Katherine Heigl on How ‘Doubt’ Takes the TV Legal Drama Into Uncharted Territory

     February 14, 2017


The CBS drama series Doubt follows Sadie Ellis (Katherine Heigl), a brilliant attorney who finds herself falling for her client, Billy Brennan (Steven Pasquale), a pediatric surgeon who was recently accused of murdering his girlfriend over two decades ago. Sadie’s decision to become involved with her client could put her career at risk and the other lawyers at the firm (played by Dulé Hill, Laverne Cox, Dreama Walker and Kobi Libii), as well as their boss, Isaiah Roth (Elliott Gould), in a position that none of them want to be in.

During a conference call to promote her new series, actress Katherine Heigl spoke to a handful of media outlets about what attracted her to Doubt, getting to play such a smart and talented woman, what sets this series apart from other lawyer shows, how much she’s learned about this profession, Sadie’s evolution this season, the moral dilemma of falling for a client, why she’s not producing this series like she did her last one, and how much of herself is in her character.

Question: What was it about the premise of this show and your character that made you want to be part of it?


Image via CBS

KATHERINE HEIGL: Well, there were a lot of things that excited me about this show. First and foremost, what got my attention was Tony [Phelan] and Joan [Rater] ‘cause I’ve worked with them before and I know how talented, smart, funny, and amazing their work is. That piqued my interest. And then, when I read the pilot and went in and talked to them, I was just so blown away by the premise, by the character, and by their overall story outline for the season. It’s really, really good, and it’s one of the best I’ve ever heard. I was just so excited to be a part of it and get to tell a story like this. And it’s a character that I really respect and admire, and I love playing. I love playing a smart, ambitious, talented women. Who doesn’t? That’s really fun for me. On top of that, she’s charming, funny, sexy, and complicated. She’s an actress’ overall dream character.

Because you had such a successful relationship with Tony and Joan on Grey’s Anatomy, do you feel like they wrote this character with you in mind?

HEIGL: I didn’t really because I don’t think they were thinking of me, initially, for this role. I don’t think they wrote it with me in mind. But I definitely felt like she was a familiar character, in a lot of ways, and somebody where I definitely felt I could get under her skin and relate to her. That’s not because they know me so well, but just because they’re very good at writing interesting women.

What do you think it is about Tony and Joan that makes their work unique?

HEIGL: For me, it’s the level of sophistication of the stories and the humanity of these characters. I feel they’re very well-rounded. There’s more to them than just their professionalism, especially with Sadie. She’s got this complicated backstory, she’s got a sense of humor, and she’s got these vulnerabilities and flaws that come into play. She’s got this career that means so much to her because it speaks to her humanity and how she was raised by Isaiah. All of those things just make her fabulously interesting and a well-developed character.

Was there a moment or scene that made you feel like you were making a TV series that stood about from the other shows of this type?

HEIGL: The biggest moment for me was when I was meeting with Tony and Joan about the scope of the show, before I came on, and I realized how clever and thoughtful and truly unique their ideas were. That was the moment where I went, “That is special.” You never know exactly how it’s going to come alive. It can look awesome on the page, but then you don’t know if it’s going to come alive, in the same way. For me, the second moment where I realized we had a special project on our hands was when the lawyers were all together, as a group. I noticed that the dynamic among us, as performers and as characters, and the way we engaged with each other and made each other laugh, and the chemistry that we automatically had, was not only great on the page, but it was coming alive in a really exciting, fun and engaging way. I feel like when we’re having that much fun together, it’s really evident on camera and it’s fun for the audience. Those are the shows that I most love to watch, when there is that chemistry among the characters, and there are these relationships that are fun to watch and be a part of. I felt like we had that, right away.

Did you talk to any lawyers that helped you with your work on this?


Image via NBC

HEIGL: We did have writers on set, who have court experience and lawyer experience, and it was very interesting to talk to them about things that you would think would be simple, like approaching a jury for opening and closing statements. It is almost like a performance, and you really are trying to rope people onto your side of the matter. So, it was fun to get to talk to actual used-to-be lawyers about what they would do in a situation like that and how far they push it. There was a lot to learn, actually.

What can you say about Sadie’s evolution, this season?

HEIGL: Sadie goes through quite a bit, this season, and it was really satisfying, as an actor, to get to play all of these beats and moments for her. She’s dealing with not only her mother’s upcoming parole hearing, but she is also falling in love with a client, which is obviously not kosher. There is a lot that she is emotionally dealing with and still trying to maintain a level of professionalism, still trying to do her job well, and still trying to win. By the end of the season, it’s so good that it’s so hard for me not to tell you, but by that point, all of it culminates into this one amazing moment. I’m just really excited to see what will happen for her next season and how she will deal with the outcome of all of it.

What are you enjoying most about exploring the dynamic with Sadie and Billy (Steven Pasquale)?

HEIGL: It’s such a tug and pull, emotionally, for her, wanting to and obviously believing that she should remain professional in this situation, but also not being able to help the way she feels and the way this man makes her feel, and not having really ever had anyone make her feel that way. So, it’s the moral dilemma for her of, does she risk everything and go for it, ‘cause will this great feeling of love ever come around for her again, or does she give it up so she can maintain her status in her firm and career? It’s just a really fun, juicy, interesting and emotional roller coaster to get to play.

Sadie is a defense attorney who falls for her client. Do you see any shades of Izzie Stevens, in this character, with the Denny storyline on Grey’s Anatomy, and her falling for a patient?

HEIGL: That’s so funny, ‘cause I didn’t until you just said that. I don’t know why I didn’t even make that connection, at all. Yeah, you are right! It is similar, in a way. It’s that forbidden love thing. It was really fun to play on Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s, once again, really fun to play on Doubt.

You recently came off of State of Affairs, where you were the star and a producer. Did you just want to focus on the acting, when it came to Doubt?

HEIGL: I had an extraordinary experience on State of Affairs. It was the first time, in my career, that I had an active producing role. I had had producing titles before on things, but to be quite frank, it was more of a vanity title than me actually doing anything. State of Affairs was my first real opportunity to get involved, as a producer, with decisions like casting, the storylines, writers, or marketing. It was really incredibly satisfying, incredibly fun for me, and a wonderful evolution of my career. I’ve been doing this a really long time, so to get to tell a story from the other side of the camera was extraordinary. I loved every second of it. But this project was already well-established and well in place before I came on board. When you are attached as a producer, it’s usually when you’re bringing the project to the table. That’s not to say that I won’t be hitting up Tony and Joan for an opportunity to produce, at some point, on this show, if it’s successful and we keep going. But, it’s totally different. As a performer/producer, there’s just far more work that one has to do. As just a performer, less of me is involved, other than just the acting aspect of it.

As a character, Sadie seems to be more rational than emotional. Do you feel like the absence of her mother has had any influence on that?


Image via NBC

HEIGL: Yes, absolutely! I do think that definitely influences that side of her personality. I think she tries to contain her emotional reactions to things, as much as possible. She’s very uncomfortable with emotional vulnerability and revealing too much of that part of herself to others. I think the only person who sees that part of her is Dulé Hill’s character, Albert, and of course, Isaiah (Elliott Gould). Mostly, she’s functioning from a place that is more rational than emotional, not because that’s who she is, but because that’s who she believes she should be.

How much of you will we see in Sadie?

HEIGL: Actually a lot. I do tend to play characters that are like me. I wouldn’t say that Sadie is more ambitious than I am, but she feels a bit more of a grown-up than I do because my job feels like play, and her job feels real. We are similar, in that I think she’s a compassionate person and I think she cares very much about humanity, obviously, and the people that she represents. She believes in the good in people. I think her first instinct is to believe in the inherent good in humanity, and I hope that’s me, as well. And I think she’s funny and a little OCD, so we’re kind of the same.

Doubt airs on Wednesday nights on CBS.