March 16, 2012 9:00am PT by Philiana Ng
'Fairly Legal': Ryan Johnson on Being the New Kid and the Saucy Ben-Kate Combo
When second-year series Fairly Legal returns tonight, a new face will be vying for Kate’s attention. Well, sort of.
Australian actor Ryan Johnson (Ghost Rider) joins the USA Network mediator drama as attorney Ben Grogan, who Kate first meets at a bar. It’s quickly revealed that Ben, an aggressive ambulance chaser, and Kate must set aside their differences and work together – for the betterment of Reed & Reed law firm.
When Sarah Shahi spoke to The Hollywood Reporter at Comic-Con in July, she described the new season as being “messier.” “[Kate is] going to find herself in situations that she really doesn’t want to be in, really has to struggle to get out of,” she said. Shahi also joked that the new addition had to be “cute” and have “good hygiene.”
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Johnson, who was auditioning for guest starring roles and even went in for USA’s new summer series Common law when the part came up, spoke to THR about the dysfunction between Ben and Kate, whether he’ll complicate matters for Kate’s soon-to-be ex-husband Justin (Michael Trucco) and if there’s more to his character than meets the eye.
The Hollywood Reporter: First things first, you’re new kid on the show. How did you land the role of Ben Grogan?
Ryan Johnson: I was auditioning for episodic stuff, guest roles; I even auditioned for Common Law, the new [USA Network series]. I went in and the audition went really well, and I got a call at about 1 p.m. and they said you're reading opposite the lead this afternoon. I thought, “Look, I've been close to things before.” I was like, “Whatever, I'll go in and read.” That’s when I met Sarah; she came up to me and said, “God, I hope you get this job.” We sat over in the lounge, she was eating a bagel, I grabbed it out of her hand and started chewing it. She said, “I love that, do that in the audition,” and so [I did]. I could feel there was a good energy and that was all in one day. I got the job Tuesday night, they flew me up Thursday and started shooting Friday.
THR: Has adjusting to the American accent been difficult?
Johnson: I’m spending so much time immersed in it that it’s getting easier and easier. I’ve found the rhythm of the character, I’ve found my place. When I first started, I was shaky. I don’t think it was noticeable but in my head, I was like, “Oh, I can hear myself.”
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THR: Ben, in some ways, is very different from Kate. Can you speak to what he brings?
Johnson: Ben, he's from the other side of the bridge in San Francisco, he's scrapped his way out into a position of chasing ambulances where he's making good money. He's living right in San Fran, he's like a lone shark, a lone wolf and he's out there doing it on his own. But he's like a hurricane. He never stops talking and he rattles his way through situations. He stumbles across this beautiful woman (Kate) in a bar and tries to pick her up. She shuts him down, but he figures out she's a lawyer and it just so happens the very next day that their paths cross again on a case. Kate's business is going down the gurgler because her father's dead, Lauren's doing everything she can to keep it together but Kate's always playing the moral high ground and doing what she can to find the truth and what's best for the client. By the end of the premiere, Ben says, "You know what, I'm going to buy into your firm because I like it here."
THR: Does Ben secretly want stability in his life?
Johnson: I think Ben secretly fancies Kate. He does want a little bit of stability.
THR: Does the fact that Kate is still legally married complicate matters for Ben?
Johnson: She’s separating, the divorce papers have yet to be signed. There’s still Michel Trucco, who keeps sticking his head in. But, there’s this annoying guy at work who keeps chipping away at her.
THR: Can you share any memorable moments thus far?
Johnson: There’s a scene in episode one where we’re working our way through something and we’re coming to a revelation on how we can win and we’re talking it out with Kate’s assistant Leo (Baron Vaughn) and we’re roaring over a bowl of candy. As we’re talking, as it’s all coming out I’m trying to eat her candy and she’s pulling it away from me. It says a lot about Ben and Kate and their relationship and where the characters are going.
THR: What teases can you offer for the season?
Johnson: Kate’s world slowly becomes more and more unraveled. When you think things can’t get any worse, they get worse. That’s what’s fun about Ben. He stops it all the time. He sees it coming and he makes fun of it. He rubs it in her face. There’s the balance between Ben and Justin, what’s simmering underneath for Ben and Kate on a relationship level and how that butts heads with Justin.
Fairly Legal premieres its second season on March 16 at 9 p.m. on USA.