By Kate Hahn
Katey Sagal brings her energy to the new ABC drama Rebel (April 8) as fiery consumer advocate Annie “Rebel” Bello.The hard-charging story, spiked with sharp humor, is inspired by the current life of Erin Brockovich, whose early career was chronicled in a hit 2000 film. Age hasn’t dimmed her intensity — or Rebel’s.
“She’s angry a lot. She’ll get in your face. She calls it how she sees it. She’s passionate,” Sagal says of the character, created by her longtime friend, Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff.
The actress got to know Brockovich, who executive produces, over lunch and phone calls. She shares more.
You’ve recently guest-starred on comedies Shameless and The Conners. Why was this the series that made you want to dive back into a heavy drama?
Katey Sagal: The Erin Brockovich of it, for sure. Everybody knows what it means to “Erin Brockovich” something. It’s a verb. Playing a consumer advocate was really interesting to me, particularly given the time we’re in. She gives voice to people who are voiceless. She’s on the side of common sense and what’s right. At this time in my life, I like being involved with things that help.
She’s helping victims hurt by a medical device. What research did you do?
To understand what [Rebel] is fighting I did research into the unregulated part of big pharma and medical devices, and watched a documentary called The Bleeding Edge. I was shocked. There’s other advocacy [on the show], too. Rebel is, like Erin, a famous person who gets emails constantly from people coming up against big companies; being harassed by their landlord; about to lose a job for unjust reasons.
Just how fun is it to shoot the scenes where she tells people off?
In my life, I wouldn’t call me timid, by any means, but I let a lot of things roll. You know how sometimes you’ll have some fiery stuff going on inside? This is a great outlet to let it fly. Rebel says things you’re thinking but don’t say. She can be offensive. But she’s not wrong.
Is she like you at all?
Rebel’s got three kids, and she’s juggling a career, two ex-husbands, and one current husband. I related. I have three kids, have always been a working mom, hopefully juggled things as best I could, and am on my third husband. But with Rebel’s husband [John Corbett] there’s conflict ahead. He admires what she does but she’s married to it. He’s feeling neglected. Something has to give.
They’re so passionate.
Rebel keeps it sexy. Women my age can be hot and vital and vibrant and smart. I’ve always thought this country treats age in such a disrespectful way. Anywhere else in the world, you’re respected for getting older.
Were you surprised that an American TV series would be built around an older woman?
It’s groundbreaking, the fact that I’m in my 60s. Men of a certain age have always been in leading roles, but you don’t find that many women. I have to honor Krista and ABC for breaking that horrible trope of ageism. It’s a misconception that as we get older, we get invisible.
Rebel definitely gets noticed. What does her style say about her?
Somebody asks if she’s a lawyer, and she says, “What? Do I look like a lawyer?” She’s the antithesis of corporate, and wears that proudly. She comes off as large and in charge, a badass in leather pants and T-shirts. Rebel is kind of rock ‘n’ roll, cool, tough. She’s regular people.
How dangerous is she?
She’s not an outlaw. She doesn’t carry, but she’s not unfamiliar with a gun. When she gets it in her mind that something is unfair and has to stop, she’s relentless.