Q: Were you a fan of "The Firm" prior to your being cast in the series version?
A: In the sense that I knew the movie fairly well. I hadn't seen it in a little while, but I knew John Grisham's work as a whole. I had never actually read this one, but I did understand that there is this sort of emotional pull that it has on many, many people ... whether it's the movie or the book or both. And I get why Grisham has been asked consistently, "What happened to this man? What happened to these people?" Pulling material from both places frees up this series in a way.
Q: What's the biggest challenge of revisiting the premise in series form?
A: The challenge is to honor Tom Cruise, to honor what he did with the character (in the 1993 movie version), but also to look at the Grisham source material that had a very different angle in a way. There are things I wanted to try to reference and homage, but at the same time, absolutely make sure that we were not attempting to step into the footsteps of someone else.
Q: You've also cited law-thriller author Scott Turow's ("Presumed Innocent") books as some of your main resources in preparing to play an attorney. Why is that?
A: They primarily deal with what drives someone the same way athletes are driven, deeply competitively, to win at all costs. There's a similarity in certain kinds of lawyers, and I think Mitch McDeere (Lucas' "Firm" character) is one of those.
Q: What called to you about playing a special ed teacher?
A: First off, the year before I did a movie with Sam Elliott; we did our first Hallmark Hall of Fame. We worked together on "Tombstone" 20 years ago. It was such a great experience . When my guy called up and said, "Hey, they want you to be the leader in a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie." To have that happen twice in almost two years was really flattering, (even) before I read the script. It would have to be pretty bad for me to not want to do it. It was really touching. First thing I did was I tried to go online to find Mike's (Kersjes, the teacher he portrays) home number. I emailed my manager and said, "I have to do this one. Don't let it get away."
Q: Are you still making music?
A: I just made my second record. I am really excited. That is why I was in Nashville, putting (down) background vocals. I thought I made a pretty good first record. I am proud of it. I don't play piano or guitar on my own records; I hire the best guitar and piano players and drummers. The drummer and guitarist play on Black Crowes. This (album) is a little more rock and roll. Last one was straight-up country.
Q: What's it like being back home in West Virginia?
A: In California, people are a little more guarded. In Wheeling, people just tell you how it is.
Q: You're part of a transitional season for "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," with Ted Danson having joined when you did, and Elisabeth Shue about to. Are you surprised to find yourself co-starring in the show now?
A: At first, it was one of those wonderful moments where I'd gotten a call from my manager saying, "Carol (Mendelsohn, a 'CSI' executive producer) wants to talk to you about a guest-star role that may possibly recur." After shooting the first couple of days, the conversation quickly turned to, "Let's make a larger commitment to this person. Let's try to make her a series regular." Which was one of the more flattering things that's happened to me.
Q: By default, that means Jerry Bruckheimer -- one of the top producers in both television and movies -- also signed off on having you on board regularly. What's that like?
A: It's enough where I don't stumble over my words in such conversations, but it's not to the point where I don't appreciate it immensely. I still get really giddy when that happens.
Q: How was it to work on this season's opening episode, when the cast and crew were getting adjusted to Ted as well as to you?
A: It was kind of fun to watch as a fly on the wall. They were integrating this new, amazingly talented guy who could have turned out to be a big nightmare, given his celebrity and success. You just never know ... and in this case, I was more than happy.