Former Awkward star Wesam Keesh has graduated in more ways than one, leaping from playing high school student Kyle Cohen to Federal Public Defender Jay Simmons in For The People, a Shondaland legal drama. To prepare for the role, he shadowed a real public defender and got an invaluable glimpse of what daily life is like for actual lawyers. In spite of the gravity of his fictional counterpart’s chosen line of work, Wesam keeps it light and clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously, charming those around him with playful sarcasm and an unexpectedly dry sense of humor. So what’s next for Wesam? Aside from his aptly named Idobi radio podcast “Wesam’s World” and keeping his fingers crossed for a second season of For The People, he’s hoping for a zombie apocalypse – as long as those sweet, sweet tax deductions continue to roll in.
Cliché: You’ve been acting since you were a teenager. What first attracted you to the arts?
Wesam Keesh: One, the tax deductions. And second, there’s something magical about the way people feel compelled to express themselves. I loved to imagine things and daydream as a kid. Finding ways to channel that imaginative power gave me an amazing feeling. So, I pursued it.
You also studied acting for a summer at Imperial College London. Are there major differences between American and European acting techniques? Would you say the experience helped you to diversify your approach as an actor?
The differences are mainly with the actors. I’ve noticed that British actors tend to spend many more years training and honing in their craft as opposed to American training conservatories.
Studying abroad broadened my horizons in way I couldn’t imagine before going. My perspective on social, human, political, and countless other subjects changed for the better. It just makes sense for an actor to go and experience the world and life. Otherwise, how can you properly depict on the stage or screen?
Tell us about your character, Jay Simmons, in the new series For the People.
Stunningly handsome, amazing hair, killer body, charming beyond belief. Oh! You mean Jay? Yeah, he’s cool. Loves being a lawyer, believes that everyone deserves a voice in the courtroom, and is a little more laid-back than the rest of his colleagues sometimes.
For the People is the latest brainchild of Shonda Rhimes. Was it intimidating joining a Shondaland show? Is that more pressure or does it just feel like a big extended family?
Not so much intimidating as it was exciting for me. I wanted to share with this prestigious production company my take on this character, and I’m glad it resonated positively with so many people. It feels like a great family. Paul Davies, the creator, has written a show that audiences will feel just as connected to as we have.
How did you go about preparing for playing a lawyer? Did you draw upon your previous work on NCIS: Los Angeles?
I took the bar exam, passed, and created my own law firm. Just kidding. I actually shadowed a real public defender here at the LA courthouse by LAX. Amazing experience. Really brought to light the inner details of being a public defender and the day to day grind of one.
Jay has one episode in particular where he’s conflicted about defending a Nazi accused of attempted murder, but ultimately concludes that society can’t allow anyone to be prejudged or falsely convicted of crimes, no matter how much we are repulsed by their viewpoints. What do you think this moment means for him in terms of his integrity and perspective on the world? Did this episode give you a more complete picture of who he is as a character?
It’s a critical learning point in Jay’s life. It shifts his core belief as a lawyer and what it means to be a good person. It’s definitely an important evolution for him as a person and lawyer for future cases.
Other than Jay, who is your favorite character? Is there anyone you would most like to see him interact with or work with on a case?
Jay and Ben have some great moments in the show in future episodes. People will really dig these two guys interacting.
How do you hope both the show and Jay will evolve down the line?
Into a post zombie apocalypse that’s set in space court. I keep pitching that idea to Paul, but I don’t think he’s gonna do it.
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Cliché Interrogates Wesam Keesh on Shondaland Legal Drama For The People. Photo Credit: Benjo Arwas