|Lawyer-turned-actor-turned-United States senator Fred Thompson is becoming an actor again before his term officially expires, with NBC confirming that the Tennessee Republican will join the cast of "Law & Order" this fall, playing the role of the New York district attorney.|
In a surprise, Thompson--who had previously announced that he would not seek reelection in November--is beginning production on the show this week, meaning he will be featured when the series opens its 13th season in October, while he's still in the Senate. He replaces Dianne Wiest, ending the Oscar-winning actress' two-year stint on the show.
When reports of Thompson's possible casting surfaced, it was anticipated that he would not start working on the show before his term concluded at the end of this year. Thompson's spokesman, Harvey Valentine, said the senator had told the producers that "his commitment to the Senate would be foremost" until his term is over. He is currently on a recess this week and will have another break in October to film additional episodes.
Valentine said he was unaware of any legislation relating to telecommunications or NBC that might force the senator to recuse himself. In a statement, Thompson said, " 'Law & Order' has been one of television's leading drama series for over a decade. It is well-written, well-acted, and always topical. I look forward to working with this talented cast and being a part of this quality series."
Although legislators have appeared in cameo roles in movies such as "Dave," it may be without precedent for a sitting U.S. senator to have a regular part in a dramatic TV program. NBC's press release made no reference to Thompson's current position, billing him as a "former prosecutor and accomplished film and television actor."
Wiest's agent, at ICM, did not return a phone call regarding her departure.
According to the producers, Thompson's character is a political conservative elected district attorney as fallout from the events of Sept. 11. He will appear on all three installments of the franchise, including the newer "Law & Order" entries "Special Victims Unit" and "Criminal Intent."
Elected to the senate in 1994--filling the seat Al Gore vacated when he become vice president--Thompson, 60, had been an assistant United States Attorney and served as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee before embarking on his acting career, which included roles in the films "The Hunt for Red October," "Barbarians at the Gate," "No Way Out" and "Die Hard 2."
Thompson announced that he would not run again in March after the heart attack death of his 38-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, though he said the decision was not attributable to "one thing."
In a statement then, he said, "I simply do not have the heart for another six-year term.... I feel that I have other priorities that I need to attend to."
Cast changes have become commonplace on "Law & Order."