Lukas Reiter, the former co-executive producer of Law & Order, now brings John Grisham’s classic novel and subsequent movie The Firm to NBC, continuing the story of attorney Mitchell McDeere (Josh Lucas).
The series takes place 10 years after McDeere brought down the Memphis law firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke, which had been operating as a front for the Chicago mob. After years in the Federal Witness Protection Program, the McDeere family surface only to discover that they are still not safe.
Lukas, how did this come about? Did you go to John Grisham, because it seems to me like he would have had some reservations.
I’ve been writing drama, and particularly legal drama, for most of my career. So I spend more time than the average human being does thinking about the great legal stories of our time, and The Firm was always at the top of my list.
I started wondering the very simple question why didn’t John Grisham ever continue this story? Why didn’t he tell us more about Mitch and Abby McDeere? They were such successful characters, and I had a thought about how we might do that.
Lawyers and writers have one key thing in common and that’s the ability to think about the same thing for an irrational amount of time. So long after I probably should have stopped thinking about it, I was still thinking about it and set up a meeting with Grisham’s representative in New York.
I went there and talked to him about the idea to see if John would be interested enough to want to know more. And right from the beginning, John was like ‘This is an interesting way in. I’d love to talk to you about it,’ and we started the collaborative conversation about how to do it. He was on board from the beginning.
Did you want the audience to have a strong association between the book and the movie, or did you want the show to stand on its own and it just have the Grisham and The Firm name?
The goal was absolutely to create something that those who love that story would be able to recognize and find things that they appreciated about the way we were continuing the story.
But I also wanted to make sure that we were creating something that those who had no familiarity with it would be able to come and understand what the back story was and just get swept away in a brand-new story.
Why does Mitch have the most spectacularly bad luck on earth selecting law firms?
It’s funny you say that because, from my very first conversation with John Grisham about this, that was front and center in what we talked about. I said, ‘What do you mean? Every time Mitch McDeere walks into a firm, he’s walking into the front for a corrupt organization?’
So from the beginning I really promise, we tried to take to heart that thought that people might have and make sure that we were keeping Mitch as smart, resourceful and intelligent about those issues as he could be.
You’ll notice he doesn’t charge headlong into a firm in this series. He’s very reticent about that, and he actually makes the decision to create an association with a firm. And that association allows him to keep his own office, keep his autonomy, keep that independent spirit that’s so central to the character.
Why is Mitch McDeere still using his real name, as he is on the run from the mob?
I think it speaks to the character in exactly the way that I would like it to. I think that is Mitch McDeere. This is who this guy is. He’s a guy who’s in Witness Protection. He’s made this decision to protect his family, and when he finally feels like the coast is clear, he’s going to reclaim his name.
He’s going to reclaim his independence. He’s going to walk out there and say, ‘Here I am. I’m not going to live my life in fear.’
That is very much at the center of the character. This is a guy who would do that. And I think for me it makes him endearing. It makes me love him. It make me want to be him, and I hope people feel the same way.
But he has a wife and child. Isn’t that just insane?
I think you’ll see as the series goes on, all the questions that you’re asking about whether he made the right decision, whether he’s being fair to his wife Abby, whether he’s being fair to his daughter in what he’s subjecting them to, those are issues that we’re very much getting into, and he’s having conversations with his family, the FBI and the Marshal’s office.
Mitch in this series is a very different guy than he was in the book and the movie. He’s obviously been through a difficult experience and he’s been 10 years in Witness Protection. What do you feel he still has in common with the Mitch McDeere from the original story?
One of the things I’m most fascinated by about the character is the idea of a guy with so much potential who had this incredibly bright future denied him.
What’s left of that original guy in this man after all these years? Why is it still important to him to be relevant, to be making law?
What is he holding onto? How does Abby feel about those issues, and is that different than Mitch?
I think a lot of what he’s holding onto from who he was should be a lot of what we’re exploring in who he is now.
The Firm episode 4 will air Sunday January 22th, 2012.