Josh Lucas is playing a character on NBC’s new series “The Firm” that another actor — Tom Cruise — put his stamp on in the 1993 movie based on John Grisham’s best-seller. Lucas acknowledges the oddness of the situation, and while he offers his own take on Mitch McDeere, he also wants to pay homage to Cruise’s portrayal.
“It’s sort of unique, because it’s not like playing Hamlet. It’s not like doing something that’s inherently anything anyone wants to make it,” Lucas tells Zap2it. “I go back to the fact that the source material is very strong and very clear” about who the character is.
The big picture, Lucas says, shows an ambitious man who came from modest circumstances and graduated at the top of his law school class, someone who “was always going to run the fastest, always going to work the hardest.”
It’s the small details where he wants to acknowledge the movie version of Mitch. He cites one scene in the film where Cruise-as-Mitch, having discovered the law firm he works for is a mob front, is copying documents he shouldn’t be:
“He’s very paranoid. He’s making illegal copies at the firm, and he’s obviously cut himself shaving. He’s got a little nick and a little piece of toilet paper on his face,” Lucas says. “It’s such a subtle little detail, but it sort of harkens to the idea of the sense of not just paranoia but of self-destruction that he’s living in.”
NBC’s version of “The Firm,” which premieres Sunday (Jan. 8), picks up Mitch’s story 10 years after Grisham’s novel and the movie. Mitch, his wife, Abby (Molly Parker), and their daughter Claire (Natasha Calis) have recently emerged from witness protection, and he now has a storefront law office from which he handles court-appointed criminal cases and a long-shot civil case against a medical company.
He’s older and a little more world-weary, but in some ways Mitch seems more of an idealist than the cocky young attorney Grisham initially created.
“My sense is he’s shifted because his original desire for money got him into such serious trouble that he’s paying an intellectual price for that,” Lucas says. “… He put himself and his wife in this situation because he chose the place where he was going to make the most money. So he’s shifted his thinking that way.”
Executive producer Lukas Reiter also says Mitch has been changed by his time in witness protection. The show won’t reference what happened in the intervening decade too much, but Reiter hopes it’s evident in the way Mitch acts now.
“One of the biggest things Mitch took from his experience in Memphis was a deep understanding of the power of the federal government,” Reiter (“The Practice,” “The Forgotten”) says. “… It felt right for Mitch to be a guy who would dedicate himself to trying to be sure that coercive power of the government isn’t brought to bear on anybody unfairly in the way he feels it was brought to bear on him.”
Lucas also calls Mitch a “righteous” character, and he hopes that as he again becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that trait might get him into trouble.
“The character is so righteous that he makes mistakes, and he continues to make mistakes,” Lucas says. “He’s like someone who drives himself further into the hole to prove he’s right. …
“I think there’s a way to continue that, and that’s what sets him in the wrong direction and could be really fascinating to watch.”
“The Firm” premieres at 9 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, then moves to 10 p.m. Thursdays starting Jan. 12.