LOS ANGELES, April 8 (UPI) -- Erin Brockovich's life was the subject of a 2000 movie for which Julia Roberts won an Oscar for portraying the consumer and environmental activist. The ABC TV series Rebel explores the following 21 years.
"I'm a little older now," Brokovich said in a recent Zoom panel for the Television Critics Association. "I'm a little wiser."
The movie Erin Brockovich depicted the case against PG&E that Brockovich worked as a law clerk for Ed Masry. PG&E settled with the residents of Hinkley, Calif., in 1996 for contaminating their water supply.
The show Rebel depicts fictional cases inspired by 60-year-old Brockovich's continuing consumer and environmental advocacy. Katey Sagal plays Annie "Rebel" Bello, a character based on Brockovich. Rebel also is a legal advocate with no law degree, like Brockovich.
"I think it is a different character," said Brockovich, who executive-produces the series with creator Krista Vernoff. "[I] can still be up in your face, but only when I'm pushed to that corner."
When the series begins, Rebel infiltrates a gala for Stonemore Medical, a manufacturer of artificial heart valves. Rebel lets protesters who received Stonemore's defective heart valves into the gala and gets arrested but not before getting the media to cover her stunt.
Rebel tries to convince her boss, Cruz (Andy Garcia), to represent the heart patients who now suffer from autoimmune diseases due to Stonemore valves. Brockovich said she still has the same attitude she had in the '90s, which was on display in the movie.
She said one difference between herself then and now, and one that Rebel depicts, is that she can be more subtle.
"Sometimes, I'm very quiet. I monitor and observe what's going on," Brockovich said.
Rebel depicts Sagal's persuasiveness as she pressures Cruz, and enlists her gynecologist son, Nate (Kevin Zegers), to help her study evidence against Stonemore. A woman in Nate's waiting room comments on Rebel, saying, "She's not a lawyer. She's just loud." Brockovich said she could relate to that scene.
"I've been told to watch my mouth plenty of times, but it's passion," Brockovich said.
Sagal and Brockovich said they met for lunch, but did not speak extensively about Brockovich's character. The 67-year-old Sagal said Brockovich's passion for justice was apparent.
Rebel, Sagal said, provided an opportunity to be of service while entertaining people.
"It has very dramatic moments, and then she's also a comedic character in that she's kind of out of the box," Sagal said. "I'm really looking forward to exploring both in this project."
Because Rebel, like Brockovich, does not have a law degree, Sagal said she is not bound by the same rules traditional lawyers have. Rebel's rebellion is not always as dramatic as the Stonemore gala stunt. Sagal said Rebel can relate to clients in more personal ways than a traditional lawyer might.
"Her primary purpose is to do the right thing," Sagal said. "Sometimes legal mumbo jumbo can make that a little bit confusing."
Rebel is the second time Brockovich has watched an actor depict her. The legal advocate said it is surreal, but added that she hopes her example inspires others to speak up.
"So many of us feel pushed back, not heard, not seen, or put in a box," Brockovich said. "It is surreal, but at the same time feels like a release."
Sagal remains a recurring cast member of The Conners as Louise, Dan Conner (John Goodman)'s love interest. ABC has allowed her to continue both shows.
"My intention is to stay with The Conners," Sagal said. "We are both on ABC."
Rebel premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. EDT on ABC.