Veena Sud, showrunner of the popular show The Killing, is back with another Netflix original, titled Seven Seconds. Currently streaming on Netflix, the series follows what happens after an off-duty white police officer accidentally hits a black teenager with his car. When the teen dies, the New Jersey city explodes with racial tensions, leading to a highly publicized trial.
We chatted with Clare-Hope Ashitey, who plays assistant prosecutor KJ Harper. She dishes on the American judicial system, getting into her character and working alongside Regina King.
How did you get involved with this series and what was your first thought when you read the script?
I first read the pilot script and I immediately loved it! Like hundreds of actors do every day, I put myself on tape and sent it and hoped for the best.
What sort of direction did Veena give you in order to step into the role of KJ?
She had a lot to say about KJ. I added a lot to her, but we also talked about her relationships, the difficulties she had at work and with her family. Veena gave me a lot to go with.
What was the most challenging aspect of portraying KJ?
There are two things. The first, being the American judicial system and how different it is from that in the U.K. Also, how unfair it is, especially for people down a certain end of the spectrum. The second thing, being an African American person and being a black person in the U.K. and my experience of it are two very different things.
You’re from Britain, but this show is a story about America’s criminal justice system. How did you approach it?
I just had to learn how the American judicial system worked. Getting to know about the Jersey D.A.s, NYPD and the Jersey City Police, going to the court house and talking to people who work in the industry.
What surprised you about the American legal system?
I think how unfair it is, when it seems so clear. How unfair it is for people and how the system works against you if you’re of a certain color. The irregularities are so stark — the kind of thing you read or learn about. It’s so unfair.
Regina King’s performance was so emotional and moving. What was it like working with such a legend?
She’s a lovely person and a wonderful actor. What more could you ask for? When someone’s great at their job it makes you better at yours. She’s also lovely to be around.
What aspects of your character did you relate to?
I think most people can relate to not wanting to face something’s that hard. How basic does that sound? Watching her go through that, I get it. Sometimes we all think, “If I just crawl into my bed, maybe it’ll just go away.”
What do you enjoy most about portraying flawed, complex characters?
It’s very interesting to play a character like that because you’re getting to know the character. And if the character is very complex, you want to know everything.
And lastly, what kind of conversation do you hope this story brings about?
I think any conversation is useful at this point in a world where people don’t have empathy for what other people are going through. And the conversations have to be better than what’s been happening before.