Person of Interest Exclusive: Sarah Shahi on "Dark, Damaged" Shaw, Pretending to Be Jason Bourne

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Sarah Shahi has been a fan favorite for TV viewers for years, from early roles on The L Word and Life to her short-lived USA series Fairly Legal to last season on Chicago Fire.

However, her Season 2 stint on Person of Interest was so well-received that she is now a series regular on the CBS drama and will play a key role on Tuesday's Person of Interest Season 3 premiere. Yes, she will return to conclude her story on Chicago Fire, but her new home is alongside co-stars Michael Emerson, Jim Caviezel, Taraji P Henson and fellow new series regular Amy Acker.

I spent the day on set this month in New York City's Chinatown, talking to Shahi between scenes to get more insight into Shaw; whether she sees a romance blossoming between her character and Caviezel’s Reese; and whether there are any similarities between Shaw and Fairly Legal’s Kate Reed...

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TV Fanatic: Talk about Shaw a little bit. How do you connect with her as an actor because she's a darker character than what I've seen you play in the past?
Sarah Shahi: Yeah. It's interesting. Throughout the course of my career, there's this little pattern that I've noticed, where it started off after The L Word…I've had this thing where I'll do something dark and then I'll do something light, and then I'll do something dark and then I'll do something light. So like after Life came Fairly Legal. And then after Fairly Legal, it's now this. So it's interesting to see.

And [Shaw] is a very dark, damaged character. And how I can connect with her, the most PC answer I can give you is I think we all have skeletons in our closet, and it's a character that I really have to kind of tap into all of that to be able to access her, and yeah, she's damaged.

There are lots of ways in which I'm damaged, as well, but at the end of the day, I have to be able to cut it off because I do have a child at home. But, yeah, of all the characters, she's also the most fun that I've ever played. It really is like coming to work and pretending like I am the female Jason Bourne. I can't get enough of it.

Sarah Shahi on Season 3

TVF: Are we going to find out more about Shaw’s background? Maybe find out why she’s so damaged?
SS: In this episode five [the episode shooting while I was on set], we go into a whole Shaw flashback story, yeah.

TVF: Was that informative for you, as well, or did you already kind of know what her back story was?
SS: Well, Jonah [aka Jonathan Nolan, creator] and I had really discussed all this last year. And part of the thing that's interesting for me, as an actor, to play is people's backstory and people's history and why they are the way they are. I mean, the words on the page, they only make sense to me if I understand where they're coming from.

And it's always the stuff that's not said that I find kind of the most interesting. So yeah, we had discussed her back story prior to this, but it was really nice to finally see it formulate into something, and hopefully, people will really get a kick out of it.

TVF: When you came on last season doing kind of the guest arc, did it feel like a good fit, like ‘I could see myself hanging around here for a while?’
SS: Oh, gosh. I have no idea. You know? When I came in doing that guest arc, I just didn't want to f-ck up. That was just my main concern. I never once got ahead of myself and thought that I was here to stay, or this was a good fit or any of that stuff. All I wanted to do was to be true to the story that Jonah wrote and tell the highest degree of truth that I possibly could.

TVF: Is it safe to say you're partnered up with Reese again in the new season, or is it going to get mixed up a little bit more?
SS: It's going to get mixed up. I don't think it's safe to really say anything with Shaw except she likes being on the outskirts. I think that's a good place for her to be. I don't think she wants to be a part of anything and she really does kind of work best on her own and she is a lone wolf. She'll be with the boys as long as she wants to be. And there's an attitude about her that we keep, which is pretty much she can turn her back on them at any point and leave.

TVF: Fans, myself included, kind of see a little spark between you and Reese…
SS: People say that. I don't know where it's coming from. It's probably me being like, ‘What's my next line?’ [laughs]

TVF: But is there anything to that that the fans should look for or look forward to?
SS: Well, if it makes it more interesting, I'm going to say yes.

TVF: And how's working with the dog? Are you a dog person?
SS: I am a dog person! He's wonderful. You know, it's very hard doing scenes with him because I know no one's watching me. Scenes with dogs and babies, they steal the scene every time. But he's great.

TVF: And what does that say about your character, because the dog is the one thing she kind of has empathy for?
SS: She says that. She says that a few times. ‘The only reason I'm here is for the dog.’

TVF: What's been the biggest challenge so far, outside of shooting in the middle of Chinatown on a busy day?
SS: The biggest challenge of this show, it's the pace at which it moves. You know? There's a lot of locations...I did The Sopranos in New York but that was mostly all on the stage and so I've never really shot out on location every single day, five days a week, for months on end in New York. And now that I'm doing it, I find that the challenge is shooting in the city and it's all the different locations.

But, to be honest, to share the screen with four other cast members, this is kind of the most time off I've had in the past six years, because when I was on Life, my hours there were anywhere from 16 to 19 hours a day. On Fairly Legal, they were consistent 16 hours a day. And Jonah and Greg [Plageman, Exec Producer], they check up on me all the time, saying, ‘How you doing? How are the hours?’ I'm like, ‘Guys, it's a dream job for me, honestly, because it's the easiest schedule I've had in over six years.’

TVF: Which do you prefer as an actor? Something closer to you, or something like this, where it's kind of far from you?
SS: I don't know. I mean, Shaw's a little bit closer than you may think. [Shaw and Reed] both fit, in their own ways. And the Reed character was just as flawed. Maybe not equal in their flaws, but she was also flawed. Kate Reed was very childish and very immature. This character is clearly not that…honestly, they both feel right, and they're both fantastic to play because I get to access different parts of myself, you know?

Even though the Kate Reed character, yes, a lot of it did come from me [but] it wasn't completely me. It was a part of me. And the same with Shaw, you know? It's like there is a part of me that's in there. I don't know how to do it otherwise. I don't think I'm a very good actor, so for me, it has to feel real. I have to find a part of my own personality or a part of something for me to connect with to be able to understand it and do it, otherwise I don't know how to do it.

Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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There's a lot of delusional people here-- Carter ain't long for this (POI) world-- and it's exactly because of chemistry-- she (the actress) doesn't want to be there. As for the alleged problems with Shah-- there are none: the show that introduced her was a critical and ratings succcess, and she is easier to work with-- hence her being made permanent. People who live in TV worlds shouldn't presume to understand how the real world works.

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(cont.) I expect Reese to be with Carter. They just fit each other, and despite the Shaw being in the middle of things, I hope that there is some way they are allowed to grow together, just like I'd like to see the bonds between all of what I call "the main 4" grow. And really, it's not just SOME people that didn't like Shaw. I think POI's ratings went down because of her. I also think that's what led to having the show on a different night at a different time. My observation is that shows that don't screw up don't tend to change days... Honestly I hope they get rid of Shaw. I find nothing interesting about the character and as little time the spend with her, the better.

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@JohnReeseFan Regardless of it's "reviews", Relevance didn't seem like much of a relevant episode for the series. It's too early to be getting into the relevant numbers and that's something I think they could have used Carter to do. We didn't need Shaw, and I think she's awful. Zoe and Root are great as recurring characters, and that's it. All we need is Reese/Carter/Fusco/Finch as the main team with Bear added in too. I also can't stand Reese with Shaw. Even in the promos she's got to one up him and then he's got to be her life coach and pat her on the back for it--what?? I miss Carter and the great chemistry Reese had with her. You can just tell that the actors get along because that kind of comfort with one another is hard to fake even for good actors like them. I think the Reese/Zoe friends with benefits thing is nice for now, but down the line when the show is ending and it's time for them to hang it up, I expect Reese to be with Carter. They just fit each other, and despite the Shaw being in the middle of things, I hope that there is some way they are allowed to grow together, just like I'd like to see the bonds between all of what I call "the main 4" grow. And really, it's not just SOME people that didn't like Shaw. I think POI's ratings went down because of her. I also think that's what led to having the show on a different night at a different time. My observation is that shows that don't screw up don't tend to change days... Honestly I hope they get rid of Shaw. I find nothing interesting about the character and as little time the spend with her, the better.

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@Guest – Relevance received excellent reviews on various sites when it aired and of the people who commented on those sites, the majority of them loved the episode and Shaw. Just because SOME people didn’t like it or the character of Shaw doesn’t make it a disaster.
@Destiny’s Grownup – To answer your question, I care where Shaw came from and what happened to her. I’m looking forward to her backstory. I welcome her inclusion as a regular to the show (along with Root). If you no longer like the show or think that it has jumped the shark (even though season 3 has yet to start) don’t watch it. Your derogatory comments about Shahi the actress is uncalled for.
I loved Relevance; it was bold and exciting and action-packed. The episode gave a fascinating insight into the workings of the relevant side of The Machine, the ruthlessness of the government and the lengths it will go to protect the Program and it introduced a kick-arse character.

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I truly enjoyed "Relevance", learning how it is like for the other side. I like when TV writers and producers take chances like on POI. It's also hard to grasp why someone who doesn't like a person or characcter would actually take the time to come online to express that dislike. I'm a part 3 boomer and was taught if you don't have something nice to say...well I'm hoping POI much success with the addition of Ms Shaw and Ms Acker. I am looking forward to the 5th or 6th episode that gives us backrg of the cahracter "Shaw"

Blu

I personally didn't dislike Shaw. She's a female badass and she was interesting. I just would have rather she guest starred as needed like Zoe and Leon. I'm not enthused over her being made a series regular. I enjoyed Carter being the only woman in the mix on a regular basis. I've been disappointed in how they slowly edge Lionel out. I mean the opening of this article doesn't even count him as one of the main characters and I thought he was. Did that change and I missed it? They perfected the chemistry on this show with the cast and it was more or less working wonderfully, and now there are new characters added into the mix. Also, I never seen,"sparks" between Shaw and Reese. The woman is incapable of feelings,which I enjoyed about her intro. Interesting article. Sarah is cool. I don't hate Shaw, but not all that excited about her as a permanent addition.

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Early Christmas present. Person of Interest writers come to their senses and eliminate the Shaw character. Send her off to be with the machine.......permanently.

Neejan

She is such an interesting character. Also, I love her on-screen chemistry with the rest of the cast, especially Reese.

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Shaw.....Just no. No. No. No!!!!!
This character is totally wrong for the mix and brings little to the creative aspects of the drama. Who cares where she came from and what happened to her? She is also "small" in appearance, ability to communicate and screen presence.
With regard to ego, the actress is gargantuan.
Nolan and Plageman have jumped the shark for season 3 in more ways than one.

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Wow! This is quite delusional! The initial reception to the Shaw character in the episode "Relevance" last spring was mixed at best. Actually I would characterize it as disastrous. She was seen as a superfluous insertion in a nearly perfect cast. And the idea of Reese getting into a romantic relationship with Shaw is simply stomach-churningly foul. He has established a strong emotional connection with Carter and it would be a shame to waste that link after building it for the past two seasons. And Finch remains the heart of the show, so Shaw is an annoying diversion with no where to lead us either on the machine side or the Reese redemption side of the story.