The producers of Law & Order, Dick Wolf's venerable, seemingly ageless formula crime show, invited a batch of bloggers onto the set for a Q&A with cast members Alana De La Garza, Jeremy Sisto, and Anthony Anderson. We sat in the jury box on the famous set, but unlike real jurors, got to ask the "witnesses" our own questions.
The show is in its 20th year, and Sisto, who has played Det. Cyrus Lupo since 2007, explained the show's long-lasting appeal succinctly: "Dick took a genre of detective story as old as storytelling, and added [the technique of] cutting directly from finding a clue to where that clue leads us…" That, along with the sandwiching of police investigation and trial into one concentrated hour, and topics "ripped from the headlines," made the show something different, and the formula retains its appeal 20 years on.
Added Ms. De La Garza, who plays Assistant D.A. Connie Rubirosa, "it's not about the characters." Though they do get occasional scenes involving their personal lives – in fact, she did let us know that Rubirosa will be getting some backstory shortly! – the show is almost entirely procedural. It's a comforting formula, as comforting as it was to know that Columbo was always going to turn back to the murderer with a laconic "One more thing." Here, it's "definitely not about us," Anderson said.
For Sisto, coming from the character-driven Six Feet Under, that was an adjustment. But he's adjusted before, having had to live down his early role as hunky Elton in Clueless. "I hated it for a while – you're kind of like an action figure, like a toy – it kind of felt embarrassing. But then all those kids who loved Clueless grew up and became hot women. I realized I was their Judd Nelson."
For De La Garza it was a different adjustment – a positive one, moving from "damsel in distress" roles to a strong, capable, role-model type of character.
And for Anderson, who plays Det. Kevin Bernard, moving from movies to TV (he had a recurring role on The Shield before Law & Order) and not being the "comic relief" or the "fat funny guy" was a "welcome departure." However, you can take the comedy away from the actor, but you can't take the comedy out of the comedian; Anderson had us in stitches for a good part of the interview. He stays in close touch with his comic roots, still hosting a show at the Gotham Comedy Club and going on the road with his act when he can. His dramatic chops, however, were seriously in evidence in Friday night's episode. Guest starring Rob Corddry playing against type, the ep focused a bright emotional glare on Anderson’s character when the target of an investigation turned the tables on the detective and revealed a sensitive secret from his past.
As for the future of the show, no one can say whether it's on its last legs, if it will be on on for another 20 years, or something in between. But as Anderson put it, "As long as people keep committing crimes, this show has a place." Right now, Sisto said, they're shooting an episode about gun control. Like many of the hot topics Law & Order takes on, this one's bound to get a rise out of the audience.
Law & Order airs Fridays at 8 PM Eastern on NBC.
A final note for Law & Order obsessives in the New York area: you can catch actor Will Rogers, who played a creepy hacker in Friday's episode, live on stage in Creature through Nov. 21. Coincidentally, I just reviewed this excellent play by Heidi Schreck here.
Photos by Jon Sobel.