Law & Order franchise has a rich history of characters
By Anthony Murray and Caroline Ryan
Across all three franchises of Law & Order, there is no denying that the characters who were on the front lines putting the worst of the worst criminals behind bars were dedicated and devoted to their mission. From the top-notch lieutenants, detectives and assistant district attorneys, criminals didn’t stand a chance.
Lieutenant Anita Van Buren
(Played by S. Epatha Merkerson)
In NBC’s longest and most powerful legal drama television series, Law & Order, S. Epatha Merkerson, who played Lieutenant Anita Van Buren, often referred to as “Lu,” was a long-standing character, having filmed more than 395 episodes of the show.
“The show was written beautifully and I think the testament of that is even after 10 years of cancellation, people are still talking about episodes of Law & Order,” Merkerson said. “People still stop me on the street [to ask] about Law & Order; that means that the audience really appreciated what was written and it was written smartly. We never dumbed the audience down. I believe that’s what people want when they sit down to watch television, that was a reason to stay [on the show]. Also being able to be at home, because New York is home for me, made it even more inviting. Who knew when I took the job that I would end up on 17 seasons? I certainly didn’t. As I look back on it, it was a great 17 years spent. I learned a lot. I worked with some great people and I got to stay home.”
Merkerson learned a lot during her time on Law & Order, stating that every day was a new experience for her as an actor.
“As long as you’re working, you’re learning,” Merkerson said. “As an actor, it’s interesting when you’re a regular on the show and your guests come in, I learn a lot from them as well because the casting for Law & Order was really pretty incredible. But I think that as long as you’re working, you’re learning something. It’s hard to be specific, and your thought process on television you have to learn quickly there is not the leisure that you may have for rehearsal in theater or working in film. So you learn how to pick up things quickly. There are all kinds of things that happen daily as you’re working. But again, as long as you’re working, you’re using your instrument, there’s something new every day.”
Detective Cyrus Lupo
(Played by Jeremy Sisto)
Although the pressure of the job might sometimes have gotten to Law & Order’s senior detective Cyrus Lupo, one thing was for sure. He was dedicated and devoted to his work. Prior to rejoining the NYPD’s Manhattan North Homicide Squad’s 27th Precinct, Detective Lupo, who was portrayed by actor Jeremy Sisto, spent four years as a member of the NYPD Intelligence Division investigating terrorist groups overseas. Years ago while he was a patrolman in the 27th Precinct, Lupo visited a crime scene in which a father murdered his wife and children. The bloody crime scene left Lupo with PTSD making him drink to deal with the trauma, which had a trickle effect within the precinct.
Lupo continued drinking until he fell asleep in a patrol car while hung over on the job. Lupo’s partner went to get him a cup of coffee and was killed during an armed robbery inside a bodega. Wracked with guilt, Lupo quit drinking and got therapy. As a result of his brother’s assisted suicide, Lupo returns to the 27th Precinct to investigate it.
Throughout his time in the precinct, Lupo was partnered with detectives Ed Green, who was portrayed by Jesse L. Martin and later Kevin Bernard, who was portrayed by Anthony Anderson.
“You know, Anthony was really fun to be with and so was Jesse,” Sisto said about his fondest memories working on the show. “With Jesse it was the end of a nine-year run and I think he was ready to go. Anthony just came in with some fresh and fun energy. I love the guy. You definitely have to match his energy, which is hard to be around if you want to be shy. He’s really good bringing people out of their shell. He’s really lovable and also had a really positive outlook on work. He was always staying positive and had fun with it. He enjoyed his job. Every now and then you’d come into some actors who complain a little bit about stuff and that kind of vibe can be contagious—that doesn’t even cross Anthony’s mind. You know who else is like that? Alana [de la Garza]. Linus [Roache] was also great. I just did a show with him called Kidnapped. That was really fun. He’s such a good guy. It’s always about the people you hang out with.”
Sisto added that in Dick Wolf’s world there is always room for healthy growth where there are no egos allowed.
“The other thing was that Law & Order was at the end of a 20-year run,” Sisto said. “Our DP started out as a PA or something. They’ve all grown-up in the ranks and kind of moved up the ladder within this company and group, so that was really a unique vibe. It was different and it took some getting used to because it was a different thing. On Dick’s shows, there’s not a ton of room for ego, which is a great thing because on successful shows you tend to have a few actors who want to take up a lot of space. In Dick’s world, they’re very specific. You either get with it or you get off.”
Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn
(Played by Elisabeth Röhm)
Elisabeth Röhm, started out her acting career in her early 20s, landing a spot on the famous television series, Law & Order. Participating in four seasons as Assistant District Attorney Serena Southerlyn, Röhm explained how the show really shaped her career and future as an actress in Hollywood.
“Law & Order was the longest journey for me on television and the relationships that I built with Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, Fred Thompson, Jesse Martin and Apatha Markerson, they really became very pivotal relationships for me,” Röhm said. “Sam and I are still good friends, and I think when you’re on a TV series, you’re really learning so much about how to conduct yourself within a sort of family dynamic like that. I mean, as far as Jerry and Sam go, their work ethic was such a great example for me at that age. I mean they worked so hard and so intelligently that it really left a big impact on me about how I approached my work.”
Actors, such as Waterson and Orbach, had an expansive acting career under their belts and taught Röhm a lot about what it meant to be an actor.
“I think really what I gained as an actor was a tremendous work ethic of positivity,” Röhm said. “Really servicing the story and doing the work as an actor for your character and not being so swept up with the fantasy of it all. Because of the fact that my colleagues were Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterston. I mean, those are real actors. I never was in my 20s in environments where I developed bad habits about a sense of entitlement based upon being an actor.”
Although it has been 10 years since Röhm last appeared on Law & Order, she looks back at her time on the show with fond memories. Having grown up in New York, Röhm has a special place in her heart, having filmed so many episodes of Law & Order in the city she once called home.
“For me, Law & Order was particularly special because I’m from New York,” Röhm said. “Going to Hollywood to become an actor and coming back home to your hometown with that caliber of a job, but also a job that New Yorkers take pride in was the most incredible moment of my life. I mean your parents say to you, ‘You want to be what? You want to be an actor? Are you crazy?’ And then you actually come home with the sweetest job that a New York actor could get. We were very special in New York and forever that will mean so much [to me] because I am a New Yorker through and through.”
After the show came to an end, Waterson wrote a speech commemorating some of the hard work cast members on the show had accomplished throughout the years, including Röhm.
“In my last day of work Sam Waterston wrote a speech. He said, I came into Law & Order with a blow torch of happiness, and I have a child like enthusiasm for life,” Rohm said. “I like to have fun. I like to treat people kindly. I want to make an impact. I want to make a difference. And I think that I do have that childlike enthusiasm and idealism and belief in humanity. I’m never surprised when people are kind because I know inside of us is all this hope and desire to evolve and to be happy. That doesn’t mean there that there aren’t criminal minds and degradation and despair and poverty and violence.”
In many ways, Röhm’s character Serena mimicked her true personality, always wanting to find the good in people, even though she was often faced with the realities of crime and violence as a prosecutor.
“In my heart there’s this belief that people are good, not that people who do bad things aren’t bad, but that the spirit of human beings in general that there’s hope for us,” she said. “I think that Serena had that idealism and I do too. Twenty years ago, when I was playing Serena, she had an idealism that I still feel is very relatable for me personally. Serena wanted to change the world for the better and so do I.”
Detective Joe Cormack
(Played by Joe Forbrich)
As a young adult, Joe Forbrich attended SUNY Old Westbury, where he majored in the thing he felt most passionate about, acting. In 1989, Forbrich moved to Chicago where he started a theatre group called Shattered Globe Theatre, an ensemble-based theatre group, which produces seasonal theatre performances.
After moving back to New York many years later, he auditioned for a part in the Law & Order franchise. Although he wasn’t given the part he auditioned for, Forbirch appeared in 17 episodes of Law & Order, appearing as Detective Joe Cormack, Detective Ed Green’s (Jesse Martin) partner.
Forbrich has fond memories of his appearance on Law & Order, having concluded the last three seasons of the show, he became close with the cast.
“It became a team thing,” Forbrich said. “We were a tight-knit group; very nice and welcoming. The reason that it was such a great show was because they were a really great team,” Forbrich said. “It was just a really good feeling to work on Law & Order, I appreciated that the show hired a lot of Broadway actors. But it’s all about relationships. Yes talent, yes experience, but it’s more about how you build those relationships.”