be here.

CONAN: And I should mention the storefront is actually called Harriet's Law and Fine Shoes. And I've got to ask, what's with the shoes?

Ms. BATES: Well, I think, according to David E. Kelley, who created the show, it was a shoe store that was one of the pioneers in trying to move in and gentrify the neighborhood a bit and then failed. Those of us who have lived in New York have seen that happen many times. And the owner, I guess, was in such straights that he left the shoes behind. So it's a bit of realism and a bit of, maybe, implausibility there on David's part. But the shoes are there. And Jenna Backstrom, played by Brittany Snow, plays my assistant, is in love with shoes and decides that she's going to make that part of the going concern.

CONAN: And so that becomes a part of the plot line, how the Prada is moving, as well as the legal advice.

Ms. BATES: Yes.

CONAN: It's interesting. You mentioned David E. Kelley, the co-creator of the series and, I guess, the writer of at least the first two episodes. And, well, he's got a long history of TV lawyers. You've joined a distinguished stable.

Ms. BATES: Yes. I guess I have, certainly on the heels of James Spader and Bill Shatner. I met Bill Shatner at a press event on the weekend. It was nice to press the flesh with him. They've gotten quite a history with "Boston Legal." And we also have a couple of veterans from "The Practice," Camryn Manheim and Steve Harris, who were - have come on our show to do supporting roles. And you'll be seeing them later on this season.

CONAN: But the lineage goes back to "Ally McBeal" and indeed to "L.A. Law." So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: ...you've got quite a legal mind there who's writing the scripts.

Ms. BATES: Yeah. He loves that as a format to talk about issues that are before us. And he's very eager to talk more. He said in the last year and a half since "Boston Legal," he was getting a little squirrely, to put it, is the way David said. And he really wished that he had a platform to talk about issues that are facing the country today, especially now.

CONAN: Well, talking about issues, in the second episode, an 87-year-old black woman, a neighborhood woman, comes on trial for armed robbery and comes to you with a sock full of $26 in coins and asks for your help. You get her off with the, quote, "she's-an-87-year-old-grandmother defense."

Ms. BATES: Yes, more or less. I think even Harry thinks the verdict is a bit preposterous at the end. But I think she was able to show that the woman had humanity and that she had fallen on hard times like so many of us in the country and was able to make a sympathetic case for the jury.

CONAN: So far, both of your clients have been - I guess, in the verdict that we remember from the producers - incredibly guilty, but they've both gotten off.

Ms. BATES: Well, actually, Malcolm didn't get off. Malcolm was found guilty by the jury. The judge suspended the sentence with the caveat that he had to complete a drug rehabilitation program. So technically, Malcolm was found guilty. And so - and there are many other cases coming up that Harry will not necessarily win.

CONAN: There are some interesting side characters. You just mentioned Malcolm. He comes into your life, literally, out of the sky.

Ms. BATES: Yes. He's a lovely actor named Aml Ameen, and he makes his entrance from six stories up. And he is a distraught young man who has now a third charge on him as a drug user, and he's terrified of going to prison, and he's worried about his college education. And his desperation gets the best of him, and he jumps of a building. And he hits an awning first, which saves his life, and then he hits Harry when she's walking along the street below him.

She sees right through his bravado and realizes that he's in a bad way, and he comes to her and asks for help. And he turns out being her first client in the new shoe store.

CONAN: And indeed, the regular set of characters - at least those we've met so far - all of them seem to be stumbling from one defeat after another and wind up at this store front law office.

Ms. BATES: Well, in a way, yes. Except - I think Nate Corddry, who's played by - well, Nate Corddry plays Adam Branch.

CONAN: Right.

Ms. BATES: He runs into Harriet with his car. He actually is coming from a pushy law firm on his own and he...

CONAN: Yes. But he just broke up with his girlfriend.

Ms. BATES: Well, this is true. He did break up with his girlfriend, played by Jordana Spiro. But I think he was tempted to - I think he first comes to work for Harry for a couple of weeks as a kind of thank-you-for-not-suing-me, and then he gets caught by the neighborhood itself in the same way that Harriet has.

CONAN: We're talking with Kathy Bates, who plays Harriet Korn on the new NBC show, "Harry's Law." If you'd like to talk with her, if you've seen the program, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

And we'll start with Joanne. Joanne's calling us from San Antonio.

JOANNE (Caller): Okay. Well, let me not be too gushy, but, Kathy, I just love, love, love, love you.

Ms. BATES: Thank you very much, Joanne.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOANNE: I'm of the same age. We're baby boomers. We could do anything. And I'm finally - I'm glad that finally somebody is recognizing us as, you know, part of, you know, this society, you know?

You find a lot of these young people - I don't see any of these young people that play on the "CSI" portions, right, where all - they've got such great wit. You, me, I see - we're it, you know? We're brave. We're strong, and we're smart. So thank you for that. And you're absolutely adorable on this. I'll take anything you want to say off the air.

Ms. BATES: Thank you. I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to play a 60-plus on network TV, you know? I think you hit the nail on the head. I think it's rare that we see that kind of character on television nowadays and - especially a woman. And so I'm - David - I'm glad David E. Kelley has given me a shot to do this, and thanks so much for your kind words.

CONAN: I'm interested in the decisions you had to have made about your appearance on the show. It doesn't seem to me you're dyeing your hair.

Ms. BATES: No. Originally, we talked about wigging me, and I remember the day that the hair guy came over to try a red wig on me, with blonde wigs, all kinds of stuff. And I had been coloring my own hair, but I'd -shortly before that, I'd let it grow out.

And, you know, when I went in for my costume, we did pick out a red wig that we thought looked nice. And then when I went in for my costume fitting, I just couldn't imagine that red wig on top of my head.

And it just didn't seem very Harry to me. And so I had a chat with the producer, and he had a chat with somebody higher up. And we finally got the permission to just let me look the way I wanted to look, which was my initial response when I read the screenplay. It was originally written for a man, Harry.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BATES: And he was a very rumpled kind of character, and he didn't strike me as the sort of guy who would dye his hair. So I just wanted to leave things the way they were.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. Let's go to Jay, Jay with us from Cincinnati.

JAY (Caller): Hi. Hey. Thanks a lot for taking my call again, Neal.

CONAN: Sure.

JAY: And Kathy, you are an amazing actress. It's always fun to watch you. But my question was: I was wondering how much about Cincinnati either you or Mr. Kelly know, if there's going to be any of the real Cincinnati flavor making its way onto the show, or if you're going to deal with any of the unique history or legal ramifications of work, of living here.

You know, this is Appalachian town. It's a really conservative town. There's a very strong, German-Catholic flavor to everything. And I - I'm sorry, I haven't seen the show. But it seems like the part of town that you're supposed to be in is Over-the-Rhine. And that I'm just curious how much of that makes its way into the story, How much you all are cognizant of.

Ms. BATES: Well, in these few episodes, I don't think there has been that much awareness. I mean, and this more is David's bailiwick. I imagine if we stay around a second season, we'd be getting into that. But, so far, we've had to make do with the back lot. And...

JAY: Oh.

Ms. BATES: I remember Cincinnati from my days at Louisville, Kentucky, doing theater there. We used to go across the river and go to Value City...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BATES: ...to buy high heels and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BATES: ...whatever else we could afford. And so I'm hoping that we would get into the flavor of Cincinnati and what's really going on in the city there. I think it would probably make for some wonderful stories.

JAY: Terrific. Thanks a lot.

Ms. BATES: Thank you, Jay.

CONAN: Jay would point out that they eat their chili on spaghetti there in Cincinnati.

JAY: Oh, yeah. Well, that's true. It's a big thing. I've never been a fan, but yeah. People do do that here.

CONAN: Well, not give out your last name, Jay, so you can bear that in silence.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAY: Yeah. Well, if anybody hears me yeah. All right, thanks again, Neal.

CONAN: So long.

JAY: Bye.

CONAN: We're talking with Kathy Bates, who plays Harriet Korn on the new NBC show, "Harry's Law." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.

And I remember reading an interview with you, Kathy Bates. And I think this is just after you were up for an Oscar in, of course, "Misery." And you said you'd made the decision to move from New York to Los Angeles, because, in part, you were a little tired of seeing the roles that you originated in theater going to other actresses when they were made into movies, and in part, because you figured you could go to Hollywood and either get a TV series or get a big movie part and do whatever you wanted. Has it worked out that way?

Ms. BATES: Well, it's taken me a while, but I think, yes. Now, I can say it's worked out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller. And let's go to Marcello(ph), Marcello with us from Charlotte.

MARCELLO (Caller): Hi. Kathy, I love you. I love all your movies. I want to ask you: What do you think about timeslot at 10 o'clock in NBC? Do you think...

Ms. BATES: Well, you know, it's probably not company policy for me to weigh in on this, but I think it would be really good at nine o'clock myself. I think we might get a lot more viewers, and it would be interesting to see how it worked out, anyway. I wish they'd do a trial.

MARCELLO: Yeah, that's the same thing I thought. The same thing happened to my show "Twin Peaks" and - my favorite show, "Twin Peaks," and it ended because of the timeslot.

CONAN: One of those shows kind of lost its way, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARCELLO: Okay. Thank you.

CONAN: Anyway, Marcello, thanks very much for the call. Let's go next to - this is Jeff, Jeff with us from Webster in New York.

JEFF (Caller): Hi, guys. Thanks very much for taking my call, Neal.

CONAN: Sure.

JEFF: Kathy, as an actor, I consider you an inspiration. I love everything that you do, and I gain something from every role that you portray. And I one of my very favorite roles - as is my mom's favorite role - of yours is Dolores Claiborne.

Ms. BATES: Hmm.

JEFF: And I was wondering if you would just talk a little bit about preparing for that role. I think it's a very compelling role that you, you know, it comes so well. It's just a movie I can watch over and over again.

Ms. BATES: Well, thank you so much for bringing that up. It's my favorite role of all the roles that I've done, and it's because of Taylor Hackford, the director. And he gave me a couple of months before we started shooting - which is rare in film - to really prepare for the role. I worked with a dialect coach for the Maine dialect. And I worked with a movement coach to try and understand the difference in moving when you're 35 years old with - you know, we see Dolores - and then at 55 years old, when she's had a hard life.

And so, we - he also brought in some of the best wig and makeup artists from Italy to help me make that age change. And I had the movement and the dialect coach there on set with me for every take, so that I could make sure I was doing Dolores and not me. And it was always with an eye to what is the character doing at this time? How is the character moving?

And I doubt I'll ever have that luxury of working that way again. But it was so wonderful, because it was how I was trained to work as an actor when I went to school. And it was also an opportunity for me, as a character actor, to play a lead character that goes all the way through the film. So it's one of my fondest memories working. We shot it up in -oh, now my mind's just gone out of underneath me here.

JEFF: Maine?

Ms. BATES: No. We were up higher than that. We were in - well, I'll think of it in a minute. It was a beautiful...

JEFF: Where did you get your degree? Where did you go to school?

Ms. BATES: I went to Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. And they had - it was a very interesting time to be there. We had, originally, a theater department with your regular kind of theater department curriculum. But Bob Hope and others sunk a lot of money in the department at that time. And we finally ended up with a real conservatory by the time I left the school in late 1969, with a proper couple of theaters to work in. And it was just really a magnificent experience...

JEFF: Wow.

Ms. BATES: ...going to school there.

CONAN: Jeff, thanks very much for the call.

JEFF: Thank you very much, guys. And good luck with the show.

Ms. BATES: Thank you.

CONAN: And before we let you go, you've obviously been up for the Oscar for best actress and best supporting, as well. There are 20 people waking up this morning pinching themselves to find out, yes, it is real. They were nominated. I wonder if you have any advice for them about what the next couple of months are going to be like.

Ms. BATES: Well, I think they should enjoy every minute, because even being nominated is an honor that's afforded to very few. And it's a great honor by the Academy. And they recognize the very best in film work. And so - I mean, I know it's all pointing toward that one night. You know, will they be walking away with the Oscar? But they should enjoy all of these moments right now. I think there's going to be a wonderful governor's luncheon - there is every year - to welcome them. And that's often the most fun, to gather with all your other nominees and to put aside your feelings of wanting to beat out all the other people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BATES: And you get to sit around with everybody and talk about your achievements, and it's a fun thing to do. And so I advise them to enjoy every minute.

CONAN: Is there one thing they should not do?

Ms. BATES: I don't know. I can't think of it that way. I guess, you know, they shouldn't worry so much about winning, I guess. They should just enjoy being there.

CONAN: Kathy Bates, thanks very much, and good luck with "Harry's Law."

Ms. BATES: Thank you so much, Neal.

CONAN: Kathy Bates plays Harriet Korn on the new NBC program, "Harry's Law." You can see it Monday nights. Kathy Bates joined us from our studios at NPR West.

Tomorrow, we'll be broadcasting from Texas Public Radio in San Antonio, weather permitting.

This is NPR News.

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