By Pauline Perenack
Simon Kassianides has quietly been amassing some pretty hefty acting credits (including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., How to Get Away with Murder, and Quantum of Solace to name a few) but is about to become a household name with his role in Suits spin-off show, Pearson.
Pearson dives deep into the fan-favorite character of Jessica Pearson as she enters the challenging political world of Chicago as fixer for crooked Mayor, Bobby Novak. Mayor. In his role, Kassianides is Nick D’Amato, a Chicago cop who’s in charge of the mayor’s security detail. However, in an effort to keep your friends close but your enemies closer, Nick makes a career change when he takes on the job as Jessica Pearson’s (Gina torres) driver.
In his latest interview, Kassianides talks about working on a show that’s all about the 95%, and what it’s like to play a character who represents the show’s biggest question mark.
ScreenSpy: Congratulations on your new series Pearson However, before we get into that, tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you get into acting?
Simon Kassianides: Thank you! I got into acting unconventionally, leaving the university of Edinburgh with an MA in International Business Studies. After running an organic fair trade coffee shop in South West London with family, I struck up a friendship with Piers Vellacott who’d come in for his morning coffee. My mum’s a cinephile and after talking a lot about the movies, Piers said I should make coffee and be a set assistant for a day on a documentary he was producing. That led to me becoming an assistant director over the course of a couple of years, leaving the coffee shop in my mum’s hands. One day I took my best friend’s wife to an audition while he was out of town and was picked to be a featured extra in Troy whilst waiting with her. I was coincidentally meant to be an assistant director on the film and it became a talking point on set that I was both in front and behind the camera on that job. After meeting Brad Pitt and performing alongside him and Peter O’Toole, it’s no surprise I was completely turned. I immediately applied for a summer course at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. Whilst rehearsing a monologue, a guest teacher recommended me to her agent and from there my career began!
ScreenSpy: Let’s talk Pearson. What can you tell us about this new show?
Simon Kassianides: It completely expands both the world and character of Jessica Pearson – a fan favorite from Suits – into her role as fixer for the Mayor of Chicago. She is challenged emotionally on a personal level as she tries to bond with her family, and threatened from all sides as she ruffles ALL the feathers and status quo in a notoriously complex city.
ScreenSpy: Do viewers need to have watched Suits to understand Pearson? And will fans of Suits pick up on anything they would recognize?
Simon Kassianides: Not at all! I absolutely love how this show doesn’t patronize the viewers with a slow expositional start. It gets going right out the gates. Within minutes you know this is a powerful, inspiring and proud woman walking her own path in a show where the stakes for everyone are both high and extreme. Suits fans will immediately recognize a solid few ‘Jessica Pearson’ moments with dialogue and her notorious strategizing and there’s recognizable humor here too. There’s also the wardrobe we all wear. Jessica Pearson’s fashion is a showstopper in itself! The tone in Pearson is darker though and the threats here are mortal…
ScreenSpy: What do you think audiences will gravitate most towards in the show?
Simon Kassianides: This show is about the 95%. It dives into current issues and delivers them with an entertainment forward approach wrapped around multi-dimensional and challenging characters. That makes for great, relatable and unmissable storytelling.
ScreenSpy: What about your character? What can fans expect of him and his storylines this season? Which characters in the show did you get to interact with the most?
Simon Kassianides: From episode one, Nick D’Amato is presented as the show’s question mark. Is he a hero or a villain? That’s explored and answered in season one in a surprising way. And one which I grabbed with both hands. On the surface, he’s a Chicago cop who’s in charge of the mayor’s security detail. But he’s also the mayor’s bastard half-brother, which nobody knows. And there’s a few secrets he’ll do anything to keep from Jessica Pearson. So he decides to stay close to her, becoming her driver. Needless to say, with her skills, keeping anything from her is a challenge. But she fast learns that Nick isn’t easy to read or play. There’s an exciting meeting of characters with these two.
I had the pleasure of working with Gina mostly, as well as Morgan [Spector], [Bethany] Joy [Lenz] and Wayne [Duvall].
ScreenSpy: Do you have a particular episode or scene that is your favorite that we should be looking out for? And if so, why?
Simon Kassianides: There’s a scene at the end of episode 4. By this stage in filming, I found myself in a rare place as an actor. I had complete trust in everyone involved in the show around me and knew that I could let go. By that I mean I knew that I could explore the scene fully, knowing that I would be protected in taking it to what I saw as an extreme. I can’t give anything away, but I’m proud of both the result and the support I had in both filming the scene and the feedback. We see Nick D’Amato is far more complex and troubled than we’ve seen before. And from this point forward, his story evolves in surprising ways.
ScreenSpy: Are there any guest stars we should be looking forward to?
Simon Kassianides: Every week was a who’s who of talent. Wayne Duvall, a charming, kind man, plays Pat McGann in a way that’s both sinister and yet human in an unnerving way, incredible performance. I’m a fan of TV and film! So when you see people walk on to set whose work you’ve admired, it always gets to me. And unlike my character Nick, I’m the opposite of cool. Some guest appearances will have fans excited. Can’t say more! Sorry!
ScreenSpy: What was your favorite storyline of season one?
Simon Kassianides: Seeing Jessica Pearson’s human and fragile side explored throughout the season gives fans so much. I’m also very proud to have been given this character to break down and run with this season. It takes the audience in a direction they won’t expect.
ScreenSpy: How did you prep for this role?
Simon Kassianides: I spent time in Chicago on my own. I met with cops there and prepared as much as possible around that. I listened to tapes online for the Chicago accent. I read biographies from Chicago cops and spoke to as many locals as possible to get as much as a feel for the city as anyone can in a short period of time. Then I took all that and put it aside, focusing on the script and story at hand, hoping that my preparation bled into the work.
ScreenSpy: Were you previously a fan of Suits?
Simon Kassianides: I was! Watching the finale of Season 7 where my character is introduced by knocking over Harvey Specter was a pinch myself moment. And of course standing opposite Gina Torres ‘being tough’ when inside I was giddy as all hell, was another.
ScreenSpy: Do you have any other projects coming up that fans can look forward to?
Simon Kassianides: There’s an action film that’ll be out next year I’m prepping for. Can’t say too much on that but I am loving getting physically ready for that. I’m also expanding my short film Trust No One into something exciting and episodic, hopefully for YouTube.
ScreenSpy: I like ending with an easy question – What’s your current favorite book, favorite song, and favorite TV show out there?
Simon Kassianides: My favorite book right now is ‘The Happiness Hypothesis’ by Jonathan Haidt, I’m listening to “No Sleep” by Skepta, and I am deep into Call My Agent – a French show. I’m also obsessed with a new show called Pearson?
Pearson continues Wednesday’s at 10/9c on USA.
Follow @ScreenSpy for more Pearson scoop this season.