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Star wants ABC's 'For Life' to 'inspire and challenge'

Executive producer Isaac Wright Jr. (L) stands with actor Nicholas Pinnock. The second half of For Life Season 2 begins on Wednesday. Courtesy of ABC
Executive producer Isaac Wright Jr. (L) stands with actor Nicholas Pinnock. The second half of "For Life" Season 2 begins on Wednesday. Courtesy of ABC

NEW YORK, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Nicholas Pinnock and Indira Varma said they are proud to be a part of For Life as the ABC legal drama continues to raise awareness about timely issues, such as how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting the incarcerated.

"It is important," Pinnock told UPI in a Zoom interview Tuesday. "Not to say that I think we are changing people's minds, opinions and viewpoints on certain things, but I hope we can help influence those changes.

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"Entertainment can be educational. It can be informative."

Co-star Varma called her job "a hugely privileged position to be in," but also "a massive responsibility."

"It is entertainment, but we are trying to bring these issues to the fore and possibly connect with an audience that might not be aware of these things and the way you do it can either repel people or draw people in," she said.

"You don't want to patronize the audience or bombard them with information -- you want to inspire and challenge."

Executive produced by Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, the show is based loosely on the life of Isaac Wright Jr., who was wrongly accused of drug trafficking and worked to overturn his life sentence from behind bars.

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He was released after seven years and pursued his law degree, eventually becoming a prominent attorney. He now is running as a Democratic candidate for New York City mayor in a crowded field.

Pinnock (Counterpart) plays Aaron Wallace, a fictionalized version of Wright, Joy Bryant (Parenthood) plays his wife, Marie, a nurse, and Varma (Game of Thrones) plays Safiya, a prison warden who supported Aaron's crusade to clear his name and go home.

While the first half of Season 2 deals with Aaron's return to civilian life, the second run of episodes sees him fighting -- alongside Safiya who is now working in the private sector -- for the rights of those vulnerable to COVID-19 in their former prison.

"They're now on the same side of the line, which is really interesting," Varma said. "They come from very different viewpoints. They still have very different opinions on things, and I think Safiya can be more objective about certain cases."

Asked if they will continue to collaborate as a legal team, Pinnock teased: "You will see more of Safiya and Aaron in the same scenes. That's all we're going to say."

Series creator Hank Steinberg said he intentionally split Season 2 into distinct halves, the first of which showed Aaron coming home and trying to assimilate and the second of which reflects what has been going on in real life this past year.

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"We really wanted to make sure that we didn't just have him get out and get right back in his life. We really wanted to see the pain and the cost, which is a byproduct of mass incarceration -- what it does to the families," Steinberg said.

The first half of Season 2 explored what kind of father, husband and lawyer Aaron wants to be, what kind of cases he will take and how he behaves in the face of the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffers after confinement.

For the second half of the season, Steinberg aimed to address current events, showing how the pandemic affects the imprisoned and how a social-justice movement has grown out of recent police killings of people of color.

"The prisoners are getting decimated," Steinberg said.

"They are sitting ducks and COVID is being brought into the prison, not by them, and now they are being infected and it's so grossly unfair and barbaric, so now we can bring Aaron Wallace's character into the Bellmore Prison and have him try to help his former inmates, which is just great drama."

The last four episodes of the season will be about the death of an unarmed Black man at the hands of police.

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"And how does Aaron Wallace now get engaged in that struggle? The struggle of the country? The struggle of people in his community and what is his responsibility as a lawyer, as a former inmate, as a person of color, to be an advocate?" Steinberg said.

Woven throughout the series is the recurring theme of how politicians and other powerful people frequently obstruct social and legal justice.

A good officeholder is committed to serving the public and creating "an environment in which the general population can feel comfortable, secure and safe," Wright said. "Then, he is supposed to lead by example."

The lawyer and For Life producer thinks the show's writers and stars have made good on their promise to tell a story viewers can emotionally connect with while also spotlighting topics that don't get enough attention.

"You can easily see the effects that [the show] has. If you go on 50's Instagram, on his social media, you see these millions of followers he has. Look at the comments," Wright urged.

"They are relating their family experiences -- with either them being incarcerated or a family member being incarcerated. They are relating to Aaron's plight in a way that gives them hope. ... It's a beautiful thing."

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Jackson always wanted the show to give audiences something they could feel good about.

"The way it's written, there's a positive tone to it. Aaron never gives up. He continuously fights for what means the most to him," Jackson said. "You see the personal victory that he achieves."

Steinberg agreed, noting Aaron's journey has a message for viewers going through tough times of their own.

"It's 'knock him down seven times, he gets up eight.' It's what you want to teach your children. You want to teach your children to be resilient," Steinberg said.

Aaron comes across as authentic because he keeps going even when the obstacles in front of him seem insurmountable.

"We usually don't have a big Rocky moment," Steinberg said. "Even when he gets a win, there is a loss associated with it. If there is a loss, there is a silver lining that maybe there's hope. So, we try to balance that. That's life and that's what keeps you engaged."

The second half of Season 2 of For Life debuts Wednesday on ABC.



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