Erica Ash believes her new BET show, In Contempt, is different from other courtroom television dramas because it tells the story of public defenders.   

“Most legal procedurals that you’ll see, like Law and Order and so forth, will be from the side of the prosecutor or the district attorney. This is from the public defender — not the high-powered defense attorneys but the public defender, the people who represent the people who are generally presumed guilty until proven innocent, unfortunately,” Ash told uInterview exclusively. “So you’ll get a nice peek behind the curtain of their world, to see why these people are fighting, because it’s not for the money, because they’re underfinanced, they’re understaffed, they’re underinformed.”

Ash’s character, Gwen Sullivan, is a public defender who will do anything for her clients. Her character’s father, Earl — played by Richard Lawson — is a respected judge and former corporate attorney who wants to see Gwen fight the system.

Though Ash and Lawson are close, Lawson said their characters’ relationship is difficult.

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“Earl and Gwen love each other as well, but it’s a lot more challenging,” Lawson told uInterview exclusively. “Our family dynamic is flawed. I mean, it’s dysfunctional, and we’re trying to find function in a way to come together. The mother is not present and hasn’t been, and even though I love her greatly, I’m just frustrated by the fact that she won’t make choices that [are] better for her life.”

The experience of the show’s creator, Terri Kopp, lends itself to In Contempt.

“Terri Kopp was a public defender in New York for a number of years, and all the cases you’ll see are cases that she’s either tried or that her colleagues have tried, and having her be the showrunner and creator lends a great deal of authenticity to our scripts, to our language and to the procedures of law that we represent on our show,” Ash said.

Read the rest of uInterview’s full, exclusive interview with Ash and Lawson below.

Can you describe your characters in the show?

Erica Ash: Gwen Sullivan is a very headstrong, very feisty, very opinionated public defender who is always riding the fine line between legality and illegality, and willing to do absolutely anything to make sure her clients get a fair shake, so appropriately, you will meet her right in the middle of trial.

Richard Lawson: Earl is Gwen’s father —

EA: Hot father.

RL: A respected judge, former corporate attorney — he’s retired now — but he’s been through the system. He knows how the system works, and he really wants his daughter to be able to fight this fight from a higher perch.

Because she can’t win, she’s constantly experiencing the sensation of loss, of frustration, of, you know, fighting against the system that is undefeatable. She doesn’t have enough money, and she doesn’t make enough money, so her life is a little bit out of balance and out of whack, and he wants to see her have a better life and be in a better position.

How does this show differ from other courtroom dramas?

EA: Because it’s from a completely different perspective. Most legal procedurals that you’ll see, like Law and Order and so forth, will be from the side of the prosecutor or the district attorney. This is from the public defender — not the high-powered defense attorneys but the public defender, the people who represent the people who are generally presumed guilty until proven innocent, unfortunately.

So you’ll get a nice peek behind the curtain of their world, to see why these people are fighting, because it’s not for the money, because they’re underfinanced, they’re understaffed, they’re underinformed.

You’ll get a chance to see how creative they have to be in order to make sure that their clients get a fair shake.

The showrunner was also a public defender?

EA: Terri Kopp was a public defender in New York for a number of years, and all the cases you’ll see are cases that she’s either tried or that her colleagues have tried, and having her be the showrunner and creator lends a great deal of authenticity to our scripts, to our language and to the procedures of law that we represent on our show.

What’s the dynamic like working together?

RL: Erica and Richard have great chemistry — 

EA: We love each other.

RL: Earl and Gwen love each other as well, but it’s a lot more challenging.

Our family dynamic is flawed. I mean, it’s dysfunctional, and we’re trying to find function in a way to come together. The mother is not present and hasn’t been, and even though I love her greatly, I’m just frustrated by the fact that she won’t make choices that [are] better for her life. She won’t make better choices with men. She’s constantly in turmoil. Her health is always out of fact. She doesn’t take time to rest or care for herself. She needs a vacation, but yet she is just this person who has this belief and this purpose in life to fight for the underdog, and quite frankly I’m a little frustrated by it.

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