No sooner had ABC ordered For the People to series did word break that the Shondaland legal drama would recast two main characters.
One of those roles, public defender Sandra, went from Britne Oldford (The Flash) to Britt Robertson (Life Unexpected), while Jasmin Savoy Brown (The Leftovers) took over for Lyndon Smith (Parenthood) as Allison, a public defender with whom Sandra eventually rooms.
Showrunner Paul William Davies brushes off the suggestion that there was a nudge from the network to go with a bigger name. “It wasn’t like we moved from Britne to Britt; there was a protracted period of looking at other actresses,” he explained on Monday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. “We did an exhaustive search, and [Britt] is who we ended up with.”
TVLine had screened the original version of the For the People pilot over the summer, as well as the revised one airing Tuesday, March 13 at 10/9c, and the differences in the actual character of Sandra seemed to be… minimal. So why the change?
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“Partly it was just about redefining the role,” Davies said. “There is a core of her that existed all along [but] she plays a little bit differently than she did in the original inception.”
Specifically, “There’s more a ‘spark plug’ element to the new Sandra, where I think her weakness is more about that she is a bit impulsive,” Davies said. “She’s like a firecracker — she’s got this energy to her which is intoxicating but sometimes gets her in trouble. The first incarnation of Sandra I didn’t think of it quite the same way.”
Also, “Some of it is chemistry with the cast,” he added.
“If there were knocks” about replacing a black lead with a white one, “I never heard them,” the EP said. “But also, there really isn’t a ‘lead’ [on this show]. It’s an ensemble. [Sandra] is the entry point in the pilot, but… as you see as the episodes progress, the second episode really features Wesam [Keesh’s character]; the third episode is really about Kate (played by Susanna Flood) and Sandra; the fourth episode is really about Seth (Ben Rappaport)….
“It is truly an ensemble,” he maintained, “and Sandra is a very important part of that — but I didn’t think of it as replacing a lead.”