Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My coverage of The Firm

The Firm 10 years later
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated February 20, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (1) View comments
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Josh Lucas as the new Mitch McDeere in the TV continuation of the novel and film
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Back in the early ‘90s, a small-city trial lawyer hit pay dirt when his sophomore effort as a novelist topped the bestseller charts and was turned into a movie starring no less than the hottest Hollywood movie star at the time, Tom Cruise. Under the masterful direction of Oscar-winner Sydney Pollack, The Firm became one of the biggest hits of 1993 and launched the John Grisham brand of legal thrillers — the type where the hero (mostly a he but sometimes a she) from a small American town stumbles onto a conspiracy, fights the bad guys and emerges triumphant in the end. Good always prevails. The singular characteristic of every John Grisham book is the taut storytelling and fast-paced escalation of action and suspense. Some critics even coined the term “unputdownable” in describing his books.

More than two decades after Grisham published his first book, the hero from The Firm, Mitch McDeere, considered by many fans as his most memorable character ever, resurfaces in a new television series that picks up the story 10 years after Mitch went into hiding after bringing down the mob-controlled law firm Bendini, Lambert and Locke and sending to prison a Chicago mob boss and his cohorts.

In the TV series, which premiered on AXN last night, Mitch and his family, along with his feisty assistant Tammy and brother Ray, decide to emerge from hiding after the death of the mob boss in an attempt to rebuild their lives in the open, without fear of being taken out by the mob. However, much like how the original novel unraveled, Mitch will again find himself in the middle of another conspiracy that could put him and his family’s life in danger.
This new The Firm is not based on the book or the movie but it retains the central characters from the original and keeps the same level of suspense and thrills that made the book Grisham’s most popular.

“What attracted me to The Firm originally was just that I was a fan,” series producer Lukas Reiter told this writer during the show’s industry preview held in Pasadena last month. “I thought it was an amazing story. I write mostly legal drama in my career and so I spend a lot of time thinking about great stories, great legal stories and how to tell them. And so I’ve always had tremendous respect for the novel and the film. I do consider both of them to be classics of the legal genre.”

Lukas approached Grisham about his idea of adapting the book but setting it 10 years after the events in the novel and the celebrated author immediately liked the concept and gave his approval.

“You get to see a guy who was supposed to be this amazing attorney with all this potential and in the end, he never go to do any of that. He ended up on the run, probably living in small towns throughout the country, forced to take cases that weren’t worthy perhaps of his intelligence and his abilities. And so it’s a cool idea I thought, you know, what is he still holding onto.”

“Does he still want to be that guy? Has he moved past it? Does he think that only getting back to that will make him happy? Does his wife know that true happiness can only come from his family and will never come from fulfillment in his work? All of those themes started to get very interesting to me.”

Grisham, unfortunately, didn’t make it to the press event so Lukas had to fill in most of the questions reserved for him.

Lucas with other members of the cast
“I wish John were here today,” he said before telling us the extent of Grisham’s participation in the making of the TV series. “John gets all of our outlines, he gets all of our scripts and is very helpful to me and to all of our writers in the shaping of the big picture of the series.”

Fans of Grisham will be happy to know that the central conspiracy in the series was mostly the author’s idea.

“(For) the main conspiracy, John had a tremendous amount to do with that. He’s amazing in that way. We really wanted something at the heart of the first season that would appeal to an international audience. We wanted themes and story points that would have universal appeal and John is fantastic at that. He understands how to tap into just a line of storytelling that just resonates with everybody across all different cultures. And he did it!”

“We set out to find what that story was going to be and I think he really nailed it. The universal themes like the sacredness of a human life, you know, those sorts of things that resonate no matter who you are, no matter where you live are very much at the heart of the show. And so I wish I could take more credit for that, but John knew what we needed to do.”

The producer also revealed how he approached the difficult task of casting the parts in the series without necessarily inviting comparison to the original cast of the highly-acclaimed 1993 adaptation. For the record, the movie version earned a number of Oscar nominations including one for Holly Hunter’s portrayal of Tammy Hemphill.

In the series, the part of Tammy was offered to Oscar-nominated Juliette Lewis who is finally making her television debut after a stellar Hollywood career that spans more than two decades.

“I never considered series television for a long time and then I took this meeting, because they said hey, do you want to meet on The Firm, you know, John Grisham, you know, the book, the movie,” Juliette revealed. “I love these stories and I love Grisham as brand, as a writer. He always has really thrilling stories. And I read the pilot and it was really exciting, so off that, I took the meeting and I liked the idea that it was an ensemble, because I don’t want to be a lead in a series right now. It would be too much pressure. Josh Lucas has all the pressure. And Josh Lucas was involved and I think this is a great role for him. And I don’t know, everything about it seemed right and it seemed like I should say yes. So I did.”

Yes, it’s true. Hollywood heartthrob Josh Lucas is the new Mitch McDeere. The Sweet Home Alabama leading man bravely accepted the part even though he knew his turn would most likely draw comparison to Tom’s performance.
“I’ve done Broadway a little bit, where it’s the same thing on Broadway,” he replied when asked about the eventual comparison to Tom. “The only difference is you make it as new and fresh every single night. The difference with TV is that you have new material every day so you have this extraordinary workload. And then the challenge becomes to take a character that’s known like Mitch McDeere who is known through both the book and Tom Cruise’s performance.”

He added that he wanted to make the role his own while paying homage to Tom’s performance by adding subtle elements from the movie.

“There’s a great moment in the movie where Tom Cruise is making copies and he’s cut himself shaving and he’s got a little piece of toilet paper on his face. I thought that’s like just the best little detail and so I wanted to do things like that. It’s not in the pilot, but, hopefully, I can put that into the series at one point because I really like some of the things that Tom Cruise does that way.”

Producer Lukas agreed. “We’re very lucky to have Josh take on this role. From the beginning he was at the top of our list and it was very cool when we realized that he was responding to the material and wanting to join us. He’s incredibly bright. He’s incredibly resourceful. He’s brave.”

Acclaimed Canadian actors Molly Parker and Callum Keith Rennei portray the role of Mitch’s wife Abby and Mitch’s ex-convict brother Ray, respectively.

The Firm airs on AXN Sundays.

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