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'Presumed Innocent' with Jake Gyllenhaal, Nana Mensah moves away from 'Hollywoodization' of legal cases

Created by David E. Kelley, the Apple TV+ series, based on Scott Turow’s 1987 novel, finds a Chicago prosecutor as a suspect in a murder investigation

Created by David E. Kelley, with J.J. Abrams as an executive producer, the Apple TV+ series Presumed Innocent, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Nana Mensah, Ruth Negga, Peter Sarsgaard and O-T Fagbenle, is a new take on Scott Turow’s 1987 novel about a mysterious murder. As Mensah highlighted, what's "enriching" about this adaptation of the story is getting away from the "Hollywoodization" legal issues.

"It's getting away from the Hollywoodization of the legal system and really looking at how consequences are suffered," Mensah told Yahoo Canada. "You can't just act with impunity. You can lose elections. You can lose your job. You can perhaps go to jail."

"All of those things feel very real and so watching them in this show I think really actually just helps elevate the stakes."

Watch Presumed Innocent on Wednesdays on Apple TV+ with 7 days free, then $12.99/month

$13 at Apple TV+

In the Presumed Innocent series, which comes after Turow’s novel was previously adapted into a film with Harrison Ford in 1990, Gyllenhaal's character Rusty Sabich, Chicago’s chief deputy prosecutor, is a suspect in a murder investigation.

The series begins with Rusty getting a phone call that his co-worker, Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve), has been murdered, and he's assigned to be the head lawyer in the case. Rusty is quick to point out to his boss Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp) that the crime seems reminiscent of a case he worked on with Carolyn.

But this is all taking place as Raymond is seeking reelection, battling against Nico Della Guardia (Fagbenle), and an unsolved murder isn't helping Raymond gain any more support. When Nico ends up winning the election by the end of the first episode, Rusty is off the case, replaced by his colleague Tommy Molto (Sarsgaard), who reveals that they know Rusty and Carolyn had been having an affair, and Rusty is now a suspect in the case. Tommy also tells Rusty that Carolyn was pregnant when she was killed.

While we work through Rusty's possible involvement in the murder, there's a significant focus on the impact Rusty's affair has on his family, his wife Barbara (Negga) and their children.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Nana Mensah in
Jake Gyllenhaal and Nana Mensah in "Presumed Innocent," now streaming on Apple TV+.

Mensah revealed that she, like other cast members, signed on to the series with only a couple episodes written, and just the first episode was enough to grab her attention.

"We didn't know the full arc of it," Mensah stressed. "All we had was that first episode and it was so propulsive on the page, I just couldn't stop reading."

"Sometimes when your agent sends you things you can get 10 pages in and then you go take a break. Your agent's like, 'Did you ever read that thing?' And you've got to go back. And this was not that. ... I was like, 'I'm in.' I grew up watching David E. Kelley shows and J.J. Abrams shows, so the opportunity to work with those guys, the opportunity to work with Jake, I mean, no brainer."

In the first moments where Mensah shares the screen with Gyllenhaal as his colleague Det. Alana Rodriguez, we see Rusty give her a hug as she's seemingly quite spooked about having to investigate Carolyn's case with him. It's a small gesture but tells us a lot about their relationship.

"Luckily they budgeted in a couple of days of rehearsal before we started shooting," Mensah said. "We sat down at the table with our director, Anne Sewitsky, to figure out their history and their relationship so that when we launched into it being challenged, or threatened, or compromised, we knew exactly what was at stake."

"So we had a really good time kind of figuring that out, how long they've known each other, what cases they've worked together, the ways in which their relationship was symbiotic."

But as the evidence in Carolyn's murder starts piling up again Rusty, the series does show that Rodriguez isn't blindly loyal to him.

"She's trained as a detective. She understands and embraces skepticism, questioning the things that she's being told," Mensah said. "And so watching her try and piece it together was, I felt, really exciting."

"Because then you start to question like, are you that good at your job? And the whole point is that she is hyper-competent. You don't want to question that."

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 11: (L-R) Jake Gyllenhaal, Nana Mensah and Peter Sarsgaard attend the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 11: (L-R) Jake Gyllenhaal, Nana Mensah and Peter Sarsgaard attend the SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations "Presumed Innocent" at SAG-AFTRA Foundation Robin Williams Center on June 11, 2024 in New York City. (Photo by Manny Carabel/Getty Images)

As Mensah explained, there was also a commitment to embrace "naturalism" in the series, including having a legal consultant on set to help understand, for example, what these characters would look like going into a court room.

"Even something as simple as entering a prison, entering a maximum security prison as a police officer, as a detective, what does that look like?" Mensah said.

"I was really appreciative that production supported us so that we could execute very realistically. We would talk about the scenes, we talked about the shots, the setups."

The actor added that starring alongside Gyllenhaal, who is also an executive producer on the series, was a particularly effective way to work.

"If he had suggestions about things, he wasn't just an actor, ... he was actually a stakeholder," Mensah said. "That was really, really cool, just watching him move through that space, because he's been doing it for a really long time and he's really good at it, and has really good ideas."

Watch Presumed Innocent on Wednesdays on Apple TV+ with 7 days free, then $12.99/month

$13 at Apple TV+

A particular highlight of Presumed Innocent that gives the audience that fascination with the story, in a way that isn't always present in other whodunit stories, is seeing what happens to Rusty's character outside of criminal and legal structures.

"Anyone in any country anywhere, there are cases that kind of capture the public's imagination," Mensah shared. "Trials of the century, if you will, where people are all tuned in and they want to know, guilty or innocent."

"What we don't see is what happens when those people go home and the door is closed, and they have to sit around a dinner table. What are they talking about? How are they living? ... These people being thrown into the situation, but then also having to survive as a family unit, is really interesting television."