Exclusive Interview With Oscar-Winner Kathy Bates

Seven episodes into its run, it looks like NBC drama Harry’s Law, with Kathy Bates, is a modest hit. Bates plays an attorney who abruptly loses her job and finds herself partnered with a legal hotshot and a young college student in a new law firm. Created by David E. Kelley, Harry’s Law is averaging a respectable 10 million viewers (out of just 5.21 million for lead-in The Cape), but the audience skew is heavily 50-plus.

I had the opportunity to speak with the Oscar-winning actress, also a recent presence on NBC’s The Office, on her segue from the large screen to television.
What made you decide to do a TV series at this point in your career? The character of Harry was a real attraction for me…strong and zealous, never shy to speak her mind. But I never really thought of the implications of doing a show until we got picked up after the pilot, and it’s been a challenge getting used to doing series television. The hours are certainly not short.
How did the project come about? My manager sent me the script, and I knew it was originally written for a man. The character’s name was Harry, and he was described as grumbled and curmudgeonly, very disillusioned and not sure what was next. For an actor, the layers of this character were very appealing. When I was being considered for the part, her name was going to be changed to Harriet, but I wanted to keep the essence of the character intact.
Are you ready to make a long-term commitment if the series succeeds? For a long time I did not want to do television because I did not want to get stuck playing the same person. I wanted the ongoing challenge of a variety of roles. But with a character like Harry, the layers to unveil are very appealing.
Any plans to return to The Office? And any news on who is replacing Steve Carell? I’m going to do a couple of episodes this spring and look forward to it. What I love about The Office is the fast pace and the zaniness of those characters. As for Steve Carell’s replacement, your guess is as good as mine.

Do you have a preference for comedy over drama? No, and that’s what I like about Harry’s Law.  It has both. But I will say doing comedy is not easy. Drama comes more naturally to me. It’s the comedy you really have to delve into.
Can we talk about working with David E. Kelley? Well, we don’t see him all that often, sort of like Charlie on Charlie’s Angels. He does his thing and we do ours, and I completely trust the words he is putting on the page for me.  
I have to deviate and ask about Jack Nicholson, who you co-starred opposite in About Schmidt in 2003. What was that like? He is an enigma, Jack.  For one thing he is incredibly professional, which was a surprise to me. I would have expected him to be hamming it up and ad-libbing.
What would you say was your first break? I would have to say Misery. I went from years of honing my craft to sudden recognition. It was quite a life changer.
What was it like winning an Oscar for Misery? It was a dream, of course. But that particular night for some reason it felt very comfortable. I had been out of the country working at that time, so I missed all the brouhaha boiling up to that.  
Did you ever have a lean period where you were not getting many roles? After winning the Oscar, I was committed to do Fried Green Tomatoes, but I didn’t know what the next thing would be after that. It was a scary time. But the advantage of TV is the regular work. All you need is a hit series, I guess.