Simone Missick is a name you should have heard by now, with such acting credits as Luke Cage, Altered Carbon, Marvel's The Defenders to her name. But she'll be stepping front-and-center as the lead of a broadcast drama for the first time this fall as Judge Lola Carmichael on CBS's All Rise. The series centers on Lola as she begins her first year as a judge in Los Angeles criminal court, but it's not like the stiff legal dramas you have seen before.
First of all, Missick and Lola are black women. The series will explore what it's like for a woman of color to hold that kind of position of power and how her ethnicity shapes her perspective on the cases brought before her.
While Missick is the star of All Rise, she's supported by a diverse ensemble. At the heart of the show is Lola's friendship with District Attorney Mark Callan (Wilson Bethel) as they both try to navigate their complicated new professional dynamic. Jessica Camacho plays green public defender Emily Lopez, who is trying to do the best for her clients in a broken legal system. Ruthie Ann Miles is Lola's aide, who prefers to play by the rules and reminds Lola when she isn't going by the book.
Together, the group tries to mend the justice system and make it more fair for everyone who interacts with it. TV Guide spoke with both Missick and Bethel ahead of the series premiere to tease what viewers can expect in this fresh new procedural.
What drew you to your respective characters?
Simone Missick: I was just so impressed with how funny she was, without the show necessarily being considered a comedy. It wasn't the typical legal drama that I had come across. Her character wasn't just this archetypal, strong, confident, has-it-all-together kind of a woman. She's a woman who's in the throes of a huge career move where she's completely sure of why she wants to be there, but not quite sure of whether or not she's prepared. You get to see her try to not only figure it out, but to inject her humanity into a position where we don't see that happen. We don't see female judges on TV in this kind of way, in the role of [an] African-American woman. It's exciting to be able to step into this role. Lola is confident, but she's also vulnerable and clumsy and doesn't just all have it together. It's endearing and it's exciting to watch.
Wilson Bethel: I would say the first thing that just caught me was the script as a whole. It was a script fit from the moment I dived into it, the pacing of it, the intelligence of the writing... It was all right there on the page, and that was really exciting to me. This one was really just amazing, and then the role of Mark — in the pilot, it was so clear, there was so much going on there in terms of backstory, in terms of his relationship with Lola, which is a really dynamic part of the whole show. Just having fun with the idea of being a lawyer and that kind of like verbosity and all that kind of stuff, it was really exciting.
The friendship between Lola and Mark is at the center of this show. What makes these two such close friends, and how does that relationship develop in the first season?
Missick: What I think is great about them is Mark and Lola [have a] true friendship. It's not a friendship where one person is using the other person to jockey for position, or it's such a competitive friendship that, are they really friends? Are there frenemies? There is no question of are they going to sleep together. It's a true brother-sister relationship. With that, you get to see them be them as their naked, vulnerable selves with one another, to be emotionally naked with one another in ways that you wouldn't normally expect to see in a legal drama. You definitely get a sense of their history and their interactions from episode to episode, and it's really great to watch them kind of navigate not only their professional lives but their private lives, their issues with their parents. Mark has issues with his dad. Lola has issues with her mom. You get to see them, because they have this history, kind of give each other the advice that they need as best friends.
Bethels: When you're dealing with a really talented person who's also a really great person, and you're supposed to be best friends with them in make-believe, it's much easier to pull that off when you feel those things about them in real life too. ... The relationship on screen continues to develop. I just feel like there's something really, really fun and electric about the friendship between these two characters that is really reflective of the very strong affection that we have for each other in "IRL," so to speak.
What makes this show different from other legal procedurals we've seen before?
Bethel: It is an essentially hopeful show, which you know, I think reminded me of a show like The West Wing, which approaches big, real situations obviously with a veneer of network-y, prime-time-y gloss a little bit, but then approaching them in this light of like, "Oh, we can all be heroes in this really complicated world." That element is one thing that I think makes the show really special. I mean, the cast itself makes the show super special. ... [We have an] incredibly diverse, really, really talented cast, a deep pool of talent. We've got people with all different personal life experiences, professional experiences in this cast and people who represent all different kind of shapes, sizes, skin colors, [and] creeds. It's a very female-driven cast. I think five of our seven series regulars are women, and I could kind of go on and on, I guess, but it really does feel like a special show to me — really different, I think from any kind of rote network legal procedural.
How does Lola being a black female judge change how she's going to look at these cases? Missick: I say this often: By the very nature of me being a black woman, it is a political statement. No woman of color can ascend to this level in her career, no matter whether it's law enforcement, the medical profession, the legal profession, anything without having butted against a system that does not want to see her succeed, that does not believe that she deserves to be there. So there is that part of the conversation that we get to examine, the idea of some people thinking she's not the right person for the job. She's unprepared. Her youth belies her wisdom. All of those things that are ageist and sexist and then bigoted against her as an African-American woman. But then the other part of it is the lens with which she looks at the people standing in front of her.
It's sometimes hard for legal dramas to honestly assess the fact that we are biased as a society, and racial bias is a huge part of it. I think that Lola does not necessarily enter into the courtroom with those same kinds of biases that we see in lots of other legal shows. The way that she looks at a defendant who's a young African-American male, who's accused of aiding and abetting murder, she's going to look at the other circumstances, where someone else might be completely blind to that. Their initial bias would be, "Oh, he probably did it." It is easier for her to look at each case in front of her by the individual, because she, herself, comes from a community that is often misrepresented or unfairly criminalized. She's very aware of that, and her need is to change that system because she recognizes that it's so common. It isn't just about having a black face in the space. It's about having a black person, or a person of color, with a level of power and the ability to make a change and to make a lasting difference. Now this power is being held in my hand, which is something that we have not seen before.
All Rise premieres Monday, Sept. 23 at 9/8c on CBS.
Editor's Note: Interviews with Missick and Wilson were conducted separately. They have been edited for length and clarity.
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