The apocrypha Interview: Dann Florek
By Kitteridge
 
Dann Florek
Capt. Donald Cragen (1990-1993; on Special Victims' Unit since 1999)
Typical Line: "We've got bupkes!"

When thought of in L&O circles, Florek is the poor guy (along with Richard Brooks, ex-Paul), who got shafted when the network insisted on more women in the cast. Fortunately, the powers that be had the insight to keep his character around -- and after a few guest appearances, he found his place heading up the Special Victims' Unit. We're glad he -- and his licorice lovin' self -- are still around to give us the straight picture.

 
How did you get connected with the show in the first place? Was it a regular casting call? 
You know what, it was a little more than a regular casting call. I had done -- there was -- it was a show with [composer] Randy Newman's music called, "Maybe I'm Doing it Wrong," which was the name of one of his songs that we did at the Roxy Theater in Los Angeles. And Joe Stern, who was a co-producer, co-executive producer with Dick [Wolf, creator, EP] at the very beginning, had seen me in that, and he had gone to Dick and said, "You've got to see this guy." And Joe used me in this Afterschool Special about gambling, so when the Law & Order thing came up, Joe said, "You've got to see this guy." So I came in and I think I met him a couple of times and it just clicked and it fell into place. 
How did they describe the role in the first place?
You know what? I never read that. A lot of times you read that and it says 38, hunky and handsome. And I'm thinking, "Well, I'm screwed." So I would rather come in based on what the dialogue is and stuff like that. And I just figured, he's a cop, he's a detective's captain. So I didn't really pay much attention to it. He seemed to be kind of crusty, not a man of a lot of words, but he clearly loves the people he works with and knows his job. I just kind of created the guy from not that much dialogue or that many scenes and I just felt he was, and I felt it was a good fit. 
Did you know off the bat that he was going to be a recovering alcoholic?
No, that was something that was discussed once I was cast and we started talking about what might happen. The idea of a recovering alcoholic came in, the idea that Max Greevey who was George Dzundza had been partners in the past on the street, so there was history there. There were other kinds of stories that were talked about, that maybe I had a brother who had been in law enforcement that had maybe gone bad. There were a number of things that were brought up and started to weave in a little bit. 
Does Cragen have a daughter or not?
[Surprised] No, no, you've got to tell me when I had a teenage daughter. 
Someone was telling me there seems to be some confusion here where they maybe mentioned a daughter.
I'm going to tell you what: There were never kids. In point of fact, I've said many times things like when I see kids and I go, I say look at these, they're all bad seeds and cynically say I guess that's why I never had any. There have been episodes way back into the beginning where I insisted on having pictures of kids in the office, but I insisted they were nieces or nephews and I wanted to kind of show that he was a mentor or worked with kids, but never -- I can pretty much guarantee never did I say that I had a daughter. 
There is no Bible, after all, so you can never be sure.
Yeah. 
And I liked how they tied it in that Cragen's wife was a stewardess and died in a plane crash.
Yeah, we had used that before, we used that in a big episode for me, "The Blue Wall," where it looked like I might have been a dirty cop. And then by tying that in -- that was my idea when we went to Special Victims' Unit, I said why don't we create something that's pretty dark, that's going to give this guy a little different twist if we're going to bring him back, so he's not so much the crusty yet benign Cragen from before, that there's a little more, because it's a little darker and there's a little more edge, and what he lived through is what led him to wanting to work in Special Victims' Unit. 
NBC said you have to go; what was that like from your side of things?
You know what? I'll tell you what. The story, it's an odd deal. In those first three years I kept saying, "Will you give me more to do? If you're not going to give me more to do, I don't know why you have me here." And that kept going. Then the irony was that in the middle of the third season, I talked with [director, former EP] Ed Sherin, and he said, "You should also direct. So instead of just sitting here you don't have enough to do, why don't you start observing me and watching and studying the camera and all that." So the irony was the minute I started doing that, NBC came in and said, "We need women on the show and these are the changes we're going to make." And I literally got caught in the crossfire as it were, Dzundza had gone out, [Paul] Sorvino had gone out, so they obviously didn't want to change there, [Chris] Noth was the good-looking young guy, so it was kind of like I drew the short straw. So on the one level, for two and a half years I tried to get out of the show and the minute I commit to it, you say "Guess what?" Then ironically within a couple months Ed Sherin was on the phone saying would you like to come back and direct? So I started directing in the next season. I did three episodes of the original. I did three, and as they were setting me up to direct more for the next year, the minute I said I wanted to direct more I started getting more work as an actor. Every time I turned around it was a play I wanted to do or a role in a movie or a new pilot. And it's gone that way ever since. 
So did Wolf approach you for SVU right off the bat, as soon as he knew he was going to do it?
As far as I can tell -- they first came to me when we did Exiled, in fact, Dick said we should work together again, and I said, "Well, Dick, I can't hire you." And he laughed and said, "Let's see how this goes." And I guess they couldn't figure out if they wanted to make Exiled a series or a series of two-hour TV movies, and in the meantime it just kind of came unhinged I guess, and then I got a call from Dick saying, "I'm going to do a spin-off." At that time it was going to be called Sex Crimes, and he said, "I'd like to bring back the character." And I said, "Before, what happened is I never had enough to do, and I never felt involved enough. If we can take him to this other place and make him edgier, give him more to do, I'd love to do it." So I was the first person cast, and they were still looking for their leads. 
How is the dynamic different there than at original recipe?
You know what? Even though they're of the same cloth, they are pretty different. The pacing can be pretty similar, the music kind of brings it together, they're all very intelligently written, but first of all I felt more involved in this one and it was just easier. I'm sure some people have mentioned it, there were some real clashes on the sets in those first few years. 
Such as....
Well, there were a lot of people -- Dzundza and Moriarty would bang heads. And Sorvino and Moriarty. And Noth and Sorvino. It wasn't like anyone was going to kill anybody -- 
Was it ego or story related?
A little of everything. You're going to fry me here, aren't you? What I'm saying is, every once in a while there would be a sense of, "I've been doing this longer than you, and I know what's right." And someone would say, "I don't care how long you've been doing it, I know you're wrong, and this is what's right." We did 13 episodes and waited a long while before we got that back 9 pickup. I used to joke to Dick: "You never knew it was a back nine years pickup," which is still going on. But there were some real personality conflicts, you know what I mean? And George wasn't happy, and Sorvino wanted to do other things, and then all of a sudden when Jerry got there it really settled, and even though there have been changes, for the most part everybody's wanted to move on for the most part. 
Would you still be there today if you hadn't been let go?
That's interesting. I don't know. People have asked me that before and to tell you the truth, I think there was a 6 year contract and I remember feeling like, okay, if this is all I get to do in it, I'll do six years, and if they chose to really make it worth my while on any number of levels -- writing more, more money, whatever -- that I would cross that bridge when I came to it. But if you would have asked me in the second year if I would have been there for 13 years, I couldn't have even fathomed it 
Do you have a favorite episode?
There are a few, but just because it was kind of "my" episode, "The Blue Wall" was always a favorite of mine. There was another one called "Heaven" which I thought was extremely powerful. And there was another called -- "Mushrooms." And Epatha was in it, this dyslexic kid went to the wrong place -- there were wonderful scenes, like, "Whatever happened to a good old fashioned fistfight," the whole sense of the world changing, and for the worst. But all three of those were favorites. I can't always remember the titles. And again, they gave us the first year DVD collection, I'm not sure if "Heaven" was in there, but I think I went right to "Mushrooms" and "The Blue Wall" to watch them. And I'm also amazed at how unbelievably well these shows stand up years later. The lapels might be a little something or the ties might, but it's not like we were in bell bottoms or pork-chop sideburns. 
Anything else you'd like to add?
No, you know what I mean, again, I'm kind of amazed when I realize we're hitting 300 episodes and that it is truly a franchise now, that we're going to be doing our 100th episode when we come back after this hiatus very shortly. When Dick came to me and said I want you to do this show, I think they were celebrating the 200th episode, and back then I thought who'da thunk it. CBS didn't want it. But we made it for CBS. And then it got thrown -- it was a throw-in on another deal. And I'm just amazed, wherever I do. One of my favorite things was when cops on the street call me Captain. And sometimes give me a little salute. But it's amazing how the diversity of people who are absolute fans of the show. We used to say from the very beginning is it's TV for people who don't watch TV. Other shows have become good shows, but when we were first hitting the screen, you didn't see camera work like this, we didn't over explain anything, we assumed you would pay attention. I remember saying to people it's going to be different, and watch it at least 3 times before you tell me what you think. And they do stand up. The other day I was flipping around the channel -- another one, the one about [Lisa] Steinberg, "Indifference," I literally got goosebumps thinking about it. That one was really challenging and, obviously, a perfect SVU case. It was just stunning and the way it affected the cops and how they got angry at each other. That was also extraordinary. 

 
 

whaddya think?