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Law & Order Criminal Intent Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

This is an interview with Dick Wolf and Vincent D'Onofrio on April 21, 2011 about the show Law & Order Criminal Intent.

Vincent D'Onofrio

Question:
Vincent, how did returning to the show come about?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
I got a call from the other guy on the line here.

Question:
Dick, what made you guys decide to bring these two characters back?

Dick Wolf:
Well, first of all, it was never a decision, basically, to have them disappear into the wilderness. I mean this was - you never know as this show now proves what's going to happen in television, which is a constantly changing lanDISCape. And I really have to credit(Bonnie and Jeff Watell for being able to make the phone call because they came or Jeff specifically called me and said, what would you think of one final season of Criminal Intent with bringing back the way it was originally, just Vincent and Katie. And I said, fine, I hate to think of anything being the last season but, yes, absolutely. And being the sort of unbridled optimist that I am I still have a hope that this is a victory lap and not a swan song where I think that based on the work that's being done and has been done so far I think the audience is going to be very happy, relieved, and welcoming.

I hope that as I said, if this is a final season that it's one that is enormously satisfying for the fans and hopefully enough of them will come out so that the powers that be reconsider the decision because I have to tell you, I don't think Vincent and Katie have been any better ever in the series. I think it's back to the real power of the first two seasons. There is a very, very interesting add-on this season beginning in the second episode, which is Vincent has part of getting back on the major case squad and getting back in the good graces of the police department. Part of that agreement was for him to go into psychological counseling. And there is one scene - an episode of a session with his therapist who is Julia Ormond. And those scenes answer some questions that have been hanging out there since the first season.

I think over the course of the eight episodes you're going to see something of the redemptive power of psychotherapy as well as there has been a conscious attempt to move Vincent over these eight episodes back to the psychologically complete or more wholesomely complete detective that he was in the first season of the show. And I think that as a sub textual theme throughout these episodes it's really interesting.

I mean this has been a great experience no matter what happens but being, as I said, the optimist that I am I think that there is a real power in seeing a show come back at full octane, full fire power, and with stories that I think are really interesting. I think that the first one is sort of in the great tradition of the show and the brand at large that we deal with what is in the popular psych guys and it's a real pleasure. And that's a very long-winded answer but it's exciting to be back.

Question:
Vincent, after all of these seasons, even though you had a little bit of time off, what makes playing Goren still a challenge for you?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
Well, it starts with the scripts. Dick always told me he can't knock it out of the park every time but in this eight here, so far I mean, we're knocking it out. Each one starts with the story and then if the story's good I have the opportunity on this show and I have for a very long time to take it off the page and mix it up a little bit and kind of do stuff that people won't expect. And that's when I'm having the most fun. And so that's what keeps it interesting.

Question:
Did you ever expect the Law and Order franchise to last so long?

Dick Wolf:
Well, 22 years ago I was hopeful that we'd get 20 episodes. Law and Order did not start out with a bang. It was very different and an acquired taste and no, I certainly had no idea that we would be here.

Vincent D'Onofrio:
IThe fact that Criminal Intent has been on this long is an amazing thing to me. Every time I leave my house to get some milk or something from the store I'm reminded two or three times by the time I get back about how much people love the show by the people on the street here in New York. And it just never gets old and it's never not surprising how much people really like it.

Question:
And why do you think it lasted so long? What do you think makes the series work so well?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
Good story telling would be my answer.

Dick Wolf:
I think even as Vincent sort of just said you can have great actors but if you give them lousy words it's not going to be a great show. It's just Shakespeare is still Shakespeare 450 years later. When it's right and it's working it's much better for the actors and it's much better for the show. So it always starts with a blank page.

Question:Vincent D'Onofrio:
There's lots of surprises when you get to know someone for real so it could be lots of things that they would be surprised about. That's as far as me personally. As far as the character, Dick was talking earlier about these new psych evaluations that are going on with Julia Ormond where it's just her character and mine in a room. And she's getting to the bottom of Goren. And I think you're going to learn things, like Dick said, that have been hanging out there for a long time. And I don't want to give any of them away, ibut some of it will definitely be entertaining and surprising I think.

Question:
Vincent, with what Dick was saying about Goren, when you came back for this season did you have to tackle him with a different headspace?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
No I was really ready after the time off to go back to the feeling, the tone that we had in the first four seasons. I was really ready to do it and on the first day they think the first couple of scenes and interrogations. It was like I put the suit back on and I was rocking. It just felt right. And the ideas keep coming, suddenly again, and - no, it wasn't tough. It wasn't hard.

Question:
Dick, I noticed that Jay Mohr is guest staring in this one. Now we know him usually as a comedic actor. What can we expect from him in this?

Dick Wolf:
It's a situation where you don't want to give away the show but he is extraordinarily entertaining in this episode. It's not outright comedy but it is a larger-than-life character. And he's really good. It's kind of odd because he is known as a comic and this is a highly dramatic role that a lot of dramatic actors, I think, would have had a very hard time eschewing. He does a great job. I mean it's such a pleasure and we've been extraordinarily lucky over the years when you get great guest stars and I think Vincent would agree. It's like if you're playing tennis against a club champion or number 27 on the tour you're game should go up against the touring pro. I mean the better the competition the better the game. And I think Jay really, A, came to play and, B, he had a real take on the character.

Vincent D'Onofrio:
Yes, he was very, very good in it. And there's also a new up and coming actor named Neal Huff in it in the show as well that just does outstanding work. It's a very good show this first show they're putting up. I mean that's my opinion, I think it is.

Question:
Dick, can you talk about the first episode which has an Italian word as a title so I'm a little bit curious?

Dick Wolf:
Well, he use of Italian is fortunately or unfortunately not really germane to the story. It turns out, and this doesn't give away too much, the name that inspires a designer for a new line of very expensive dresses. And it's a play off of the fact that essentially he hadn't gotten any respect for many years. So it's not an Italian-ade story, let me put it that way. But the title fits perfectly.

Question:
Which one of the European versions of Law and Order you like most?

Dick Wolf:
Well, it's hard to say because they're all so different and that's not a copout. I can give you absolutely my two favorites were Enquetes Criminelles which was CI in France with Vincent Perez and Law and Order UK, which I think is really, really good. I mean it's just totally different animals. The Enquetes Criminelles I thought was extraordinary but it was, again, the proof that the greatest television actors are character actors. And it's been that way since time and memorial, whether you go back and think of from just rolling off the top of my head and I hadn't thought about this, from Angela Landsbury to Telly Savalas to Monk, to Vincent, to the list goes on and on. And Vincent Perez is a great French character actor. And I think he had a ball playing the part.

Law and Order UK I love because it is the proof, again, of the storytelling that they've been using the same way the French did. They've been using our episodes and then adapting them the local laws, local customs, and local storytelling. I mean the scripts change but they are essentially versions but not translations of the originals. I was very disappointed when TF1 didn't bring Enquetes Criminelles back. I'm thrilled that Law and Order UK has turned into a major hit. And the Russian shows are great fun for me to watch but I don't speak Russian so I can't tell you how good they are. But I can tell you that the guy who plays Vincent looks like James Bond and seems to be acting that way so that's kind of fun feeling like an immigrant in your living room.

Question:
Vincent, after nine or ten years playing the same character what is an actor of your experience supposed to do to make it interesting for himself and for the audience?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
I take the scripts that they write and that's where the ideas spawn from, the scripts. Fhen hopefully ideas come, things that I can do to make it more interesting for myself to play the character and then, hence, the audience enjoying that. You just have to hope that ideas come. And that's how you keep it interesting.

Dick Wolf:
I think it's fascinating as both a producer and a fan of drama. One of the reasons, again, that I hoped this isn't the last season and I hope that people react to this the way I reacted to it, which is wow, these are the best shows in a long time. That it's great fun for an audience to watch a great actor and a specific character get older. Never heard anybody objecting to Peter Faulk after 18 years on Columbo. That Angela Landsbury got better the longer the show was on, and I think it's fun for the audience because it's somebody you really know and when a show's been on for ten years people change, everybody changes.

And you're looking and you see some of the early episodes in reruns and you go, wow, this is a life. It's more than just a collection of episodes. And I think the longer a show like this runs the better. Obviously, I'm very self interested but this is a naked plea. I'd love to keep doing what we did this season, I think, eight episodes a year would be fabulous for everybody but I don't run the network.

Question:
Vincent, I know you just said you got a call from Dick and that's when you knew you were coming back but was it an easy decision?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
I didn't have to think about it. My wife thought about it for me. No, it wasn' difficult. I'll just talk about Dick for a second. Dick has supported me and my feelings about how to do the show and doing this show and how much I should do this show for a long time now nine, ten years. And it's business. And when you trust somebody on the other end and he gives you a call and says, this is what we're thinking then you consider it. You take it very seriously. And I trust his intuition with things. He's been in this business for a very long time. He's one of the most successful guys doing this stuff. And you have to say yes to something like that.

Question:
When you think about this being the final season, even though Dick's hoping it's not, do you think about how you want to say goodbye to Detective Goren or what note you want to leave him on?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
Honestly, honestly no. Yes, I get what you're saying. Honestly no. It's very difficult from my perspective to imagine Criminal Intent not existing. So to have those kinds of thoughts is - they're not entering my head. It's a difficult thing because of the fan base and how good we're doing right now for that kind of realization to happen. I don't think it will. I haven't put one fragment of thought into it actually to be totally honest.

Question:
What is it like getting to work with Kathryn again?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
She's great. She's great. We work very well together and I'm in my dressing room but in the studio right now we've been working together since this morning and just truly at ease with each other, been doing it for a very long time. I knew her before we started doing the show together. I couldn't imagine anybody else playing that part. And it just works. It just works, hands down. It works. It never fails.

Question:
Dick, we see a lot of times crossovers in characters from different Law and Order shows visiting other Law and Order shows. If is the last season for Criminal Intent do you have thoughts about working these characters into some of your other shows?

Dick Wolf:
This may sound strange but it's never entered my head. We accepted the gig on the spaces and I don't in anyway to sound ungrateful. I think that what Bonnie and Jeff have done is certainly the best creative gesture that has ever been extended to me by any network in 30 years in the business. You talk about a class move. But that having been said, it's just not the way I'm constructed. I'm exactly the same place that Vincent is. I can't imagine that this actually going to be the end of this show because it ain't out of steam. I mean this is something that's operating better now in my humble opinion than any time in the last four or five years, six.I mean everybody came to play. Everybody's playing at the top of their game. I mean the first episode is as good as episodic television gets. I mean Jay Mohr's performance is quite amazing. And Vincent and Katie, there is not a missed stitch. I mean it just feels like, oh, thank God they're back. So there are no plans. Everything else is on their episode. Next season we'll see but this is not not part of my thinking. I think that a lot of our old audience is going to sample this when it comes back and if they do they're not going to be disappointed.

Question:
Vincent, do you see yourself as a leading actor on both film and television or as a quasi character actor? I understand you have some features and some other projects that you're working on. Could you could speak about any of it?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
Sure, I'm a character stuck in a character actor's body. And, yes, I love film. I love all the genres. As long as the script is good and there's something challenging in it for me to do I love it. It's just what I do.

s far as projects I have coming up I think the announcement goes out today about the next film that I'm producing called Mall. It's an adaptation from an Eric Bogosian novel. The announcement today that Chelsea Handler is doing it, Eric, myself, and a guy named Joe Hahn is directing it. I'm producing it with Erika Hampson and Sam Madu of the Collective. I have a film that I directed as well that I wrote and directed, slasher/musical which was bought by Tribeca Films, which is going to be released this coming - around Christmas, this Christmas coming. That's what I've been doing, I've been writing and producing and directing and acting. I have a film out now called Kill the Irishman that I'm in with Ray Stevenson and Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken, that's what I've been up to.

Question:
Dick, what attracts you to the crime drama genre and is there a difference between working on Law and Order on network television and a show on basic cable television like USA?

Dick Wolf:
There is really on difference between basic cable and network in terms of language or content anymore. Premium cable, HBO, sure, you can use four-letter words and have frontal nudity but that's really about it. There aren't the same content restrictions because, A, there's too much to monitor and, B, there is a natural system in place with advertisers. So it's not really an issue except with people who want to write about it. It's just not an issue at a creative level anymore.

The reason that I love cop shows, very simple, it's I'm essentially at core a writer and the form of writing that I've been doing for 35 years is dramatic screen writing of one sort or another. And the bottom line is that drama works best when the stakes are highest and cop shows, the stakes are oftentimes literally life and death. So you're starting out with the bar at a level that if you get over it there are going to be people who want to see it.

Question:
Dick, how do you approach this season for a TV show?

Dick Wolf:
Look, when it's an existing show the only thing that's comparable to television is being a farmer. The - you throw the seeds in the ground in the spring, they come up over the summer, and you sell them in the fall and winter and then plant more seeds. It's just literally a constant rotation. And when a show's working you don't worry about what the next season's going to be. You're just worried about getting great story ideas because depending on the size of the order it's a lot of stories to tell. I would go so far as to say that part of the problem with dramas on network television now is that in reality 22 episodes is probably too many to do and do well. And I've been doing it for a long time. I mean I used to tell show runners that if you have 22 episodes and you get through a season and you've got four that you think are Emmy quality and four that you never want to see again, and 14 that are sort of inside the hash marks, pretty good season.

I don't want to break my arm patting myself on the back but for a lot of years on the shows in the brand I think we've exceeded that proportion. I think that there are - there have been an enormous number of very, very good episodes on all three shows. I just don't know if the best way to get that percentage up to a really high level is to do 22, 18, 16. There are economic reasons that 22 is almost mandatory in the first three or four years so that there is enough to sell to cable to get the deficit back.

There are always business reasons for this but creatively I can't over estimate the debt I feel to Bonnie and Jeff but doing these eight episodes is truly a luxury in terms of a way to do a show.Basically because as opposed to a normal season everybody is not staggering from exhaustion and you're not even halfway through the season. Anyway, that's the answer. Unless a show is in trouble there is no real need to examine what the course of the season is going to be, just come up with great stories. If it's not working then there are many discussions that take place.

Question:
Vincent, in your mind if Goren makes it to 75 or 80, what would you imagine he would be doing?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
I think it'd be Law and Order: Ironside.

Dick Wolf:
I don't know. I think it might be a little bit of Gran Torino.

Vincent D'Onofrio:
Maybe, yes. Exactly, could be, yes. I'll answer it in this way. I think that what Dick said earlier about a character aging in front of audiences slash the actor aging in front of audiences. What I think happens is as the actor gets older and has new experiences in life what the actor puts across in his performances are influenced by his or hers own life. And so there are these changes that take place right in front of the audience, right as the story's being told. And I think that's a really cool thing.So I guess the answer to your question is more. You end up getting more and different stuff, different things, that's the only answer I can give you.

Question:
Vincent, Goren is such an intriguing character, how would you compare present-day Goren to the Goren that we were introduced in Season 1?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
Well it's great to play Goren. It's a really good character. We always talked about him, Dick and I and the original show runner, Rene Balcer, as a contemporary Sherlock Holmes. And that's what it's like, that's a great character to play, just that alone. Compare these that we're doing now, I can't compare them very much to the first few seasons or even four seasons of Criminal Intent. They're fast paced, good storytelling, high stake stuff going on with Goren being his usual self that he was back in the day when we started doing this show. He's thinking on the fly. He's a bit quirkier than you would expect a major case squad detective to be but he's coming up with the answers and so it's highly dramatic in that way again.

What we're doing is very similar. I think that the only thing that's different - and one of the things that's different in these eight is that he's getting some shrinkage. You're getting to see time with him with the shrink and that's very interesting. We've shot two of the shrink scenes already with Julia Ormond who's just amazing in them. I mean I was just floored by what she was doing. She showed up and did this stuff. And you're getting an insight into his - into Goren that you would have never gotten unless we did this so it's very, very interesting stuff.

Question:
Can you tell me about a couple of your favorite scenes on the upcoming episodes and on what we have to look forward to from Goren?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
In Respeto I think the aria is really, really good because it's really, really well acted by the guest star. There's a couple of interrogation scenes that are very good that reach back to how good or the best ones have been in the Criminal Intent's history. Yes, I do have favorites in the ones, the first one coming up.

Question:
Dick, do you have a favorite?

Dick Wolf:
I think the aria. The aria is what we call the sort of make or break interrogation scene in the fourth act. And the most memorable episodes, and going back to the first season with Vincent putting his shoe up on the interrogation and saying, I wear a size 13, what are you, about a nine? Maybe an eight that is the key to the memorability of episodes. And the aria in Respeto is, I think, as good as we've gotten because they're - it's very hard to get twists in the aria. And there's really a big one in this one.

Question:
Vincent, did you watch the show at all when you weren't on it? What did you think?

Vincent D'Onofrio:
I watched Jeff a couple of times, yes. I told Dick this, I thought that Jeff was a great replacement for me. I've been a fan of Jeff's from when he started working as an actor. And I just think he's a really fine actor and I thought, so it was great. Yes, I liked it.

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