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Saffron Burrows Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an Interview with Saffron Burrows on July 1, 2010 about the show Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Question:
What originally made you want to be a part of this show?

Saffron Burrows:
First of all, Jeff Goldblum comes to mind because we'd already made a movie together and I think he's first of all, a wonderful actor and very, very witty intelligent man. I knew that if you're going to be working on a show like this where you work really long hours and long days, then he'd be a great comrade to deal with. And then, of course, Dick Wolf, everything that Dick Wolf created has a great deal of integrity to it and a huge fan base of people who become, I guess, involved in his writing because it's so smart and gritty and truthful. So I also embraced Manhattan, so the combination of those elements was really attractive to me.

Question:
You have a lovely English accent. How difficult is it for you to play an American?

Saffron Burrows:
Well, I've done it a bunch of times in films, so I felt it's not something new to me. But it gets hard around one or two in the morning. If you're doing a little bit of a night shoot and you get relaxed and sleepy, then it's a bit more challenging. But most of the time it's okay because you're had experience before. Also being around Americans helped, I guess if they were English people in the cast with me, then their accents might rub off of me, but luckily they aren't. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is actually from Chicago, which is where my character is from. So I'm not intending to do a Chicago accent at all. But occasionally if there's a specific little detail about that city, she's helpful with that.

Question:
What's been your most memorable moment so far from filming this season?

Saffron Burrows:
I think just the exuberance of the cast and crew because this is its ninth year. There's a lot of new faces, but apparently there's people who have been on the show for a long time. There's a lovely team spirit to the thing. And so I think just the overall feeling. I've made friends on the crew, which is always nice, the feeling of camaraderie that builds up over working together. On films or movies, you shoot together for a while and then you all say good-bye. On this show, it's seven or eight months filming, so you have time to build up a rapport and get into a rhythm with people in the way that you would more in a regular job

So that's been fun for me. Both Jeff and I said we've always done theatre and I think the longest I've done in the theatre is six months. So for both Jeff and I, this is our longest ever job we've done we both realized where you're actually with the same people for that length of time. So I like that a lot.

Question:
You've had an entire season now of getting into this character and had time to become more comfortable with her. Do you think you're starting to do anything differently with her now that you've had this time with her than you did at the beginning of the season?

Saffron Burrows:
I think I found out more about her because I think the writers, they know some things from the outset and then some things they develop as we go along. So I particularly enjoyed the episode called "The Disciple," where Stevens has a history from Chicago, her mentor and whole story of the death row case, which may or may not have been wrongfully convicted. That was really interesting for me because I got to find out all these things about Stevens. And then I enjoyed also the thing of developing a partnership on screen. We have a lot of ex-cops on our show who are security and driving and in all sorts of areas of the crew, actually. They all tell me that being partners on the beat in the NYPD for years, it's a lot like a marriage.

So the partnership that grows between Nichols and Stevens, I think, only time will provide the sort of accumulative effect of, I guess, investigating of bunch of cases together. It makes us as actors very relaxed with each other to spend that much time together and hopefully as characters, that's reflect on screen as well.

Question:
Along those lines and also you mentioned before that you get along well with the crew. But when you first joined the show that had been on for so long, did you feel welcome instantly? Was there a sense of chemistry among all of you or did you have to work on that?

Saffron Burrows:
I have to say they're very welcoming, really. They're really great. I think American crews in general are very friendly. There's a lot of people there who are there just to make you feel comfortable, a really great costume department and hair and make-up. So all of the stuff as an actor that you spend time with, those departments that you at 4 a.m. or 5 a.m., you're with all those people before you're even on set, there's a lot of back time that obviously remains behind the camera where you're just being taken care of by people who are really good at their jobs. So I guess I felt assured that Dick Wolf's company had hired the best people in New York. And they're there to put you at ease and make you feel good and make you as relaxed as possible. So that when you're playing the scenes, that's all you're thinking about is the actual scenes themselves. So I must say they're very, very good at making you comfortable and welcoming you to New York and finding you a really nice place to live, all of the stuff that makes you feel good when you're stepping into a new job.

Question:
You have fantastic on screen chemistry with Jeff. So what is it like working with him?

Saffron Burrows:
You think we have chemistry?

Question:
Oh, yes.

Saffron Burrows:
Oh, good, I'm glad. It's so much fun. I don't know if you've already spoken to him, but he's a very funny man. In fact, I'm going to see him on stage. I'm in London and he's doing a play here, so I'm going to see him on Monday doing his play. He's incredibly bright and funny. And I guess he's probably wittier than most people would ever know and so that's really nice to be around, the combination of intelligence and irreverence. He takes care of me. He's a gentleman. He's very caring and loving and it's great. It's really fun.

He's very easy to work with. He's incredibly respectful of everybody and treats people really well, which I like. He has amazing energy. He's always the one at the end of a long day who has the most energy left when everyone else is flagging. He's incredible, yes.

Question:
What can we expect from the season finale and from Serena?

Saffron Burrows:
There's a very interesting turn of events with Jeff's character. I don't know how much I'm allowed to say, but something occurs with Jeff's background. There's a case that we deal with in the season finale that's very, very cool and a shockingly violent case, really and we decide we need help from an unusual direction. So Nichols and I, along with the captain go into a process with somebody where we asked for someone's help that Nichols knows personally and that person helps us solve the case.

It's interesting because it's the home life comes in to help us in our working world. It's interesting for me because I get to find out a lot more about Nichols. And it's a case that's very, it's disturbing and confusing and very hard to solve. So, yes, it's very well written, I think based on a true story. I'm being very vague, aren't I, to keep you guessing?

USA Network Publicity:
You can actually say it's Nichols' father.

Saffron Burrows:
I didn't know. Am I allowed to say who plays him?

USA Network Publicity:
Yes, F. Murray Abraham.

Saffron Burrows:
I wasn't sure how secretive I had to be.

Question:
Before this you were known primarily as a movie actress. What made you decide to switch over to TV?

Saffron Burrows:
Well, I think it's interesting you said that because I realize that I did a little bit on Boston Legal, like a season on Boston Legal. I realized that one of the things you don't have with movie acting is the feeling of continuity with people. You build up a nice rapport and a way of working and then that stops and you all say good-bye. I realized on Boston Legal that I rather enjoyed, even though I was just part of the ensemble; I rather enjoyed that feeling of continuum.

So when this option came up would I liked to go and talk to them about it to Dick Wolf's company, and also Jeff was a big draw because I'd already worked with Jeff and I liked him a lot. I was much more open to it than I would have been if I hadn't already dipped my toes into television with David Kelly's show. So I think I was very drawn to that part of it, I must say. But you know actors are such transient beings. We spend a lot of our life in hotel rooms. The idea of being in New York, which I love and working on something I would enjoy with some kind of sense of continuity where I have an apartment and I live there was quite attractive to me.

Question:
You just passed the final test and you're 100% full legal citizen. I'm just wondering how you plan on spending your first 4th of July as an American?

Saffron Burrows:
I was meant to be flying back to the states on the 4th of July because my friend has a beach house, which I enjoy. Well, funny enough, I have some things to do in London, including going and seeing Jeff on stage on the west end. So embarrassingly I might be in Europe for my first 4th of July.

Question:
How does it feel to join a show in its ninth season with the original stars leaving?

Saffron Burrows:
Luckily I didn't allow myself to pay too much attention to that because it's like joining school when you come a little late to high school and everyone else has been there for a while. I certainly felt shy on my first day. I think the good thing with the show is that they wanted us to be very much, Zach Nichols' and my character, Serena, to be very much these new individuals who have a big history. And also what I like about the writing for the stars before us and for us is that we've already come to it with a lot of life. So all you can do is try and serve the writing that they've given you and not pay too much attention to the weight, the reputation of the thing is so enormous that I think it's best to try to and be present and do a good job. Otherwise, it would be a little too overwhelming.

Question:
Do you watch the news differently nowadays? Do you pick out certain cases on TV and go, oh, we're probably going to be doing that in a couple of weeks?

Saffron Burrows:
I read the papers a little differently. I don't really watch TV news so much because I find it a little too sensationalist for my taste, but I read the New York Times every day. I certainly read crime stories probably with a different eye, yes, I do. And I listen to NPR a lot, though when there's an in depth story about something, I definitely pay attention in a different way. It's nice to read about disturbing stories and have an intellectual viewpoint, rather than just one of being a worried member of the general public.

So I guess in a way when I went down to meet the major case squad who are show is based on, they have a very gung ho attitude, of course, towards crime and the satisfaction they have when they solve a case well and do a job well. So, yes, there's a different relationship that develops certainly, even though we're just doing it on screen. It probably has changed my way of looking at things.

Question:
Now that we know that F. Murray Abraham is going to be in this finale, what was it like working opposite of him?

Saffron Burrows:
Oh, he's wonderful. It was very exciting. We have these arias that the show has every week. We almost have a double aria in this one, but there's very, very intense sequence of events that takes place with F. Murray at the pinnacle of it at the fulcrum. And then I'm sort of there witnessing what's happened to my partner and how he's being affected by that. And it's incredibly powerful. What a wonderful actor.

In fact, he gave me a gift at the end of one day. He was in a scene, but he didn't have any text. He was there to add dramatic effect at a certain point. So he spent the day writing, spending afternoon writing out all of Shakespeare's sonnets that he could remember on a note pad. And then at the end of the day, he gave me all the sonnets, which I love. But he's terrific. There's a lot of improvisation that went on, actually, in that episode. It was very alive.

Question:
As a whole new cast with a completely different set of characters, how are you all setting yourselves apart from the previous seasons while also staying connected with this established series?

Saffron Burrows:
I think Jeff and I would leave that up to the writers to take charge of that because I have complete respect for them. They know the structure of the story so well and the shape of the show and the history of the show. So I think I bow to them in that respect.

Question:
What does your character, Serena Stevens, bring to the show that's different from her predecessor, Megan Wheeler?

Saffron Burrows:
I'm not sure. I guess you'd have to ask the audience. One thing that's nice is just when you're - there's something nice about playing - Jeff and I, funny that we have the same birthday, not exactly the same year, but we have the same birthday. There's a kind of a nice - I don't know. I'm enjoying her own particular set of characteristics, Stevens, and the way that I'm allowed to develop a partnership with somebody.

I've come from another city. I probably have a tougher background. Nichols' background is a little bit more gentle and intellectual I think than my own, which is a military one with my father in the military. So I wouldn't know how to compare and contrast that to previous characters, but I'm enjoying so far having someone unfold in front of my eyes so that I find out things almost as we're shooting them. So I'm given a new script and discover a little bit more about her.

I like the way they don't patronize the audience. So when we have a crime to solve, we're not going into endless melodrama about our private lives. We do give each other little tiny bit of information that become hopefully a gentle reveal over time, which I think is hopefully an attractive way to find out about someone's life because it's rather subtly done. So I'm enjoying that a lot.

Question:
What direction would you like to see your character take in the next season of the show?

Saffron Burrows:
I think I'd just like her to continue on the trajectory. I had this episode, "The Disciple," with this death row references and the reference to the past and things. I think I'd like to continue on a trajectory where we, obviously the paramount shape of each episode is that there's a particular case and there's a particular line of thought where Jeff and I put our heads together, along with our captain and try to figure out what on Earth happened to someone. I think what I like is for us to find out more about Stevens in the process of this occurring. And I'm sure, I like very much in the "The Disciple" where Jeff and I were a little bit butting heads together and sort of enjoying each other at the same time. So I think there's probably room for more of that where - how would I say it - our own instincts at work sometimes don't always align, but then we seem to get back on track with each other at some point in solving a case. That was a very verbose answer. I guess I'd like more personal drama and more professional drama to go hand in hand.

Question:
If there's one element of the character that you could describe as one thing you love or find you're most proud of, what would that be?

Saffron Burrows:
I kind of like the way the two partners are allowed to very much be themselves with each other. I like the gentle flirtation that's building up in a way that's enjoyable in the way that people do enjoy in their work space. But there's a degree of professionalism and I think she really loves her job and gets a kick out of it. So they are at the highest level of policing in New York City. And I think there's a great deal of satisfaction from doing your job well. So I like her warmth and the fact that she also takes it quite seriously and appropriately seriously what she does and tackles it with appropriate urgency. So I'm enjoying the writing a lot I must say.

Question:
What are you going to be doing on your hiatus? Are you going to have any projects you're working on?

Saffron Burrows:
I'm going to try and avoid all projects. Right now I'm in England visiting my family and going to family events. And then I'm going to be back in Los Angeles trying to avoid all business and projects, just being as low key as possible.

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