Josh Lucas on ‘The Firm’

The star of NBC's legal thriller tells us about his show and performing jury duty on a murder trial in New York.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

We usually hear anecdotes about actors researching the profession of their latest character, but Josh Lucas told the Television Critics Association that he served on a jury for a murder trial before taking the role on NBC’s "The Firm." He also said that he embraced Tom Cruise’s portrayal of John Grisham’s lawyer Mitch McDeere, so those were two things I wanted to follow up with Lucas about. Lucas plays Mitch McDeere after10 years in witness protection, when the old firm comes after him again.


How did this trial happen and how did counsel not reject an actor on the jury?

What happened was that I had missed jury duty multiple times because I'd been on movies. So, when I went to do "The Lincoln Lawyer" I went to the courthouse and said, “I would like to do research and incorporate it with my jury duty.” They said, “No. We don't care.” I said, “What do you mean?” They said, “Well, you have to do jury duty based on our timeframe. It has nothing to do when it works for you.”

I said, “All right. When can I do it?” They said, “If you don't show up for jury duty on November 13th you will be arrested.” It was like that because I had missed it five times.

They didn’t say it would be a conflict of interest to use it as research in a movie?

No, this is what happened. This is in New York City. So what happened is that I showed up on the 13th and did half a day and nothing happened. I was sent home. The next day I was chosen to go down with 60 people.

I walked in, the second that I walked in I saw that this guy recognized me, the defendant recognized me and I saw him talk to his legal counsel about it. So, I went immediately to the bailiff and said, “I need to speak to the judge,” and the judge said, “If we released everyone who came here because they had conflicts of interests like yours we would not be able to get juries. We've decided to stop doing that. It doesn't matter if you're famous anymore. Unless we determine that you're in danger, that's the only way you can be dismissed.”

So, weirdly I then got chosen. There was 12 of us with three alternates chosen. It was such a severe case that they had to not just shackle him, but they had to hold him down in the courtroom during his testimony. It was a two week trial. We convicted him for life. I can't tell you much except that it was incredibly severe and violent and multiple. He was involved in multiple crimes before that which we were not actually allowed to know.

That's when I fell in love with the legal elements. There was so much that I found out after the fact that would've colored my thoughts. I thought that if it’s done right that it'd make for very interesting television, if you can do something that isn't just normal procedural, procedural, procedural. I hope that's where the show goes more and more.
You might be one of the rare actors who says they embrace the notable actor who played the role before. Was there a decision of do I or don't I consider Tom Cruise?

I liked very much what he did. I very much felt like my responsibility is to not shy away from it. There are details that are very subtle that I try to put in, but I always try and do that. For me that's part of the joy of this job. It's really weird, but in "Glory Road," a beautiful movie that I made about basketball, I totally stole, blatantly, two scenes from Gene Hackman in "Hoosiers." I mean, no one will ever know, but I will show you. I wanted to try and homage these little things that he does because I think it's one of his many excellent performances. It's a really damn good one. That's a great film.

You show a lot of layers in the series. You can be tough, compassionate, pained. Where does all of that come from, the book, the movie or the scripts?

A lot of it is the book. Some of it is the movie and also it's an understanding that it's sort of not generic, but the inherent Grisham male character which is always very driven, very smart, very savvy in their use of not just the law, but in manipulating the system to get out of whatever situation they've gotten themselves into.

So, I was really referencing that, but also I was trying to take away then my own sense of what the ten years had done, the damage that it had done and the fact that there was probably a level of paranoia which I hope you start to really see. This paranoia begins, they start making really bad mistakes because they are so scared all the time.