The apocrypha Interview: Elisabeth Rohm
By Kitteridge
 
Elisabeth Rohm
Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn (2001-Present)
Typical line: "She had a college education. She had a career before she had kids. I think she could have figured out how to call the police."

The fifth in a seemingly-unending string of ADAs who rarely last more than a few seasons, Rohm has proved to have staying power on the set. Born in Germany, she's previously appeared in soaps (One Life To Live) and Angel and TNT's Bull, which was cancelled prematurely, but which was also created and EP'ed by L&O alum (and recently-departed EP) Michael Chernuchin - so it was a good move all around.

 
So, you're going to spend the summer in L.A., now that you're about to go on hiatus?
I needed to move, but I haven't had the time to find a place to go. So [everything I own is] all going in storage near where I went to college, at Sarah Lawrence. But when I come back I may try to find a place at University Place. I'm planning on putting in storage, because I have the summer off and I will probably do a movie and then L.A. and I don't need to be here as much, but as soon as I find a place, trust me, I'll be moving back in.
Are you done shooting?
No, I'm not. I finish shooting on Wednesday. This is a really great cop episode, so I'm barely in it, which is giving me time off. It's really nice to pass the ball when you're in an ensemble cast. It's really where it's at, especially when they're like us, where we really respect each other. It's fun to watch the others take off and do their own story. This will be a fun story for the cops, because it's all about them.
Did you see the other all-cops episode, "Mayhem"?
No, when was it?
1995, I think.
You'd have to go to the New York Public library and do research like people do on war trials to get through all of the Law & Orders, there are so many! I'm beginning to catch up, I'm a great fan of Carey Lowell's [ex-Jamie], and I loved Jill [Hennessey, ex-Claire].
Did you watch the show before you knew you'd be coming to it?
Definitely. Dick Wolf was my first boss after coming out of Sarah Lawrence. I had a soap opera and my next job was working with Kyle McLachlan on The Invisible Man, for Dick. It was a pilot, and Kyle and I were the leads. And I worked in a museum, and we were trying to help him become visible again and it wasn't able to get executed. We faded away, like the season. So I became a big fan of his and would watch the show from time to time. I was never much of a television person, and at Sarah Lawrence it was more of a writing thing. But I love TV now, I try to watch the show every week and improve upon myself. I've become a fan.
I saw you on Bull, which I had watched because of Michael.
Oh, I love him. We did a whole season, actually, so we feel it was much more of a long-term commitment than I think the audience knows about. I would love for TNT to run the whole season at one point. I don't think that'll ever happen, though. It'll air in Sweden or never again. I do have copies, but I got past my obsessive-compulsive point when I stopped watching episodes, because I was very sad it got cancelled. And for a while I'd be like, "Look at that episode!"
How did you come to L&O? You knew Dick and Michael, so....
Obviously, I had been on a visible show, and Angel really drew a lot of attention for me. And then Bull kind of helped me further that, and I think NBC was really interested in me, and the relationship was there with Dick. I don't know the answer -- you don't know who hired you. I don't know who was on board and who wasn't.
Did you have the regular audition process?
I went to the screen test with four other girls. And Dick didn't really think I was exactly what he was looking for, but he figured he would try my direction. He figured he would try somebody in my direction, but I think he wanted to stick with the tone of having a darker woman. There was a beautiful Indian woman who was there, and some brunettes, and a black actress, and I was like the oddball. And I was not, I don't think people were betting on me, but they were giving me a chance. So who knows? I think I rode a wave there, by being different in appearance than the girls who preceded me. I stuck out like a sore thumb when I came on, just by the fact that I looked so different. So I think that adjustment alone for the audience was a hurdle for me, and I think Dick was aware of that before he hired me. He probably figured the show has a certain kind of complexion, and I'm going to go towards that. New York gritty, darker people and all of a sudden they decided to make a change and I couldn't be more happy. Because I got a job!
What do you think? Have you been enjoying yourself?
I have had such an interesting experience. Last night I went out for a drink with one of my bosses and I said I've grown up so much here, it's been two years, I've become a woman here, I've become an actress here, I've made a great fan in Sam [Waterston, Jack], I'm so grateful. You don't just want to improve in your craft and intelligence, you want to improve your whole life, who you are as a soul. I've grown as a person. The dynamics on this set are very demanding because we work a lot of hours, it's very sad material, so there's always someone upset because it's really heavy stuff, and I've just learned to -- I've just become a more grounded person through this experience. And intellectually it's made me much more aware of current affairs. I was a romantic, I read Nietzsche and things like that in college and now all of a sudden I'm reading the paper every day. If I don't, I won't know what the episode's about. I'll sit in a read through with Sam and he'll go, "That's the Condit case!" And you get this real hunger to be able to be a conversationalist with your team, and that's made me much more active in modern politics. I was a history major and I think in a lot of ways I've always been in love with the past, just the romanticism of another era. Right now, I'm moving from Wall Street. I've been living downtown and I just love it. It's the original New York, and I've always been a history buff. I think that's why I'm in love with New York as a whole.
Has it been difficult to adjust to the schedule there?
It really is long days and it was hard to adjust, but thank God, the previous year I had done Bull and Angel at the same time. That seemed so hard, because I would leave Bull after being one of the leads and then do an episode as a guest star on Angel and shoot until 3 in the morning. And that really prepared me for this. If I hadn't done that, I don't know what I would have done. I think that's been a big part about why people leave, because it's like this is grueling. For me, this is normal. I got out of college in 1997, and TV embraced me very quickly.
Any trouble with the legal lingo?
No, I have to say, because my father is a major attorney -- he actually runs the law firm in Enrst & Young -- that I grew up around law, and it couldn't have felt more natural. That may have helped me, because I know it was difficult for some people. But I do walk around with my Black's Law Dictionary so I know I'm not missing anything. I was able to help me help myself.
How do you make a role that's been inhabited by several others your own?
Oh, I thought long and hard about it. I thought how am I going to stand out in a way that is original when this role is what it is, and thank God Dick was very supportive of -- not supportive, but we had a mutual idea, which is that she should be a protegee to McCoy, and that really worked for me, because I felt it would leave room for being there for a very long time, because you never stop learning. If you have a teacher you never stop being a student. And I was very excited about the idea that I could be an idealist, that I could be my age, that I could be right out of law school and the eager beaver who had hope in the justice system and be the one who gets disappointed just like the audience. I was given the opportunity to be the audience. McCoy is the hero, he slays the dragon, so what do you get to be? And a lot of the girls just became secondary to him. I think that by virtue of the fact that she was given a subservient place to him, because he was really her boss and her mentor more than anything, that made in a way made her more respectable. Because she really wasn't like an equal that wasn't an equal.
She had a place.
You have a real place of respect when you are greenlit by someone who is older than you who you really respect. It makes you an equal except for your years. As opposed to having the same job title and basically never running the show.
You've been given good stuff to do -- that hostage episode.
Oh, yeah, that was fun. That was really fun. I hope that gets on DVD.
What was your take on the show before you came to it?
I loved it, because I'm a huge Hitchcock fan. Sometimes I'll giggle to myself on set because it really feels like you're Kim Novak or something. It's very dry, and it's very scary, and it's a whodunit always, and it's got a sexiness to it because of its grittiness, and it's always been ahead of its age. I don't think other TV shows are caught up in this sparse, [David] Mamet way of storytelling. I love Hitchcock and I think Law & Order to me is really the best mystery show that's ever existed on television.
Why has it lasted?
Because you don't know anything about us and you'd love to.
Ever go on the Internet to see what fans are saying?
Absolutely not. Because I'm a human being, and it would probably break my heart to hear the people that didn't like me, and give me a false sense of ego to hear the people that did. Better to just be real. Show up and do your job and be a nice person.
Are you sticking around?
Yeah, I'll probably stick around for a couple of years. I would love to break the record. And I am very happy and really love the people I work with. I'm not a disgruntled -- not to mention that I always think that the business is a very tricky obstacle course, and I think you should be very clear about work begetting work. If you're not working, you're not interesting. And you have to do the grunt work. You've got to clock the hours and pay your dues. Then eventually, people will come to you. You just have to be patient and appreciative. I'm happy right now.
How much of Serena is you?
None. None at all. I'm not that serious. I can definitely be philosophical, but I'm not that idealistic. I'm a straight shooter, a New York City girl. I see things as they are and call them as they are, and she sees things as she wishes they were. I admire her, because I'm probably a little bit more edgy. She's the romantic, I'm more of a daredevil. I'm a little more -- I have a lot of courage as a person, she's a little more buttoned up. I'm a little more of a realist. But I like her.
Was it your idea to change your hair?
Yes. You mean from the wavy to the straight?
It was wavy and soft, now it's shaggier and shorter.
I basically -- I wanted to be a woman. I may be a woman, but I'm sophisticated. And they wanted her to be a little young and soft. The truth is, she's on Law & Order, and she needs to button up and be more sophisticated and harder. I thought straight hair would make her more fine-lined. Black suits, not pink cardigans.
Pink cardigans?
We did that -- well, no, they were green and blue.

 
 

whaddya think?