At the pre-pubescent age of 11, actress Jurnee Smollet was already receiving critical acclaim for her breakout appearance in “Eve’s Bayou,” where she played the title character and held her own opposite screen veterans Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Debbi Morgan.
Thirteen years and dozens of child roles later, the soon-to-be 24-year-old will debut this fall as a grown-ass woman in the new CBS legal drama “The Defenders,” about a pair of Las Vegas defense attorneys “who go all-in when it comes to representing their clients,” the network notes.
Smollett plays Lisa Tyler, a young lawyer whose naïve ideals are shattered by the behavior of her bosses Nick Morelli and Pete Kaczmarek, played by Jim Belushi and Jerry O’Connell, respectively.
“She’s fresh out of law school, just passed the bar, hired by the Morelli & Kaczmarek firm and comes in thinking that we are going to do things by the book: ‘This is what I learned in law school, and this is how the courtroom is supposed to be run,’” Smollett told TV critics at the recent CBS Press Tour (pictured at top). “But, she’s with these two characters, and they are, like, ‘Toss that away. This is not how we do things.’ And we just hit the ground running.”
While “The Defenders” will film in Los Angeles with occasional exterior shots in Vegas, Smollett’s previous TV role – a cheerleader on NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” – had her shooting mostly in the dusty football fields of rural Austin, Texas…and under circumstances that were not ideal.
“We were constantly in the field, getting bit by mosquitoes, and dealing with 106-degree heat,” she says.