As previosuly noted in part 1 of this article, in a miraculous stroke of good fortune, USA Network opened the doors of its brand new drama series “Suits” to the press so that we could see what is really going on in the hallowed halls of the fictional law offices of Pearson Harden.
“Suits” invites viewers into a world where it is the ultimate con: a hotshot lawyer takes a genius kid and passes him off as an attorney working within his firm. Whether it is a game, a con or something more, the surprising friendship and relationships that arise out of this masterful illusion makes for surprising and compelling television. Meeting the actors who brought these intriguing characters to life helped explain some of that mystery – with good casting comes great characters. And even better yet, the secret to a successful television series.
Providing their exclusive insight on their characters and the secret ingredient to this new show were stars Sarah Rafferty and Rick Hoffman, who play secretary extraordinaire Donna and attorney Louis Litt, respectively.
Maybe you could talk about the process of becoming Donna. How did you find out about the role and what drew you to it?
SARAH: I was drawn to the whole script. The whole script was amazing because I think the creator, Aaron, really has this amazing ability to write these characters and when you’re introduced to them, you just like get a hit of, ‘Oh, I get who that person is.’ Donna, in particular, I was just drawn to her because she’s so comfortable in her own skin and so confident in her own position at the firm. Certainly because she’s been with Harvey for 15-17 years — before Harvey was Harvey — she was teamed up with him. So she’s smart. She’s confident. She has a big heart. I think she operates really from a place of compassion and empathy, and I think she has that for Mike — although she’s doesn’t, necessarily want Mike to know that. That’s pretty much it.
Do you think Donna knows about what Harvey’s done? The fact that he’s brought in somebody who’s not a licensed attorney?
SARAH: She definitely knows. Because in the pilot — I think that little bit was cut — but when Harvey is told he has to get a new associate, he goes and tells Donna, she sets up the interviews. So she’s there and he comes out and says, ‘You got to streamline this process, give them all a hard time and just send the good ones back.’ So basically, I’m looking for somebody who — when I say, ‘What the hell’s wrong with you? You look like you’re 12 years old and your hair is a Ronald McDonald colour.’ We want somebody who can play, who’s going to be cool at the office, who can go toe-to-toe with Harvey — who can, maybe, someday be a Harvey. And none of the guys were doing that. And then in comes Mike, with his line, ‘I don’t really care about the interview. I’m just ditching the cops. ‘ It’s like – Bing! She just knew. She got a hit form him that he’s the right guy. She knows every detail. Like many assistants, she hears every single conversation. She’s linked in. She knows absolutely everything about Harvey’s, personal and private life.
Is Harvey aware that she knows what’s going on?
So Donna’s definitely part of the ‘boys club’ in this situation?
SARAH : Absolutely. I think that’s another thing that really drew me to her. She’s a secretary and she’s very feminine, but she can be one of the boys and still get to have all the fun of being a girl.
Do you think she’s in a ‘power position’ because not only is she in on the joke, but she’s confident enough to go, ‘Hey, I’m going to hold you by your short hairs, unless you guys do exactly what I want, in these kind of situations’?
SARAH: Do you mean, in a power position with Harvey too?
Yes, because she’s in on one of his biggest secrets right now.
SARAH: Absolutely. But I think she’s in a powerful position because over the years she’s become indispensable to him. I mean, it’s like, in terms of all the technical aspects of his professional life and knowing exactly who to call at the courthouse to get whatever Harvey needs. She takes care of all the relationships that make his life move smoothly, making all the gears turn. So I even imagined maybe there was time when Donna went on vacation or went away to go be in a play or something — because she had been an actress or whatever — and she back and Harvey was like, ‘You are never leaving again!’ kind of thing. You know, that kind of assistant that you just rely on.
So Donna’s kind of more of the ‘work wife? He cannot live without her.
SARAH: Yes. I think like all great assistants, [Donna] anticipates he’ll buzz her to say, ‘do something’ and she’s done it because she’s listening. She knows exactly where it’s going to go. She’s already put in the call. She already has that person on hold for him. It’s that type of relationship.
Youdon’t think she’s getting off on a little bit of a power trip because she’s that indispensable?
SARAH: Oh — she is! (Laughing) No. She’s sort of like the boss of the secretaries and she having a lot of fun too. There’s an episode when Harvey has to buy in to be partner and he plays a little joke on the other partners pretending that he didn’t know that he had to have a certain amount of money. And Donna had actually gone and got the certified cheque for him. Then later he said he had the cheque the whole time and Jessica asks, ‘Why would you do that?’ And he says, ‘Because, basically, I look cooler that I had it the whole time and I was playing a joke on you guys.’ And she’s like, ‘Well, how’s anybody going to know? Donna’s already told all the secretaries.’ Like [Donna] sort of takes care of all his image issues — any of that kind of stuff. I think she’s a ‘queen bee’ in that way.
SARAH: You know, it’s a fun job to be with the like super, slick guy. It’s a cool lifestyle.
Do you think that there’s a romantic tension between Donna and Harvey or does he just have that with every girl?
SARAH: That is a really good question. Gosh, when I take myself out of it, I think Harvey is the type of guy who has a romantic tension with everybody. I think in the pilot he has it with the waitress right away — two seconds in. I think that if there is a romantic tension with Donna — if there’s like a Ms. Moneypenny thing going on — and I think there might be, I think it’s really safe and playful. It’s like a way that they just play with each other. It’s obviously those things sometimes can get confusing and who knows. Maybe Donna sometimes feels it, but she’s such a player. Like there is a reason they united — ‘cause she can play.
Is she the female Harvey?
SARAH : I think she could be. I think that’s why he picked her to be his assistant.
How much of the back-story to your character do you have any input on? How much of the back-story do you know and how much do you get to kind of engineer as you go along?
SARAH: I think, technically, all you have is what you have on the page as an actor. Whatever’s in the script. That’s all that you’ve got and from there you generate your own back-story. You think back about what would make this person behave this way. What were the events that lead up to that. But when “Suits” got picked up to series and I got a chance to sit down with Aaron, the creator, he was able to offer what he thought. I think Donna was an actress before she was a secretary.
Were you’ve given some kind of parameters?
SARAH: I have some kind of idea of what’s coming. But then sometimes you’re surprised when the next script comes in and you find out your character had a first marriage that didn’t go right or something that interesting. But I think sometimes the characters are written so well that you kind of have a sense that there was something like that going on. As an actor, when you read it, you just sort of know. You’ve made up something like that in your head anyway.
When creating a character like yours, did you have anybody that you tired to base a little bit off of? Did you have someone in mind?
SARAH : It was definitely a little bit of this and a little bit of that. But I sort of — in a super general vibey kind of way — I kind of thought about some of the like classical actresses. I feel like Donna has a timing and a wit that was kind of big in the ‘40’s films. Like His Girl Friday, that kind of thing. So I thought about them a little bit. But not in any kind of specific way. I wish I had a better answer for that. It would be cool if I was like, ‘I’m doing Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.’
Like Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
SARAH : Exactly.
In the pilot they kind of set things up as this kind of ‘dynamic duo’ of Mike and Harvey. Are we going to see some situations where it becomes a trio and Donna gets to join in on the action? To take a more active role in the action?
SARAH: Yes. We are shooting an episode right now where Donna gets to team up with Mike. There’s like this associate ‘mock trial’ competition and Mike has to present as a lawyer and he goes up against his nemesis. Donna is his star witness and she gets to come in and perform. She thinks she’s going to come in and hand him this case — that he can win it. So we’re next to each other at the table. We’ve got a plan — the whole thing. When [Mike] asks her if she’ll be his witness and she says, ‘Oh, you’re so cute. I’ve been fielding offers for months!’ Like this is my big moment. Every year everybody’s coming after [Donna] to ask her to play the traffic cop, or the Russian mob boss. So she passes on those other offers to help Mike out because she really is loyal to Mike and because she likes Mike, as an individual. But really it is because that’s how she’s loyal to Harvey. Because he’s Harvey’s guy.
How do you think females watching the show can relate to your character?
SARAH: Oh, I should ask them that. I hope that they relate to seeing somebody in the workplace, who is really confident in their skills and what they bring to the table, and that they have a unique skill set and talent to offer the workplace. Somebody who’s really confident and really comfortable in their own skin – and maybe they’ll get to see somebody who might have a work crush on respond. I don’t know. I can’t speak to that! But I think those are all things that maybe we can relate to. I think Donna’s really vulnerable too. I think one of the reasons why she’s so good at going toe-to-toe is that she’s developed a pretty good mask. We all do that, in our own ways.
What do you want to see happen with Donna this season?
SARAH: Oh my god, that’s the hardest question. That is so hard. That’s so hard ‘cause I’m already so grateful for all that’s already there. I feel like the creator and the writers have set her up. There’s so much room for her to grow in the coming season. So I’m just excited for the audience to maybe get a chance to understand what makes Donna tick and maybe see a little bit of the mask fall down a little bit. To kinda see what’s going on underneath. Maybe a little peek into her personal life would be sort of fun. To see what’s going on back there that makes her like this. Or more of an understanding of the history, like some of the stuff that [Harvey and Donna] been through together, if that becomes revealed.
What can you share about Donna’s wardrobe? I really admired what she was wearing in the pilot.
SARAH: Oh, gosh, we had such an amazing costume designer, Christopher, on the pilot. You know what was so fun is that he was great. He’s like your fantasy. You wish he was at home with you because he’d have some like amazing piece that you’d never buy and then he’d pair it with a Club Monaco accessory or something. Lie he did that kind of great mix. I think, with Donna, the thing that’s fun about her wardrobe is, like Harvey says at the outset to Mike, ‘I care about how I look and you’re a reflection of me, so go get your suits.’ Obviously Donna knows in that she gives [Mike] the card for the tailor. She knows that this is coming and where the tailor is and she has a relationship with that tailor. But she doesn’t have to dress like a lawyer. She doesn’t need to be ready for court. She doesn’t need that kind of thing. She’s not a woman trying to fit into a man’s world. She gets to dress in a fun way. Harvey compensates her incredibly well, so she can spend her time on the Internet finding her clothes. And I think her clothes in the workplace environment can be a reflection of the fun that she wants to have — sort of reflecting that she’s fun and feminine and confident.
So it’s a window into the soul of who she is?
SARAH: I think clothes are really important in that way. Especially since you notice them.
I think it is part of her power. It says, ‘I’m a woman. I’m powerful and you will do what I say.’
SARAH: Exactly, and what was so interesting was that Christopher insisted that she wore fishnets. But in a classically elegant fishnet. But he put them on and I was like, ‘oh, I get it!’ Like it just sort of says that she’s a girl who can wear fishnets to the office in a elegant way. It just speaks to who she is in some way. It was really cool.
It added element of mystery, it was kind fun.
SARAH: Yeah, and even if you can’t necessarily see it, you know it.
You feel it.
SARAH: So it helps you feel like you’re not just you in your sneakers hanging out. It helps you transform.
What do you want to tell us about Louis?
RICK: The quick version is he is the ‘douche’ of the firm. But to get a more psychological angle, from the beginning of the pilot, he gets defeated by one of his equals — which is Harvey Spector, played by Gabriel Macht. It’s a character that is interesting and becomes more and more interesting because in life, people lose — whether it be a promotion or they fail at work — it all depends on how they handle it and compose themselves afterwards to recover. And this particular character doesn’t; or, at least, on the outside it seems like he does, but on this inside he is just completely broken to pieces. It clearly shows how he treats his co-workers for the first part of the series. He handles it very poorly and turns to the dark side. But there’s other sides to Louis Litt that hopefully we’ll get to see in episodes down the road.
Why would you want to play such a fractured character?
RICK: Well, fractured. Everybody’s fractured. In general, it’s just the level of the dimension of fracture. How heavy the fracture is. In this particular case, he’s pretty much a walking wound. His suit is his shield. He covers himself for who he really is. He doesn’t want anyone to see who that person is. And who that person is, is actually much softer than he comes across — especially the first couple of episodes. Actually they’re switching around episodes so we don’t know exactly the order but that’s what makes me so interested in this character. That there are lots of different levels to Louis Litt. It’s very rare that you get an opportunity, as an actor, to play roles like this. Most of the last five years I’ve been doing a lot of guest spots that have been very one dimensional and one-notes and it’s a blessing to be able to work on a show like this. Luck of the draw that all the characters are multi-dimensional.
What would you describe as being your most fun moment, so far, that you’ve been able to do in the role of Louis?
RICK: I think it’s going to be in the second episode, the one after the pilot. I am a really good tennis player, apparently, and also love to take my shirt off in front of dudes and make them feel uncomfortable. In that episode, that was the most fun. There’s another episode coming up that’s just going to be unbelievably challenging, from a dramatic standpoint. But, for me personally as an actor, it’s so hard to get jobs like this. Even if I’m playing ‘glorified background,’ it’s fun. Just being up here working has been an unbelievable blessing that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Especially, let alone a show that’s as well written like this.
How did you feel when you first read the pilot script?
RICK: I have played different levels of ‘douche’ over the last 11 years, but this guy, I was immediately psyched. Because this guy is much more refine. He’s more of a Yago like character — or as someone had said, ‘serpentine.’ It’s just a much more cerebral, maniacal type, like a damaged soul. Which I find to be very interesting to play and challenging. Cause I’m not damaged, at all. No baggage.
Who would you say you’re having the most fun working with on the show, so far?
RICK: Well, I still have yet to work with certain actors, but Gabriel and myself always have fun.
You’re working with somebody like Gina Torres and she’s a very strong force of nature.
RICK: I can’t stand that girl. [Laughter.] No, actually just now I’m working with Gina. We’re working together. The really good thing about this is it is kind of scary when things like this are so easy. Because everybody has a different energy. Out of the six episodes thus far, it’s a pleasure to work with one another. Sarah Rafferty, I can’t wait to work with. She’s just hilarious. Thank god, they made her a regular. She really adds a lot of fun to the show.
Do you think Louis actually might suspect there’s something going on with the new associate? Does he have like a Spidey-sense that something’s not quite right? Does he have any sense that [Mike] isn’t exactly what he’s supposed to be?
RICK: From the get go. First of all, he knows Harvey very well. He knows that Harvey is this gunslinger, by the seat of your pants kind of guy. So he knows something’s up. When he notices the briefcase situation and when [Mike] gets drug tested, that leads to more question marks for the rest of the series; and it ends up something they use that as a troublesome point for Mike Ross, Patrick’s character.
You said something a minute ago about, Louis has, has a soft side that he’s kind of hiding…
But, clearly, he’s got it in for Harvey. Is there a line that he won’t cross? I mean, just how far will he go to stick it to Harvey?
RICK: I’m not sure what version you saw of the pilot — there are two. I don’t know if they’re were going to throw that scene back in. They didn’t want to make [Louis] so douche. So, the bottom line is, he’ll go to any point necessary to screw over Harvey. Because [Harvey] truly does deserve it. Louis is the hardest worker of that firm and you’ll see as the series goes on, but [Louis] just isn’t as smooth as Harvey — and he hates that because he’s an ugly duckling. In all senses of the phrase, in life [Louis] has tremendous insecurities. He is just not smooth. He is the opposite of smooth.
How did you prepare for the role?
RICK: How did I prepare for the role? This is an unimpressive answer. For whatever reason, I have been able to tap into many different levels over the course of 11 years of ‘asshole,’ as one would say. I think all of us have had moments where we get cut off in traffic or somebody lies to you or we’re hurt. There’s injustice all over the place, wherever you go. I’m so sensitive and I’m very aware of my surroundings, so I always hate to see when people act shitty or do things that are unfair; and for some reason, I am able to tap into that. I’ve always been curious what makes those people think they’re doing the right thing. So that’s why I make money playing those assholes. They think they’re innocent and that’s what I love about them. That’s what makes it, to me, so interesting. Everybody’s the hero of their own story.
Although it’s always so much fun to have a character on a show that you love-to-hate, do you personally hope that viewers will get an opportunity to see your character in a sympathetic light, at some point?
RICK: They’re going to earlier than I thought. I had a conversation when I got hired for the job. I was just so excited to have this job, but Aaron Korsh, who is the creator — when we had found out that we’re doing this show — because he had been a fan of Philly which was years ago and he saw what they made the character in that show turn into, which was also a very twisted, not as twisted as Louis but a little ornery and just a real human being — Aaron told me right away that they were going to try to turn that corner quick and the did. What’s kinda nice about — this is something I feel personally — I find a lot of comedy in all these like idiotic forms of behaviour. For instance, I swear to God, this happened this morning. I’m at the gym. I’m going to the shower. I have my towel ready for me to go into the shower. I turn my back for maybe 15 seconds to hop in the steam. I go back to the shower and there’s a guy in it and I open the curtain, I’m like, ‘Hey man, I’m sorry, that’s my towel’ and he’s like, ‘No, it’s my towel.’ What do you mean, it’s your towel?! All right man, I don’t even have the energy to argue with a naked man about whose towel it is. So I said, ‘All right, take your towel.’ So now I have no towel, but that’s not fair. That’s the kind of stuff. This guy thinks he’s good. How funny is that? So somehow, to me, it is about the comedy of it all. I can take that somehow, and it comes out as well in these characters –which hopefully makes you love-to hate-him. Opposed to just hate him.
After hearing first-hand how each of these new characters have been brought to life and the stories they will weave throughout the first season of “Suits,” it is not a wonder that I am counting down the minutes to see this amazing show. The pilot episode sets the stage for a tremendous story of illusion, gamesmanship and friendship. Discovering how far they will go and how long they can get away with this scheme will not only entertaining, it will be captivating. Make sure to tune in for the “Suits” premier on Thursday, June 23rd at 10:00 p.m. (90 minute premiere). “Suits” then airs Thursday nights at 10:00 p.m. on USA Network.
(Part 1 of this article including interviews with star Gabriel Macht and executive producer Doug Liman can be found HERE.)
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