SVU's Newest Light
the apocrypha interview with Special Victims' Judith Light
By Kitteridge

 

Where you know Judith Light from may depend on just how long you've been watching TV. As a 25 year veteran of the small screen, there are those who have a hard time seeing her as anyone other than One Life To Live's two-time Emmy-winning scene-stealer, ex-housewife-turned-hooker Karen; others who spent eight seasons watching her as career woman (with Tony Danza as a male housekeeper) Angela on Who's The Boss; still others may find her most recognizable in numerous Lifetime-esque female-in-danger made-for-TV movies. But ever since last season, a new generation is getting to know the versatile Light in a different way: as kick-ass District Attorney Bureau Chief Elizabeth Donnelly on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. apocrypha takes a quick walk down memory lane and checks in with Light, who is back this season in full force (we're eagerly awaiting a Donnelly/McCoy showdown in a crossover) about going from soaps to SVU.
 
So tell us -- what's harder: Doing a series, or doing a soap opera?
They're both -- if you have a big storyline in a soap, it's about the same as having to do an hour drama nighttime series. It really depends what your position is on the show. If you're a prime focus and you're on a show like SVU all the time, it's really grueling. [On OLTL], I was doing something like 60 pages a day sometimes and I was there all the time for weeks on end of storyline with very little letup. They're about the same in terms of gruel factor.
You've never been shy about talking about being on soaps -- many actors seem like it's a piece of gum they can't wait to get off their shows -- and you're even on a series with more than one former soap actor.
That's not how I feel about it. As I've told you before, I was very resistant to doing a soap in the beginning, and then when I stopped being so prejudiced about it, because it did in fact change my life -- because when you're so resistant to something and so don't want to do something and then you get yourself to a place where you get behind it and see what's required, you have a whole different point of view and you walk in someone else's shoes. And then you get to see what you've been resistant to really has no basis. I understand why the industry doesn't think it's the greatest -- you're doing an hour show with very little time but the fact that that's so, given the conditions, the work is extraordinary, and the people are extraordinary. The people who are watching, it's important to them. So not only are you working for yourself in doing the kind of work that you're trying to hit a certain mark for yourself in the context of the kind of givens and circumstances, and when you do that and you're giving a good performance for an audience, that's a very high level of operating. I don't discount it in any way at all. I'm eternally grateful to have done it, to the people that I worked with and myself for really getting off it and stop being so in a way such a snob. But it's true, that's where I was.
Do you think you'd ever do soaps again? 
You know, that's one of the things I said when I first got to New York after I'd been in repertory theater. I sat in my parents' living room and I said I would never do a soap opera, never do a sitcom. Never. So "never" is not something I talk about. And if it were the right time or the right story or something that seemed to be the right thing for me to do at the time, it's possible. I don't think about it, nor do I plan it, but it's not something I would say never about. Absolutely. The world is changing, and our business is changing. And you don't know what's going to happen. So I won't say never about it at all. It was a great time in my life as well. We had a ball. It was such a great group at that time, it was fabulous. And we were all really connected. What seemed like a family to a lot of people was in fact a family. We were all very close.
So tell us about SVU -- what's that like? How did it come about?
I'm probably going to do about eight episodes next season. It's interesting right now. I can't tell how it's going to be, but when I was in New York [last season] they made it incredibly comfortable and easy and flexible for me. I was doing a play at the same time, then I went to South Africa after that and did an AIDS trek, and then came back and did it in Los Angeles. But when I was in New York, that's how I came to do SVU, because one of their Executive Producers, Ted Kotcheff, had directed me in a movie [A Husband, A Wife, And A Lover] years ago, and so he had seen me in the play and he'd seen me do W;t, and they knew I only had a specific amount of time to do the shows because I had to get back into the city if they were shooting in New Jersey, so they just worked me gradually into the show, a scene here, a scene there. So it wasn't a grueling schedule for me.
The schedule has defeated more than one actor, I've been told. 12 hours days.
Well, that's what you expect from a show. Being in California, we know when you're asked to do a series, an hour drama, it becomes your life, and there's not much else you can do. My husband [actor Robert Desiderio] did Heart Of The City years ago, and they were doing night shooting. He slept during the day and shot at night. There's no life. So when you take one of those on, you know that.
What else are you working on now?
I'm in the process of reading a couple of things, and there may be another play that I'm looking at doing down the line. I've got my options open.
Is it hard shuttling back and forth from Los Angeles to New York and back?
No, I love it. I miss New York. It's my town. I feel in many ways like that's home for me. I love California, I really do, and my husband loves California, but when I get back to New York it's like a shot in the arm for me.
Any dream projects on the horizon?
Not really. I don't tend to do that. I'm working more and more to allow what's out there to come to me. I don't sit around and say I must do this, I must do that. When I try to do that, it never worked very well for me. My career was always better when I allowed things to flow, or come in, or go out and make choices on the basis of what I experienced was right for me at the time. When I talk to my managers and I have been together over 20 years, we discuss things, so the team that's looking and making the decision -- I notice things do come in to me. When I'm planning too much, I notice that things do come in and come to me, and they have. When I'm out there planning too much I put things in the way. It's really more about holding on to a picture of what I think my career should be, which is why the soap was such a joy to me -- I gave up a picture of the way I thought my career was supposed to be. I learned a life lesson that was more important than anything, which is not to be resistant to what comes your way. And not to judge things and people in terms of what they're doing. And not to think less of myself because I was doing something that other people considered 'less than.' And that was valuable to me, still is valuable to me.


whaddya think?