[Ed. Note: As a follow-up to our interview with David Feige, former public defender and creator of the TNT legal drama Raising the Bar (Mondays, 10/9c), we sat down with Teddy Sears and Natalia Cigliuti, two of the actors from the show, to find out what it’s like to play one of Feige’s TV lawyers.
Also, TNT has been kind enough to hook us up with a RTB promotional prize pack to give away, which includes season one on DVD. Also included is a Bitter Lawyer t-shirt. **The entry period for this giveaway expired on July 24, 2009, so thanks to everyone who entered.**]
So, who are the characters each of you play?
NATALIA CIGLIUTI: I play Brooklyn public defender “Bobbi Gilardi.”
TEDDY SEARS: I play “Richard Woolsley.” He’s this quintessential, upper-eastside, privileged kid. But he’s chosen to eschew the family path and become a public defender. He did that, and I think this is true for a lot of public defenders—because they can’t not do it. There’s just this thing that drives them to go to bat for people. It’s just in their bones, I think.
Were your characters based on someone in particular:
NATALIA: I don’t know. I think she’s a combination of several of the people in the office who David knew.
TEDDY: David [Feige] told me [Richard] wasn’t based on anyone. But when I followed David around in New York for a few days, a lot of people said, “You look like so-and-so.” But according to David, the resemblance is just physical.
What was it like following David around in the PD’s office?
NATALIA: You just learn so much about the particulars of the job—the DAs and the PDs and how they fight and negotiate. I guess if you went to law school, you know that. But it’s pretty intense. We went to the public defender’s office, and I got to shadow a female public defender, who was just awesome. I learned a lot about their jobs, and how hard it is. And I got to see what the courtrooms were like. I hadn’t been in a Bronx courtroom before, but it was really helpful to see the lawyers in action and all the people there.
TEDDY: I just assumed that there were DAs and PDs and that both were paid by the government. I pictured the office being very bureaucratic. That was true of the DA’s office, but the PD’s office had kids in Birkenstocks and t-shirts. It was very loose and colorful. Very open air. It’s like the difference between IKEA and, say, Macy’s basement.
Going to court was an eye opener. I remember walking to the wall and seeing the docket and the sheer volume was shocking. I realized there is no way the judge is going to get through it. They will get through it the next day, but that’s another night in the pen for someone. It shocked me that it’s possible to wait two years in jail awaiting trial.
And then the way the DAs and PDs talk about plea bargains. It’s really weird because it’s a lot like trading playing cards.
What’s it like playing a lawyer?
TEDDY: There’s a huge amount of learning and the technical stuff. It’s like that for lawyer shows and doctor shows, and it can be a challenge with all the particular language. The way lawyers talk can be hard to wrap your head around. There were a good handful of times where I didn’t always know what I was saying. I knew the intent and what I wanted to accomplish, but I didn’t always understand the words. You’ve got to be a real lawyer for that, I guess.
What’s something you learned about lawyers that surprised you?
NATALIA: I guess it was all very intense and surprising. But one thing that I didn’t really appreciate until I saw it in action was how compassionate the lawyers were. That surprised me. The woman I was shadowing was just so compassionate. She would joke with her clients and hug them, and a lot of it wasn’t even legal stuff, it was just being human.
[Laughing] I remember one of her clients had some drama in his life. They call it “baby-mama drama.” And the public defender was trying to help him with that, too. It was actually kind of a light moment in the middle of a really stressful day for her.
[The lawyers] are all just very human. They deal with big problems, I guess, and the law can seem so impersonal, but they’re really just people. And [the lawyers] really do get affected by this.
Before Raising The Bar, would you have preferred to date a public defender or a district attorney?
NATALIA: [Long pause] Before the show I didn’t have that much knowledge about district attorneys versus public defenders, so I’m not sure I know if I had a preference. But now… I think I should stick my own side.
NATALIA: [Laughing] Thanks.
What’s it like working with David?
TEDDY: The first day of filming, David was like a kid on Christmas morning. It was exciting for him because they were shooting his show, and it’s something he’s very passionate about. But I think he also likes the catering—because there’s this abundance of great food. I think David had a hard time believing that they would make anything you want to eat. He’s very funny, and he’s very down to earth.