"I met my husband in Israel; he's Israeli and it took four years of the Jedi mind tricks to convince him to move to the States," the Northwestern grad said of her husband, writer-director Guy Nattiv. "So he would say that I'm an expert at it, and that it took zero research to play this part."
On the Chicago-filmed drama airing at 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Newman plays Sam Gordon, an ex-con who tricks her way into a job at Edwards and Associates, a business based on the belief that people's decisions are influenced in ways they're not aware. In other words, employees use con artistry, psychological suggestion and a bit of science to aid clients who have nowhere else to turn.
Sam met the company's co-owner, fellow ex-con Ross Edwards (Christian Slater), at court-ordered group therapy sessions. She uses her own powers of influence to con Ross and his brother, Clark (Steve Zahn), into giving her a job.
"I think that Sam is sort of the female version of Ross ... and I think that she knows how to manipulate people better than almost anybody," Newman said. "It's how she's earned every dollar she's ever made in her life."
Although she believes acting could be considered "the art of manipulation," Newman didn't con her way into a successful career since graduating from Northwestern. After working in film, on stage and TV with "Eureka," "Eastwick," "Grimm" and many more productions, Newman returned to Chicago in the fall to film "Mind Games."
She had the chance to revisit some of her old stomping grounds, including the Green Mill Jazz Club, where she performed with her own jazz quartet and the funk band Sweet Sweet Candy while in school. Filming also took her back to a familiar Evanston corner.
"We were shooting one block from Ridge and Davis, which is where I lived when I was at Northwestern," she said. "So that was just magnificent. That was a really, really cool experience."
Newman talked more about her "Mind Games" role and hanging in Chicago with her husband.
Learn more about "Mind Games" on its ABC web page.
Before we talk about "Mind Games" I have to ask what you think Dr. Tess Fontana [from "Eureka"] is up to right now.
[Laughs.] Very good. Well, she's in Australia working on some spaceship or something. She's on Mars. She will definitely be the first person on Mars, I'll tell you that.
She was one of my favorites from "Eureka," so I had to ask. But let's talk about Sam in "Mind Games." What do you think makes her invaluable to the team?
In further episodes, people from her past sort of show up and you learn that she's been ... a trained con man from when she was a little girl. She can use manipulative tools that only a woman can—that [Ross] can't. So I think that she just knows how to get what she wants out of people and she's really, really good at doing it. Whereas Clark is sort of the brains behind it, she's one of the executioners and she's got her way [of doing things].
Do you think these tricks work in real life?
Oh my God, yes. Oh yes. Look, every piece of research that we talk about in the show comes from real life. It's research studies that were actually done and [creator] Kyle Killen just plucked it right out of real life. So I think it's sort of condensed into TV land format, but totally I think that we probably implement these every single day and don't even realize them.
Have you ever used "Mind Games"-style manipulation or suggestion in any kind of audition situation?
Oh God, I mean, don't you think that acting is the art of manipulation? That all we do all day long is lie and try [pretend] as much as possible within the lie. Although I will say that early on in my career I auditioned for a Western—oh my God, it's my dream to do a Western; I would kill to do a Western. But I've never ridden a horse, maybe like a couple times in my past. And it was between me and another couple of girls and they asked if I knew how to ride a horse and I was like, "Oh my God, I grew up on a farm; I've ridden horses my entire life." I figured OK, I will literally go from this room to a stable to spend every single day ... until I get the job on a horse. Anyway, I didn't get the job. So I guess it didn't work.
What else is coming up for Sam?
Well, Sam really gets in her own way a lot. Sam has a lot of good intentions but just can't—these old habits die hard. So she gets herself in a heap-load of trouble with Ross. They sort of get involved with each other in a lot of different ways. I'll just leave it at that.
Sounds like there might be something between Ross and Sam soon?
Yeah, there's a little chemistry between Sam and Ross, but it's a powder keg. It has the potential to blow up in a lot of people's faces. You know Sam's really complicated, which is one of the things that I loved about the character is that she's not black or white. She's not the straight-ahead good girl, and she's not your straight-ahead bad girl. She's got a lot of stuff going on.
You went to Northwestern. How was coming back to Chicago to shoot this show?
Wow, what a dream. ... That was pretty awesome to get to go back to Chicago. And my husband had never been there before. He moved there with me and we fell in love with the city. Oh my God, all the little coffee houses, all the amazing restaurants, the people there. We lived in Old Town. It was great. It was really great.
Did you have any favorites?
Well, my husband is a writer/director and he basically broke his next script at this little place in the Ukrainian Village called Star Lounge [Coffee Bar]. They serve Dark Matter coffee. ... He was there 12 hours a day every single day for five months.
Did you get to revisit any favorite places from your school days?
Yeah, we went back to the Green Mill. I had a band when I was at Northwestern. We did a lot of, like, jazz. I was at the Green Mill, God, every weekend. And so we went there and hung out a bunch. Where else did we go? We went back to Evanston a couple times. I mean I didn't spend that much time in Chicago when I was a student so I really got to know the city this time around, which is great.
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