Q & A: Kathy Bates on ‘Harry’s Law’ and the surprises of being a lead in a network show

Kathy's biggest challenge: "absorbing the lines and digesting them so that the lines disappear and Harry takes their place"

Kathy Bates got a bit of good news today, her NBC show Harry’s Law just got an additional order of six scripts adding to the already 13-episodes they were scheduled to shoot.

I talked to Kathy in a conference call and on the phone, she isn’t at all like the gruff characters she usually portrays, Harry included. This is the 2nd time I’ve talked with her and she’s just as nice as can be, almost shy it seems.

She clearly loves working on the show but say’s that learning all the lines and actually trying to absorb them is a “challenge.”

Kathy talked about the surprises of being a lead in a show, if she thinks she’s a role model and if she struggles with aging.

Harry’s Law airs on NBC, Wednesdays at 9/8c

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

Knowing that you’ve built a comfortable life for yourself and you’ve done so well in your career, what would you do if you had to start all over again at your age?

Kathy Bates: Oh my Lord. I don’t know. I don’t even like to think about the prospect of having to do that and I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m so grateful to have this job. I know a lot of people my age are having to start over and I don’t know what I would – I could begin to do. I think I would probably try to get a job involving animals, something more quiet and less public.

So then we can say that you’re enjoying this role on Harry’s Law, yes?

Kathy Bates: Absolutely. I’m very happy to have a job every day. I enjoy acting. I’ve always enjoyed it and I’m really enjoying working on this particular character and the challenge of also putting in the hours that we do for television and it’s been difficult but a pleasure if that makes sense. I like getting up in the morning and going to work. I can’t believe I’d say that but I do.  
Harry’s character, you’ve played so many different characters in your career, what do you find the most impressive or surprising about her?

Kathy Bates: Well I love playing someone – I think all of us have been in situations where we’ve maybe had a confrontation with someone and we walk away from it and then maybe a few minutes later or even a day later we think, “Oh, I wish I had said that. I wish I had been clever enough to say exactly this to that person.” And I think that’s one of the things that Harry has is that ability that we all wish we had to say in the moment eloquently and forcefully exactly what’s on our mind and what even makes the best argument at a given moment. And it’s fun to be able to sort of – to play someone that has that almost superhuman ability to express themselves in that way.

And I love playing a character whose blunt, who’s irritable, who doesn’t get along with everybody, who doesn’t make any secret of her feelings and yet at the same time she’s complex and we don’t really understand everything that’s going on with Harry at the moment and things are revealed in time. And I enjoy playing that complex character.

You directed an episode of Six Feet Under. Do you have any interest or plans to direct Harry’s Law this season.

Kathy Bates: Not this season certainly. You know, I have been thinking about it a little bit. Paul McCrane who has come back to the show this season has directed one and did a beautiful job and it’s made me think about it but it would have to be an episode where or the previous episode I would be lighter in the episode so I could prep.

I did a film for Lifetime called Ambulance Girl that I both acted in and directed so that isn’t so much the problem, it’s the time to really prep the show and that would require being in an episode less than I normally am.

You had mentioned some challenges with working on the show and I wondered what has been one of your biggest challenges working on the show and how did you overcome that challenge?

Kathy Bates: Well I guess my biggest challenge is learning lines every day and every weekend. Takes up a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of focus and, you know, just making peace with that and realizing that that comes along with the job and that I have to just get the work done and not complain about it. That’s been my biggest challenge. And not just learning the lines, but absorbing the lines and digesting them so that the lines disappear and Harry takes their place.

Do you consider Harry as a type of role model for women?

Kathy Bates: Well I think she’s a professional woman. I think she’s a woman who’s probably given a lot for her profession and I’m very curious about Harry’s background. I know she’s been married a couple of times and you never know with David whether a prodigal child will show up at some point or not.

And so I don’t know that she’s necessarily a role model for women. I mean I think she is certainly a woman who speaks her mind and tries to stand up for those causes that she believes are right. And she certainly speaks eloquently in the courtroom and she’s a smart woman. She’s not particularly affectionate I don’t think. I think she’s got a heart of gold underneath all of that but she’s pretty blunt and pretty straightforward.

I guess I don’t know that I think of her as a role model for women except for the fact that she is a strong woman and that she has made her way certainly in a world that is very difficult for women which is the law I think.

Do you struggle with aging?

Kathy Bates: Yes, I guess I do think about aging certainly as I get older. And I’m happy that the show requires me to walk a lot. It forces me to get a lot of exercise whether I want to or not so that’s a good thing.

I do think about getting older. There are things that I can’t do as well as I used to and but being a cancer survivor I’m just really glad to be here. I guess that’s the bottom line.

Are you all done with The Office? Any chance we’ll see you back there at any point?

Kathy Bates: No. I mean I’m all done. I think, you know, they’ve got James Spader now. I think they realized with my schedule with Harry it just wasn’t able to be there as much as I wanted to. So unfortunately I wasn’t able to do both.

Is there something about Harry that we’re going to learn this season a little more about that back- story? I mean how much do you know about that back-story and how much leeway do you have saying, “David, this would be swell if I could – you know, this could be me”? I mean how do you want to see her change?

Kathy Bates: Well there are a couple of things that are revealed about her that I don’t want to reveal now. But and it’s always a surprise to me. David is very much the creator of the show and so I have little to no input about what happens to Harry. Although we do have some discussion at times if there’s a question I have about where she’s going in a particular scene or, you know, that I need help with. But, you know, he’s very much in the driver’s seat for the show so I’m always finding out along with everybody else what’s actually going on with Harry.

You’ve used words such as blunt and prickly and grumpy to describe your character. Is there a balance that you have to watch as – we want her to be curmudgeonly as it is written and yet she has to be somewhat accessible at the same time. Is that something that can necessarily be written down on a page or is that something that they trust you as an actor to kind of say like, “We just need you to strike that balance between curmudgeonly and accessible”?

Kathy Bates: Well I guess I’ve never really talked about it with David. It’s just been something that I guess I’ve sort of naturally been able to do. You know, they’ve never had to say sort of dial it back in terms of the bluntness or anything. I guess there’s a likability there that I have and lucky to have it and that I don’t have to worry so much about that balance.

There are opportunities that David has written in some of the scripts for Harry to bare her heart to different people in the cast so that also helps strike a balance.

Have there ever been moments where you’ve been kind of looking at a scene and thinking to yourself, “Geez, I’m not sure if she’d be this curmudgeonly,” or on the other hand, “I’m not sure if she’d be this open or this loveable,” at times?

Kathy Bates: Yes. I mean I think there are times when I think maybe she wouldn’t be quite as loveable. And, you know, if I have problems like that I usually go to David and talk to him about it and see if we can make some kind of an adjustment or vice versa, you know. And but I try to respect his wishes as the writer and the creator of the show and sometimes there are directions that he is going in that I don’t particularly know yet why we’re going that direction until it’s been written about in the next episode if you understand what I’m saying.

I was wondering is there anything that surprised you about being a regular in a TV series? And did playing Jo on The Office kind of help prepare you for your role on Harry’s Law?

Kathy Bates: Nothing helped me prepare. It’s really one of the most – I hate – it sounds like I’m complaining. I don’t mean to complain. But it is quite a workout physically, mentally, emotionally, you know, to be ready to work every day at 7, 7:30 in the morning. I’m not a morning person at all. And so that’s a bit of a challenge for me.

And as I said before, learning that amount of dialogue and making it really real and natural and of the character and all of that’s been – but it’s – you know, it was a steep learning curve last year but I’m really enjoying it this year. I feel like I’ve got the momentum under my belt and I really enjoy going into work every day.

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