As the bestselling author behind 36 novels, Michael Connelly had plenty of material to choose from for his latest foray into TV. However, it was iconoclast idealist criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller who had been“ruminating in my mind,” as Connelly puts it, in early 2020.
So, after revisiting the criminal defense attorney for the first new Lincoln Lawyer book in seven years, Connelly is now helping bring him to the small screen for the new Netflix drama series The Lincoln Lawyer, on which he serves as executive producer.
From creator David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, The Practice), The Lincoln Lawyer follows Mickey as he runs his law practice out of the back of his Lincoln and takes on cases big and small across the expansive city of Los Angeles. Based on Connelly’s series of bestselling novels, the first season is adapted from the second book, The Brass Verdict.
Ahead of the series’ May 13 debut, Connelly shares how this new adaptation returns to the book’s roots, casting Manuel Garcia-Rulfo in the lead role, the show’s unique tone and his “most special moment on set.”
Why did you want to revisit Mickey Haller and his world as a TV series rather than a movie?
Television has certainly changed in the last ten years with the advent of streaming platforms and, most importantly, serialized storytelling. So being a novelist who writes character-based legal thrillers, this became a pitch right over the plate. To be able to take a book and a character and tell a story over ten episodes instead of having to condense and condense a novel into a 100-minute movie, I would take that any day of the week. It is the best way to serve the character of Mickey Haller to have all this time and space to dig in and dig down deep into character and motivation. It really has changed my view of taking my stories to Hollywood.
What made David E. Kelley and his team the right choice to adapt this character for the small screen?
About 15 years ago when the first Lincoln Lawyer novel came out, I got a call from David who said he thought he could make it into a good television show. The problem was I had just sold the book to Lakeshore Entertainment, the company that made the movie a few years later. But eventually, the rights to the books and the character came back to me and we were able to connect again. So it only took about 15 years to get it done. But it was fortuitous because TV changed in those 15 years and it became, through streaming, a place to tell serialized, novelistic stories. I’ve always known that David is a genius when it comes to television and particularly stories about the law. So I could not be happier with how it has turned out. In the first episode, David expertly set the tone of the show as well as the fast-thinking character of Mickey, the humor, intrigue and danger — all in one episode. You really see his genius in just one episode.
Why did you decide to start the series with the second book?
Well, one reason is that I have a very loyal fan base and so we felt that many of the viewers who would come to the show would have seen the earlier movie. We wanted to give them something new. In the second book, The Brass Verdict, we find Mickey at a low point and the book is really about him getting his mojo back. David Kelley believed that was a story people could connect with. It’s been a tough couple of years in Los Angeles and in the world. In a way, we are all trying to get our mojo back and the story we tell in our first season connects with that in a good way.
How much of the first season will dive into the season-long mystery at the center of The Brass Verdict?
As a season-long arc, we took the story of The Brass Verdict because we believed it was a story that could show off the character of Mickey best. It’s really a story about how a guy who is hands down a killer in the courtroom has many issues outside of the courtroom. To add to that, we wanted to find a balance between a season-long legal story and make every episode fulfilling for the viewer. So you see Mickey handling a variety of cases as we move through the season and continue the big overriding story. I think we struck a very good balance in the storytelling.
How involved were you with casting? Why was Manuel Garcia-Rulfo the right person for the part?
Netflix wanted to keep me in the loop so I was consulted every step of the way. About 10 years ago, there was a movie based on the first book that starred Matthew McConaughey in the title role. So we had this iconic actor having already played the role and we really wanted to establish the new Mickey Haller as someone different but just as charming and confident in the courtroom. In the books, Haller’s ethnicity is Mexican-American. He was born and raised in Los Angeles by a father who was a trial lawyer and a mother who was a Mexican actress. The casting and creative people at Netflix made the decision early on to stick with what was in the books and, of course, that is music to a writer’s ears.
We then had to find the right guy and it became apparent pretty quickly that Manuel was that guy. He has an easy charm but it is also pretty clear that he thinks fast on his feet and is always two steps ahead of his opponents and sometimes even his clients. Manuel exudes this kind of confidence. In the first episode, this becomes clear when he very cleverly wins Izzy’s case and then of course hires her as his driver. When it all falls together you think, ‘Wow, this guy is good.’ When I saw that finished scene, man, my heart swelled. I knew that was the guy from the books.
How involved were you during production? What was it like seeing Mickey Haller’s world come to life all over again?
The place I can best contribute to a show is in the writers room. So that was where I invested my time, helping to form the stories we would tell. I loved being in the writers room because you see it all come together. We had some amazing writers — four of them lawyers themselves — and a lot of expert help. My time on set was limited, but I wanted Manuel to know I was 100 percent behind him. He is now the keeper of this character and I would go to set just to encourage him in his performance. It is hard to find the words — even though I am a writer — to describe how it feels to see a book you have written come to life in front of the cameras. To see great locations, great production values, and great casting all come together is very, very special. About 50 years ago, I was inspired to become a writer by the works of Raymond Chandler, which I read after seeing a movie based on his novel The Long Goodbye. It starred Elliott Gould. To be on the set of The Lincoln Lawyer when Elliott came in to play Mickey’s mentor Legal Segal was perhaps the most special moment I have had in all my Hollywood experiences. That was the closing of a big circle for me.
Why do you think Netflix is the best fit for The Lincoln Lawyer?
I could not be prouder of this show. And that tells me we made the right choice taking it to Netflix. There are so many moving parts in the making of a TV show and you need a studio that gives you what you need for success. We got it from Netflix and now look at what we delivered. It’s a show that is emblematic of Los Angeles and where we are now in society. We need heroes and this show is about an underdog who chooses to do the right thing at great cost to himself and those he loves. That is a powerful story and I’m glad Netflix let us tell it.
The Lincoln Lawyer premieres May 13 on Netflix.