Interview: Breckin Meyer and Mark-Paul Gosselaar of “Franklin & Bash”

Posted on May 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm

Franklin & Bash” is a new lawyer show on TNT.  It is about two brash, rule-breaking best friend lawyers who join a very conservative, old-school law firm.  It is sometimes silly but it is sexy, funny, and fun.  And it stars two guys who have been acting since their teens, Breckin Meyer (“The Craft,” “Clueless,” “Garfield,” “Robot Chicken”) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar (“Saved By the Bell,” “NYPD Blue,” “Passing the Bar”).  Like the characters they play, they do not take themselves seriously, but they take their work seriously.

I spoke to them about what they learned as child actors and how practicing law is like being in show business.

What did you do to get comfortable with the legal language and procedures?

Gosselaar: I was on a show called “Raising the Bar” for two seasons.  The creator of that show was a public defender in the South Bronx.  That was much more letter of the law — he was on set all the time and tried to make sure we stayed as true as possible because it was so important for him.  He wanted to teach America about what it was really like.  I interned for a week at the Bronx defenders’ office.  So the set-up was not at all like what we’re working with now but Bill Chase, one of the co-creators is an attorney and we have questions or don’t understand something or a pronunciation he is there.

Meyer: Yeah, like “objection” — how do you say that?  And this word, “law…..”

Gosselaar: We’re much looser on this show, of course, but the law is the catalyst for the stories.  You get the great stories of struggle and conflict and the way our characters relate to the clients.  And in a way, putting on a trial is like putting on a play.

You play long-time friends but you did not know each other before the show.  How do you create that sense of history and chemistry?

Meyer: You always cross your fingers that first you even get along with the other actor, second that you have something in common.  Mark-Paul and I had more in common with each other than we even knew.  We both started acting very young and have consistently worked.  We’re both family guys, both have kids.

Gosselaar: Our personal lives parallel each other, too.

Meyer: And our work styles.  We both show up knowing our stuff, and then we will have fun with it.  We take the work seriously but not each other at all.  That’s where the fun comes from on the show — the drama comes from the cases and having now been bought up by this white-shoe law firm, how do you stay true to fighting for the underdog when your firm is working for the corporation you are fighting against?  But the fun is in these two guys and we were lucky that we really get along.  We are shooting in LA but we shot the pilot in Atlanta and it helped a lot, being “sequestered” there away from our families.  Normally we finish and go to our houses.  In Atlanta we’d have dinner and work on the script — part was we had nothing else to do but part of it was we loved the show and wanted it to work.  The script was so good — if we could elevate that, it would be amazing.  We worked non-stop, more than on anything else I can think of, around the clock, and neither one of us ever said, “Uncle.”

Tell me about working with the wonderful Malcolm McDowell (“Clockwork Orange,” “If…”), who plays the head of the law firm.

Meyer: He’s everything you want Malcolm McDowell to be.  He’s funny, he’s intense, he’s terrifying, and he is so sweet!  He is a living legend. He’s done a thousand movies and is 287 years old.  If anyone has earned the right to be a diva, it’s him.  But he showed up on set exactly the way we do, knowing his stuff and wanting to have fun.  It sets the bar for everyone.  It sets the tone for a really nice set where everyone’s free to try and fail.  And he has the greatest stories known to men.  He’s worked with everybody.

I’ve seen the first episode, but tell me about what’s coming up later in the season.

Meyer: Beau Bridges comes in as my dad, a litigator.  James Van Der Beek comes on as the ADA’s fiance, who needs a lawyer.  We go into the backstory.

Gosselaar: Our characters evolve.  We began with the personal injury and smaller-time pot cases.  Now we’re doing more corporate, some murder trials, and in the third episode a woman who was fired for being too hot, but it isn’t your conventional vision of what hot would be.

Meyer: That’s one of our favorites.

Gosselaar: And Jason Alexander comes on as a Bernie Madoff-type character.

You both began as child actors so you have had a lot of opportunities to observe the way that movies and television work.  What did you learn from watching the grown-ups around you?

Gosselaar: Don’t be an ass.

Meyer: Don’t be a jackass. It’s a job. Know your stuff.

Gosselaar:  Take pride in what you do.  It has to stem from what we saw around us at home. Our parents instilled in us how important it is to take pride in what you do.

Meyer: No one in my family is in the business, no one in his family is in the business.  That helps, too.  Even though we were in the business, we grew up out of the business.  There are times to have fun and goof off and we were kids, but it was a job and we saw it that way.  We were looking at the work, so we avoided the sense of entitlement.  There’s a lot of luck to it, too, but you have to be determined, and we both were.  And it’s the only I knew that I am mildly good at.

 

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Howl

Posted on October 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: Very strong and explicit language with sexual references, some crude
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: October 15, 2010

In the post-WWII era of peace and prosperity — and the Cold War and the blacklist and conformity — a small group of writers found much to terrify and infuriate them. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,” one of them wrote, the beginning of a barbaric yawp of a poem of fury and protest called “Howl.” His name was Allen Ginsberg.
This movie is not the story of Ginsberg (smoothly played by James Franco), who would go on to become one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed and influential poets, though he is affecting, even at times electric. It is the story of the poem itself, taking us back and forth between three key moments. First is Ginsberg’s own performance, reading the poem aloud in a small, smoky club. Second is an interview two years later with a now-bearded Ginsberg in his apartment. And third is a courtroom, where the obscenity charges brought not against Ginsberg but against his publisher, fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, were being argued.
“Experts” (Mary-Louise Parker, Alessandro Nivola, Jeff Daniels) debate the literary merit and destructively prurient content of Ginsberg’s work on the witness stand. The prosecution (David Straithairn) argues that the poem is so detrimental to the minds of Americans that it should not even be seen. For the defense, Jake Ehrlich (“Man Men’s” Jon Hamm), with a natty four-cornered pocket square handkerchief, who shows the court that far more important than any expert’s opinion on the value of Howl as a work of art is the freedom for Americans to decide that issue for themselves.
And for me at least, that is where the real poetry is.

(more…)

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List: The Top 25 Law Movies

Posted on July 26, 2008 at 8:00 am

The magazine published by the American Bar Association has assembled a list of the 25 best movies about the law, with another 25 on the list of runners-up. I am a lawyer from a family of lawyers and we all love movies about the law. Just about every lawyer I know would agree with the ABA’s assessment that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the all-time best.

I’d like to say that it is because I am a lawyer that I have such a passion for courtroom dramas, but I think it is more accurate to say that I became a lawyer because I was so inspired by films like To Kill a Mockingbird and Anatomy of a Murder.  I even wrote a law review article about two of my favorites, Miracle on 34th Street and Inherit the Wind.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Y5Baa0IV1I&feature=related

I am partial to the movies based on real-life cases like “Philadelphia,” “Amistad,” and “Erin Brocovich.” Another of my favorites, “Inherit the Wind,” includes dialogue lifted straight from the court transcripts. “Anatomy of a Murder has the additional distinction of being based on a book by a judge and having a real-life judge and American hero playing the part of the judge on screen. And it is the only law movie I can think of where one of the highlights is a lawyer finding the right precedent in the law library.

I know it is a popular movie, but I was surprised to find “The Verdict” on the ABA’s list, even with Paul Newman’s Oscar-winning performance. It is wrong on so many points of law that my law professor sister said she could ask her students to find all the errors as an exam for her Civil Procedure class. All of the movies on the full list, including the honorable mentions, are worth watching. There is something inherently gripping about a courtroom drama, as “Law and Order” shows several nights a week.

Interestingly, though, one of the most widely seen and highly regarded of the films takes place entirely outside the courtroom: 12 Angry Men. A friend recently gave me a copy of a a special issue of the Chicago-Kent Law Review dedicated to the 50th anniversary of that classic movie.

In , all but a few moments of the film take place in one room as a dozen men deliberate in a murder case. A teenager has been charged with stabbing his father to death. In the initial vote, all but one (Henry Fonda as Juror #8) vote “guilty.” I go on jury duty myself for the first time after Labor Day and will keep this movie very much in mind as I try to live up to one of society’s most important responsibilities.

 

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12 Angry Men

Posted on July 13, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Twelve jurors, hot and tired after a six-day murder trial, file into the jury room. They begin with a vote — 11 vote for a guilty verdict, but one (Henry Fonda), juror Number 8, votes to acquit. The others are impatient, and there are mutters of “there’s always one.” Number 8 says he is not convinced that the boy, accused of killing his father, is innocent, but that he believes that they owe him more than one quick vote. They should talk about it before they find him guilty, which means an automatic sentence of death.
We never hear the men’s names, but we learn a great deal about them as they deliberate. The boy admitted arguing with his father. He admitted buying a switchblade with a distinctive handle, exactly like the one the man was stabbed with. One witness says she saw the boy stab his father with the knife, in the brief moment when an El train sped by the window. Another witness says he heard a body fall to the floor and then saw the boy run out of the apartment. But the boy says that he wasn’t there, that he went to a movie, though on that night he could not remember the name of the movie or any of the details. He said the knife must have fallen out of his pocket.
After an hour, Number 8 says that they should vote again, and if the 11 are still in favor of a guilty verdict, he will vote with them. But another juror changes his vote, and they continue to debate. They examine each piece of evidence, each word of testimony carefully. And they examine themselves, uncovering prejudices and blind spots that interfere with their ability to be impartial. One by one, each finds a flaw in the evidence to persuade him of the boy’s innocence.
The men are impatient to come to a conclusion not just because they are hot and tired, but also because they are uncomfortable sentencing a boy to death. They want it to be easy and clearcut, and they want it to be quick, so they do not have to think too hard about what they are doing. Juror 8’s most difficult challenge is to get each of them to think independently and objectively about the evidence. One of the last jurors to change his mind is the ultra-logical Number 4 (E.G. Marshall). When a new fact is introduced that calls the logic of his calculations into question, he is willing to change his vote. But for most of the others, the issue is emotional as well as logical. Families should try to identify the way that each juror brings his background, personal or professional, into the deliberations. In some cases, that background provides insight that was helpful, as when Number 5 (Jack Klugman) spoke of his experiences growing up in a slum. In others, the background was an obstacle that had to be overcome, as in the bigotry of Juror Number 10 (Ed Begley) or the displaced anger of Juror Number 3 (Lee J. Cobb).
Notice in particular the way that Number 8 listens to everyone else, even when it does not relate to the case, as when the foreman tells him about the time his big game was rained out. Compare that to the energy Number 3 devotes to refusing to listen, and to Number 7’s (Jack Warden) constant efforts to deflect or push away any engagement, intellectual or emotional, with wisecracks. Number 7’s use of humor is in sharp contrast to some of the others, like Number 11, who use humor to make a point, to take the discussion further, as in the comment about the use of proper English. This is also an outstanding example of different approaches to problem-solving, an especially important subject for family discussion.
Family discussion:
• What would have happened if Juror 8 had not been on the jury?
• Why didn’t they use their names during the deliberation (or in the credits), and why did two of them introduce themselves before they left the courthouse?
• Why do you think Number 3’s son won’t see him? How did that affect his judgement?
• Why do we have juries, instead of just letting the judge decide every case? Why do we have 12, and not fewer or more?
• Does this movie make you feel better or worse about the jury system? How will it affect you when you serve on a jury?
Connections: This film includes outstanding character actors Martin Balsam, Ed Begley (both Oscar-winners for other performances), E. G. Marshall (from television’s “The Defenders”), Jack Klugman (from televison’s “The Odd Couple” and “Quincy”), and Jack Warden (Harry Rosenfeld in “All the President’s Men”). One of the best books ever written about filmmaking is Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies, which includes a fascinating explanation of the making of this, his first feature film. Watch the way that he uses camera angles to create different impressions within the confines of the one-room set.
Activities: Talk to the kids about your own service on a jury, or, if you have not had the chance to serve, see if someone else they know can tell them what it was like. Take them to sit in on a trial, or pick one suitable for them to watch a bit of on Court TV. Ask them how they would handle serving on a jury deciding the outcome of a case currently in the news.

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