When last we tuned into CBS’ Person of Interest (Tuesdays, 10/9c), Shaw got a blast from the past — in the former of young POI who evoked memories of her own sad childhood — and then she received a jolt in the present, when at episode’s end Root roused her from slumber with a stun gun. Sarah Shahi, who like Amy Acker became a series regular this season, spoke with TVLine about the latest intel on Shaw, shared her theories on the fierce femme’s private life and teased the reason behind her Root awakening.
TVLINE | I have to imagine that last week’s episode, with the little girl POI and Shaw flashbacks, was a favorite of yours.
It was. It was. In the moment, as we were shooting it, I felt like it was a complete and total disaster and I had no idea how it was going to turn out. But then after watching it I was very pleased with it.
TVLINE | Wait, why did you think it might be a disaster…?
I mean, it’s not like a binary code where it’s just a bunch of ones and zeroes and you’re pretty positive about the outcome. You just have no idea. So, I pretty much go in with that attitude no matter what I’m shooting. My role is to just tell the highest degree of truth with every character and every story. From there, I have no clue whatsoever how things are going to turn out.
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TVLINE | Were you privy to Shaw’s backstory prior to that episode?
[Executive producer] Jonah [Nolan] and I had talked some last season about why Shaw is the way she is, and we kind of wanted to stay away from the cliché of “someone died and made her like that.” Instead, it was; What if the loss of someone triggered something that was already there? That’s what’s so brilliant about him, is he knows how to take something and make it completely original.
TVLINE | How protective are you and the writers about warming up Shaw too much?
Oh, incredibly protective. Because she is the newest character, it has to be earned — for Shaw more than anything, not so much for the audience. We have such a rich, dynamic character with backstories that we’re just barely touching upon, you definitely don’t want to give in too much. I think we’ve established a bit of charm and her sarcasm and her “balls,” the way she goes about things. But I don’t want to push too hard or too much with her because I feel like it would be false.
TVLINE | Do you have any specific “don’ts” for her? Things she just does not do?
She does not get manicures. [Laughs]
TVLINE | And if she’s going to get giddy about anything, it’ll be over the make and model of gun that Carter carries.
Exactly. I have to say, one of my favorite moments was racking the Mossberg [shotgun], Terminator-style. I was so unsure of how that was going to play, but when I saw it cut together I almost screamed because I was so happy.
TVLINE | How do you envision Shaw’s love life? Maybe the occasional, emotionally detached hook-up?
I think she’s having lots of sex. I do. Maybe not lots, but, like, a couple times a week. I feel like she’s got a good [“liaison”] or two lined up. Again, she’s so emotionally detached, everything is so suppressed for her, that I think she’s very much like a repressed male.
TVLINE | Is it also just a release, with her being so intense all the time?
It’s a release, a way to express some kind of emotion, even if it is anger. I also don’t think for her it’s just sex. I think there are knives involved, I think there’s cutting…. The thing with Shaw is I don’t think it’s her doing this to herself but she has a lack of ability to feel. It’s somewhat of a disease, and I feel like part of the reason why she wants to go on these insane missions and why she joined with the group as opposed to just going off on her own is she wants to tempt fate. Because possibly in those moments right before death she might feel something, something might get unlocked within her. That’s why it’s not just normal sex. I haven’t shared this with [the producers], by the way…. [Laughs] But yeah, I think she’s very experimental.
TVLINE | Looking ahead to this week’s episode: What does Root want with you?
“What does Root not want with me?” is a better question. Without giving away too much, we know the Machine is talking to Root and she’s on a mission that requires the two of us to kind of partner up.
TVLINE | Does Shaw have her own POV on Root’s larger agenda? Does she have a dog in this fight?
One of the things with Root — which is why I love any time she and I are written together — is there’s a very “love/hate relationship” between the two of us. I think Shaw loves her on one hand, because she knows it’s going to be a challenge and she knows that they’re both going to go down trying. Then on the other hand, she wouldn’t piss on her if she were on fire. She would just sit there and watch her burn.
TVLINE | Does Shaw ever see it as “us against Root,” or is she not really identifying herself as part of the Reese/Finch team quite yet?
She’s still not identifying herself as part of the Reese/Finch team. Even though she’s working with them, hopefully we’ve established somebody who really does come across as a lone wolf, how even though she is part of the team she can walk away at any time, almost like Robert De Niro in Heat. Even though he was part of a team, he had that air about him that within 30 seconds you could turn around and he’d be gone and you’d never see him again. That’s what we’d like to keep playing with Shaw. But at the end of the day, Shaw is also a soldier. You give her a mission, you give her an order, she’s going to carry it out no matter what. At the end of the day, Shaw’s not a bad guy, but if she has to join in with Root for the greater good, Shaw is smart enough to do that.
TVLINE | You know, just as you’re rocking the badass motif, Amy Acker is really chilling as Root.
I think she’s fantastic, and I get a kick out of watching her. I mean Root is one of my favorite characters on the show. The smile combined with the sinister laugh at times…? An acting “trick” is to always play against what’s on the page and she’s an example of that, and she’s killing it.
TVLINE | Do you have any other favorite episodes? Maybe the “Girls’ Night Out” one?
That was fun. I had never worked with Taraji [P. Henson] before that, or Paige [Turco] for that matter, so it was nice to be able to be a part of that. On the whole, these writers really do write women well — they give women a voice other than “the secretary,” “the girlfriend.” I feel so blessed to work with such a team of people that really recognize women and their strengths and are not afraid to make them smart badasses and allow them to be feminine at the same time.
TVLINE | Speaking of that episode: As a celebrity on red carpets, you obviously have experience with the little black dress. So how did you pull off Shaw’s utter discomfort in the same outfit?
It’s not too far of a stretch. [Laughs] Our set medic calls me “the homeless person” because any time I come to set in regular clothes it’s just layers upon layers upon layers of the baggiest s—t, with moccasins. So, it’s not a stretch!