As ABC’s drama series SECRETS AND LIES returns for Season 2, a new murder mystery ensnares the Warner family and Detective Cornell (Juliette Lewis) is back to ensure another murderer does not escape justice. Helmed by Terry O’Quinn portraying the Warner family patriarch with a loving, but firm grip on his family, the Warners are not keen on having an outsider looking into their personal affairs or their professional lives. After all, they all have secrets — and they are willing to lie a bit to protect them. In an exclusive interview, star Mekia Cox talks about portraying the Warner family legal “watch-dog” and what she loved about working on SECRETS AND LIES.
What drew you to the role of Amanda Warner and SECRETS AND LIES?
MEKIA: I pretty much read the script and I was hooked. I connected to Amanda right away. I feel like there are 3 three things I usually look for in a role – a character who is either a reflection of who I am, who I want to be or who I want to explore. I think Amanda is a combination of the first 2. We actually have a lot of similarities when it comes to the way we feel about family and those we hold dear, but Amanda is a touch more fierce and strong willed than I am, which is something I wish I had a little bit more of.
How would you describe Amanda? Who is she and how does she fit into the second season of SECRETS AND LIES?
MEKIA: Amanda’s the middle sister of 2 brothers played by Michael Ealy and Charlie Barnett. She has a kind heart and cares deeply for her brothers as well as her father played by Terry O’Quinn, but she’s also extremely smart and good at her job and is a force to be reckoned with if and when she feels there may be a threat to her or any of her loved ones.
What is Amanda’s initial impression of Detective Cornell?
MEKIA: Amanda’s a defense lawyer and has been in the mix of the criminal law world of Charlotte, NC for a while so she knows exactly who Cornell is and how Cornell works. And though Cornell can be quite intimidating Amanda understands that this is a tactic she uses and anything Cornell may throw at her she throws right back at Cornell.
What is Amanda’s relationship like with the rest of her family? Does she play favorites with any of her relatives?
MEKIA: She loves her family deeply and tries to do her best to protect them from any outside forces that could possibly harm them. However she definitely has a special bond with her older brother Eric. She’s also best friends with his wife Kate played by Jordana Brewster and she’s the reason that they met in the first place. So when Kate dies Amanda goes straight into defense mode and does everything she can to make sure Eric stays safe and doesn’t get caught up in Cornell’s web.
What kinds of teasers can you offer about this season of SECRETS AND LIES?
MEKIA: I mean I guess this may be fairly obvious given the name of the show but any and everyone with a connection to this case has their own personal secrets or issues that they may be dealing with. Each episode new and exciting things are revealed keeping you on the edge of your seat not knowing what’s gonna happen next.
What was the most fun part about working on the show?
MEKIA: The cast. We had a great cast AND crew. I was genuinely excited everyday to get up and go to work, which is important cause sometimes those 5 am calls can get to ya. But when you walk in and are greeted with love it just makes everything so much easier.
As a person and as an actor, what did you learn from this role?
MEKIA: Well I was actually cast fairly early in the casting process which was nice cause it allowed me to have time to really sit with Amanda for a while before we started shooting and I got to learn more about who she is on a personal level, but what was really interesting for me was what I got to learn about criminal law and public defense. I actually reached out to a woman named Elana Saris who is a criminal defense attorney and who’s podcast “Trial Lawyer Confidential” I had begun to listen to. We eventually were able to meet and chat over coffee and she filled me in on what her day to day experience was like and she actually then allowed me one day to join her at the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office and I got to sit in on some trials and see what life as a public defender really was like.
If you could offer your character some advice, what would you tell Amanda?
MEKIA: Ha! “To take a second and breathe.” Amanda gets so caught up in her brother’s life and what’s going on in his world that she forgets to take care of her own life which then begins to put a bit of a strain on her and her relationship with her husband, played by Edwin Hodge. She has a tendency to want to help others before herself which of course is honorable but can also be a problem.
What has been some of the best advice you have gotten that you would share with other aspiring actors?
MEKIA: “Stop acting.” Haha! And I don’t mean that as in stop acting as a career choice I mean when you are acting “stop acting!”. It’s something that I even have to remind myself of occasionally. We as actors have a tendency to “put on” the character rather than just “be” the character. Live in their world and stop “trying” to be, just be.
What is the perks of working on a show like SECRETS AND LIES?
MEKIA: I got to work with some pretty amazing actors. From Juliette Lewis to Michael Ealy and I mean the fact that Terry O’Quinn plays my father! I got to go into work everyday and play with a group of people that I respect and admire. What more can you ask for?
Then what are the challenges?
MEKIA: I’d actually go back to my answer for the last question. Working with these amazing actors!! Yes it’s a lot of fun but at times it can be somewhat intimidating being around people who’s body of work is so immense. But it’s also a challenge to step up to the plate which as an actor I feel can only make you stronger.
What other projects have you been working on that you can talk about, such as your work on CHICAGO MED?
MEKIA: CHICAGO MED has been great. I play an epidemiologist who’s also Dr. Charles (Oliver Platt’s character’s) daughter. The cast is awesome and I’m really enjoying my time there. IMPASTOR is another show on TV Land that you might see me pop in and out of this fall. The show begins September 28th and I believe my character starts to appear in episode 3. I also have a project that I’m producing called Broadway at the W which started at the W hotel in Hollywood and we’ve just recently opened up in Times Square as well and are looking to expand to areas all across the Country.
What for you is the best part of being an actor in today’s world?
MEKIA: What’s interesting about where we are now especially in entertainment is the prevalence of opportunity as well as the ability to create. We’re at a point now where you don’t have to wait for others in order to create your own art. Cameras, lighting, equipment are more easily attainable than ever before. So if there’s a story you want to tell, then tell it. That’s the beauty of where we are now.
To see who is hiding secrets and who is telling lies and what pivotal role Mekia’s character plays in the midst of it, be sure to tune in for the premiere of SECRETS AND LIES Season 2 on Sunday, September 25th at 9:00 p.m. on ABC.