When the cameras are rolling, Wesam Keesh answers to another name, Jay Simmons. Landing a lead role in the new ABC network Shondaland drama, For the People, Keesh (BA ’09) delves into his new role as a public defender in the southern district court of New York City. “It’s about six brand new law school graduates in the most prestigious court in the United States,” Keesh said.
Three are prosecutors for the state, and three are public defenders. Keesh’s character Jay Simmons plays a laidback public defender, but his appearance of slacking off can be deceiving. “There’s a lot of me in Jay Simmons,” Keesh explained. “When I am passionate about something, I am willing to fight tooth and nail for it.”
Keesh began his TU career in international business, but what was merely a theatre hobby quickly transformed into his greatest passion. Under the direction of Lisa Wilson, professor of theatre, Keesh was cast as Hamlet. “Wesam was able to do the sword fights, make decisions regarding the madness, handle the verse and bring that very special humor and physical life to the character,” Wilson said.
During his time as Hamlet, Keesh experienced an aha moment when as Wilson explained, “every line has to mean something.” There is profound depth to acting, and as Hamlet, he personified that gravity. “This is so cheesy, but I felt like I was glowing. There was this golden light coming from me, and I was really in the moment,” Keesh said.
Keesh perpetually hones his acting discipline, and character development research is how he embodies Jay Simmons. While shadowing a real public defender, Keesh was surprised by some harsh realities. From simple bicycle theft to violent crimes, public defenders handle a range of cases in one day. All too often, “they have to defend the worst of humans,” Keesh said. After observing the exhausting and frequently disheartening world of public defenders, Keesh was haunted with the question: why someone would choose to be public defender? When he finished shadowing, Keesh knew the answer. “Everyone deserves a voice in the courtroom,” he said.
After Keesh switched his major to theatre, his family whole-heartedly supported him, and his father cautioned, “If this is something you want to do, then make sure you’re the best at it.” There is no role for lazy actors, and although Keesh cannot control what roles he is offered, he can remain competitive by daily practicing his craftsmanship. Wilson said Keesh has a “thrilling combination of heart, imagination, physicality and immersion he brings to his work.”
For the People will air mid-season 2018, and until then, TU’s famous Hamlet will follow his own advice. “The most important thing for any actor is to just make it real.”