'City on a Hill' star Sarah Shahi says 'lot of tragedy in store' for Rachel Benham, a character she identifies strongly with
Of the multiple subplots 'City on a Hill' (CoH) has interwoven so far in season 1, one is about women who have their own challenges to face in the crime-infested Boston of the '90s. In a series with talented actresses, Jill Hennessy, Lauren E. Banks and Amanda Clayton play great roles and Sarah Shahi's character is someone you just can't stop rooting for.
Shahi plays Rachel Benham, a Private Investigator assigned to assist Decourcy Ward (Aldis Hodge) the assistant DA in armed car robbery case. Benham proves to be instrumental in digging out valuable intel while assisting the team on the case. She was introduced in the third episode and is seen as a skillful operator.
In an exclusive interview with MEA WorldWide (MEAWW), the 39-year-old took us through the journey of being part of the hit series.
What was your initial reaction when asked to be a part of ‘City on a Hill’?
I was ecstatic! I was so eager to jump into this role and be a part of this story. What’s so coincidental is I am a Persian myself and grew up in Euless, Texas, a city that wasn’t very popular. So I often pretended to be something other than what I was because it was easier. There's less explaining and more blending in. This is Rachel’s story as well. I felt like I was in her skin before I even showed up. And then come on — Kevin Bacon!
'CoH' was set in the ‘90s showing a corrupt Boston, can you take us through the preparation and research that went in?
The Boston crime scene is a sought after subject for a ton of movies - 'Gone Baby Gone', 'Black Mass', 'The Town', 'The Departed', 'The Boston Strangler' - so I watched those movies multiple times, just to get the style, the feel of the era, and the accent. I also worked with an accent coach for 5 months, Joy Ellison in L.A. And research to find out as much as I could about this specific era - 'The Boston Miracle.'
What are your thoughts on the character?
She’s a feminine woman who celebrates her sensuality in the midst of working with all these men, which in my opinion, means she’s got bigger cajones than all of them. She’s super smart, notices the more subtle things in the case, which lead to bigger things in the end. Like all the characters of the show, she’s very layered, flawed, and insecure, but tough, and we get a chance to see that.
The show was set in a time where women were not appreciated for what they were and the hard work they put in, is Rachel is looking to change this?
Rachel is the kind who demands respect. She'll get it whether you want to give it or not, or she'll reduce you down to size. She doesn’t come across as the type of person where this is her intention per se, but I think it’s a trait of a very strong-willed person. It’s not her goal. But through the process of her job and doing it incredibly well, you have no choice but to give credit where credit is due.
Any clues about what’s in store for Rachel?
There’s a lot of tragedy in store for Rachel. And she ends up really questioning who she is and what she wants for herself.
Every leading lady in the show has a story to tell and that has been one of the talking points
All of these characters are so multi-layered and flushed out. No two characters are the same, no matter how small the role. Rachel’s story has to deal with not just the case, but a real identity crisis in who she is and what she wants the world to see. It’s a very relatable storyline. One that I myself lived for over 20 years.
What was it like working with Aldis Hodge and Kevin Bacon
I really had to pinch myself, I felt so fortunate to be working with all the actors I was surrounded by. Kevin Bacon is a dream. Not only is he incredibly talented, but to stand opposite him and watch him make these big choices which could be risky, but he grounds it. His character’s more of a mob boss than an FBI agent. He’s such a calm, patient, presence on set. I’m grateful to the Gods that put us together.
Aldis is the most graceful person I’ve ever been around in my life. God threw away the mold after making him. We share a similar circle of friends, and I’ve heard of him for years. I was very happy to finally get to know him.