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Actress Jasmin Savoy Brown on joining Shondaland
Jasmin Savoy Brown has only been in Toronto for a handful of hours, but she can already tell she likes the city’s vibe. (In fact, she’s already wondering when she can come back–hopefully to work on a project here.) The actress is in town to talk about her role on new legal drama For the People, executive produced by the one and only Shonda Rhimes.
“I’ve met [Shonda] a few times. She’s great. She’s really professional and funny,” the actress says of the superstar TV producer. “There’s this sense of, ‘Oh, wow. Mama Bear just walked into the room, mad respect,’ but also this sense of family.”
With this latest show, Brown scores a coveted part in the Shondaland universe, adding to the up-and-comer’s growing resume—which includes her time as not-as-innocent-as-she-seems teen Evie Murphy on HBO’s critically-beloved The Leftovers. (Ed’s note: if you haven’t watched this series, start now.)
On For the People, Brown stars as Allison Adams, a fresh-out-of-law-school public defender working in the Southern District of New York’s federal court (nicknamed the “Mother Court”). We caught up with Brown to talk about her new show, on-set representation and joining Shondaland.
Before landing this role, you were also in one episode of Grey’s Anatomy. What did you think about Shondaland shows before joining that world?
I love that they’re so diverse. I love that when I think of Shondaland, the first two people I think of are Kerry Washington and Viola Davis. I just think of pushing boundaries, and representation, and drama and sex.
Are those qualities important to you in your work?
[Laughs] Not so much the sex, but everything else, yes. If it happens, it happens.
And how does your character Allison fit into that Shondaland universe?
She is a very committed person and that extends, obviously, into her work life, but also her personal life. She is so committed to her best friend. And one thing I love about our show, and the Shondaland universe, is that the female friendships aren’t backstabbing and falling into some stupid idea of what a female friendship is. It’s real to my experience with my girlfriends. And I love that although [Allison] has a boyfriend when we meet her, she’s not defined by that relationship. She’s defined by her character, and her work ethic and her sense of self. I think all of that is true to the Shondaland universe.
From the first episode, Allison is very clear about prioritizing her career over her relationship. Can you relate to that as an actor?
I related to that a lot. I don’t want to say that I’ll always put my work first because there are seasons of life, but it’s very important to me. If someone doesn’t understand that and support that, bye.
I’ve never felt this way after wrapping a show. I genuinely love all 9 of the people in this photo with me. I’m proud of each of them and CAN NOT WAIT for you to see their marvelous, brilliant work. There are 221 people not pictured in this photo that worked just as hard, probably harder than us, to bring our show to life, and that’s just people who will receive weekly credits! That doesn’t include guest actors, background actors, our partners and friends who ran lines with us, acting coaches and researchers who taught us more about our characters, assistants who grabbed lunches and walked our dogs while we worked, real lawyers we Skyped with or shadowed to gain insight into the field, teams who facilitated audition schedules and deals, publicists who made shit happen… hundreds and hundreds of people brought this show to life. I can not WAIT for you to see it! @forthepeopleabc premieres Tuesday March 13th at 10:00 PM on @abcnetwork You won’t want to miss it!! Not tagged: Hope Davis, Ben Shenkman, Susannah Flood Shout out to @jlpenn18 for the picture!!
What was it like on set?
We actually say it’s like two different shows, because the public defenders are always together and the prosecutors are always together. So on my show, the public defenders, it’s very goofy and fun, which speaks to the representation. Because behind the scenes as well, there are lots of women in roles I’ve seen go to men, like camera operator. To see all kinds of people represented on the scenes was really refreshing. And just as a queer woman of colour, it makes me feel more comfortable, so then I do better work.
Is having that level of representation a new experience for you?
One hundred percent. It’s never been like this before. I don’t want to diss myself, but it probably shows in my work. I’m really critical of myself, but I feel like you can see a difference in my body being more relaxed.
The Leftovers was your first major role. What did you take away from that experience?
So many beautiful things came out that experience. I think about it often. I met and worked with Regina King [Erika Murphy, Evie’s mom], who was my icon growing up, someone I adored. And there was a moment when Kevin Carroll [John Murphy, Evie’s dad] said to me, “Don’t take everything so seriously.” For whatever reason, that will really stick with me. I was taking it very seriously, which I should have been, but that can sometimes inhibit my ability to be free and have fun. Him saying that reminded me no matter how high the stakes are, no matter who’s on set, who the director is, whatever, to just enjoy it.
Who are some actors whose careers you love and admire and even hope to have similar career to?
There are a few people, and they’re kind of random and specific. I love the films that Carey Mulligan has done, and from what I’ve read about her personal life, it’s just very private and simple. She seems so chill and down to earth. Viola Davis is another example. She’s on the Shonda show [How to Get Away With Murder], and then she’s winning Oscars and she’s incredible on stage. For some reason, Michael B. Jordan comes to mind. First, he’s doing these gritty, incredible indies, then he just moved up so intelligently. And I love how he’s vowed to always use inclusion riders moving forward. I think it comes down to people whose work I really respect, who also seem to be kind, positive people. That’s the career and life I want to live.