|The person may change, but the job stays the same.|
"Law & Order" prides itself on remaining one of television's most procedural dramas, to the extent any cast changes don't alter the franchise greatly. Fresh evidence will be uncovered Wednesday, Jan. 19, when executive producer Dick Wolf's venerable NBC series introduces Annie Parisse as Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Borgia. The character replaces Elisabeth Rohm's Serena Southerlyn as Jack McCoy's (Sam Waterston) new courtroom partner.
Featured in movies such as "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and the current "National Treasure," Parisse appeared on "Law & Order" before -- as a guest star during the 2001-02 season -- but the alumna of daytime's "As the World Turns" knows it's quite different to succeed such other forerunners as Angie Harmon, Carey Lowell and Jill Hennessy. She addressed that while finishing her first episode as a "Law & Order" star, "Fluency," in which Borgia and McCoy prosecute the source of a fake flu vaccine.
Zap2it: Do you have a good handle on your new character already?
A: It's definitely a process. Everything seems to get more and more defined as we go along, but I do have a few ideas. There are things I like about her thus far; she's incredibly confident and smart, which are givens for the character, then there have been little hints of things that could really be fun to play with. Those involve why she has chosen this particular career path, and they'll become clearer in a few more episodes.
Zap2it: Whom did you play when you were first on "Law & Order"?
Parisse: The character's name was Jasmine. She was an exotic dancer and a bit of a red herring in the story; she was suspected of killing her very wealthy lover's wife. Now that I've got this role, I feel like I've made good.
Zap2it: Did Dick Wolf remember you from that part and call you for this?
Parisse: I actually auditioned for this, and I just thought, "Well, we'll see what happens." I didn't hear anything right away, so I thought the opportunity probably went away. Suddenly, a couple of weeks later, I heard they wanted to screen-test me for it.
Zap2it: How familiar were you with the show overall?
Parisse: "Law & Order" happens to be my dad's favorite TV show, so of course, he was totally excited when I got this role. We used to watch it a lot when I was in high school. One of the things I think is brilliant about it is that while the scripts don't focus on the characters, the actors get to express who those people are just by portraying their work lives. I think a lot of viewers can relate.
Zap2it: Are you ready for the amount of attention this will bring you?
Parisse: It's been a little overwhelming, or at least surprising, in the sense that I've been acting in New York City and sometimes in Los Angeles ever since I finished school ... but I've never experienced anything quite like this.
Zap2it: How have your first days on the set been?
Parisse: It's an incredible group of people. I've rarely felt so welcomed. They're just really friendly, and Sam (Waterston) in particular has been so helpful. It's daunting to come into something like this, with dialogue that relies so much on legal terms, and he's been great.
Zap2it: Have you found your soap-opera background useful in getting back into series work?
Parisse: I did "As the World Turns" (in the role of Julia Lindsey Snyder) right after I graduated from Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and I learned so much. I'm so grateful for that experience, because I think it put me in good stead in terms of basic but incredibly important things ... enduring long hours, memorizing dialogue quickly and being able to roll with the punches when things change. That's actually served me well in all the work I've done since I left that show.
Zap2it: Did you expect the box-office success of "National Treasure"?
Parisse: It's just amazing, isn't it? I had such a great time working on that movie. I play an FBI agent, and I got to do a lot of fun stuff that made me think, "This is totally why I'm an actor!" I got to jump out of helicopters and carry a gun and yell, "Freeze. FBI." Actors are the only group of people who get to spend their adult lives playing games. Most of my stuff in "National Treasure" was with Harvey Keitel, and it was such an honor to work with him.
Zap2it: You've also made movies recently with Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman ("Prime") and Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda ("Monster-in-Law"). How were those experiences?
Parisse: Every now and then, I have to ask a friend to pinch me to make sure I'm actually awake. At the read-through for "Prime," there I was, sitting with Meryl Streep -- one of the people who made me want to be an actor. I can remember watching Uma Thurman in "Dangerous Liaisons" when I was younger and wondering, "Who is that?"
It's been really great for me to learn from these people by watching how they work and gleaning whatever lessons I can from them. I feel the same way about going into "Law & Order."