Having the opportunity to speak with Caitlin McGee by phone from Memphis, (which is affectionately known as ‘Bluff City’) was a total pleasure, and took place just this past weekend. She is a transformative and very present performer, as she stars opposite Jimmy Smits in Bluff City Law, an NBC series about lawyers in Memphis that stick up for the little guy, and in many cases, will challenge the system and status quo.
As if that wasn’t enough, Caitlin McGee also stars in the massively anticipated Amazon Studios anthology series Modern Love. Her episode is called ‘When Cupid is a Prying Journalist’, and is actually the second episode in the series, from writer-director John Carney (Sing Street, Once) and makes an immediate impact in the show.
As stated, getting to speak with McGee was a treat, and the following is a condensed and edited version of our phone interview.
Brief Take: You’re kind of everywhere right now! How does it feel seeing all the ads for Bluff City Law and then bringing the show to Boston last weekend?
Caitlin McGee: It’s funny, because I haven’t really thought it through. I’m kind of putting my head down and showing up for work every single day, because I’m pretty much the first one to get there and the last one to leave every day, but when I actually got to Boston, and…I thought, “this hasn’t happened since I played Velma in Chicago in high school. Here’s my whole crew, my whole tribe there, to cheer me on”, and of course my parents thought that it was wonderful, which was amazing, and it sort of helped it all click. The billboards have only been texted to me. There’s a couple in Memphis that I can kind of see. And having one of my best friends in college text me a picture of my face in Times Square, I think that it’s all starting to settle in.
BT: How much of this role do you feel is your own interpretation and how much of it is on the page?
CM: I think that it’s a real combination. Dean [Georgaris] and I have a really wonderful relationship. I had a very different interpretation of Sydney from the get-go, I brought more humour to her than I think they initially expected, because you have to have the light with the dark. The first episode is not necessarily an interpretation, it’s who she is at her core, I think it’s a representation of the walls that she’s built up over a long time of trying to protect herself and her identity from what her father’s choices have sort of thrust [giggles] upon her. I really loved the first episode, but really getting into the second and the third was super important for me to see how she grows out of it and how she deals with the news of having this [laughs] half-brother and seeing how that unfolds, but Dean is incredibly collaborative. If I have something that I don’t think that Sydney would say, him and Michael Aguilar both, they say to me and the directors as well, they have said to me: “You play Sydney every single day. You know her at her core. If you don’t think that she would say this, tell us and we’ll change it”. It’s not one of those things in which the script is locked and they give it to me and I have to figure out how to sell it as her, they are really trying to make the best shows and they are really wonderful, and I am so appreciative as an actress.
BT: What about style-wise, it is a bit of a change of pace for you?
CM: Well, obviously stylistically, I’m very different from Sydney. I live my life in old T-shirts and jeans every day. [laughs] That certainly helps me to get into the character, because to feel that sort of difference- and it’s a very performative thing to be a lawyer, putting on a jacket, putting on these earrings, putting my hair that way, it doesn’t feel like who I am, it’s really helped me with where Sydney is and how she behaves, it definitely affects me in a big way and I like that, you know? I’ve done a couple of guest stars in which I am in different time periods, because it is comfortable to me. I did a Halt and Catch Fire, which is set in the ’80’s, and I had a certain sort of huge, curly, 80’s hair, [laughs] and it immediately helped me to drop into that. Sydney is certainly the same. The wardrobe has changed slightly as we’ve gone on because the person that she is on the first episode is not who she is as we go on, which is cool to watch this sort of transformation, but that’s another thing that our costume designer, Sonu Mishra, she always, when I go in and I don’t like something, she’s like: “Take it off, we’re not even going to take a picture of it. If you don’t feel good in it, if you don’t like it’s Sydney and you can do your best job, then it doesn’t matter”.
BT: What has been your favourite piece of feedback from live tweeting and Instagram Live?
CM: I think that the most valuable feedback has been, one of my favourite things, a girl sent me a DM and said that she was so excited to see exactly the same thing that I have actually said in interviews, which is she put it along the words of she said “I am so excited to see an unapologetically badass female on television, who is not there because she’s somebody’s wife or girlfriend, (I mean, of course, my relationship with my father is in first), but she is very much her own person, and she’s extremely good at her job”. And that’s the thing that I want – I want to be a good role model for young girls, I want to continue to show what women can continue to be in a suit, [chuckles] and that is what is really exciting for me. And I hope that people continue to watch so that we can continue to do it.
BT: What has your journey been like transitioning from theatre to this series?
CM: Something that I love is that much of the cast comes from theatre. One of my favourite things that I have done so far is a production of All my Sons with Laurie Metcalf and Alec Baldwin. And I got the whole story before the end, you know? If you’re familiar with the play, big things happen at the end, spoiler alert, if you’re not familiar with All My Sons [laughs] but I still feel like I should say that. But you get the lead-up and you get the context, when you are transitioning to tv, which always starts with guest stars and things like that, and auditioning a million times, as I did, but the biggest thing is as your past roles. It’s still strange not to have the lead-up, you still have to create that on your own and then do it twenty times, from a different size lens or a different angle, et cetera. That has definitely been the journey. I think that the hardest thing is New York, while you’re trying to do tv, which is not the case at all any more, that much of it is in L.A. for a while there, I was flying back and forth to New York and that would be hard, which is why I eventually ended up moving. But I think that the biggest transition for everyone is tweaking your own performance every single time and changing your expectations. With theatre, you audition, you get a callback and you either get it or you don’t, and with tv, I tested maybe like 12 times, 14 times, somewhere in there and every single time that I check, I’m signing away the next five to seven years of my life. And when I don’t get it, it’s like a different level of rejection, that in itself is a different level of disappointment with which you have to deal.
BT: Tell me about your charitable cause of rescuing animals.
CM: It’s funny, because when I first met with my publicist, who I love, she asked me the causes that I care about, and I listed off about 20, and she was like: “Okay” [laughs] “You gotta choose one”, and I have kind of a bleeding heart for animals, they’ve always been at the forefront of my mind because people take advantage of them so often. I’ve been passionate about rescue for a long time. I think that it started when I was a kid really, it comes from parents taking me to zoos and sanctuaries and being confused by treating them a little bit differently than the way that we treat people. I don’t know if that comes through being an only child and talking to animals more than I talk to people sometimes, [laughs] but dogs in particular have a specific place in my heart and I think there are a lot of breeds that have this sort of horrible reputation, that they are aggressive animals, but they’re not, they’re deeply loyal to their humans. So if they’re manipulated by human beings to be fighters, they’ll be fighters. But if not, they’ll be the love muffins that they can be. I personally fight for rescues as much as I can possibly. Puppy mills I am most passionate about demolishing because they treat dogs like vegetables, they toss them around and they treat them with utter disrespect and complete disdain. And they’re sold in pet stores and on Craigslist and people don’t know what they’re buying. They don’t know that they’re throwing their money into a completely inhumane industry. I really want to get rid of the pet stores and get rid of the puppy mills because if we can do that, we can start to handle the problem, because there’s millions and millions of dogs that are put down every single year. I think that last year it was about 3.9 million dogs and cats that are put down, and cats are the same, you need to spay and neuter your pets. You got me started, man! [laughs] I want to lend my voice to these people as much as I can.
BT: What do you enjoy about being on this particular episode of Modern Love?
CM: Oh, I mean everything! Talk about a daunting call sheet at which to look, that was… [laughs] I was looking at it, like Andy Garcia, Catherine Keener, Dev Patel, this is casual. [laughs] That episode! I mean we’re obviously an anthology series, so I haven’t seen any of the other ones, but I heard about the other people involved and that made my heart go straight through my chest. As you saw, all of my scenes are with Dev (Patel), but I got to meet Catherine (Keener) at the table read and I got to spend a little bit of time with her after we had shot our last scenes on set, but that is the closest to theatre that I have felt. I mean Dev and I have great chemistry, which is great, I mean we became buddies like straight out of the gate. Which is so important! Because, as you saw, we have to believably fall in love so quickly. To be able to really rely on your scene partner in that way and to trust them, we did that breakup scene- in the edit, the scene is shorter, but we were in that tiny apartment in the Village for hours and hours, pouring our heart out. It had to be believable that we would go through all the stages of a relationship and we wanted to show it in all of its forms, good and bad. And it was so much fun for us to fall in and out and…et cetera of love. [laughs] That was such a blast. I can’t wait for people to see that one because I really poured my heart into that one.
BT: There is a very palpable sense of a relationship built within a single episode.
CM: I know! But you know, when you feel that with someone, when you see them across the room, like in an interview, and all of a sudden, you get that little spark of fireworks feeling in your belly, that’s something that…it’s hard to come across on screen properly. I was so grateful to be working with Dev, who has such an ease to him and he is effortlessly charming. He was someone that I instantly trusted and I was really able to convey that feeling. We were both able to show that meet cute but not have it be [giggles] cheesy, because it’s very real, that first feeling of “Do I like this person? Do I not? Am I exaggerating this? Am I not? Is this real or is this flirtation, or is this something that could be something?” It’s all these things that are grouped into that moment of switching down your own anxiety in those first meetings and trying to blast with someone, in a zoo in this case. [laughs] I love the scene that we did at the gorilla exhibit. We turned around at one point and I don’t know if it was the camera or us, but we [giggled] turned around and almost every gorilla in that enclosure was staring at us, and it was the most moving and strange moment of being a human being and watching what we think [laughs] completely bizarre, seeing people…we were basically their television for these gorillas. And it was incredibly cool and it was such a strange and amazing moment in nature. [laughs] I’m so excited for the series to come out.
BT: How do you feel about NBC and how they’re supporting Bluff City Law?
CM: I’m insanely grateful to be on NBC and for our particular show to be on NBC! Some of our favourites of all-time have been on this network and it is such an honour to be in that group to begin with, but also that they have been really backing our show since moment one. They believe in our message and this message of hope and they want to inspire people the same way that we do. I think it’s really important in this day for people to value network television because it’s reaching such a large amount of people, and it’s free! We can get into people’s homes every single week and we are there for you when you turn on your TV. [laughs] And that’s such an important thing for us to have this particular show, which talks about the real value and weight of right and wrong. The law is non-partisan, because it isn’t focused on what’s right and what’s wrong and sometimes the bad guys win and you’ll see that as well, but hopefully, we can continue to instill some hope in people in this time of darkness in discourse.
BT: What do you think of Amazon Studios and starring in a series on that network as a contrast?
CM: I know! Amazon has done such a wonderful job of…they’re really very cinematic in their shows. When I was on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Amy (Sherman-Palladino) and Dan (Palladino) are absolute geniuses. Watching them work with Maisel was so much fun, and John (Carney), too, he has done some of my favourite movies of all-time. Once is, I think one of the most beautiful love stories that I have ever watched. It’s wonderful to have cinema and tv blending together. I mean, look who is in Modern Love! Anne Hathaway is in it. It’s so wonderful that the medium has transcended everywhere, we’re all blending together. Dev, as well, obviously, he’s doing something for Amazon Prime, which is television and it really has such a cinematic feel, and even the way that they’ve shot it, the way that we portray the love is specific to the way that we would see a movie on the big screen. It is amazing, beautiful work and the stories that we are telling are important and different. I’m excited for both at the same time, I gotta say! [giggles]
Bluff City Law airs Mondays on NBC and Citytv at 10 p.m. ET. Modern Love premieres on Amazon Prime Video on October 18.