The Pamela Wallin Interview: Law & Order
Airdate: February 25, 2001
Thanks to Doug Corti for transcription
The Jerry Orbach Interview Segment
Pamela Wallin: Jerry Orbach, what he says is that all his life, since the age of 16 he's been wondering what his next job will be. What will he do tomorrow? Well, for the last nine seasons or so, I guess you haven't had to worry. Jerry Orbach is, of course, Detective Lennie Briscoe on Law & Order, and everybody's favourite character. This tough, gritty, sometimes mean, sortof sad, character. Do you love him?
Jerry Orbach: I love him. He sounds good. All my life I've wondered what I'm going to do next. There's no such thing as job security for an actor, but this is about as close as it gets, I guess.
PW: You are now the longest running character on Law & Order.
JO: Yes. That's right. That's right.
PW: You've got seniority.
JO: It doesn't seem to mean anything, you know.
PW: Does it make you nervous?
JO: No. They can still fire you tomorrow. So there's no such thing as tenure, like the professors have.
PW: Why do you like the show, and your character aside for the moment, the show itself, because it just seems to have such staying power?
JO: I think...one of the reasons I like it...and it's the same reason the audience likes it, is that it doesn't get into what we think of as the soap opera element and personal relationships. It's about the case, and it's always about the case. And we're going to solve it, and there's going to be a trial, and it's will come out one way or the other within that 60 minutes. You don't have to wait until next week, or anything. You're going to get a beginning to end story. And that's one of the things that makes the audience come back week after week.
PW: There was a couple of episodes. One in particular that I remember you all went off to witness a execution. And we actually see characters and we see who you are. We see you outside the squad room and outside the courtroom. And just not being a cop. And I think the other is a very poignant scene where your daughter is shot.
(Video shown from that episode)
PW: Those are powerful moments, and very different from what you do ordinarily.
JO: Well, I can't deny that I get a little jealous of the people on some other shows that get to be emotional and have things effect them more. When one of my partners, Chris Noth, was leaving the show. I said "Can't we have him die in my arms, because I can cry as good as anybody?"
PW: 'I'd just like my moment'.
JO: I'd just like a few moments like that now and then. It's prettytough to get those into a format like Law & Order. It is a little like Dragnet. We go 'What colour was the car? What time did they leave? How many of them were there? It's hard to get emotional about those things. But, I think that as far as a working detective goes, our writing and our way of living is much more like the real thing. The way it really is. Cops don't get very emotional after so many years of seeing so many terrible things.
PW: There's almost a sense that you are one.
PW: There was the Murder, She Wrote series, in which you were there.
JO: Harry McGraw.
PW: And Harry McGraw. And now, of course, Law & Order. Do you sort of wake up some mornings and think 'Gee. I better go down to the shop.
JO: Sometimes, I'll think out something in life. And I'll say "Well. I'm a detective. Of course I figured that out". MY wife, this morning, she had figured something out and she said "I'm a detective's wife." Of course, the police are wonderful. They keep making us look good. I do feel an affinity for them.
PW: Do you talk...I mean at this point you certainly don't need to go and study character routine. But do you have go and hang out?
JO: I have met quite a few detectives over the years. Without having to go on what they call ride-alongs, or those kind of study groups.
PW: But you've met them under friendly circumstances?
JO: Yes. I wasn't under arrest at the time.
PW: So enough to pick it up, but the writing is there. The writing tell you where to be, what to do, what to think.
JO: Yeah. I can think that way now. But I still...there is a basic difference. They put a gun on every morning, and don't really know if they're going to come home safe at night. The only things I have to worry about is New York traffic.
PW: Or tripping over cables.
JO: Or tripping over cables.
PW: The acting business has obviously been part of your life. But, everybody says you have this amazing singing voice. And that you can be heard on the set from time to time. Singing. Is that so?
JO: I spent the great, great part of my career doing musicals. Because I sang...if you folks out there have seen my Biography on A&E the last few months. I go back to the three-penny opera. The Fantastics. The Carnival. Promises, Promises. 42nd Street. Chicago. So, yeah. I'm a singer too. I love both sides of it. Jesse and I get to sing on the set.
PW: So, you just burst into song. He says you know every song.
JO: So does he. So does Epatha. So the 3 of us, we're working on a Gladys Knight and The Pips.
PW: So give us a rendition. What's your favourite song?
JO: Oh. That's hard to say. I don't really have a favourite song. I think my theme song is "Try to Remember" from the Fantastics. That's the one I introduced, and it's the one that's stayed with me over the years.
PW: Can you give us a few bars?
JO: (Singing) "Try to remember, the kind of September, when life was slow, and o so mellow"
JO: That's all the sample you get for free.
PW: So what does Dick Wolf say of all this? He's not going to accidently write in a singing part.
JO: I said "Can't we have an episode where Lennie goes off the wagon, gets drunk and winds up in a karaoke bar". But, I don't see that forthcoming.
PW: What was the draw of this life to you, way back when?
JO: It's a strange thing. I sang with my mother when I was 8-9 years old. Little duets and things.
PW: They were performers? Were they not themselves?
JO: Not really. Kind of frustrated performers. I think when I was 8, I got the part of Aladdin in a school puppet play. When I was 9 they were doing a documentary on the Springfield, Mass. school system and they had me read the Declaration of Independence. Whatever was going on, I seemed to get picked for it. I just fell into it. And it happened all through high school. By the time I got out of high school at 16, I went into Summer Stock, got my equity card the next year. I was, all through college doing plays. Working in the theater at the same time.
PW: I mean, this is a kid growing up in The Bronx. I mean, was it a natural thing?
JO: I grew up all over the country. I was born in The Bronx. I moved around. Went to Pennsylvania - my mother's hometown -- Scranton. Wilkes-Barre. Springfield, Mass and then finally out to Chicago near Waceagon, Illinois. So, I was kinda like an army brat in that I went to 5 different grade schools by the time I was in 8th grade. And I think that I became a little bit of chameleon, so that I could adapt to any environment. To any group of people.
PW: Somewhere along the line you must have been paying attention in school, because you were the highest scoring player at Celebrity Jeopardy! How what accounts for this?
JO: I have a terrific memory. And, I love to read. I love learning about almsot everything. Ancient History, and all kinds of things. Fascinating.
PW: Do you have time to do this, when you're not in front of the camera, but sitting on the set? Are you picking up a book?
JO: Yeah. A lot. But I mix it up. But then I've been hosting this thing on PAX called Encounters with the Unexplained, which is part of that fascination with ancient mysteries. Stonehenge. The Pyramids. Easter Island.
PW: So, that is a personal interest. You're not just there just hosting the show because it's a job?
JO: No. I really like it. That's the main reason I'm doing this.
PW: What's the one that fascinates you most?
JO: I think the pyramids may be #1 on the list of mysteries. Atlantis. What I call "primo-history". Or history we really don't know anything about, except the stone remnants of whatever was there from 40-50,000 years ago. We've never really had it explained right in the textbooks. And that fascinates me.
PW: Been a pleasure to talk with you. Lennie Briscoe. Detective Lennie Briscoe. But of course, it's Jerry Orbach in life. Law & Order. And there was all the work on stage. The father of Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing. A lot of people know you from there. And one of my favourites, I've got to say, the voice of Lumiere, the chandelier in Beauty & The Beast.
JO: Merci, madam.
PW: A real pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much.
JO: Thank you.
The Jesse L. Martin Interview Segment
PW: Well, from the glitz and the glamour of Guiding Light, a soap opera, to the grit and the gore of the streets of New York, and the life of a New York cop. Jesse L. Martin. He plays detective Ed Green on Law & Order. Why are you laughing?
Jesse L. Martin: Because you just mentioned Guiding Light, and I...
PW: You'd forgotten that?
JLM:: It's not that I'd forgotten about that, but, it's just doesn't seem like that was the start of my career. It's just a point in my career.
PW: It just seems to be a point of contrast. This is a role you love.
JLM: I do.
PW: You turned down a..I think several cameo parts so that you could get the real thing.
JLM: Of course. Actually, No it wasn't several. I've auditioned several times I was offered one role but I didn't take it because I thought it was very tiny. I wanted something better. I figured if I did that role I wouldn't be seen on Law & Order for another couple years. That's just the way it works. And I just walked into this.
PW: And then, Benjamin Bratt decided he was going to quit, and you saw your moment.
PW: What did you do?
JLM: I basically ran into Dick's office. I was in Los Angeles and he has an office there. I literally went to his office and said "I want this job. Please. Please. Please. Please.
PW: Why? What was the...what was so appealing?
JLM: Well, first of all I was just a huge, huge, huge fan of Law & Order. Back in the beginning, when they first started, with Chris Noth and the whole gang. I just loved the show. I was a huge, huge fan of it. So. Of course it was a show that I wanted to be on. I auditioned for the show several times. I've always had this jones for Law & Order. And. And. To be honest. I'm not a huge, huge fan of Los Angeles. So the idea of getting this great job, on this incredible show, in New York City, where my friends and family are. I couldn't stand myself if I didn't get this job.
PW: If you didn't give it a shot?
PW: The character itself, the detective. You guys, as Jerry says, you're kind of out there-"What colour was the car? Which way did he go?" You don't have the big emotional roles.
JLM: No. Not usually. Which is actually fine....right now. There may come a point when I break down or lose my mind and decide (clenching his fists and talking like a madman) "You need to see this from me today!"
PW: Yeah. Yeah.
JLM: Which is actually fine right now. And that was the best part of being a fan of the show. When you watched it, you didn't want to see them lose their minds or be emotional about anything.
PW: You're supposed to be keeping the streets safe.
JLM: Not only that. You were so concentrated on the story that it didn't matter. There were times when you found out a little about their characters and got a little taste of their lives. But, only a little bit. I like it like that.
PW: Dick Wolf said he almost had to rough up your edges a bit. You were just too darn nice.
JLM: I don't know about that.
PW: You needed to gamble a little bit. Or you had to do something.
JLM: What does rough look like anyway? You know what I mean? No one needs to rough up my edges, in all honesty. I think it's all about what I do. Not what is placed upon me. But I can understand where he was coming from. There was this great, sweet guy that was dating Ally and he wanted a complete contrast to that, which makes sense to me.
PW: That was a good role, as the love of Ally's life. That must have been fun.
JLM: Yeah. It was a lot fun.
PW: So, he was just trying to break that image in people's minds.
JLM: I suppose so. I don't really know. We didn't talk about that.
PW: The other thing said, and he did concede that this will probably embarass you. He's never seen the young female demographic respond to anybody like they respond to you.
JLM: (laughing) He really said that?
PW: He really said that.
JLM: Wow. I didn't know that. That's really nice (still chuckling and almost stammering).
PW: That doesn't embarass you?
JLM: Not really. I'm flattered. That's nice. It's not the first time though. They did have Ben Bratt on the show.
PW: Yeah. That's true. Two sexy, good-looking guys.
JLM: That's not a new thing. I'm glad he included me in that. No, I'm not embarassed. Now I am. Now that we're talking about it.
PW: Reading some of the things you've said about what's happened to your life since you joined Law & Order. You have women running up, saying "I love you! Marry me! Can I have your babies?". All that kind of stuff. On the other hand, it's sort of, I'm glad I'm in New York, where I can still take the subway, because cabs may not stop for me because I'm black.
JLM: Break it down. Break it down. Because that's the absolute truth, right there. That's the way it is. But I'd rather be here than not. So, I'll deal with it whatever it's got to be. I have to take the subway, it's no big deal. The subway's faster.
PW: So that's not a big problem? But is it still true...do you still believe in 2001...you as a black man, go stand on the street and the cabs going to go past you?
JLM: Yes. It's not even do I believe that. I know that. I know that to be true. It's more about "Do you believe that?". Because that's the truth. I mean, I'm cool with that now. I'm so used to it that it's not a big deal. There's occasions when I get a little angry..I'm waiting to go to the hospital, I've got an appointment, whatever.
PW: And you wish you could...
JLM: And you wish you could just walk out there and put your hand up and get a taxi. But, you can't. It's just one of those things, I don't know if that will ever change.
PW: There's still a lot of pressure on programs like this, and also on networks to make sure they've got black leading roles, from time-to-time, because there aren't that many. So, do you help fill that bill, and do you care?
JLM: Well. Just on the outside. I am black. I do have a lead role on a major metwork show. I guess I do, sort of, fill the role. But, I've never really thought of it like that. I think it would do my psyche and my soul a little bit of damage for that to be the reason that I got it. So, I don't think of it that way.
PW: So if someone needs, if somebody's feeling guilty. And you end up there. That's a plus. I mean, not only for you, but for the changing face.
JLM: Yeah. But it doesn't necessarily feel good to hear it that way. You just want to think you got it on being human, and not just a black person. Or a black actor.
PW: It's about content. Not colour.
JLM: I would like to think so. But, I mean when you're told "you've got to have more black people and then suddenly you show up. 'Yeah. We got one.'" It's....It's..not a position you want to be in. How many times have you been...
PW: The token woman. We understand this.
JLM: But how many times have you had to walk around and been reminded that you were white?
PW: Actually, in cities now, life is changing so much, even to a certain extent, I see your point.
JLM: It's of those things that you're constantly reminded of. I hear what you're saying, and yes, it should be more diverse. Cast members. Crew members. Writers. Producers. The whole nine. Not just who is on TV.
PW: We're talking from Jesse L. Martin. We'll continue this conversation in just a moment.
(A clip and we head to commercial)
PW: People named him the sexiest newcomer....I'm just trying to embarass you. We're here with Jesse L. Martin. He's Detective Ed Green on Law & Order. I'm just giving him a bit of a hard time, because, of course, you are a sex symbol.
JLM: Oh God. What do I say? Thank you?
PW: Sure. Why not? If you've got it. Flaunt it.
JLM: Thank God they don't have titles for, like the ugliest newcomer. Because nobody wants to be that and everyone wants to be considered sexy.
PW: Well, that's what Sam Waterston always says. If you're born ugly, you have to play Abe Lincoln. So you've got all these...
JLM: Sam doesn't think he's ugly.
PW: I don't think he is either. Now, we were talking with Jerry. He loves to sing, and I said he knows every song in the world, and he said "So does Jesse. So does Epatha."
JLM: That isn't true, but Jerry knows a hell of a lot more songs than we do. I think we got a little more pop knowledge, but Jerry knows everything. He knows everything.
PW: So, what's for you? What do you burst into song with, when you're on the set.
JLM: It's so random. It's hard to give it one...it may be the song I heard when the alarm clock woke me up that morning. Which sometimes happen to be something I don't know or feel like singing, like Britney Spears.
PW: You've had a lifelong desire to play Marvin Gaye. To do a one-man show. Are you doing it? Are you writing away?
JLM: I don't know if I can right now. It's a lot more difficult that I thought it was, when I first started putting it together. I thought it would be a little easier to get the rights to music, and it's just not. There was a lot of problems with Marvin's life. With Marvin's family. With Motown. With Barry Gordy. There's a lot going on and I don't know if I will ever get to do it.
PW: Come on. Now give us a little bit of Marvin.
JLM: Don't do that. I think when you see me do Marvin, It'll be because I'm playing Marvin. I feel like I'd be jinxing myself.
PW: I understand. You did 'Rent'. Stage. Television. What's the...
JLM: I love both of them. To be on stage especially in a show like Rent, every night It got to the point where I was shaking with excitement. I was so psyched to be in the show. It was so well received. And we were lucky that way. I mean, at the same time We went through a little bit of hell during 'Rent', because the person that created it for us, didn't get to see and live past our first dress rehearsal. So, it was a hard one. Heaven and hell at the same time. But it was a great time. Really, really great time.
PW: You and Jerry were also...you've become businessmen of late.
JLM: (laughing) You have a little bit money. You don't have the time to spend it. You've got to do something.
PW: So what prompted all this? Concerns about privacy? And..
JLM: Well, yeah. And the whole idea that you couldn't purchase things, and go on the Internet without having someone all up in your business. And, when they explained to me what this computer program was about. The fact that it could protect your privacy, and also give you access to your credit rating, and anything you may need. Government records. Things like that. I was like...
PW: Big Brother knows.
JLM: I want to know what everybody else knows.
PW: So are you making money as a businessman? As an investor?
JLM: Not in that company, yet. And I say 'yet'. But I have been producing as of late. I produced a play called "Fully Committed" which hopefully will be coming to Toronto, that has acutally been doing really well. It's my first producing venture, and I'm really lucky I stepped in it, so to speak.
PW: You've said if you have not become the actor, the producer, the director, you would have become a teacher. Of what?
JLM: Not really sure. Maybe teaching acting. Maybe teaching history. It's only as of late I've become so interested in history, only because there seems to be more information now, now that you've got the Internet. When I was in elementary school, nobody told us about Native American history or African-American history. We didn't get any of that. It's like "George Washington chopped the apple tree down and now we got a nice country because Betsy Ross made a flag". I'm like...
PW: It's a tad more complicated.
JLM: It's a way more complicated. We didn't really get the whole the whole story when I was a kid. If I was teaching now, I'd want to make sure that kids got the entire story. As much as of it that we know.
PW: Well, even though you won't watch Law & Order anymore, I guess the rest of us will. You don't like to see yourself on screen?
JLM: That's not it at all. I should probably explain, because I don't have a problem seeing myself at all. What I do have a problem with is I can't concentrate on the story. At all. I know too much about it. I know that there's a cameraman standing over there. And that there's a light stand over there. And that we had to do that scene 4-5 times becuase this didn't work, or that didn't work. Or this actress was feeling really sick that day. I can't concentrate at all.
PW: So, you've got the best job, but you've lost your favourite program.
JLM: That's kinda true. You're absolutely right. I can't watch Law & Order, any more, and I'm on it.
PW: But we will. Jesse Martin. Great to talk to you.
JLM: Great to talk to you. Thank you.
PW: Jesse L. Martin, who plays Detective Ed Green on Law & Order. Let's take a look.
(Episode clip and we go to commercial)
S. Epatha Merkerson Interview Segment
PW: We say leftinant, but it's Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on Law & Order, at work, S. Epatha Merkerson. Am I saying that right?
S. Epatha Merkerson: That's right.
PW: And that's an interesting name. Where'd it come from?
SEM: There are two stories. My dad say it was a teacher who was a teacher that was very influentila in keeping him in school, and my mother says it was an old girlfriend. I'm inclined to believe my mother.
PW: You have an interesting relationship with this program because you started out not as the Lieutentant. You started out as another character.
SEM: Yes. That's right. In the first season I did an episode. I always say that she came from that character to Van Buren by going to night school. Night school, and she changed her name.
PW: And is that how it works Dick Wolf sees you, watches you in action and says "OK. There's a place here".
SEM: One thing I love about Dick is that he does use actors over and over again. If you work well with the company, at some point he will use you again, and it really worked for me on this one.
PW: When you started doing the research for this role, you're a lieutenant, in the squad room. The woman in charge. I guess you didn't find too many role models.
SEM: The interesting thing was I got the job on a Friday and started work on a Monday, so my research came as I worked. But, at the time that I started, there were no black female lieutenants in Manhattan, but now there are. I sort of went to the regions, because I think its one thing to have a woman in this position of authority, but it's also another thing in this country, specifcally, to have a black woman in this position. So, I've been meeting, all over the country, actually since I've been doing this show, all these great female lieutenants. And it's been a lot of fun. One woman was great. If you saw her on the street, you would never consider that this woman was a lethal weapon. She just looked like someone's sweet old aunt. And you knew that kick your ass if you got in the wrong spot at the wrong time with her.
PW: In terms of the character, you have a role. You're there. You kind of have to keep the cops in line. Every one in a while, you're dealing with the D.A. But, in a sense, it's at your office door where the buck stops. You're the person in charge.
SEM: Right. One of my favourite lines out of the entire 8 years -- there's a scene where there's this young black kid, we're interrogating him. At the time it was Ben & Jerry, and so, he wanted the two white men to leave, because he didn't want to get in trouble with 'the man'. And my response was 'In this house, I'm the man'. And it's one of my all-time favourite lines. She's the boss.
PW: And so they write for that. You don't have to go in there and fight every day and say "She wouldn't do that".
SEM: Well, there are times. Absolutely. I don't know if it is unconscious or not, but there are times when the guys are in charge. Where they have written the guys in charge. And I have to say "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. This is my house. If there are any things that are going to be handed down, any law that has to be handed down, the buck stops here and it has to start here. That happens. Not often. But it happens.
PW: What do you think the secret is for the longevity? I know Dick's going for The Gunsmoke Record. You've got to 9 seasons. Why does it just keep on working?
SEM: I think since we've had such a incredible revolving door of actors. We have to put it on the writing. We have to put it on the script writing, and the care and integrity that we put into each script. Certainly, the actors, that have been in-and-out, in-and-out have been very smart, very bright actors. So whoever has come in has had their opinions, their thoughts put into scripts also. You have to put it on the writing. The writing can sustain any type of change in actors. It's true. Because we take things from the headlines, people have an idea of what's going on. They tune in because they know there's going to be what's become known as the "Law & Order" twist. I think that's why we continue year after year.
PW: So it's that connection there. The good writing. The stories that people understand as part of their real life. The other thing that I see is a bit of a contradiction. I'm a huge Law & Order fan, I've watched every episode about 5000 times. In reruns. But we don't get to know you. There are little snippets about your characters, but Dick Wolf is very careful for us not to care about your husband. Or your kids.
SEM: You get to know little things about each person byn how they work the case. And what's important is the case. And when people watch what they enjoy is the fact that we stay there. In a sense, you're watching a mini-movie. So you get the beginning, you get a middle, you get a resolution. And in the interim, of finding all of these things - the getting the evidence, the finally prosecuting the case, you do have the opportunity to get to know little parts..
PW: Because if they see you dealing a kid, and they know you have kids,
SEM: Exactly. You might see me being a little more nurturing with them than I would be to an older man. So I think you get to see the characters by how they work. And more times than not, we spend our time in our working places. So, I think that's why people tend to really like the show.
PW: So, now if you make the 20 year record. Do you intend to be there?
SEM: Well, Jerry and I've always laughed (old man voice) "We're going to be like this". Van Buren's going to be putting her teeth in.
PW: Or as somebody said "Who's going to be give you guys job insurance at this point because there has been a revolving door."
SEM: That's true. One never knows.
PW: This is, for you, you grew up in Detroit, and moved to New York to pursue your career. You just wanted to be an actor.
SEM: Actually, I started out dancing. And, then somewhere along the line I realized that was a discipline that I really didn't have. And a friend of mine, was taking, an acting course as an elective, and thought it would be fun if I took the class with her. So it really kind of started accidently. And at one point, I found that I had a major in theater.
PW: So it was almost accidental.
SEM: Well it was. It was something that I did in Junior High and High School but I never had a focus there. Once I started taking the classes I felt more comfortable with it, and ended up with a Bachelor of Fine Art in theater, and came here to pursue it.
PW: Well, we love your work. We love the show. Thank you very much.
SEM: My pleasure. My pleasure.
PW: Great to meet you, leftinant. Leftinant Anita Van Buren.
Sam Waterston Interview Segment
PW: For all you fans and junkies of Law & Order, this is the man you want to meet. Sam Waterston. He plays assistant district attorney Jack McCoy. You always seem to play these men with a strong moral conviction. There's a sense of fight in all these characters.
Sam Waterston: I don't know whether that's true in all the character. Do you mean in all the characters that I've played?
PW: I mean, like The Killing Fields. And I'm thinking of some of those roles. You seem almost morally tormented some of the time.
SW: I suppose you're right. I always thought that were....most of the people that I played before The Killing Fields were sort of Hamlet-like people. But I guess you're right. The Killing Fields kind of changed the course a little.
PW: What is the appeal for you of the McCoy character?
SW: The thing I like about him, from what you say, it's sort of turned out to be my stock and trade. But at the time I was offered it, it was very much not my stock and trade. Probably somebody with as much grit, and pragmatism, and wont of sentimentality as this guy. So, it was for a newness that's become a comfortable suit. Although I don't....
PW: Although you're not dressed as Jack McCoy at this moment,  having just arrived on the set where you're going to be doing those bits. When I watch you deliver those summations in the courtroom, that is an awful lot of memory work for starters, but it is also the emotion that you have to dredge up at that time. How do you prepare for that? Where's your head when you're delivering those sermons?
SW: Well, it's some of the best fun I have on the show, is when I'm doing those arguments. Because in old playwriting they used to talk about the argument of the play. And usually, my summation is the sum of the argument of the whole show. So...
PW: It's almost...
SW: It's a lot a fun. When they really work, it brings together all the whole, all the emotional intensity...
PW: Is it really word-for-word? Are you ad-libbing?
SW: It's written word-for-word. Although, I don't know it this has been mentioned before, we have very interesting script readthroughs about a week before we start shooting..
PW: And you can add, and inject.
SW: And everyone get to say what they think, and then the writers get to decide....
PW: Whether they're going to listen or not?
SW: But it's very useful. Even if nothing changes, it is very helpful for getting connected to what you're going to do.
PW: What the story is. Everbody needs that. That's the most important thing. One of the most powerful things that I've read about you, and it seems to sum up not only you, but acting in a way, which is Waterston can telegraph violent emotion, violently reigned in, by picking up a simple paperweight from his desk. It's high praise, isn't it?
SW: I don't know where all that violence comes from.
PW: Because there is so much emotion pent up in you, about...
SW: Good. I think.
PW: One of the appeals for me of the program, though, I see it in your face, at the end of the program, on many nights, is that half the time, justice is not done.
SW: Yeah. I think that's one of the nice things about the show is that it doesn't fib about the way, you know, justice with a small 'j' is delivered, which is the best we can, which isn't all that good.
PW: I was reading the other day, and I thought this was quite...
SW: Worth doing still...
PW: In 1999, a University in Boston created the Waterston Fellowship, named after you: a first master's degree in philanthropy and the media. The aim of which is to teach studens to produce programs in the non-profit area that measure success not by profit but by social impact. Do you believe that you do that with this program?
SW: I believe we do a useful thing, but it is secondary to our central purpose, which is to be entertaining and interesting. Because the stories are so much taken out of the newspaper, we do get the opportunity to re-treat things that have just been in the public consciousness, and haven't been resolved by news stories. And very often, we don't resolve them either, but we get an opportunity to say 'These are the issues in the implicitness, and what do you think is fair? In a perfect world, what would be fair?
PW: To me it seems so educative, unfortunately, for those of us in Canada, who watch the program, we know more about your laws, legal system and justice system than our own. You've got Canadian attempting to take the fifth, and whatnot. So, it does seem to have that kind of impact, which you learn about it. You learn about the system in the country you live in.
SW: Yeah. We are true as we possibly can be to the way the law is practiced. But I think that the more interesting thing that we do is that we talk about problems that have arisen because some crime has come to our attention. And it's not all clear what the right thing to do about it would be.
PW: After you were in The Killing Fields, an Academy nomination for that, obviously, you got involved as an activist, with refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.
SW: They picked me.
PW: They picked you? And you said yes.
SW: A woman named Sue Morrison, came to me and told me about her organization, which was founded on an absolutely beautiful impulse by mostly women, who were not in Asia on their own, but with their husbands who were working professionally in Asia and were so shocked by the turnback of Cambodian refugees across the Thai border, that they decided to do something about it around the kitchen table. And they founded "Refugees International" which is now a small force to be dealt with in advocacy for refugees, who definitely need it.
PW: The passion seems to be there, and if you could do that through you work, you'll do that through your work with the messages and the stories.
SW: Well, one of the extraordinary things about refugees, about The Killing Fields was that it actually had a...it fed back into the political debate, and it changed the debate. I remember reading in the New York Times, not too long after it happened, an interview with some rebels in the mountains of the Phillipines. They were talking about coming down into town and taking over the cities. The reporter said 'Don't you think that could lead to a lot of bloodshed, and what is your answer to that', and they said 'No. No. No. There will no bloodshed. We have seen The Killing Fields.' And I thoght, well, that would be a little bit of good.
PW: This acting bug of yours. You said you tried to fight it. Obviously not very successfully.
SW: No. No. Not successfully, and I'm glad. Although my children are in, and about to be in it.
PW: You did a play with your son.
SW: And I tremble for all of them because it's such a rough business, and they're all very, very good and very...full of promise. And want to do very interesting things with themselves, and their talent. And there's just this little, tiny doorway. So, I feel very fortunate, especially with what they are faced with at the beginning of their careers, to have had so much good luck.
PW: Do you see Law & Order going on, you know, Dick Wolf wants to beat the Gunsmoke record, and have it on the air forever?
SW: Well, God bless him. I hope he does.
PW: Would you be there if the role keeps giving you a new challenge?
SW: I honestly don't know what I'm going to do from year-to-year, and there's a tremendous tug to stay, and there's a tremendous tug to go, and it's always a toss-up. They may get tired of me before I get tired of them. Who knows?
PW: Characters do come and go.
SW: They do.
PW: It's been a real pleasure to meet and talk with you. Thanks so much. Thanks for the many hours of viewing pleasure as well.
SW: Thank you.
PW: Sam Waterston. Of course, from Law & Order. We'll be back in just a moment.
(Pamela Wallin is now standing on one of the courtroom sets)
PW: As you can see it is an amazing group of actors who love their work and respect each other. But as Dick Wolf, the creator says of the phenomenal success of this program, it's the writing, stupid. Wolf intends to keep the program on the air for another decade, beating the Gunsmoke record of 20 years. Meanwhile, there are a couple of spinoffs. Law & Order: SVU, Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, coming next fall. That's it for us, from New York City, from the set of Law & Order. We'll see you next week.
For those interested in finding out more about the hostess of this show, visit Pamela Wallin's website.
For those interested in finding out more about Sam Waterston's organization, visit Refugee International's website.