Race Not Factor in Britt Robertson Lead Role Swap-In, ‘For the People’ Showrunner Says

TCA 2018: “She plays a little bit differently than she did in the original version,” says Paul William Davis

Paul William Davies TCA
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Paul William Davis explained his decision to recast one of the lead characters of his upcoming ABC legal drama “For the People” on Monday, sharing why “Girlboss” star Britt Robertson ended up with the part.

And it’s not about race, he said.

It was “not a conscious decision,” said Davis, to change the race of the character, even though Robertson is white and former lead Britne Oldford is not.

“It really wasn’t [a factor], because it wasn’t like we moved from Britne to Britt,” Davies said. “We moved through a tracking period, looking at other actresses. And part of it was just redefining the role of Sandra. She plays a little bit differently than she did in the original version.”

When the show was first ordered to series last May, it was promoted with “Skins” alum Oldford starring as Sandra Bell, a young New York public defender. ABC later announced that the character had been re-conceived with Robertson stepping into the role.

The character’s roommate, originally played by Lyndon Smith, was also recast, with Jasmin Savoy Brown now to play the part.

“There was discussion with the network about the creative direction of the show,” Davies told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour on Monday. “And so in the context of that, I ended up rewriting things. We also decided, just in the nature of the chemistry, that we would recast.”

“I think those actresses, both of them are amazing, Britne and Lyndon,” he continued. “And I think Britt and Jasmin are incredible. There really is kind of a different dynamic.”

The role went to Robertson shortly after Netflix dropped the axe on her Sophia Amoruso-inspired comedy “Girlboss” last summer, but Davies insisted that she wasn’t given the part because of her higher profile with American audiences. ”

“There’s a little bit more of a spark plug element to the new Sandra,” he explained, saying the necessary changes became more apparent as he thought about the character going forward. “I think her weakness is more about her being a bit impulsive. She’s like a firecracker, she’s got this energy to her, which is intoxicating but also gets her into trouble. I think the first incarnation of Sandra, I didn’t think of her quite the same way.”

As a result of the changes, the ABC drama, which is executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and hails from her company Shondaland, briefly shut down production back in September.

“Because a lot of the summer I spent rewriting, and then we did recast it, and we spent a lot of time recasting. Almost two months,” he said. “We were just backed up figuring out the episodes going forward. We had the pilot, we reshot it … We basically didn’t have the prep time over the summer that we would’ve had.”