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Kathy Bates: Playing lawyer Harry Korn 'has been a wonderful pretend for me'

Shifting from the big screen to TV has worked out brilliantly for Kathy Bates. The Oscar-winner currently stars on the legal drama Harry's Law, which has already earned her an Emmy nomination for best actress.

Born in Memphis, Tenn., Bates majored in theatre at Southern Methodist University before moving to New York to pursue acting. Following a stint on the daytime soap The Doctors, she moved to the Broadway stage and earned a Tony nomination in 1983 for the Pulitzer-winning play 'night, Mother.

Bates spent several years playing guest characters on network shows such as Cagney & Lacey, St. Elsewhere and L.A. Law before her career took a leap with the 1990 film Misery. Her portrayal of the obsessive literary fan Annie Wilkes earned her both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. She followed up with roles in the features Fried Green Tomatoes, Dolores Clairborne and Titanic. Bates also earned Oscar nominations for her work in Primary Colors and About Schmidt. She tested the television waters last year as the ruthless corporate boss Jo Bennett on The Office.

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Launched in January, Harry's Law was created by TV auteur David E. Kelley and casts Bates as the indomitable Harriet "Harry" Korn, a former patent lawyer who literally opens her own storefront law practice –in a shoe store. Bates spoke to us from Los Angeles last week.

Does the fact that Harry's Law earned several Emmy nominations – based on only 12 episodes – give you momentum going into this season?

Absolutely. It was a real surprise and I realize that it means people aren't just watching the show to see me, they're seeing the other characters on the show as well. And as you say, we just had the 12 episodes. I'm hoping this year we'll have a chance to do a back nine and stick around for a while.

How does Harry differ from other roles you've played?

I love playing a character who's blunt, who's irritable, who doesn't get along with everybody, who doesn't make any secret of her feelings, and yet at the same time she's complex. She has that ability that we all wish we had to say – in the moment, eloquently and forcefully – exactly what's on her mind. It's fun to be able to play someone with that almost superhuman ability to express themselves that way.

Is she a role model for women in the legal profession?

Certainly she's a woman who speaks her mind and stands up for causes she believes are right. Harry speaks eloquently in the courtroom, and she's smart. She's made her own way in the law world, which is very difficult for women. She's given a lot for her profession.

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How does the production of a TV show compare to work on a feature film?

My biggest challenge is learning lines every day. It takes up a lot of time and energy and focus. You just make peace with that and realize it comes with the job. And not just learning the lines, but absorbing and digesting them so that the lines disappear and Harry takes their place. I'm not complaining, but it is quite a workout physically, mentally, emotionally, to be ready to work every day at 7:30 a.m. I'm not a morning person at all, so it's a challenge for me.

The first season of Harry's Law touched on several sensitive legal issues. Is there more controversy to come?

Our fourth episode is a very interesting case about a young woman charged with homicide because she outed a girl at high school for being gay on her blog. The girl committed suicide and so the young blogger is being charged with her homicide. It's a very timely subject.

There were also some tantalizing hints about Harry's background. Will we learn more this season?

I'm very curious myself about Harry's background. I know she's been married a couple of times and with David you never know whether a prodigal child will show up at some point. David's very much in the driver's seat for the show.

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Any chance you'll return to The Office this season?

No, I'm all done. You know, they've got James Spader now. And I think they realized with my schedule with Harry that I just wasn't able to be there as much as I wanted to.

Has making Harry's Law in any way changed your perception of the legal profession?

Well, it certainly has been a wonderful pretend for me. You know, my mother, God rest her, born in 1907, wanted to be a lawyer, but there were so very few choices available to her then. It's a bit of a nostalgic trip for me, imagining what kind of lawyer she would've been, because she was awfully smart and blunt herself. And so I feel like she's the Harry in my life.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Harry's Law returns Sept. 21 on NBC and Global.

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