In this week’s episode of ABC’s FOR THE PEOPLE, the criminal justice system is challenged over it use of an algorithm to determine mandatory sentencing. Jasmin Savoy Brown portrays a public defender determined to stand up for her clients and she wants to ensure that her client is not forced to accept a predetermined minimum sentence that is inherently prejudicial against people of color. In an exclusive interview, Jasmin previews this politically-charged episode and shares a bit about what is next with her character Allison’s relationships with her roommate Sandra (Britt Robertson) and her ex-boyfriend Seth (Ben Rappaport).
What can you share about Allison’s new client Keenan?
JASMIN: Keenan is a young black man, who is going to trial for possession of a gun, and he was really just trying to defend his younger brother who was being scared by some gang members, and when they arrived to the court, they find out the judge will be using a sentencing software to determine his sentencing — and Allison obviously is shocked by that. She’s never heard of that. I did a lot of research and it’s real, and it’s really freaky. And she has to get help in order to figure out what to do and figure out how to beat the software, or prove to the judge that it’s bad. So she has to reach out to someone from her past, who is a mathematical expert who will help her figure out what to do moving forward. So it’s really cool because we get to glimpse into Allison’s backstory and her past, while also seeing her navigate this really complicated sentencing issue and try to defend this really good kid who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Were you surprised to learn that the courts actually used this kind of algorithm?
JASMIN: Yeah, I was shocked. I had no idea, and there’s a few courts who use it . It’s scary because it just completely takes the human element out of it. They say because it employs algorithms, that therefore it is more accurate. But it is biased, and it is quite frankly racist.
In portraying a defense attorney on the show, has it taught you to be more fearful or respectful of the legal system?
JASMIN: It’s taught me to be more respectful. Actually, going into this — due to our political climate — I didn’t have the respect that I have for our judicial system and our court system, as I do now. I understand more of the inner workings and how much work really does go into a case on both sides. Sometimes you may see in the headlines, “so and so is acquitted,” or, “so and so is sentenced.” It just seems like it happens so fast and they didn’t really put much thought into it. And I know that’s not true now, and things are a lot more complicated than I thought before.
There’s a lot of shades of gray too. There’s different motivations for each person, so that’s always interesting.
JASMIN: Yeah, that’s very true.
You hinted there was a little bit of Allison’s backstory that is gonna be addressed. Is that something that we’re gonna find out in this particular episode, or will that be something we explore through the season?
JASMIN: We’ll kind of explore it throughout the season. I think this episode is one of the episodes where we’ll get the most at once. The show is really good about sprinkling little details about each character throughout the whole season, and then each character has one or two episodes that are very focused on them. And in terms of Allison’s backstory, I’d say [this week’s episode] is one of the episodes where we focus more on her backstory than in others.
One of the things I was curious about as we’re getting to know her is: what drives Allison? What really motivated her to pursue this passion?
JASMIN: I think, in a way she’s kind off just born with this desire to help other people, especially since she was raised with such privilege and comfort. I think as a kid, she saw a bit of how different her life was from other kids, especially other black kids. And so, her family and people around her are so focused more on art than science and very left-brained thinking people. And she just didn’t want to do that. She has this desire to do some thing — even if is a bit of that feeling of being different from the crowd. I think she likes that. And I think that’s always kind of been one of her biggest motivating factors: that she just wants to help other people who have less than she does.
That’s kind of one of the commonalities between her and Sandra — wanting to help people. Is that what drew them together initially?
JASMIN: Yeah, I definitely think that’s one of their commonalities, even though it looks very different on them. Sandra came from the opposite background. So, for her, it’s wanting — from what I understand — for her that drive comes from a place of wanting to help people not go through the phase that she went through — whereas Allison didn’t go through that. And so, there might even be this guilt. And she wants to help people not go through what she didn’t have to go through.
I really enjoy their scenes as they have a warmth, which you don’t always see amongst attorneys, even amongst their friends. So that’s been kind of fun to watch. What do you enjoy amongst Allison and Sandra’s friendship?
JASMIN: I like their honesty. They’re completely honest with each other, even when it’s hard. At the same time, I think, in episode 2 when they talk a little bit about Seth, Allison was a bit delusional about him coming back and Sandra’s like “you’re crazy.” I appreciate that about them — that they laugh together and that they’re just there for each other. And the thing that I appreciate about them the most, which I think is true for all female friendships in Shondaland, is we are not going to seem them stab each other in the back. That’s part of why I wanted to be on the show, and why I love Allison and Sandra so much. They are truly best friends and their relationship looks like the relationship that I have with a lot of my female friends. I would kill for them. I support even if they’re wrong and I have their back. They aren’t gonna get catty and chase each other’s boyfriends or whatever, and they’re really committed to one another.
What are the challenges and the perks of working on this particular show?
JASMIN: That’s a good question. I mean, one part that I love about working on this show — and I think it speaks for all of Shondaland — the diversity isn’t just on screen, it’s also behind the screen. For example, I’ve never worked with a female DP, let alone a black female DP. And that kind of is to an example of our entire crew is just very diverse both in gender and in race and in sexuality. There’s all kinds of beautiful people collaborating on this project together, which I think shows on screen. As for a challenge? I haven’t really thought about that. I think the biggest challenge about working on the show is there are so many good actors and so many good writers, and so many good producers and directors that I don’t want to ever let anyone down. That should always be the case, but I particularly feel it now, because it’s such a rich group of people bringing us together, and there’s just such high expectations, I cannot mess up.
In this episode, Allison has a dialogue — or it’s kind of a monologue — when she’s talking to her boss Jill (Hope Davis), trying to persuade her boss to her point of view, even though she didn’t need to. Was that kind of tricky to do?
JASMIN: I come from the theater, so I actually really love those monologues. I’m much more intimidated by one line of text than I am by two pages of text. What’s tricky about those scenes is, unlike theater, we don’t have rehearsal times. So we kind of just show up and shoot it. And what’s so great about Hope Davis, she is a great believer in rehearsal as well. So we actually went to her trailer when we had about 10 minutes to kill, and talked it through and rehearsed it a few times. What’s kind of the tricky part about those scenes is just not getting to rehearse that much before we shoot it. But when you’re with Hope, you are gonna make that happen — and I like that.
Another big relationship of course, is one that seemed to dissolve before our eyes with Allison and Seth. Are they gonna get a chance to possibly patch that up, or is it been just too detrimental because they’re seeing things differently?
JASMIN: In episode 4, they are going to have a conversation and try to be best friends. That’s gonna be all new territory for them. And it probably won’t work, but they’re at least gonna try. That will obviously take their relationship take on a new look and a new feel for them.
Do you think they were naive to try to be a couple when they’re gonna be working on the opposite sides of the law?
JASMIN: I do. I think it’s really sweet though. It kind of marks the moment in they’re lives of having to face reality and grow up. They thought it was gonna work and very quickly didn’t and it kind of makes me sad because it’s kind of like a part of their naïveté and childhood really fully died.
I know this may not happen, but what would it be like if Kate (Susanna Flood) and Allison were to go head to head on a case?
JASMIN: I don’t know. I want to find out. [Laughs] Oh, my gosh, I really don’t know. I’d like to think that it would be explosive and some bombs would go off in the courtroom between them. Not really. But I really can’t say. That’s something I want to find out desperately.
What else would you like to share about what might be interesting coming up this season?
JASMIN: Like we were discussing earlier, just about Allison having to face kind of the bad qualities about who she is. That will happen, and that will happen particularly with a case that she has and is going to force her to reexamine herself completely and her privilege and the way she’s been approaching her work. And that is really hard on her and we don’t really see Allison break at any point in this season, except for then, and that’ll be a big insight into she is, and it will force her to hopefully change. We’ll see Allison and Sandra’s relationship being put to the test in more ways than one, but they are who they are, so they’ll be fine. And we’ll see a bunch more interesting cases, some really cases. Next week all of the public defenders work together on a case for the first time, which is really fun and different. So just a whole lot of fun, whole lot of drama, whole lot of sexy stuff!
To find out how Allison’s case tackling the criminal justice sentencing system turns out and what part of her past resurfaces, be sure to tune in for this week’s all new episode of FOR THE PEOPLE on Tuesday, March 27th at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.