ABC’s new legal drama For Life tackles a topic that is all too well known. Inspired by the life of Isaac Wright, Jr, the show centers on Aaron Wallace (played by Nicholas Pinnock), a victim of a flawed legal system who takes matters into his own hands. As a prisoner, Aaron becomes a lawyer, litigating cases for other inmates while fighting to overturn his own life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. His quest for freedom is driven by his desperate desire to get back to the family he loves and reclaim the life that was stolen from him.
During the show’s presentation at the TCA winter press tour, creator and executive producer Hank Steinberg talked about how it differentiated from other legal dramas. “It’s a serialized show with procedural elements inside it… what it is is incredibly emotional. That is, I think, what is going to distinguish it from any other quote-unquote, legal procedural drama.”
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Going deeper into the premise, ” Steinberg described it as “a quest.”
“It’s an odyssey — He’s really Odysseus — to get back home. And that’s why it needed to be a show… If you talk to Issaac, he’s one of the few people who didn’t take the plea. Almost everybody, unless you have a lot of wealth and power, you end up in our legal system, having the book thrown at you and being forced to take the plea because the risk of going to trial is too great. That’s the foundational core of Isaac’s character and it’s the foundational core of Aaron’s character.”
“It’s an underdog story. It’s a great man, but in a position in our society where he doesn’t have much power or clout and he’s fighting this system that doesn’t care much about the individual people.”
Steinberg took the stage with stars Nicholas Pinnock, Indira Varma and Timothy Busfield as well as with fellow EPs Wright Jr., Doug Robinson, Alison Greenspan, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, who felt strongly about Wright Jr.’s story.
“When he was describing his life story, it was so vivid and the timeline was right.”
For Wright, Jr, watching himself onscreen and reliving a dark time in his life was “therapeutic.”
“Watching Nicholas perform was a multifaceted experience for me. When I went through what I was going through in prison, one of the things that was very distracting was the issue that it’s a very dangerous environment. Twenty-four hours a day there are these distractions that deal with your focus. Moving through that process, I had to develop such an intense focus that I had to change my character and be someone else. I spent so much time fighting that I did not really consider what I was going through,” he recalled.
“All these years later, when I had the opportunity to be on set and for the first time, in watching Nicholas’ performance, I was able to see myself in a third person. The performance was such to an extent it became a therapeutic process for me… he was somebody who allowed me to reflect on the pain I was going through at the time.”
For Life premieres February 11 on ABC.
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