|NEW YORK -- When Jeremy Sisto got his first glimpse of the updated ''Law & Order'' opening, there he was, in a courthouse setting alongside his castmates, just like so many who had come before him.|
Sisto hums a few bars of the ''Law & Order'' theme, and recalls with a laugh: ''There I am, walking with the others. And I thought, 'What's he doing there?!' ''
Maybe it was just time. The 33-year-old actor has already played Jesus and Julius Caesar, a high school hunk who catches Alicia Silverstone's eye in ''Clueless'' and recently, in ''Waitress,'' Keri Russell's loutish husband. His big break came at 16 when he landed the role of the son in "Grand Canyon."
Last season, he tracked down abductees on the short-lived drama ''Kidnapped.'' And among his most memorable roles: Billy Chenowith, a photographer and manic-depressive on HBO's ''Six Feet Under.''
Now he's joining ''Law & Order'' for its 18th season. He plays Detective Cyrus Lupo, new partner to Detective Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin).
Sisto and fellow newcomer Linus Roache become the 23rd and 24th actors to fill the show's six slots for cops and prosecutors. But ''Law & Order'' begins another season after surviving a near-death experience last May. It was almost canceled, the victim of a sharp ratings drop.
Having won a reprieve, it's back in the chase to overtake ''Gunsmoke'' (20 years) as TV's most-enduring prime-time drama. Two episodes air Wednesday starting at 8 p.m. on WMAQ-Channel 5.
''It's classic 'Law & Order,' but it's been reinvigorated,'' says Sisto. The premise: After four years abroad working undercover intel, Lupo is summoned to New York when his brother is found dead. Lupo joins Green to crack the case.
Sisto has a knack for stirring up a thunderstorm in his performances. But not here.
''It's a different kind of acting, this 'Law & Order' thing,'' he explains. ''They want two partners who can play off each other well and are fun to watch, but depth of character is not necessary in this job. Too much character gets in the way of the story. This is a very specific gig.''
Sisto fell under drama's spell growing up in Chicago, where his mom, an aspiring actress, brought him along to her auditions.
''Then someone would say, 'Does your kid want to read for a part?' I did some plays and had a great time.''