|ON TV, ONE SHOW EMPLOYED EVERY N.Y. ACTOR. THESE ARE THEIR STORIES|
April 25, 2007 -- PITY the New York acting world. With a once-popular series on the verge of being canceled, actors face a cold future in which Playbills no longer are filled with the words "has appeared on 'Law & Order.'"
Dick Wolf, the show's creator, once boasted that his series had cast 10,000 speaking roles - almost single-handedly keeping an entire generation of actors from waiting tables. Denis O'Hare, who has appeared as everything from a murderous priest to a schizophrenic, wouldn't be surprised.
"It's an incredible boon for all of us," says O'Hare, currently on Broadway in "Inherit the Wind." "I don't want to sound all sappy, but being on 'Law & Order' is kind of a badge of honor. Everyone in New York wanted to get on that show."
With the future still uncertain (NBC says it will make its decision to renew or not in May), The Post asked a group of "Order" guest stars to tell us their memories from the show's incredible 17-year run:
Episode: "Patient Zero" (October 2003)
Role: Kate Porter, the victim's best friend
On getting recognized: "You can do all the theater in the world, but for most people, if they can turn on the TV and see your face, then in their minds you have made it or at least you are getting there. People that I was friends with from high school that I haven't seen in years called me or e-mailed me. I still get at least one call or e-mail from someone random every time a repeat airs."
On shooting in New York: "There is always that garbage truck that leads to cars honking in the background and the fire engine that distracts you from a block away, but that's the beauty of shooting in the streets of New York. The city is happening around you, and it feeds right into each scene. One woman kept screaming out Jesse Martin's name and going crazy over the fact that Jerry Orbach was across the street from her apartment. New Yorkers have this sense of pride when they realize that 'Law & Order' is being filmed on their block. I've never seen anyone get upset about filming. As soon as they know it's 'Law & Order,' their whole mentality changes."
Episode: "Paradigm" (September 2004)
Role: Adil Salim, an Iraqi who had been a prisoner in Abu Ghraib, but was currently living in New York working in a gas station. He was suspected of murder but later found innocent
What "Law & Order" meant: "After I did the show, I called up a buddy of mine who is also an actor, and he was like, 'You did it, man. You are legitimate.' Of course, he said it with a smile on his face, but there is something about getting that 'Law & Order' credit that makes you a real New York actor. Every time I'd call one of my friends from Florida or outside of New York and be like, 'I just did this amazing off-Broadway play, and I'm about to do some Shakespeare and I just did this "Law & Order,"' they would be like, 'Wait, you just did "Law & Order"? You are like a real actor.'
"I know this one guy, he's a nominated actor. But he still hasn't gotten on 'Law & Order,' and it's the bane of his existence."
On possible cancellation: "Oh, that would be terrible, but what would be worse I guess is if it stayed on past its time. All good things must come to an end."
Episode: "Patient Zero" (October 2003)
Role: Elaine Blanchard, a malicious character suspected of murder.
Shooting the episode: "I was lucky enough to work with Jerry Orbach, which was very important to me, especially since his passing. He made such an effort to make me feel comfortable. He always went the extra mile with the guests, making sure that we knew where lunch was and that people were talking to us and that we felt included, basically. He was very cordial and friendly and, of course, a great actor."
What "Law & Order" meant: "I am a New Yorker at heart, but I was born in California. Actually, part of the reason I moved to New York in 2001 was because I wanted to be on 'Law & Order.' It was me and my mom's favorite show. We used to watch every episode on A&E. It was sort of our addiction. When I moved here and got on the show, it was like being christened into New York. There is this feeling that if you are a real New York actor, you have to have been on 'Law & Order.' I wouldn't have felt included if I hadn't had that experience."
On possible cancellation: "It would be like losing one of New York's most prominent citizens. I feel like 'Law & Order' itself is a character of the city, so being on it felt like being a part of New York history. As an actor in New York, 'Law & Order' is something you come to rely on."
Episodes: "Volunteers" (September 1993), "Pro Se" (May 1996), "Nullification" (November 1997), "Under God" (February 2003).
Roles: Included a murderous priest, a schizophrenic and a militia member.
What "Law & Order" meant: "Dick Wolf is responsible for paying my mortgage for at least a year. It's really good-quality work because it's the guest stars that get the juicy parts. You get these really dramatic scenes, deeper than most guest roles will ever go on a television show. These are the kinds of roles that all good actors live for. What's bizarre is that you end up working with people in the New York theater scene that you are very connected to. When I played a schizophrenic, my character tried killing Maryann Plunkett, who is a big New York theater actor, and my sister in the show was played by Ann Dowd, who is a friend of mine from Chicago. We ended up doing the movie 'Garden State' together. So there is this weird kind of repertory theater of New York where the same people end up playing brothers and sisters and wives and husbands together on 'Law & Order' and then end up doing theater together on off-Broadway and Broadway."
On getting recognized: "Every week, someone will stop me on the subway and say, 'Were you the schizophrenic guy?' 'Were you that militia guy?' 'Weren't you that priest who killed people?' It is hilarious. It's a testament to how widely pervasive 'Law & Order' is as a culture that I can win a Tony on Broadway, and no one will know who I am, but I can do one episode as a schizophrenic on 'Law & Order,' and everyone will know me."
Episode: "Sideshow" (February 1999)
Role: Chelsea Purcell, a murderous contractor.
The audition: "It was so serendipitous because I was a waitress at Il Bucco years ago, and Benjamin Bratt came in, and this is before he blew up into a big star on 'Law & Order.' He was the young hottie on the show, but people really hadn't embraced him yet, and I said to him, 'I am going to work with you on that show.' Two years later when I was hired, he totally remembered me. We had a scene where he had to tackle me, and I wanted to be like, 'Hey, can we do that again? I wasn't fully in the moment.' He was the sweetest guy, but then again everyone that worked on 'Law & Order' was like that. It reinforces your belief that not everybody in this business is a jerk."
What "Law & Order" meant: "I used to go to bed every night and be like 'God, let me get on "Law & Order."' It was such an honor to finally book that first job. The great thing, especially for women of color, is that being on the show really gave you props. It really gave women of color a home and a place to work."
JASON and RANDY SKLAR
Episode: "Dining Out" (March 2005)
Role: Barry and Max Finneran, twin brothers suspected of murdering a TV network executive.
What "Law & Order" meant: Jason: "It is definitely a rite of passage. It's the equivalent of getting your SAG card. Actually, a lot of our parents' friends who wonder what we are doing with our lives heard that we were on 'Law & Order,' and I think now they breathe easier for us. I think old people hear that noise, that 'dun dun,' in their sleep. I think that show just resonates with people."
Shooting the episode: Jason: "During the second scene that we did, Dennis Farina had to throw me up against this SUV, and he is the nicest guy, but he's a big guy. You know Randy and I are small; we're just a couple of Jewish kids. So, Farina gets really into it. We'd be having normal conversations in between takes about restaurants in St. Louis, and then the camera guy would be like, 'OK, we're rolling,' and, bam, Farina would throw me up against the car really hard. I had this coffee cup in my hand that was supposed to fall out, but it kept falling the other way, so we had to keep doing the scene over and over, and it hurt like hell. All I could think was: Hold it together, Jason. This is 'Law & Order.' You can't be the guy who complains on 'Law & Order.'"
Randy: "I think the coolest part for us was shooting on the streets of New York. When you work in L.A., everything is on a set. But with 'Law & Order,' you are outside with real New Yorkers all around, and if it is really cold outside you don't have to make it seem like you're cold, because you are. 'Law & Order' is true New York. We shot this scene in one of the parks downtown, and I remember there was a moment where Jason and I just looked at each other and said, 'How cool is this that we get to do this?'"
Episode: "Saving Face" (September 1994)
Role: Quack head of oncology
The audition: "It turns out that my brother is an oncologist, and so before I went in to the audition, he asked me to read him my lines. [In one scene] he said the writers had made a medical mistake, so when I auditioned, I did it the way my brother told me to. At the end I said, I am so sorry that I changed it, but my brother is an oncologist, and he said the writer made a mistake. They all burst out laughing and said, 'The writer is right here in the room. What else did he get wrong?' "
Shooting the episode: "The whole experience felt like being queen for a day. I had my own trailer, and this young woman would come knock on my door and say, 'Ms. Nanus, it's time for wardrobe. Ms. Nanus, it's time for makeup.' My scene was with Jill Hennessey. Here I am, and I am in essence a day player, and she's one of the stars, and she could not have been more patient and gracious. She said, 'As many times as you want to run your lines is fine with me.' I must have done it a hundred times."
Episode: "Second Opinion" (September 2005)
Role: Aricelle Aragon, a social worker who provided information on a suspect
What "Law & Order" meant: "Before I got on, it used to be a joke of mine that I was probably the only New York actor that hadn't been on 'Law & Order.' Now it's a thrill to watch because I am like, 'Oh, there is so-and-so.' You see so many friends that you know on the show, and once you've done it, you are glad to see them and to know that they are working and making residuals for a year. It's a good thing to see so many other New York actors on the show. It makes the acting world seem that much smaller."