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Jasmin Savoy Brown on Her Jump From The Leftovers to Shondaland: ‘It Was Exactly What I Wanted’

If you’re familiar with Jasmin Savoy Brown’s work on The Leftovers, you may not immediately recognize the 24-year-old actress on ABC’s new Shondaland drama For the People. For starters, her character talks this time — a lot. Freed from the silent and creepy Guilty Remnant, Brown now plays Allison Adams, a young public defender working in the Southern District of New York, who’s best friends with Britt Robertson and ends up on the opposite side of the courtroom from her boyfriend turned ex (played by Ben Rappaport). Vulture caught up with Brown to find out how she’s adjusting to her new show, the acting lessons she learned from The Leftovers, and that time her mom predicted that she’d get a starring role in Shondaland.

I first saw you in The Leftovers, where your character didn’t do a ton of talking. What’s it like to go from that to a Shondaland-style show, where it’s so fast and quippy?
It was exactly what I wanted. I really loved working on The Leftovers and I would have done it for ten years, gladly, if they kept going — but since they didn’t, I really wanted to go to the complete opposite for the next few roles that I chose. It was really exciting and a fun challenge to come over to Shondaland, with all these monologues.

Are the scripts thicker because there’s so much dialogue?
Yeah, one thing that’s unfortunate is that scenes have to get cut constantly because there’s so much going on, but I come from a theater background, so I’m always excited to see monologues and pages. I’m actually much more intimidated by one line than I am by huge monologues.

You were in one episode of Grey’s Anatomy a while back. Did you feel like that prepared you?
It definitely took out some of the intimidation, since I already knew what it’s like on set. But funny story: I did that episode of Grey’s, and because moms are superfans, my mom was like, “Oh, that was so good, I bet that Shonda’s going to make you your own show.” And I’m like, “That’s not how it works.” And then I got this show!

What was her reaction when you told her you’d gotten For the People?
I’m pretty sure she cried, she was so excited. She was like, “Oh, well, you’re welcome.”

Did you learn about the lives of public defenders while shooting the show?
Fortunately for me, there’s a federal public defender in New York, in the Southern District, who has been kind enough to Skype with me and text with me on occasion. We were Skyping over Christmas, which should have been her holiday break. We Skyped for an hour and she probably got six phone calls from clients, like it was nonstop. That was in the evening, it was pretty late for me over in Oregon, so it was even later for her in New York. That was incredible insight to the reality of what that life is like.

Allison breaks up with her boyfriend Seth, who works for the prosecutor’s office, because they end up on opposite sides of a case. What’s it like to play that?
For me, it deepens the respect for the other side to hear that perspective and how much he is committed to the government. Obviously, Allison has a completely different viewpoint. It definitely has given me more respect for both sides of the law, which I think this whole show does really well by showing both perspectives of each case and every conversation that happens. I always favor the defense side and I always will, but at least I can have a little more respect for the other side than I could before.

Were you interested in these kind of issues before joining the show?
Not really. Especially because of our political climate, I was kind of just thinking, Eff you! to our whole system, but this show has given me much more interest now that I’m understanding the inner workings of everything better. I’m becoming passionate about things I was, maybe, more passively interested in before. For example, weed becoming legalized in so many states. Yeah, it’s really great for these white people who are opening shops and making all this money, but what about all of the black men and Latino men who are stuck in prison for doing the same thing?

Within the show, there’s a team of public defenders — you and Britt Robertson and the others — set away from the prosecutors. What’s that group dynamic like?
We joke around that we’re on two different shows, because the public defenders are always together, the prosecutors are always together, and some of us have never even crossed paths on set. Over on our side, on the public defender side, we have a blast. We are just pranking each other on set and telling goofy stories and cracking up. We all go to karaoke together. Britt has become a good friend of mine in real life, as has Wesam [Keesh, who plays Jay].

In shooting The Leftovers, what was it like to go on location in Australia?
I only shot four days, I think, but there were two episodes in between them, so I had about four-and-a-half weeks off. Rather than flying back to L.A., I just stayed in Australia and my girlfriend went with me. We just rented a car and put 6,000 miles on it in 30 days. We drove into the outback and went to the beaches and we ate all kinds of good food and played with kangaroos.

There were so many impressive actors and writers and directors on that show. What did you learn on the set?
It felt like a master class in acting for me. Before I booked the show, I was watching season one and I specifically remember watching Amy Brenneman and Ann Dowd — everything they were doing silently — and just thinking how difficult and exciting that must have been. To then join them and get to do that, it was incredible. Kevin Carroll, who played my dad, we talked a lot about acting. It was like a big acting class.

In that episode in Melbourne, Evie shoots such incredibly withering glares at Kevin Garvey when she’s haunting him. Did you spend much time perfecting that look?
I more did a lot of work on Evie’s anger. I just let it happen on the day.

How do you tap into that?
At that time in my life, I hadn’t been in L.A. that long, I was going through my own stuff, so it wasn’t that hard for me to get that anger. I understand that feeling of everyone around you lying and being the odd one out. I very much relate to that feeling, so it was really quite therapeutic, actually, to express all of that to the world. It was very healing. Afterwards, I felt less angry.

You’ve gone between these two extreme types of acting. Are there other styles that you want to do?
I want to do more comedy. I would really love to do a female-driven comedy. That’s something I haven’t done very much of, but that I love to do. I want to explore just other sides of filmmaking, apart from acting. I am writing right now and I would love to direct and produce something — I’ve been looking for ways to do that. And I miss theater. I would love to go and work on Broadway or Off Broadway.

What do you tend to write?
They’re definitely not comedies. They’re dark dramas. The thing that I’m working on right now, that I plan on directing later this year, is a historic psychological thriller.

You said you just moved to L.A. when you were doing The Leftovers. You grew up in Oregon, right? What was it like to go out there and try to get into acting?
I moved here when I was 19. I was just very fearless. When I think about the move now, it’s more intimidating that it was at the time. It was just the next step, the thing to do, and I wasn’t scared at all. In fact, it was very refreshing and exciting to be here, to see so many different types of people and to see a plethora of people of color because it’s not like that in Oregon. When I think about it now, I’m like, Wow, that was crazy to just pick up and move, but it wasn’t a big deal to me at the time. I had $2,000 and I was like, “That’s so much money!” Now I’m like, “What? Who moves with $2,000?” But at the time, it was a lot, you know?

Was there a moment when you felt like you’d figured things out?
I’d say that’s happening now. I just got a car. A month or two after I booked The Leftovers, my car completely died — since then, I haven’t had a car, but I just got one. That’s a big step for me. I’m not worried about making rent for the first time in a while, so that’s nice. I’m at that spot now and it feels very good.

Jasmin Savoy Brown on Going From The Leftovers to Shondaland