|Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), the sometime actor who once said that life in Washington made him "long for the sincerity and realism of Hollywood," is negotiating to join the cast of "Law & Order" this fall, Hollywood sources report.|
Thompson, the first sitting senator to have a lead role in a TV series, is slated to play a newly named district attorney and boss of Executive Assistant DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) and Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn (Elisabeth Rohm).
Dianne Wiest, who has had the role of DA for the past two seasons, is not returning to the NBC drama series.
Thompson last summer announced his intention to retire from the Senate, changed his mind after Sept. 11, then changed his mind again in mid-March and announced that he would not seek reelection in November. "I simply do not have the heart for another six-year term," he said.
At that time, Thompson said he would fill out his current term, which expires in January. But the sources say Thompson would join the long-running hit series at the start of the season, which officially kicks off the week of Sept. 23.
Thompson's press aide, Harvey Valentine, declined to comment on the report, which first appeared in the Hollywood Reporter, a trade paper.
NBC, contacted by The TV Column, also had no comment. "Law & Order" creator and executive producer Dick Wolf had no comment other than to say that he does not comment on casting until a deal is finalized. Universal, where Wolf is based, had no comment. Thompson's Hollywood agent did not return a call for comment. It was pretty much no comment all around, except for the Senate Ethics Committee, which commented that "members of the Senate may take payment for paid engagements to perform or to provide entertainment where the artistic, musical or athletic talent of the individual is the reason for the employment rather than the person's status as a member or employee of the Senate."
No rookie in front of the camera, the former lawyer had roles in about 20 films before being elected to the Senate in 1994 to fill out the remainder of Al Gore's term after he was elected vice president. Thompson won reelection in 1996.
This would be Thompson's first regular gig as a TV series cast member; he has, however, had guest roles on "Matlock," "Roseanne," "China Beach" and "Wiseguy," and played in the acclaimed HBO flick "Barbarians at the Gate."
As a cast member of the "Law & Order" flagship show, Thompson probably would show up occasionally on episodes of Wolf's other "L&O" programs, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."
Thompson, who turns 60 on Monday, first got on-screen exposure as the 30-year-old minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee; archival footage of him in that role made it to Oliver Stone's flick "JFK."
But his real break came in 1977, when as assistant U.S. attorney for Tennessee, he took a case that eventually became the subject of the 1985 film "Marie: A True Story," starring Sissy Spacek. Thompson, who was hired as a consultant on the movie, was cast to play himself.
Newsweek's David Ansen called Thompson's "the freshest performance" of the movie; New York Times critic Janet Maslin said, with no hint of irony, that Thompson gave "one of the film's better performances playing himself," and The Washington Post's Rita Kempley called him "a natural star" who "gives so much oompf to the courtroom scene it almost makes you want to commit a crime just to hire the guy."
His film credits also include "No Way Out, "The Hunt for Red October," "Days of Thunder," "Die Hard 2," "Class Action," "Necessary Roughness," "Curly Sue," "Cape Fear," the remake of "Born Yesterday," "In the Line of Fire" and, in '94, in the John Hughes slapstick "Baby's Day Out." In the last he played FBI agent Dale Grissom, getting what was, according to several critics, the film's best line: "Radio headquarters, we're turning around and going back to the ticktock to get the booboo."
"This, coming from a man running for the U.S. Senate," sniffed the Salt Lake Tribune critic.