|We didn't need an APB to round up this trio of stars from primetime's hot Law & Order shows. When USA WEEKEND Magazine offered Jerry Orbach (Detective Lennie Briscoe of Law & Order), Christopher Meloni (Detective Elliot Stabler of Law & Order: SVU) and Jamey Sheridan (Capt. James Deakins of Law & Order: Criminal Intent) the chance to celebrate their series' success in tuxes and top hats, they raced to the scene of the shooting -- photo shooting, that is. The original Law & Order series launched its run in 1990, followed by SVU in 1999 and Criminal Intent in 2001; now all three routinely rank at the top of their time slots. Here, the actors sit down for their first-ever three-way chat and get "interrogated" on what they've learned playing New York cops, how the real men in blue react to them, and whether they're hot dog or doughnut guys. |
Let's face it: Format-wise, the Law & Order shows are more Dragnet than NYPD Blue. Is the franchise the television equivalent of comfort food?
Orbach: Yes. Our show is a ritual, almost like a Mass. There's going to be discovery of a crime, then the follow-up, then the arrest. In the second half, the suspect goes to trial and either gets convicted or gets off. All of this in 60 minutes. The viewers know what they're getting and like it.
Of course, Jerry's throwaway line is an indispensable
part of the ritual. What's the most memorable one?
Sheridan: Give 'em "The Duvet"!
Orbach: [Grins] Ahhh, "The Duvet." That was a great one but, unfortunately, one the audience didn't fully get. We edited out the set-up, where I said, "$5,000 for a quilt?" And my partner says, "But that's a duvet." This got cut out. So the audience just sees the old lady, who's dead in the hallway, and she's covered up with a little ratty blanket. I say, "At least they could have covered her with a duvet." It sounds like I came up with that out of nowhere.
We're sure TV corpses appreciate your efforts. So what makes for a great throwaway line, anyway?
Orbach: Neil Simon's rule of comedy: If there's a "K," it's funny. "Pickle" is funny. [Co-star] Sam Waterston and I debated the throwaway line once. He told me, "It's not always about which is funnier." I said: "Yes, it is. It is always about which is funnier. Especially in a scene in a morgue."
The line will be there every week, but the casting goes through more lineup changes than a pro sports team. Do you guys need a scorecard to keep everyone straight?
Meloni: Except for Jerry. He's the Cal Ripken Jr. of the cast. He's penciled in for every game. As for the rest of us? Uneasy lies the crown upon our head.
You seem safe for now, given your appeal to both men and women. What's the sexiest thing about your character, Chris?
Meloni: His underwear. They're these skimpy little blue bikini numbers. We did one episode where I was talking to my wife and I dropped trou because I'm getting ready for bed. I got a lot of mail about that.
Are you going to get naked on Law & Order, as you did in HBO's Oz?
Meloni: We'll see. So far, they're pulling out all the stops to make me not pull an Oz.
The interrogation room, incidentally, looks as drab as anything on Oz's prison set. How would you customize it?
Sheridan: I'd just nail down one chair. The suspect is right where I want him, every single time.
Orbach: And he can't pick it up and throw it at you.
OK, guys. Law & Order 101, Case Study A: What's the best way to interrogate an Upper East Side socialite who had her husband whacked and dumped his body parts into the Atlantic Ocean?
Orbach: You start with "It's so hard to get good help these days."
Case Study B: If you have only an hour while a Park Avenue lawyer, who happens to be a suspect, dines at Nobu, what's the best way to strip down his roadster
Meloni: First, those cars can rot out at the bottom, so I'd stomp my foot through the floorboards. Then I'd rip off the wheels. From there, it's just a matter of going from the bottom up. If it's already rusted out, you're halfway home.
Orbach: This is the sort of thing you turn over to a guy like Chris, as you can see.
Meloni: If you'll notice, his nails are much nicer than mine. So he practices what he preaches.
Any tips for avoiding a subpoena server?
Meloni: Don't answer the door or the phone. But that's just good, common-sense advice for living in general. At least that's how I live my life.
Let's get serious for a moment, because your city has gone through so much trauma this year. What effect have the events of Sept. 11 had on the show and your
feelings about police officers?
Orbach: We've always felt they were heroes. These guys don't know if they're going to come home at night. They're heroes for just showing up. The best compliment we get is when the real cops say, "Keep making us look good."
Sheridan: We didn't get back to shooting for several months [after] that day. But I couldn't wait to talk to the guys on the real-life major case squad. I was dying to know how they were doing. As for the show itself, we know the audience is going to be saying, "Where is 9/11?" But it will slowly become part of the show. Something will happen to a character on 9/11 that drove them to do something else, and we'll react to that. You'll see some dust-ups between the fire department and police department. Things like that.
Like so many others in public safety in New York, the Law & Order guys have made a tradition of eating from street vendors while walking down a crowded sidewalk. What's on the menu?
Meloni: Sabrett's hot dogs with sauerkraut, mustard, onions and just a hint of ketchup. You either bring your A game for a hot dog or you don't bother coming.
Sheridan: In my case, Deakins has been trying to lose weight for 10 years. He's avoiding that bad Irish food, the mashed potatoes and corned beef. He's doing the granola-and-salad thing, and he hates it.
Meloni: Yes. As strong as possible. But with year-old sugar and sour milk.
Sheridan: Deakins is fighting not to drink it. If he did, he'd probably kill somebody. It's supposed to be decaf, but you never get decaf in a police station.
Given your status, we bet you guys never get traffic tickets.
Meloni: Oh, yes, we do. I just got a speeding ticket. I was upstate, and the guy pulls me over. I thought: "I'll flash him a smile. I'll make eye contact. He'll recognize me, and everything will be fine." I give him my license, and I pull it out and show it to him, like "Recognize the face?"
The old "I'm not a police officer, but I play one on TV" trick?
Meloni: Yep. He came back 10 minutes later, and I was $110 poorer.
We're sure it was nothing personal, because he probably watches the show every week. How obsessive do the Law & Order fans get?
Orbach: There are people who watch our show three times a day in reruns. There are people who know all the different partners, all the different assistant DAs. They'll quote to me the specific title of an episode; I may or may not remember it. But they know the title, plot synopsis, cast -- everything, chapter and verse.
Sheridan: They probably have the Law & Order reference guide in their library. There really is one [Law & Order: The
Unofficial Companion]. It catalogs every episode: who's on
it, the title, the synopsis.
Do fans notice you on the streets of New York, or are you able to walk around without too much of that?
Meloni: That's the difference between television and movies. There's a story about George Clooney [before he moved to the big screen] being on a plane with Mel Gibson. They get off the plane together, and people are whispering, "Oh, look! It's Mel Gibson!" They pay $10 a ticket to see him 60 feet high on a movie screen, so they're excited. Then George comes around and it's "Hey, George. How ya doin'?" That's because he's in their living rooms for free. In television, you're part of the family.
Orbach: For the most part, I can just walk down the street, and a guy says, "Hey! Love your show!" Then you give them a friendly nod, and it's "Thanks. Great. I'll be seeing ya ..." And that's it. It keeps it simple.
Favorite crime flicks
Sheridan: Bullitt, because Steve McQueen ticked like a watch. His upper lip sweats. That's about it.
Orbach: One that I was in, Prince of the City. It conveyed the humanity of the cops, how they could be tempted by money and narcotics.
Meloni: Blood Simple. It kept me on the edge of my seat.
Best trick to play on SVU's conspiracy nut, Detective John Munch, played by Richard Belzer Sheridan: Show up on his show out of sequence and make him think he's lost it.
Orbach: Make him play somebody else besides Belzer.
Meloni: Prove to him that it was, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald who acted solo.
Their characters' Walter Mitty fantasies
Meloni: To have a crush on Detective Munch.
Sheridan: To be Phil Simms. For Jim Deakins, nothing could
beat being the Super Bowl quarterback of the New York Giants.
Orbach: To be on the PGA tour. He only gets to play golf every once in a while. He has to take the subway to Van Cortlandt Park, where you hit balls around old used cars.