Jasmin Savoy Brown is most notably known for her role as Evangeline “Evie” Murphy in the HBO Damon Lindelof series The Leftovers. She’s now moved on from cable to network TV as the determined and hardworking public defender Allison Adams in the ABC Shondaland series For The People. Jasmin chats with BGN on how public defenders get a bad rap, the culture of Shondaland, and she geeks out about Black artists making creative strides in the horror movie genre.
You play Allison Adams, a public defender in New York on the ABC show For the People. Do you think that public defenders get a bad rap based on the type of clients they have to defend? Why or why not?
Absolutely. 100%. I think people are quick to make assumptions. I think also in the media, maybe this is just my experience as a Black woman, but generally when I hear someone is being represented by a public defender, makes you see that face, and if that’s a Black face or a Hispanic face or some sort of brown skin. And because of our political climate in our country, we already associate brown skin with crimes and bad things.
So for that reason I think public defenders get a bad rap, but also because we often hear they’re defending someone for a drug charge or a rape charge or all of these things that are quote-unquote, “bad things”, but we are not hearing the whole story when we just see someones face on the news and public defenders, I believe they’re fighting for justice. They are saying, “Okay, yeah so it’s clear this person did traffic these drugs, but he was a first time offender.” Does that mean he should spend seven years in prison? He’s 18 and he’s a straight A student, or whatever it is. Just because someone did something bad doesn’t mean they deserve the full weight of the government against them all the time.
Public defenders are vouching for them and making sure that they are getting justice or receiving the best side of our system. I could go on and on about this…
I can tell you’ve done your homework being on this show now in its second season. Talk to me about the process of studying case law. I know that you work with the public defender as a consultant on the show. How has that changed since season one?
Season two it was just easier because I understood more of the lingo, and a lot of the words, and I understood this word means this kind of case or this is good or this is bad. Whereas the first season it was just so many words I’d never heard of and learning the legal jargon, understanding our system was overwhelming. I was able to go straight into the deeper parts of the case and more of the research about where this law comes from, or the history of this, or how it’s encompassed with microaggressions and racism or whatever, as opposed to just learning even just what the words meant that I was saying. So the second season allowed me to go deeper into my work as opposed to just the surface level understanding.
It seems like the true crime podcasts are all the rage now. Did you listen to any of those while developing this role, developing this character?
The second season I found a podcast called “More Perfect”, and it follows the Supreme Courts and Supreme Court rulings and decisions. It does a deep dive into specific Supreme Court judges. I went that route as opposed to the true crime route just because I wanted to know more about our courts as a whole, as opposed to just specific crimes. I’ll listen to a few podcasts or watch a few shows that pertain to whatever that case is. But the only thing that I listen to on a regular basis in regard to the show is “More Perfect”, I really love it, it’s a great podcast.
Can you tell us what the culture of Shondaland is like? What’s it like working on the show with such a diverse team of cast and crew members?
Well, what I love about this show is, or I mean a little bit about Shondaland is, as we know it’s super diverse on screen, but it’s also super diverse off-screen. My first season I walk on set the first day and one of our DP’s is a Black woman, so that’s two in one. I had never had a female DP before.
Her name is Cybel Martin, and she’s excellent. And that was my first day, one of my first moments on set and I said: “okay, this is how it’s gonna be.” From the art department, the PA’s to everyone on set, behind the camera, it’s very diverse. Not even just in regards to race and gender, but also sexuality and orientation and that was awesome.
But also I love that they make the space so safe for women. I haven’t had an intimate scene yet, but there have been a number of intimate scenes other actors have had on the show, and the rule in Shondaland is it’s up to the female in the scene how much clothes she wears. So if someone is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to be nude on screen they don’t have to be. They are like, “if you want to wear a space suit, well figure out how to work it into the scene, it’s up to you.” And I really like that, so it just feels like a very respectful and safe environment which is not always the case.
I’m so glad that you shared that, I never heard about that on a TV set before. That’s great that it’s literally a safe space for women.
Yeah, it’s really empowering.
Do you have a favorite episode or moment while filming For the People?
You know, season one, I really love all the scenes between Allison and Sandra. Personally, because its the first time I’ve seen a true depiction of a female, and female friendship on TV. So often there’s this cattiness or this backstabbing that’s just not realistic. I would never backstab one of my friends, one of my best friends and I’d hate to be portrayed that way. I enjoy all of their stuff. One of my favorite moments in season one, there’s this scene, it was during one of my big episodes where Allison had the case with Arturo and she’s sitting on the bench with Sandra and she’s crying and she’s like “I’m a fraud” and they just have this heart to heart and Sandra elevates her and lifts her up as her friend and is honest with her but also encourages her. I really enjoyed shooting that. Britt and I just got it, we were just in sync, we didn’t even need direction for that, also I just thought it was a really beautiful moment between those two friends.
I read in an interview that you did that you are also interested in writing and the project is a dark psychological thriller. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah. So it’s gonna be a while because when I do things I want to do them well, and I do believe that I’m a writer, but I haven’t really mastered that yet. Not that I’ve mastered acting either, but I’m better at it than I am writing. So anyway, that is a piece that is loosely based on a period of my life where I was in essentially a cult.
I was in this acting class with this very psychologically abusive, manipulative teacher, and it really had an effect on my mental-emotional health. It still does, I mean I’ve been away from there for two years and go to therapy and all that, but it was just a really horrible experience and while I was kind of healing from that after it first happened, I kept having these nightmares where I would take revenge.
It was like a healing exercise that I started writing my perfect revenge and it actually turned into a script. I was like “okay, you know what, I’m gonna roll with this” So that’s what it’s loosely based on. There are other elements in it, but that’s where it comes from. We’ll see what it turns into when it actually gets [inaudible].
That sounds amazing. Is this something that you’ve scripted for Television or for a feature film?
It’s a short film. I do have dreams about it becoming a feature film, but I wanna be realistic with myself, and I wanna set it up to be the best it can be. So I think for my first written and directorial project it would just be wise for me to do short.
What are your thoughts on what Jordan Peele is creating with Us coming up and I don’t know if you’ve seen the trailer yet for Ma…what do you think about those projects?
Oh girl, I love it. I know this sounds weird because obviously I’m not in his mind, but part of me is like Peele is seen in these trailers, which sounds so weird because obviously I’m not some crazy killer and that’s kind of what it’s about, but just this other look, this other genre. This other view of looking at horror that we haven’t seen simply because we’ve only been looking at horror mostly through white men’s eyes. There’s something very validating about it and exciting about it. I think Black people know it’s gonna be lit and I think white people are not gonna know what hit them.
I read in an interview that you would like to work with the actress Tatiana Maslany who I also love. We know her from Orphan Black; why would you like to work with her?
Jasmin: Well, for one I have been in an acting class that she’s been in, in the past and just seeing her work and seeing her offspring was just mesmerizing. For two, she’s just a very kind person. This was like five years ago, it was when I first moved to LA, it was like a random class that I dropped into and I introduced myself to her before I even knew who she was and she was so kind to me. And then in the past few years we’ve ran into each other at parties and she always remembers my name and she always remembers my partner’s name and she asks how I’m doing. She’s just a genuinely good, kind person to person, on top of being, in my opinion, one of the greatest actors of our generation and so it’s just the combination of all of that that makes me want to work with her.
I think that the best actors are actually really good people because they are kind and open and empathetic and she just gives so much to her scene partner and to her work. I think working with her would make me better and make me look really good, and would just be really, really fun.
What’s next for you? Are there any other projects coming up that we should know about?
Yeah, I have a video game coming out this summer, but I can’t say what it is yet even though it’s been announced, they haven’t announced my part of it. I will tease more about that when I can on my social media. Then a couple of short films that I did are coming out soon, but the biggest thing is season two of For the People comes out Thursday, March 7th at 10 PM on ABC.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.