Doug Liman on Suits: The Creation of an Unconventional Legal Show

USA Network’s new legal drama Suits premieres tomorrow, and we got the lowdown from executive producer Doug Liman.

The basics of Suits:

Suits is at its heart an amazing buddy story between Gabriel Macht and Patrick Adams. And at the same time it’s a legal show but it’s unlike any other legal show you might have seen because it doesn’t take place in the courtrooms. And it’s really about hitting the jackpot and working at one of the elite New York City law firms where you’re young, you work crazy long hours, but you make a ton of money. And that’s the situation that Patrick Adams finds himself in. Obviously, he’s doing all of that without ever actually having gone to law school and there’s the threat that at some point he’ll be found out. And Gabriel Macht plays his boss and his mentor. What I love about television, especially working at USA, is that it is about characters. This show is so much more about the dynamic between these characters than it is about solving the case of the week. And I think the chemistry between Patrick and Gabriel is extraordinary.

What drew Liman to this concept?

This show in particular really speaks to me because my father ran a very high-powered New York law firm. He passed away 14 years ago, but I grew up around a law firm like this. My brother currently works in law firm like this. I live in New York City. I’m surrounded by people who work in law firms like this. And obviously my personal experiences are much more grounded than the show where somebody is impersonating a lawyer never having gone to law school. But, you know, it’s not that far from my own experiences because ten years ago I almost took the bar never having gone to law school just to see if I could pass it.

Will the legal aspects of the show be relatively realistic, or should we avoid watching with our lawyer friends?

Well, I have no choice but to watch it with lawyer friends because I live in New York City and my friends are lawyers, my relatives are lawyers. It actually is pretty grounded. The amazing thing about what [Aaron] has done with this series is that it is set in a high powered law firm, so the kinds of cases they’re doing are operating in the sort of rarified air of elite New York and so it’s CEOs and Fortune 500 companies. Those are the clients … It sort of has been a rule of television that it’s hard to just root for the rich person, and all the clients are rich, or the companies are rich, because that’s who can afford a fancy law firm like this. And yet [Aaron] has found a way to allow us to root for these stories, to take us into these board rooms and take us into the elite world of the people who hire these kinds of law firms. So it’s more realistic and more grounded than you might expect … I’ve tried as a producer of the show to push the cases to make sure that they are realistic in terms of the kind of scope of stories and scope of cases that a firm like this would handle. So I think it’s safe to watch with your lawyer friends.

On creating and casting the main characters:

We wrote this sort of very hot shot attorney named Harvey Specter and we wrote this other character, this super street-smart young guy … My films have always been driven by really smart characters. [He’s] so smart that basically it’s like a superpower. Obviously Jason Bourne’s superpower is his brain, and in Suits Mike Ross’s superpower is his brain. He’s got a photographic memory and he never forgets anything that he’s ever read.

And so we came up with these two characters that would sort of butt heads. They’re very alpha, completely different in a lot of ways, way too similar in lot of ways. The older one, Harvey, has did go to Harvard and do the correct route but he meanwhile is so smart and such an alpha personality that he really does things his own way. And then there’s his protégé in the firm who does things so much his own way he didn’t even go to college. He didn’t finish college or go to law school.

And then forcing them to work together was in [Aaron]’s script for the pilot. So we had that when we went out looking for the cast. And Gabriel obviously is able to nail that kind of charisma and arrogance where you still love him. And in fact the more obnoxiously arrogant he is the more you love him. And that’s sort of a unique movie star, TV star quality that was essential for this show to work, because we wouldn’t have wanted to downplay the character’s arrogance … I wanted us to be able to really embrace his arrogance and his confidence and have you still love him. And not have to worry ever that the audience wouldn’t love him. Gabriel brings us that.

And Patrick, in a totally different way than Gabriel, makes you love him for being both sort of the smartest guy in the room and in other ways sort of the most clueless. He’s able to imbue the super intelligence with a sort of a naïveté that just makes you want to take care of him. This show only works if you find the exact right actors to play those two parts. They’re so specific and they’re exactly the kind of characters you’d expect in a project that I’m involved in because I’m a huge fan of antiheroes.

Meet this pair of antiheroes when Suits premieres on Thursday at 10/9c on USA!

Photo Courtesy of USA Network

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