Q&A: 'Suits' Star Gabriel Macht Digs Into Harvey Specter
Manhattan attorney Harvey Specter may be a piece of work, but that just shows how excellent Gabriel Macht is at his job. The Suits star has all of his alter ego's brain and none of the...well, ego. In fact, he's one of the most endearing, articulate and thoughtful actors I've ever had the pleasure of speaking with. As we enjoy the last two episodes of season one (beginning tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on USA), I had the pleasure of talking with Gabriel about what's upcoming and what he's taken away from playing summer TV's most intriguing character.
(SPOILER ALERT: This interview does reveal some details about upcoming episodes.)
Tonight's episode seems to give us a big glimpse at Harvey's past, before he arrived at Pearson Hardman. What can you say about tonight's guest stars - Gary Cole and Alicia Coppola - and who their characters are to Harvey?
Well, let me just go back a couple weeks. It’s funny because we were just filming about two and a half weeks ago, I believe it’s almost three weeks, and I haven’t seen either of those episodes. Gary Cole plays a district attorney from Manhattan and my relationship with him is that I was one of his assistants back in the day. I think if I’m correct Alicia was also one of the assistants back with me or she was someone, you know, a colleague that we ran into each other all the time.
There’s some dirt that’s been picked up on Gary Cole now and he comes back to me to sort of try and keep it behind closed doors. He buried some evidence in regards to a certain character that you’ll meet at some point and I was unaware that he was burying evidence. He is up for his reelection and Alicia now works for the Attorney General’s office and she’s trying to end his reelection, so she’s trying to get me to open up about him.
Basically Gary Cole’s character was my initial mentor. He’s sort of like Harvey’s Harvey, do you know what I mean? Like Harvey’s Mike [and] he’s Harvey’s Harvey. There’s a lot of respect and a lot of loss there when I find out that he wasn’t above board. And so that relationship is sort of investigated and you’ll see how Harvey’s mentor sort of let him down.
With his past coming back into play, are we going to see more revealed about the backstory between Harvey and Jessica?
I do know that in this next episode and the finale, you’re going to see a few encounters with Harvey and Jessica. I think the story goes Jessica sort of saw Harvey in many ways like Harvey sees Mike. He had some street smarts and he was really, really bright but he didn’t completely get it, so she helped him. She put him through law school and she also put him with the district attorney to get him trial experience. She put him with Gary Cole’s character so that he could learn the ropes.
Now I think Harvey at times was a bit misinformed on the reasons that Jessica put him there, and you’ll see how that sort of reveals itself. You’ll see reasons why she put him there and how that relates to the story now. And you’ll see a little bit of who Harvey was in essence early on in some of the telling of those scenes with Gary Cole. You’ll see that Harvey was involved with a case [where] evidence was buried and he feels absolutely guilty about it and he has to right that wrong.
Will we see that more vulnerable side of him that's been hinted at earlier this season?
I think so. I think the bottom line is this: I think Harvey is actually a really emotional guy. I think he’s been hurt and I think he’s been broken, and I think the way that he covers for that is he’s created this incredible armor. He stands up for people behind their back. If you look around, he’ll stand up for Mike but behind his back. He’ll stand up for Louis, even though Louis drives him crazy, he’ll stand up for him behind his back. His emotions sort of come out when somebody’s back is turned. I think that’s how he sort of operates.
There was a moment that he gets emotional, but I think he sort of catches himself, when he’s with Jessica. He really respects Jessica. He thinks that she’s had his back all along and she will continue to have his back, and I think he is able to show his vulnerability with her. I think he just has a thing of like trying to cover, trying to cover, trying to cover. I don’t know if we’ll see him as vulnerable as you might want to see him or as maybe I want to see him but at some point we will. Some point we will.
This is your first TV series regular role in more than a decade. What has it been like for you to come back to TV, and to really dig into the character of Harvey Specter?
You know what? It’s really great. I had not wanted to do television for many, many years, even before I did my last series. The last series I did was called The Others. That lasted 13 episodes on NBC and Steven Spielberg produced it. I did a cold reading on sort of a "Steven Spielberg’s producing this so I don’t know, maybe I’ll just go in there and just show them my face," and then I ended up getting the job.
I didn’t really even want the job, because I was doing a play at the time in New York City and I didn’t want to leave the play. That’s a long story, but I ended up leaving the show and two days later working on this series and it was a huge opportunity for me. I really liked the writing of that show and they knew they weren’t going to pick it up. They ended up killing every one of the main characters, which I thought was just a really classic way to end the show. And then I got a film and then another film and another film and I just started working in film.
I’ve always really liked the idea of changing a character from movie to movie and trying to stretch as an artist and see where that can take me, and I had a pretty good run of it for ten years. Then I just started to find that I was getting some really great opportunities but not like the best opportunities, and I thought "You know what? There’s some terrific writing in television, and why not go back in and see if there’s something where I can challenge myself and play a character that I haven’t played before." This came along and Harvey is just a great character.
He’s got a real heart underneath and the banter, I love the wit that Aaron has brought into the writing and I thought, "This could be really challenging. You know, why don’t I look at this as an opportunity to get really, really deep into a character." I haven’t gotten, I don’t think, as deep into a character in a long, long time, and the idea to do it over and over and have a break - maybe go do a movie and step away from Harvey and play somebody else - and then come back to him and get another shot at it, I thought, "You know what? This could be really cool." And it’s turned out to be that
I admire Harvey. I like to see his weaknesses, and as we delve further into him and his backstory and as we move along to season two, I hope that we can even crack the armor more.
I had a really interesting conversation with Aaron Korsh a month ago. We were talking about characters in television as opposed to characters in film. I’ve always approached a character in film where the person starts out in, let’s say, Place A, and goes through B-C-D and finishes at E or whatever for lack of better letters. The change happens over a two-and-a-half-hour period in a film. You've got to see the character change and you have to see the arc of that character. Some of the traps that I was coming into as far as Harvey on this show were [that] I was starting to make the character arc a little bit too soon in some of my performance here and there.
Aaron sort of opened this idea to me that characters in television really move very slowly. They don’t move as fast as [film characters] because here we are with thirteen hours as far as the thirteen episodes. They grow slower in many ways. So maybe year three he’ll start really changing, or he’ll start learning more about himself in a way that he didn’t in year one. I’m interested to see how that works over the next few seasons if USA is nice enough to let us continue, if we’re all sort of doing good work and the writing still stays solid and people are still responding to us.
Speaking of response, Suits is a show that has really generated a lot of buzz in a summer where there hasn't been as much to get excited about. What do you think are some of the reasons for the show's success?
There are so many. First off, Aaron Korsh, who’s the writer and creator of the show, has such a clear vision of what he wants to put out there. And in collaboration with the executives at USA - finding their rhythm, which has really been pretty efficient, in their creativity, they have found a show that’s procedural that has some great witty banter and the relationships between the characters seem to be more prevalent than the actual plot. For the people who really want to try and solve the mystery of the week, they’re also so ingrained in the characters’ relationships to each other and how that mystery of the week is also sort of showing how these characters deal with each other.
There’s also just this ensemble of actors that are so unique from each other and I feel like we all work so well together. We all really like each other off-screen and so it makes it a lot of fun to sort of take the piss out of each other on-screen, make fun of each other and relate to each other in different ways. I just think the chemistry, for lack of a better word, has really found its rhythm with everyone. And on top of that, the writing has just been really solid and we’ve had some great directors.
And I don’t know. maybe people are interested in, you know, seeing what good-looking suits look like. And strong women. You know, all of our female characters are really, really strong and in many cases stronger than some of the men and so that’s also really solid to watch that. I think those are a few reasons why the show’s doing well.
There are so many people that are working in this business collaborating with each other and trying to find something worthwhile, whatever story they’re trying to tell, to make it just entertaining or whatever it is. It’s a miracle when something comes out and people really enjoy watching it week to week or seeing that story for two-and-a-half hours on film. It’s a miracle. It’s almost like a baby, you know, it’s like it came out fully formed and there’s enough to consider while watching. So much of stuff that I see out there is not that, and this is the first time where I’ve been involved with something that sort of is that, so I’m really proud of that.
Obviously then it was great news to hear that the show will be back for season two. Fans worry about pickups all the time, but how much did getting that news affect all of you working on the series?
The word on set was yes, we’re getting picked up and we’re going to go another season. On the final episode, Aaron Korsh was there, and he got everyone on set to come around, and he gave the news that the pickup was there and that we’d be going sixteen episodes next season. Everyone was really excited and what I was saying earlier about like this sort of being a little miracle, you know, maybe it’s a big word, but people are really proud of it. People are really, really proud of it and from the grips to the DP to everyone on set, the actors and the designers, we have all really formed this incredible ensemble that reaches out beyond the cast.
We all like working with each other and have found a great rhythm with each other and are excited to come back to work knowing that we have a really solid job where there is collaboration. These guys that are sitting there for fourteen- to sixteen-hour days, you know, the camera guys, they really like the writing of the show. They like where the stories have gone. They like where the characters have gone so, you know, they’re interested. They’re invested. We’re all really proud of all the work that we’ve done these past four and a half months so that’s a solid feeling.
My thanks to Gabriel Macht for this interview! If you haven't already, you can follow him on Twitter (@GabrielMacht). The final two episodes of the first season of Suits begin tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on USA. Check back each Thursday night for my reviews.
(c)2011 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. All rights reserved.
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