Law & Order: Los Angeles premiered last week, but tonight is the first episode with star Terrence Howard, who'll be alternating Deputy District Attorney duties with Alfred Molina. We sat in on a conference call with the accomplished actor and producer René Balcer to find out how he prepared for the role and how the show decides where to shoot.
What was it that attracted to joining the cast and joining the series?
Terrence Howard: Well, I had just finished playing Nelson Mandela and spending nine months working on that, and the most important part of him was his legal appetite and his appetite for rightness. When we finished the movie, I wasn't finished being a lawyer and one of the things -- I have a couple of friends who were law students, you know, up in California -- and one of the things that their professors had them do, was sometimes they would watch Law & Order, because it was so realistic.
When I got the call from Dick to possibly join this team -- because the biggest fear for an actor, you can do a really great movie but then you get thrown into three or four other movies that aren't so great but you need to keep working, you need to keep sharpening your tools. So if I could work on something that was honest, something that was challenging, and something in great association, you know, then that was my dream, and to receive a call from Dick asking me, "Would you like to be part of his family," I mean, what do you say to that?
And it answered all of the things that I wanted to do and still left room for me to be able to go and do films, because I'm sharing the workload with Alfred Molina, you know, and he has one particular side and I have a whole different other side and it's, I mean, it's almost like we're competing, even though I know we're not competing, but it's great. You know, it's like UFC fighting.
Were you a fan of the show? Had you watched the other editions?
Howard: Well, I didn't think that I was, but when I watch reruns now, I know everything that's going to happen. Remember, some of theLaw & Orders didn't give you the verdict. They left it right there, and I always wanted to be able to ask those questions, so I get to ask all those questions now. But my 15-year-old son [and I], we've been watching Law & Order together since [he was] nine years old. He would come home, and where everyone else was watching Transformers, you know, he would look for Law & Order. He liked it, and so I got into it with that.
René, given the strong cast, does that put more pressure on you in putting together a great show in its first season?
René Balcer: Yes, we thought we could get away with some second-rate scripts but we had to shelve those plans, because we can't put anything over on these guys. They're pretty sharp, so reluctantly we'll have to actually put on a good show for them.
Howard: We actually call René about changes in the script, but they've always -- anytime it's been for the right reason -- they've always accommodated us, so it's really the best of both worlds.
Balcer: Well, actually, Terrence checked with S. Epatha Merkerson before taking the job, about how it would be to do this job and to work with the whole Wolf Films team, so I guess he got a thumbs-up from her that he'd be treated well as an actor.
Howard: Well, her and Jesse Martin. Me and Jesse had been auditioning together since we were 18, but Jesse, he walked me through the do's and the don'ts.
Terrence, you always bring such an intensity to your roles. How did you approach the role of DDA Joe Dekker?
Howard: Well, the first thing that I did was spend time in the Los Angeles District Attorney's office and spent a great deal of time exchanging numbers with a lot of different attorneys there, and even some of the judges there. We spent time in the judges' chambers. They gave us that opportunity, and then we sat down and mock played out some things. They would walk me through the courtroom. One of the things that I learned from the District Attorney here is that what you do when you have a witness on the stand, you block her from -- you stand between that person and their attorney, so that they can't get cues from them. So picking up things like that and knowing to approach a particular defendant, and showing the jury that they don't need to be afraid of them, speak with the authority of the law. And just read as much information as you can on the individual case, but also on the precedents, because it gives you a better sense of when you're inside that courtroom, you feel like you're actually there and you're actually prepared for something that may be said or not mentioned.
What are the similarities between actors and attorneys and how is that useful when stepping into character?
Howard: Well, I've often been told that great attorneys would be tremendous actors, and actors would make marvelous attorneys. Anytime you're sitting inside of a situation where you have to adapt to an audience, adapt to the jury, to be forced to improvise because of new information being presented and because of a change in the script or a change in the character, I mean, all of those things are just part of being present and in the moment. And I think most great attorneys -- prosecuting attorneys or trial lawyers -- have to be very present in the moment, they have to listen, and they have to have an intelligent response. They're great debaters, actors and attorneys.
René, when you're writing and during the producing process, are you thinking of specific locations for the shots here in L.A.?
Balcer: Certainly, we have specific neighborhoods in mind. I've lived here over 30 years so, I know... I wouldn't say all of L.A., but big chunks of it. And each episode is named after a different neighborhood in L.A., so definitely we have those neighborhoods, those areas in mind when we write the scripts. And we have specific locations, but when it comes time to shooting, you don't always have those locations available for a variety of reasons. Either it's too far afield or we can't get a permit for it, etcetera, etcetera. So if we have something scripted in the valley and for some reason we can't shoot in the valley, we're going to shoot someplace that definitely conveys the feeling of the valley. But as much as possible we try and target specific locations, and it's not the L.A. the tourists know. It'll be the L.A. that Los Angelinos know.
Law & Order: Los Angeles airs tonight at 10 PM on NBC.
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