By Jeff Pfeiffer
Court is back in session tonight as TNT begins airing season two of Raising the Bar. The series follows the cases and lives of young lawyers who work on opposite sides — the public defender’s office and the district attorney’s office. Cases this season tackle issues such as hate crimes, drug dealing and child pornography.
Among the lawyers doing battle in court is Richard Patrick Woolsley, played by Teddy Sears. Richard could have been a high-priced lawyer at his father’s firm, but he chose to channel his legal expertise toward helping the indigent as a public defender.
We talked with Sears recently to find out about the new season of Raising the Bar, and a little about himself.
So what can we expect for Richard in Season 2?
This season is a really good one for my character. We get into a bit more of Richard’s family history, specifically as it pertains to money. The shadow of his father looms largely in the second season, particularly in the middle, and Richard is forced to really man up about things he’s largely had to take for granted, specifically, again, money, and how that relates to his clients. As far as relationships go, I’m still actually in the dark, but I have been told there will be a little bit more going on with [co-star] Gloria Rueben [her character, Roz], and additionally, there will be somebody else showing up in a later episode that catches my eye. I’m very excited about that. The details haven’t been disclosed to me, but it’s coming up shortly.
Have you worked yet with new costar John Michael Higgins?
Regrettably, no. In fact, I haven’t met him yet. But his stuff is supposedly just dynamite. He plays a very colorful, gun-toting judge who spars very effectively with Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s character Jerry, as well as Melissa Sagemiller’s character. He’s been floating in and out, he’ll do a couple of episodes here, then he disappears and he comes back. We have this revolving door of great judges. John Polito is another one of our regular judges who’s just outstanding.
What do you like about this show that you think makes it stand apart from other legal dramas?
What I love about this show — and this is what [executive producer] Steven Bochco’s really good at — is he drops you right in the middle of a world that’s currently going on. There’s no introduction, like here’s this character, here’s that character. He just drops you right smack in the middle of these cases and expects the audience to follow along. He does it so effectively. Each scene, it really started two, three, four lines into a conversation. So it’s as if you are walking up onto this conversation. I think the writing sets it apart, and Steven makes sure he’s in on every detail of the show. He’s not a big onset guy, but he watches every frame, he breaks every story, he combs every script and he’s very, very thorough.
I also think this show is unique in that we have a very strong core cast who presumably have all known each other from law school, so we have this history. We’re all young, we’re all idealistic, but we’re about at that point in our lives where the idealism is wearing thin and we’re beginning to understand the machinations of the system, for better or worse. And we spar like soldiers, against our best friends in court, and then at the end of the day we go to the bar and lick our wounds and we try to put it behind us. There’s a great feeling of going into battle with your greatest rival and your greatest friend, and at the end of the day being able to rehash it and ultimately grow from it. I think that’s something that really makes the show unique. And in real life we have such a great chemistry among the nine of us that it can’t help but come through in the show.
What sort of research have you done into law for your role? Do you know any real-life lawyers to help understand your character better?
The co-creator of the show is David Feige, who wrote a book in 2006 called Indefensible. David has become a fast friend. He’s here on set, he’s there to decode the lines in the script, which is — for all intents and purposes — a new language we’ve all had to learn. And prior to shooting I flew to New York on two separate occasions to meet with David, who used to work for the Bronx public defenders. We went to night court, to arraignments. That gave me a feel for the way things operate — the pace, the style — as well as the passion that the people in the public defender’s office possess when going to bat for their clients. Other than that, I just learn my lines and cross my fingers and hope that I’ve been able to tell a good story.
Has this role helped give you more fan recognition?
Not particularly! [laughs] There are more and more people who are sort of like, “hey, how do I …” [or] ” I recognize you from…” For the most part, I don’t have a Facebook page, I don’t Twitter. As far as tangible results, besides the odd person squinting at me or looking at me sideways, I haven’t seen too much evidence of that.
You originally were going into business. What prompted the move into acting?
Dumb luck brought on the move from business to acting. I had moved to New York when I was 23, in the year 2000. On a lark I went to audition for a soap opera. I thought, “hey, this will be a really fun story to tell my grandkids one day, that I auditioned for a soap!” And I ended up getting the part. It was the role of a bartender [on One Live to Live]. I was going to have a few lines, and they kept bringing me back [he was on the show about two years]. I just loved it, I thought it was a real blast! I had no idea what I was doing, but I really fell in love with the work, and very luckily I’ve been able to continue doing it. [Getting into acting] was more curiosity than ambition.
On the personal side, I read your family roots extend pretty far back. How far back have you been able to trace them?
1630! Last fall, in October, my father and one of my brothers went out to Cape Cod to do family history research. We went out to East Dennis and Yarmouth, where the first settlers in our family came over 12 generations ago. There’s actually an ancient grave site that is all Sears family, from the 1700s and early 1800s. It’s hidden in the woods in East Dennis, on the Dennis and Brewster border. It was awesome, it was so special for me to go and see it for myself. My father had always talked about how we had such strong family ties to this country, but I needed to see it for myself. It’s cool; on the side of houses out there it says John Sears, from 17 something to 18 something, there are a lot of Sears roads and Sears street. To witness that first hand was just awe-inspiring.
You’re also from a very athletic family. How active are you in sports?
My aunt won a bronze in the 100 [meter] butterfly in the ’56 Olympics, and my great-grandfather won a gold in 1912 in Stockholm. My childhood ambition was to be an Olympic swimmer like my aunt, but that died a quick death when I discovered other sports. I swam very competitively till I was 15, then I swam for fun until I was 18. But athletics remain a very big part of my life. I try to keep that as much in balance with work as I can. I’m a really big surfer, and I have also been playing a ton of volleyball on the beach on the weekends. I’m going to be competing in the Malibu Triathlon in September. I’m actually doing it as a relay this year with a couple of cast members, with Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Jonathan Scarfe. I’ll be swimming, Mark-Paul will be biking and John will be running. It will be the Raising the Bar relay.
Credit: Karen Neal/TNT