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<i>Law & Order</i>: Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe Talk <i>Criminal Intent</i>

While Law & Order: SVU and L&O: Original Recipe have been getting on my nerves lately by veering into ridiculous territory, Criminal Intent has always had one foot in the bizarre, thanks to the constant hulking presence of part-genius, part-madman Det. Robert Goren. In last season's finale, Goren's world crumbled around him, so I'm looking forward to seeing him pull himself together in the new season, especially now that he'll be trading nights with Jeff Goldblum. ("Chris Noth... out!") Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, who plays Goren's partner Eames, held a conference call to promote the new eighth season, and we got some quirky details out of them.

Vincent, after the events of last season's finale, where we discover that Goren's nemesis Nicole Wallace killed Goren's brother, that Goren's mentor Declan Gage has killed Wallace, that Goren's dad was a serial killer and Goren's nephew is missing... what is your character's mental state at the beginning of the season? Has he been affected by all of this, or is he resigned to everything that's happened?

Vincent D'Onofrio: I think that this eighth season, I played it differently than last season. Last season was very, very extreme, so this season, it's like he's just trying to be a cop, trying to do the best you can kind of a thing.

So will we be revisiting any of those storylines any time soon?

D'Onofrio: I don't think so, no. That was a certain set of writers that were doing that, and we were enjoying that with them. And then we've had another set of writers since then, so -- that's not going to happen again, I don't think.

Kathryn Erbe: Yes. It's sad.

How do you feel about the new writing team this season?

D'Onofrio: It's always tough when we switch writers. To be a performer on a television show, you do your best to contribute and make it the best show you can. But you get thrown curve balls, like a new writing crew, who have never written for you, and they're trying their hardest to get it right, and they're in a position where they have to get it right fairly quickly, because there are shows to shoot and to air, and it's tough. It takes a while. But the great thing about it is that they're all talented people, and everybody's scripts are getting better and better, and there have been some amazing things already this season. This last show that we did was great, and it's a good season so far, so we're happy.

Kathryn, Goren is always touted as being this unstable genius and the brains of the partnership, and Eames is usually there to be the dry wit or the conscience. Are you okay with this role, or do you think Eames deserves more respect?

Erbe: Sometimes Eames has a lot to do, and sometimes she doesn't. I've fought for the whole time for her to have more of an impact on the work that they're doing, and it's gone up and down. I like being the dry wit. I wish I actually did more of that these days. The humor has kind of gone out of the character, and so I would like to find a way to bring that back.

Is Eric Bogosian going to have a lot to do this season as your captain?

Erbe: Yes. We just got him out in the woods last night in the rain.

D'Onofrio: We located a girl in the woods with the captain last night.

Erbe: Yes. He comes out a lot more this season than he ever has, I think. He was wondering really why he wanted to do that, when we were standing out in the middle of the woods in the rain.

The show seems to have completely dropped the "Law" end of "Law & Order." Is that ever coming back, or has it just kind of fallen by the wayside?

Erbe: We miss Courtney [B. Vance, who played Assistant District Attorney Ron Carver]. But we haven't been in court at all this year, not once. I didn't even think about that.

D'Onofrio: I mean, as you know, it never really focused on that very much anyway, but one of the cool things about having an ADA in the show is that you have to actually answer to somebody. Because there's a tension between the captain and the two detectives, but there's also a certain kind of tension between the detectives and the assistant district attorney, and that's fun to play. So we don't get to do that often anymore.

I know you guys aren't working directly with Jeff Goldblum, but have you seen any of his work on the show, and how is he fitting in?

Erbe: We only really got to see him in the beginning, when he was waiting for his scripts to be ready. He came and hung out with us extensively and learned all the names of everybody on the crew and just asked us a lot of questions. It seems like the crew is really happy with him and the producers and like he's having a good time.

D'Onofrio: To me it looks like he's psyched.

Have you worked with any particularly interesting guest stars or bad guys for the new season?

Erbe: We have, a lot. We have Lynn Redgrave; we have Scott Cohen (Gilmore Girls) and Kathy Baker (Picket Fences) in the episode Sunday night. We had a great time with them. Who else, Vince?

D'Onofrio: We've also worked with some really good unknown actors, young people that were really good. We're very lucky in that way, that most times we get really good actors, whether they're known actors or not.

Do you have a favorite type of case to tackle on the show?

D'Onofrio: Yes, I like simpler stories. Like we just finished one spree-killer type story, about one guy doing bad things, and Kate and I had to catch him. It was more direct, not complicated, and it had heart, and I like that kind of thing.

When you guys first took on these roles, did you go into it knowing full well that this might become a long-term commitment?

Erbe: I don't think either of us thought that we were going to be doing it for eight years.

D'Onofrio: No way.

Erbe: No. They never would have gotten you to agree to that.

D'Onofrio: No way. The first 13 [episodes] were such a blur that I don't think either of us was even thinking about -- I don't know, it wasn't weighing heavy on me what was going to happen. Was it weighing heavy on you, Kate?

Erbe: No. We had no idea. It was just getting through each day, really, trying to make it to the end.

D'Onofrio: The first 13 scripts were really, really good scripts -- maybe there was like one clunker out of the 13, but they were really good scripts -- and it was very tough to figure out how to pull the show off while we were doing them. It was just a blur. I wasn't thinking about whether the show was going to run, honestly. That's the honest truth. And I think we knew earlier than most people do that it was going to go.

How have they managed to keep you two on the show for so long -- especially you, Vincent? You've certainly looked for a lot of variety in your film roles. Is it a love of the characters or is it a comfort zone or are they writing you the big checks, or is it a combination of all three?

D'Onofrio: For me it's a combination of all three. I have a lot of freedom because of Law & Order. I have a lot of creative freedom on the show, and I have a lot of freedom with my own time to do other films and do anything I want, so -- it's a very good situation.

Erbe: Yes, and it gives us a structure for our lives. I mean, I was ready to give up acting because I couldn't handle never knowing when I would have a paycheck or where the job would take me. And having a daughter and now my son, it was just too hard of a life. And now, when we have time off, we know that it's time off; it's not time out of work, looking for other work. And it's really such an amazing experience to work with the same people for this length of time. It's challenging and it's so gratifying to know everybody's families and -- it's just a very different experience from the sort of crash-and-burn of going from one job to another, this gypsy lifestyle, never knowing where you're going to be when. So it's a very different, much more stable environment, if it's even possible to say that.

Do either of you have any non-Criminal Intent projects coming up?

Erbe: I have a movie with Edie Falco and Elias Koteas called Three Backyards. You have lots, right, Vin? You did like 17 films on the last hiatus -- directed, starred...

D'Onofrio: I directed a film over the summer, a kind of new genre that I invented, slasher musical. It's called Don't Go in the Woods. I just finished it, and we're taking it to L.A. in a week to sell to a distributor, so it'll probably be out sometime, I hope, soon. I have a movie, The Narrows, coming out, and a movie called Staten Island coming out that I acted in -- both of those. And that's all.

Do either of you have any roles you've played that you'd like to forget?

Erbe: The Mighty Ducks 2.

D'Onofrio: A lot of them I'd like to forget. Can I just say most of them?

Erbe: You would not say that, you're being sarcastic.

D'Onofrio: Rather than name them? Because I don't want to insult the filmmakers.

Erbe: Yes, I even feel bad that I even said Mighty Ducks 2, because some people liked that movie.

Catch the new season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent Sunday night at 9 PM on USA, and talk about it in our CI forums! Then check back next week for our interview with Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Nicholson!

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