‘Proven Innocent’: Kelsey Grammer & Rachelle Lefevre on Facing Off in the New Legal Drama

Proven Innocent - Rachelle Lefevre, Kelsey Grammer
Jean Whiteside/FOX

Hell hath no fury like a woman wrongfully imprisoned. In the new drama Proven Innocent, Madeline Scott (Rachelle Lefevre) is a Chicago defense attorney on a mission to exonerate people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

Her crusade isn’t driven solely by a desire to see justice served: When she was 18, Madeline and her older brother, Levi (Riley Smith), were found guilty of murdering their friend Rosemary Lynch (Casey Tutton). The siblings spent 10 years behind bars before their verdict was overturned and they were freed. Now, Madeline is determined to spare other innocent victims. Sounds like we’re teed up for a triumphant tale of redemption, no?

There’s just one obstacle: Gore Bellows (Kelsey Grammer), the powerful and corrupt Cook County state’s attorney who put Madeline away. The two are about to go up against each other — in a case involving a preacher’s wife convicted of lethal arson — igniting all sorts of festering fury that will set Madeline on the warpath. And with Gore making a bid to become Illinois’s next attorney general, he won’t take kindly to her quest to expose his dirty dealings. Lefevre and Grammer deliver their opening arguments.

When we meet Madeline in the pilot, she seems pretty together.

Rachelle Lefevre: She’s a fantastic lawyer. That’s her coping mechanism, and she is single-minded in her pursuit. But her personal life is a mess. There are all these things she hasn’t dealt with — trauma and rage over being wrongfully convicted — that will come crashing down when she has to face off with Gore for the first time.

Even though we’ve been prepped to despise him, once that moment arrives, Gore comes across as…decent. What gives?

Kelsey Grammer: Originally, this character was written as a mustache-twirling bad guy. That was my chief objection. I said, “You gotta humanize him.” Either he’s a cartoon character or he has some goodness and ideals in him. The odds of finding a prosecutor who only incarcerates innocent people are kind of unlikely.

Lefevre: Gore really believes that Chicago and the justice system are better for having him. He’s the worst kind of bad guy: the bad guy who thinks he’s the good guy!

Are these opponents evenly matched?

Lefevre: I use my experience as Rachelle Lefevre, actress, for our scenes. Because my reaction to seeing him in the courtroom is “Holy s–t, that’s Kelsey Grammer!” He’s this really looming presence — he’s tall and broad, and when he walks into a room, he takes up space in a different way.

Normally, I’d be trying to boost myself up, but I did none of that. I allowed myself to give in to the intimidation and be like, “He’s more talented than I am, and he’s going to eat me alive,” because those are the same feelings Maddie has to overcome about Gore.

Grammer: That’s flattering. I think Rachelle is formidable. She carries Madeline’s wonderful self-righteousness well. It’s exactly the kind of intergenerational dynamic that would make an old attorney like Gore think, “Oh, this is such a pain in the ass.”

Lefevre with Liza Colón-Zayas, Russell Hornsby.

Each episode has a case-of-the-week story involving Madeline’s clients, as well as an overarching mystery about who was truly responsible for Rosemary’s death. How do you like the balance?

Grammer: Gore still firmly believes Madeline is guilty. He knows on some level — maybe a level she doesn’t even know herself — that she hasn’t told the truth about what happened. So it makes sense that as Madeline goes after Gore, he goes after her. I don’t know where the story is going, but they did promise me that the murder would be solved by the end of the first season!

Lefevre: It offers two of my favorite experiences as a TV viewer: that satisfied feeling you get from procedurals when a story is all wrapped up [in one hour] and then that ongoing journey of trying to find out [whodunit], which is frustrating and fascinating and leaves you going, “Is it next week yet?!”

Proven Innocent, Series Premiere, Friday, February 15, 9/8c, Fox