When Katey Sagal offers her take on Erin Brockovich in the new ABC drama, “Rebel,” fans will notice the crusading legal advocate has changed.
“I’m older, wiser, more evolved,” says Brockovich. “I have different approaches, different ways that I handle (cases). But I’m still just as frustrated at being underestimated or put in a box.”
In the series, Sagal’s Annie “Rebel” Bello – the 2.0 Erin Brockovich -- still represents underdogs but now, Brockovich says, the character is more of an observer. “Sometimes, I’m very quiet. I monitor and observe what’s going on with people. When there’s a natural disaster or anything involving a utility or poisoning, people usually come to me first.
“I’ve been told to watch my mouth plenty of times but it’s passion. It’s like, ‘Why do you have to respond a certain way when some of the things that you’re dealing with are just full of passion and angst and fear and upset and lies and deception?’ Not always is my response calm, cool and collected.”
In the Oscar-winning “Erin Brockovich,” Julia Roberts showed how the unemployed single mother of three became attracted to law and how she took on a utility company following reports of water contamination.
In “Rebel,” Sagal’s Bello has experience and a network of collaborators.
“If she were a lawyer, she’d be limited, way limited,” Sagal says. “What I love so much about Rebel is she can cross a few lines. She can go outside the box. She can push where maybe it wouldn’t be within legal bounds. She gathers knowledge from everywhere.”
Brockovich says the new iteration of her life is just as surreal as the first one. “But it’s also so fantastic and a release to see we’re not afraid to be imperfect. We’re not afraid to be wrong,” she says.
When Sagal met with Brockovich and “Rebel” creator Krista Vernoff before the series started, she immediately understood Brockovich’s passion. “I got it just sitting and hanging out with her because, clearly, the passion and the fire come even over lunch,” Sagal says.
“Katey just gets it,” Brockovich says. “She just oozes it.”
Adds Vernoff, “If Erin edited herself more effectively, we would have a way less exciting, dramatic, comedic TV show.”
That mix is why Sagal wanted to do this series. “Rebel,” she says, “has very dramatic moments. She’s also a comedic character in that she’s kind out of the box.”
Also appearing in “The Conners” (as John Goodman’s girlfriend), Sagal says she likes the ability to mix the two.
When she was in “Sons of Anarchy,” Sagal played a woman who was an outlaw. “She would literally shoot you,” she says. “Gemma was a quieter sort of ‘woman behind the man’ kind of character. Rebel is not standing behind anybody. She is not the power behind the man, so it’s a very different role.
“I do not believe Rebel’s going to put a bullet through anybody, but Gemma would have. There’s a different kind of energy. Gemma didn’t speak a lot. Rebel talks constantly.”
Brockovich – who’s not averse to speaking, either – says she has learned plenty from watching lawyers in courtrooms.
“It’s their stage,” she says. “They’re being seen. They’re being heard. They’re passionate. They’re fighting about somebody, somebody’s life, somebody’s future.”
So, too, Brockovich.
“I can be up in your face,” Brockovich says, “But only when I’m pushed to that corner. It’s an evolution definitely of coming from that place in my life when I was 30 to who and where I am today and watching the character, Rebel.”
“Rebel” airs on ABC.