I actually know Sarah Shahi more as an actor than as a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, but I do happen to work out to the DCC yoga video. It was made after she left the squad, but it’s an intense workout.
Shahi stars on the new USA show “Fairly Legal.” She plays a mediator, Kate Reed. Get it? Because mediating is fair, and it’s also legal. The first episode has Kate trying to find a solution between the amateur actors who botched a proposal and the would-be groom whose wedding ring they lost.
Looking great as ever, Shahi wore a sleek white dress that was way more glamorous than breakfast called for. I did my best to focus on her eyes, to be respectful, but I hope she didn’t mind my lingering appreciation. She was friendly enough to spend some time with me and me alone and had a good sense of humor about the questions we really wanted to know about.
Q: I have the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader yoga video. Did you do that workout when you were with them?
SS: Did I do that workout? No, I did not. I don’t know if the cheerleaders liked me very much I have to say.
Q: I’m bent over panting, they’re smiling.
SS: Yeah, I’m sure you enjoy it.
Q: Were you not the “cheerleader” type, whatever that is?
SS: Not really. I don’t think I was. The reason I became a cheerleader was because I wanted to get on “Saturday Night Live.” I was in a musical over at SMU and everyone knew I wanted to be an actor, didn’t know how to do it. A background dancer said, “Why don’t you try out for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders?” Because back in 1995 they were on “Saturday Night Live.” So I figured that’s it, that’s my way in. It was purely a stepping stone for me. I made the cheerleaders, ended up getting the calendar cover that year, 2000 and Robert Altman came to Texas to film Dr. T and the Women. He used the cheerleaders as his extras and he shot at our rehearsal facility for two weeks. I had no idea who he was. We buddied up, became friends for the two weeks he was there. At the end of his time he said, “What is it that you want to do?” I said I want to be an actress but I don’t know how to go about it in Texas. He said, “Well, you should move to L.A. I think you have what it takes.”
Q: “SNL” would have been big but Altman’s pretty big too.
SS: Altman’s pretty big. I’ll take Altman over “SNL.”
Q: Has acting been all you imagined and dreamed it would be?
SS: No, because I think there’s more and I like surprising myself. This was definitely not what I expected but I mean it in a good way. It’s a lot more work than I anticipated for it to be when I first set out to become an actress but it’s work that I like and work that I want to do more of. Sometimes you have to go to some pretty dark places to feel something. That’s not fun but once again, I’m in love with telling a story and I love playing make believe.
Q: The Maxim Hot 100 lists come out every year. Is that all political?
SS: I think so. Yeah, it is. But all those girls are beautiful. Absolutely it’s whoever is the hottest flavor of the moment definitely gets the first place position.
Q: Hasn’t it been you?
SS: No, I think the highest I ever got on their list 60.
Q: Then there’s clearly a flaw in the system.
SS: [Laughs] Well, I didn’t say that.
Q: What’s in the show for guys?
SS: Well I am in my underwear. That should be enough.
Q: Integral to the plot though, right?
SS: Oh, absolutely. I would never do anything gratuitous, Fred. Come on. Yeah, that sums it up. You’ve got a hot blonde, you’ve got a hot brunette, you’ve got hot extras in the background and guest stars. You guys don’t need anything more. I know how you guys are.
Q: Was it your idea to do karate on the show?
SS: You know, I’m definitely a show pony and I don’t think I have very many talents, but I do think I can throw a punch. So I was more than vocal about that at one point, yes.
Q: Have you ever given a really good beat down in real life?
SS: Yes. To my husband. That’s why he married me. A few times.
Q: Is Kate also of mixed background like you?
SS: You know, Kate’s ethnicity has never really been addressed. I don’t think it’s important. She’s a person. She’s a woman. She’s got the same struggles and triumphs as anybody else, no matter what the skin color or the ethnic background. So yeah, I don’t think it’s ever come up or been important to the series.
Q: Not necessarily “important,” but interesting.
SS: No, I think she’s got other interesting things going on.
Q: Is this a show that could encourage people to have resolutions instead on fighting it out?
SS: Absolutely. I definitely think so. I was very unaware of what a mediator was before I auditioned for the show. Now that I play one on TV, it does make more sense to try to go that route as opposed to the law. Let’s be honest, when was the last time you had to get a lawyer, go to court and you were thrilled about the idea? So they come to a resolution where they allow both sides to win. They’re cheaper than lawyers and they get to the resolution quicker than the legal system. Hopefully it’ll encourage people to go that way.
Q: What are some of the outrageous cases Kate gets to mediate?
SS: Another one is a much deeper one, how much is a man’s life worth? A man was in prison for 25 years. He was wrongly accused. He’s out and per the state of California, you’re only awarded $100 a day. This man did not want money. He wanted his life. So I go about very different ways of trying to get him to really open up and tell me what that is. The show has a good mix of the dark cases and then you’ve got your lighter, sillier [ones] like the grocery store in the pilot episode.
Q: The slogan for the show is “Less lawyer. More appeal.” What does that pun mean to you?
SS: Here’s what I always say about the show. It’s “Sex and the City” meets “Law & Order” with a lot more sex than law.
“Fairly Legal” premieres Jan. 20 on USA.