Family Law’s Jewel Staite: “In the beginning, I was concerned that she wouldn’t be likable”

The folks at Family Law are in a pretty sweet position. With Episode 7 set to air this Friday at 9 p.m. ET on Global, a second season has already been filmed and in the can; we’re just waiting to find out when they’ll be broadcast. Having a second season already completed is rare in television and led to some nerves for Jewel Staite.

Staite—who has starred on Canadian projects like The Detectives, Motive and Stargate: Atlantis and U.S. projects like Blindspot, The Magicians, The Killing, Wonderfalls and, of course, Firefly—was nervous about how viewers would take to the show and her character, Abby.

When we first meet Abby, she is at her lowest point. A recovering alcoholic, Abby has moved out of her family’s house and moved back in with her mother. As a condition of her probation to return to her legal duties, Abby works at the firm owned by her estranged father, Harry (Victor Garber), alongside half-brother Daniel (Zach Smadu) and half-sister Lucy (Genelle Williams), leading to plenty of drama and laughs.

We spoke to Jewel Staite about filming Family Law and crafting a complicated character like Abby.

We’re getting near the end of Season 1 of Family Law, and a second season has already been shot and in the can. That’s a pretty unique position to be in. How does it feel?
Jewel Staite: It’s pretty amazing. It shows that the network has a lot of faith in the show and is very behind it. We have felt supported, and the writers have felt supported by them and it’s great. Now, obviously, because it’s now on the air, things are a little bit more real. [Laughs.] We are open to public opinion now and it’s not just a show that we made in secret for us. Now, all we really want is a Season 3.

Are comedic performances in your background? From the eye rolls to physical comedy, your performance is a joy to watch.
JS: Thanks, I appreciate that. I don’t get to do a ton of comedy, so when I do I like to have a lot of fun with it. Luckily, the people around me on the show, including [creator] Susin Nielsen, really like the idea of going for the humour in scenes.

In the audition process, I tried to stand out by making it funny and making Abby a little quirky in how she was written. I’m grateful that they appreciated that and agreed with me that that was the route to go with her. Some of her behaviour is a little unlikable, and I thought, ‘How can I make this person more acceptable to the audience in her actions and the things that she says?’

Making a lead character tough to cheer for is a tall order.
JS: Exactly. I think, in the beginning, I was concerned that she wouldn’t be likable. I remember having this conversation with my husband where I said, ‘I just hope people like her.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but if you go that route, you’re never going to approach it with honesty.’ I thought, ‘That’s completely right.’ It shouldn’t matter, and I should stick to making her as honest as possible, even if it means that, sometimes, she’s unlikeable and her behaviour is a little ugly.

Comedic moments aside, Family Law doesn’t shy away from tough conversations and scenes. When we meet Abby, her daughter, Sofia, is so embarrassed by her mother’s behaviour, and the larger themes of the show are dysfunctional relationships.
JS: Yeah, it is. And it’s real. It’s an entertaining show in that there are a lot of fun, shocking moments and some laughs, but the reality is these people are going through hard times, especially Abby. It’s a heartbreaking time for her; she misses her kids a lot, she has screwed up her life and sometimes feels like she’s never going to get it back on track. She is so desperate to get her family back. There are a lot of sad moments.

And then the cases that we deal with are really sad. There is a lot of tough subject matter in these episodes, but it’s a great juxtaposition. The goal was to make the audience laugh and cry in every episode. [Laughs.] It’s beautifully written and tugs at the heartstrings.

The dialogue and conversations these characters have are very believable. Susin Nielsen chalked a lot of that up to the relationship between the writers and the cast.
JS: As an actor, it’s so much easier to prepare and to remember the lines when it feels naturally conversational. Our writers are very gifted in that respect because we’re not improv-ing any of that stuff; everything is on the page and it flows beautifully. The characters surprise you with the things that they do and the things that they say but, at the same time, the way the characters are written and fleshed out, you feel like you are getting to know them very quickly.

The chemistry on this show was there from the very beginning. I don’t know if that was because the casting director [Maureen Webb] is amazing—because she is—or if it was just luck because we all just get each other. We’re on the same page and we have the same work ethic. We don’t rehearse a ton—we move very fast when we are shooting this show—and it keeps us on our toes and the day interesting. My favourite scenes are with the family because it feels so natural.

Family Law airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Global.

Images courtesy of Corus.

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4 thoughts on “Family Law’s Jewel Staite: “In the beginning, I was concerned that she wouldn’t be likable””

  1. This show is a favourite for my wife and myself. The characters are so engaging and likeable. What a great cast of actors!

    So pleased it will return as I am impressed they present varied topics which are so relevant. The writers should feel proud of how their words are presented for Canadians each week.

  2. Just finished watching episode 10. Kudos the the writing and the cast portrayals of their characters. I find that there is a great quality to Canadian-made television like Family Law and Hudson and Rex that deepens the likeability of the characters and story themes. Bring on Season 2….and 3. We’ve got something here.

  3. The best show on TV and it’s Canadian. Even my husband looks forward to it every week and we re-watch the episodes. Can’t believe we are through a season already and what a season ender it was!!

    Can’t wait for more! Friday nights won’t be the same without a new episode – will have to continue watching the first season again!

    The cast is awesome!

  4. Great show! Can’t wait to see each new Episode. Writing and characters are engaging and funny and touching.
    Please please keep this going.

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