By Patrick Douglas
Jim Belushi sure knows how to win an argument. Who knew that a semi-troubled childhood and years of experience debating the opposite sex would pay off with a role in which winning arguments is crucial? But that’s the case for Belushi in the new CBS show “The Defenders,” in which he plays a jocular lawyer with a knack for winning over the jury.
“It really comes naturally to me because of all the years I’ve argued with women,” said a laughing Belushi in an interview from his home in LA. “Women are verbally stronger, much, much more powerful and to argue with a woman, you have to be very clever… Also, I’ve been in court a few times, so I know a lot about that. I was a juvenile delinquent. I was in court six times in one year.”
Belushi plays charismatic Las Vegas lawyer Nick Morelli, who teams up with Pete Kaczmarek (Jerry O’Connell); “The Defenders” is based on real life Vegas attorneys Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese ~ and while the show gets its ideas from real cases, Belushi and O’Connell aren’t exactly imitating the real lawyers.
“I look at the courtroom as Nick’s stage…You are putting on a show for the jury and as a stage performer, I get that,” said Belushi of the role. “The rest of the show I’m kind of like myself and real but once I get on that stage, I perform. Mark [Saggese ] has this kind of high strung energy and kind of talks fast and Jerry does that. Michael [Cristalli] is a little cooler and a little more thoughtful and he has an incredible bedside manner,” Belushi said. “That’s the one element in every scene that I do.”
“They complement each other perfectly and I think that’s what we took from them,” he continued. “We’re not imitating them, it’s just the spirit.”
Coming off of a very successful eight-year run with his comedy “According to Jim,” Belushi had to somewhat alter his naturally comedic demeanor for the new gig.
“’According to Jim’ was like, I had to bring my performance and who I am up 10, 20 percent and with this, I actually pulled back 10, 20 percent,” said the native Chicagoan. “It’s a different plane. It’s almost like doing a farce.”
There’s still a high level of humor in “The Defenders,” and it’s that attraction to the funny bone that keeps things interesting and helps the show stand out from other courtroom dramas, said Belushi.
“It’s really important because it’s part of who I am,” he explained. “In order to have a full, rounded personality you have to have a sense of humor, you have to have a sense of drama, you have to have a sense of heart and I think I have all three of those and I wanna offer that in my roles.”
Even with a typical viewing audience of 14 million people, there’s never a guarantee that a show will stick around; the first few episodes of a brand new drama are crucial. Belushi doesn’t spend any time worrying about that. All he can do is focus on his job and leave the rest to others.
“I focus on the work because I’m a magic chaser,” said Belushi, the younger brother of the late comedian John Belushi. “In every scene, I try to find a moment of magic and I go from moment to moment to moment and that’s all you can really do.”
On the outside, “The Defenders” might appear to be another courtroom drama ~ but it’s so much more, according to Belushi. Ultimately, he says, it will stand out from the rest of the pack.
“Ours is shot great, it looks great. There’s personality, there’s humor and there’s a great procedural storyline,” he said. “The other ones just have a storyline. Our ratings have girth. Our show has girth. It’s just full. I think the chemistry between me and Jerry is why people are gonna come back. We’ve got a great relationship in it.”
Pictured, L-R front seat: Jerry O’Connell, Jim Belushi; L-R back seat: Tanya Fischer, Jurnee Smollett.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Cultice
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