'Common Law' Interview: Sonya Walger Talks TV Therapy and More
'Common Law' Interview: Sonya Walger Talks TV Therapy and More
Laurel Brown
Laurel Brown
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
Therapy is what separates Common Law from other TV cop shows. And the best person for perspective on this aspect of the show is Common Law's own therapist, Dr. Emma Ryan, played by Sonya Walger.

Walger, best known for her roles on Lost, In Treatment and FlashForward, will play the psychologist in charge of the couples' therapy group attended by Detectives Travis Marks (Michael Ealy) and Wes Mitchell (Warren Kole). During a recent visit to the set of Common Law, we got the chance to talk to Sonya Walger about the show, therapy and her new role.

Common Law premieres on Friday, May 11 at 10pm on USA.

What is your character's background?

Sonya Walger: The story that we have is that she's a, you know, Beverly Hills, very successful, high-end therapist who gets fed up with prescribing pills to bored, wealthy patients and feels like she's lost touch with the community and what's really helping people. So she starts doing group in the local community center. They never really talked about the payment, but I've always assumed it's free or that it's a $10 payment or something.

How did you research for the part of Dr. Emma Ryan?

Sonya Walger: I've never had any experience in group therapy, and it's very different to couples or individual therapy. So I got hold of a group therapist... and he recommended some books that I went and read. But he also came up with this genius idea. He said at the end of this two-hour session that we had together, he said to me, "I'd really love it if you could watch us at the therapy session, but you can't because it would compromise the anonymity... But if you want to bring 8 actors together and I'll do an improvised session for you."

I think it was really helpful for the writers to see, you know, how the dynamics work in a group, because how you think they work is not actually how they really operate.

What do you bring to the role of a therapist?

Sonya Walger: It's not a stretch for me. I like talking -- I like talking about feelings. I like talking about things that are actually, really going on. I'm much more comfortable with that.

What is the relationship between Dr. Ryan and Captain Sutton (Jack McGee)?

Sonya Walger: Captain Sutton and his wife have hit a road bump in their marriage, which is why they come to me, and I help them in quite a profound way. Hence him being so touchy-feely in his meditation tapes and all of that. And so now he swears by me, which is why he sends me the boys to fix them. We've just shot an episode where he actually comes back, and we have a lovely scene together and we talk about other stuff.

How do Michael Ealy and Warren Kole interact on the set?

Sonya Walger: They just play. They're like puppies... They just won't leave each other alone. They really don't.

I mean, Michael's pretty laid back and Warren is more high-energy. I think of them like a Labrador and a Jack Russell. [laughs]

Do you ever get to leave the therapy room and go out into the world?

Sonya Walger: Usually with a couple, then I would go to their home and observe them in their home situation. And since their home is their work, then I go on a ride-along episode. So I'm in the back of the cop car for the entire episode watching them. It was great. It was hilarious. It was hot as hell in the back of a cop car.

It was great and really, really fun just to get out of the community center and actually be with them in their world.

Do the detectives ever deal well with each other?

Sonya Walger: Actually, when the chips are really, really down -- if someone else comes in and dares to knock the other one -- then they will leap to that one's defense. Not if that one is in the room, but if that one is missing, then it is a really lovely moment where Wes turns around to one of the cops and goes, "I can say that stuff. But you don't get to."

There's a real loyalty there. There's a really nice beat in this... Just these little moments where you go, "OK. They really are married."

How is this show a change of pace for you?

Sonya Walger: You know what? I've done such a lot of heavy and not-heavy [shows], and what's fun is to be the therapist. I've done two therapy shows [In Treatment and Tell Me You Love Me]. I'm always on the other side of the couch. It's really fun to be the one that doesn't have the problem.

It's fun as an actor just to get to listen honestly. You usually are so busy driving the scene and having all these heavy emotions and sobbing down phones and talking about tears in the space-time continuum... It's so fun just to sit there and be like, "Oh, you've got the issue. You talk about it." It's a real pleasure. It's a real relief to have that, actually.

How serious do the therapy sessions get?

Sonya Walger: It is light. Yeah, definitely. I think we... it goes, certainly as the season progresses, it goes to the heart. I mean it definitely -- they get skewered by me, by other people in the group, by each other obviously. But I think it does this great job of turning this fine line between nailing them on their stuff and then sending it up in this lovely light way.

You learn as many lessons laughing as you do in bloody tears.

(Image courtesy of USA)