Becki Newton is ready for a new challenge. Best known for her comedic work in Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother, Newton will switch genres for her first dramatic role in Netflix’s The Lincoln Lawyer. Based on Michael Connelly’s series of novels, The Lincoln Lawyer stars Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as Mickey Haller, a magnetic defense attorney who is thrust back into the spotlight after the death of his former legal partner. The title stems from the fact that Haller loves to work out of the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car.
Newton stars as Lorna, Haller’s witty second ex-wife who helps run his day-to-day activities. Lorna aids Mickey with his biggest case ever, defending a tech guru accused of murdering his ex-wife and her lover. Digital Trends spoke with Newton about her attraction to playing bold characters, preferring to work in television over movies, and if she’s tired of questions surrounding an Ugly Betty reboot.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: Now, correct me if I’m wrong because this may be just a weird coincidence. You had a comedy pilot with CBS called Fun that was eventually passed on in 2020. Days before, CBS also passed on The Lincoln Lawyer from David E. Kelley. Is there any correlation between the two as to how you followed that show to Netflix, or is this a serendipitous coincidence?
Becki Newton: You might be an evil genius because I never really put that together until you said it. It’s all a wonderful coincidence, as most things are in this business. I attribute that to just the world generally falling apart at that time and less specific to me. But yeah, it’s a total coincidence.
What attracted you to the role of Lorna?
I liked that she was an irreverent, bold, intelligent woman. I really liked the fact that I would be able to play with a character in a more dramatic setting. I thought it was a really neat combination that I hadn’t explored before. This is actually my first drama. I’ve only ever done comedies and maybe dramedies, but I loved the idea of playing this part in a sort of more grounded world of this legal setting.
From your experience, what is it about comedic roles that stands out for you? Are you only offered comedic roles? Did you make it a point to stick to those types of roles?
I don’t know. I think I’m drawn to bold characters in general. I have been lucky enough to find a lot of those in comedy. So this was a different tone for me. But, I felt that the character was strong, interesting, and unafraid. I hadn’t seen a lot of characters like that in dramatic worlds, so I just jumped at the opportunity to do it.
So is there an action thriller in your future?
As long as I can wear very bright, colorful pantsuits, I will definitely do an action thriller.
I had the chance to speak with Manuel, and he described Mickey and Lorna’s relationship as Batman and Robin. I was curious how you viewed this complicated, professional relationship that the two characters share in the show.
I look at it as a very modern take on a relationship that’s gone through different forms. I think that the fact that they were married, now they’re not married, but they still work together and are incredibly supportive of each other is a really interesting dynamic that we don’t see a lot. They’re not bitter toward each other. Clearly, we don’t really know what happened, but there’s still so much love between them and so much support. I love the Batman and Robin angle. I’m going to talk to Manuel about that when I see him on Monday.
Did you have any experience with the source material from the books or the 2011 movie with Matthew McConaughey?
I did with both of them. I love it. It’s so funny. I’ve always looked at this type of material just as a reader, but I never imagined being in that world as an actress. So I think that was part of the allure. It was something I never really expected to do. I thought it would be such an interesting challenge to see where I might fit into a world like this.
Furthermore, did you find an added pressure knowing you have to satisfy a television audience and a dedicated fan base of the books as well?
I think when we got to set, the idea was we’re trying not to copy anything. We’re trying to infuse it with a new take on it. So I think that people who love the books will respond well to this because it’s a fresh take on something that they already love. I tried not to put pressure on it. I tried to do my version and honor what was on the page while also bringing as much of myself to it as possible.
David E. Kelley created this project. If there’s anyone who knows legal dramas, it’s him. Just look at his track record. Does that almost put you at ease, knowing you’re going to be working with one of the most successful showrunners of the past 30 years?
Being a little bit of a fish out of the water, I felt really comfortable diving into this world because you could sense on the set that all of the directors were familiar with the legal drama world. I had no idea. I can’t even really say if I’d ever been in a courtroom before, other than the one that was built on the set. So I definitely trusted that the team behind this knew exactly what they were doing, and I was able to bring my new take on the character of Lorna.
Throughout your career, you gravitated toward imperfect characters. These characters have endearing qualities, but they also have insecurities. What do you love about these roles?
Well, I think we all are highly imperfect. There’s nothing interesting about playing a perfect person on TV because nobody’s like that. So any time I look at a character, the first thing I look for are the cracks because that’s what makes someone interesting. I’ve been lucky enough to play these very strong women who might appear to be very polished on the outside. But to me, what makes them interesting is what’s beneath that. Why do they need to work so hard to look so perfect? What are they trying to cover up? What are they grappling with? I’ve always been drawn to women like that.
Looking at your IMDB, television is your bread and butter. Do you prefer working in television over movies?
Yeah, I do. I love TV. I love the schedule. I love the routine of it. I’ve been lucky. That’s where I’ve been able to work and work pretty consistently over all these years. I just love it. I absolutely love everything about being on set.
You were ahead of your time because a lot of good roles are now on television. You could say that 10 years ago, this show would have been a movie, which it was.
That’s interesting. I’d love to say I was ahead of my time. I think looking back, I was just very grateful to be working.
You’ve been on two hit shows, Ugly Betty and How I Met Your Mother, that have huge fan bases. Do you get tired of being asked about reboots?
No! Just the fact that I have been part of shows that people are still talking about. I never imagined that. Like when I got Ugly Betty, I was doing Olive Garden commercials. I really did kind of fall from the sky. So the fact that so early on I was able to be part of something that people are still coming up to me and talking about … that’s incredible. What a gift that is. And to have been on a few shows that have these incredible fan bases and have affected people, I’m just the luckiest person alive.
Your character on Ugly Betty, Amanda Tanen, had a web series spinoff. Do you ever say to yourself, “Wow, we were ahead of our time” in having a show on the Internet?
Yesterday, Michael [Urie, Newton’s Ugly Betty co-star] and I were together, referencing lines from Mode After Hours, so we’re still living it. It was so much fun. When I think about some of the shenanigans that our characters played, I mean it was just such a gift and set such a precedent. Michael and I were talking about it yesterday. We were able to be so creative and part of something so exciting that it set this great standard of what we can look to when we work on TV. These great people and these great attitudes and these amazing professionals to work with like Judith Light and America Ferrera and Vanessa Williams. So early on, it was like a master class in how to behave on set and how to tackle these characters, and how much fun you can have when you work really hard together. I was very, very lucky to experience that so soon.
You look at what people are watching today, which are shorter episodes. It’s all on their phones. They’re watching TikTok or YouTube.
That’s interesting. I never really thought of that, for sure. You’re right. That content would be really great these days.
What can people expect from The Lincoln Lawyer? Why should they tune in?
I think there’s a tone that’s really cool about this. It’s got all the intrigue of sort of a typical legal drama. But there are also these different flavors like the flavor of L.A. The show paints L.A. in this really cool way. Visually, it’s beautiful. There’s also fun with a lot of the characters, especially the supporting characters. There’s a lot of humor even within the context of these very serious cases that they’re tackling. So I think it’s just new and different and a twist on something we’ve seen before and enjoyed.
Is there anything you’d like to explore with Lorna in a potential second season?
This is how I know I love the character. I feel like there are a million things that I’d love to know about Lorna. For me, that’s how I know it’s such a fulfilling character because there’s so much I would like to know, and I think there’s so much to be explored. I know there’s just so much we can learn about Lorna.
The Lincoln Lawyer season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.