JERRY O’Connell’s year as a law student helped him land his role as a Las Vegas attorney in The Defenders.
The same can’t be said of his acting skills in the courtroom.
“I was studying to be a trial attorney,” said O’Connell.
“I gave this closing argument, which was very passionate and I infused a lot of my acting skills in there. Afterwards my professor told me I was over-acting. He said ‘make sure to tone it down’.”
“If it wasn’t for that overacting of mine I would have done fine (laughs).”
O’Connell stars opposite Jim Belushi in the Channel Ten’s new US comedy import, set in Sin City and filmed on the old Seinfeld set.
“There’s a plaque right there and I touch it every time I come to work,” he said.
“Maybe it’s doing a show in Vegas that’s made me very superstitious.”
Vegas holds a special place in O’Connell’s heart for other reasons as well.
He met his beautiful wife Rebecca Romijn in the desert playground and he also loves a punt.
Talk of gambling inevitably reminds O’Connell of the time he spent in Australia shooting the movie Kangaroo Jack.
StarCity and Crown Casino were two of his favourite haunts.
“I’m very responsible, I give myself a certain amount, but one night I did have to walk home from Star City,” he laughed.
“Some of my fondest memories are from the Golden Slipper. I want to get back for the big race in Melbourne. You’re talking to a member of the Australian Jockey Club.”
But back to The Defenders, in which O’Connell and Belushi’s colourful characters are loosely based on real-life Vegas lawyers Michael Cristalli and Marc Saggese.
O’Connell shadowed Marc Saggese for three days to get a real taste of his working life.
“It’s crazy, you’re going to court with his clients and their fate for the next two years is about to be read to them,” he said.
“It’s an intense job. It’s people’s lives on the line. A lot of what these guys do is try to work the system as much as they can. They’re crafty, but all legal.”
O’Connell is the freewheeling playboy, while Belushi, best known for his improv and comedy roles, is the passionate defender, with a single-minded pursuing the best outcome for his clients.
While he often has to be serious on screen, Belushi is still the funny man on set, says O’Connell.
“A lot of his stuff is playing improv games in the confines of our script,” he said.
“Jim keeps it loose on set, and half of our scenes take place in bars. We’re just in bars all the time. Sometimes I have the prop guy slip me a little VB.”
Guest stars include Dan Aykroyd, who starred opposite Belushi’s brother John in The Blues Brothers.
Aykroyd plays a cranky judge who dislikes the partners, but ends up needing their help.
“We get a call from him one night that he’s in a hotel room with a prostitute and she’s overdosed and he wants us to represent him,” explained O’Connell.
“He (Aykroyd) was great to work with. What a legend. I was a huge fan of the movie Spies Like Us. I was drooling over him and I think I made him feel uncomfortable, but I bet he comes back for more.”
Other guests include Penn Jillette from Las Vegas illusion/comedy duo Penn and Teller and comic Kathy Griffin.
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