Vincent D’Onofrio & Dick Wolf
One Last Time with Criminal Intent
by Jay S. Jacobs
It’s all come down to this. After nine seasons and three pairs of lead detectives, we are at the final season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Or are we?
The USA Network has offered the show one final wrap-up season. In return, the show has brought back the original characters, detectives Robert Goren (Vincent D’Onofrio) and Alexandra Eames (Kathryn Erbe). The two actors had left the show at the beginning of last season – and had not been in a complete season’s worth of episodes in a few years, with other actors like Chris Noth, Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Nicholson and Saffron Burrows taking up the slack.
However, for the final go-around, Law & Order creator Dick Wolf decided to go back to the roots of the show, convincing his stars to return for eight last episodes.
Still, Wolf allows, if the concluding season does well enough, perhaps it won’t be the end of the road after all. If the show’s ratings rebound, all bets are off.
We were recently lucky enough to be one of several websites invited onto a conference call with star D’Onofrio and series creator Wolf about the planned ending of Law & Order: Criminal Intent.
Vincent, how did returning to the show even come about?
Vincent D’Onofrio: I got a call from the other guy on the line here.
Well, okay, 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. You never know as this show now proves what’s going to happen in television, which is a constantly changing landscape. 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 Intentbringing back the way it was originally, just Vincent and Katie. I said, fine, I hate to think of anything being the last season but, yes, absolutely. Being the 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. 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. There is one scene – an episode of a session with his therapist who is Julia Ormond. Those scenes answer some questions that have been hanging out there since the first season. 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. I think that as a subtextual theme throughout these episodes it’s really interesting. This has been a great experience no matter what happens but being 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 are really interesting. The first one is in the great tradition of the show and the brand at large. We deal with what is in the popular psych guys and it’s a real pleasure. That’s a very long-winded answer but it’s exciting to be back.
Sounds it. Vincent, let me ask you, 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 because when the scripts are good – and these that we’ve done in this batch are – you know, 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 do stuff that people won’t expect. That’s when I’m having the most fun. And so that’s what keeps it interesting.
Did you ever expect the Law and Order franchise to last so long?
Dick Wolf: That’s to who?
Vincent D’Onofrio: That’s to you.
Dick Wolf: No, 22 years ago I was hopeful that we’d get 20 episodes if 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: The 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. It just never gets old and it’s always surprising how much people really like it…
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: As Vincent just said, you can have great actors – 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. It always starts with a blank page.
Vincent, what’s one thing your fans will be surprised to know about you?
Vincent D’Onofrio: About the character?
Or you, yourself.
Dick Wolf: He’s 4’11”.
Vincent D’Onofrio: I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer that question. There are 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. She’s getting to the bottom of Goren. I think you’re going to learn things, like Dick said, that have been hanging out there for a long time. I don’t want to give any of them away – but some of it will be definitely entertaining and surprising.
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. On the first day, the first couple of scenes and interrogations, it was like I put the suit back on and I was rocking. It just felt right. The ideas keep coming, suddenly again. No, it wasn’t tough. It wasn’t hard.
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 on the telephone 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 odd because he is known as a comic and this is a highly dramatic role that a lot of dramatic actors would have had a very hard time doing. He does a great job. It’s such a pleasure – and we’ve been extraordinarily lucky over the years when you get great guest stars. I think Vincent would agree. It’s like if you’re playing tennis against a club champion, or number 27 on the tour; your game should go up against the touring pro – the better the competition, the better the game. Jay really A) came to play and B) had a real take on the character.
Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, he was very, very good in it. There’s also a new up-and-coming actor named Neal Huff 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.
Dick, since I’m calling from Italy, 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, the 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 inspires a designer for a new line of very expensive dresses. 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.
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. 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. But it is totally different animals. The Enquetes Criminelles I thought was extraordinary but it was, again, the proof that the greatest television actors are character actors. It’s been that way since time immemorial, whether you go back and think of – just rolling off the top of my head and I hadn’t thought about this – from Angela Landsbury to Telly Savalas to Monk, [his] name just went out of my head [Tony Shalhoub], to Vincent, to… the list goes on and on. Vincent Perez is a great French character actor. 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 to the local laws, local customs, and local storytelling. 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. 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. 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.
Vincent, after nine or ten years playing the same character, what is an actor in your experience supposed to do to make it interesting for himself first of all and then for the audience?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, I take the scripts they write. That is where the ideas spawn from, the scripts. Then hopefully, ideas come, things that I can do to make it more interesting for myself to play the character and hence, the audience enjoying that. You just have to hope that ideas come. That’s how you keep it interesting.
Dick Wolf: I will tell you – 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. It’s great fun for an audience to watch a great actor and a specific character get older. I never heard anybody objecting to Peter Falk after 18 years on Columbo. Angela Landsbury got better the longer the show was on. It’s fun for the audience because it’s somebody you really know. When a show’s been on for ten years people change, everybody changes. 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. 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. Eight episodes a year would be fabulous for everybody but I don’t run the network.
Vincent, 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? Were you like, absolutely? Or did you have to think about it when you got the call from him?
Vincent D’Onofrio: I didn’t have to think about it. My wife thought about it for me. No, it wasn’t – it’s not – difficult. I’ll just talk about Dick for a second. Dick has supported me and my feelings about how to do the show and how much I should do this show for a long time now – nine, ten years. It’s business. 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. 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. You have to say yes to something like that.
And to that end, when you think about this being the final season, even though Dick’s hoping it’s not, but if this is the final season, do you think about how you want to say goodbye to Detective Goren or what note you want to leave him on? Or, did you think about this being the final season and what that would mean for how you’d want to say goodbye to this character?
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 – 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.
That’s great. And just wanted to ask you about getting to work with Kathryn again, what that’s been like?
Vincent D’Onofrio: She’s great. She’s great. We work very well together. I’m in my dressing room but in the studio right now we’ve been working together since this morning and we’re truly at ease with each other, been doing it for a very long time. I knew her before we started doing the show together. Her work is exceptional. I couldn’t imagine anybody else playing that part. It just works. It just works, hands down. It works. It never fails.
Dick, we see a lot of times crossovers in characters from different Law and Order shows visiting other Law and Order shows. If this 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 has never entered my head. We accepted the gig on this – on the spaces and I don’t in anyway to sound ungrateful. I think that what [USA Network execs] Bonnie [Hammer] and Jeff [Wachtel] have done is certainly the best creative gesture that has ever been extended to me by any network in 30 years in the business. 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. Everybody came to play. Everybody’s playing at the top of their game. 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. It just feels like: oh, thank God they’re back. So, no, there are no plans. Everything else is on their episode. Next season we’ll see but it’s not part of my thinking. Again, I’m a cockeyed optimist. 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.
To me it seems like ten years flew by overnight. I still remember when the show first premiered and I can’t believe ten years have passed so fast. I’ve always been a fan of your work since even before I knew your name, since I saw you in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. I have a couple of quick questions. One time I interviewed Bruce Campbell and he said to me, he’s a character actor stuck in a leading man’s body. You’ve done a lot of character work, especially in genre films like The Thirteenth Floor and Men in Black. The crime genre is in itself a huge genre. Do you see yourself as a leading actor on both film and television or as a quasi-character actor? Are you still attracted to genre films outside of Law and Order? I understand you have some features and some other projects that you’re working on.
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. You know, it’s just what I do. As 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 will [say] 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 Maydew of the Collective. I have a film that I directed as well that I wrote, a slasher/musical which was bought by Tribeca Films, which is going to be released around this coming Christmas. 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.
Mr. Wolf, what attracts you to the crime drama genre? Is there a difference between working on Law and Order on network television and a difference between what you can get away with on the storytelling on basic cable network like USA?
Dick Wolf: To go backwards, there is really no 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 is very simple. I’m essentially at core a writer and the form of writing that I’ve been doing for 35 years is dramatic screenwriting of one sort or another. 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.
Forgive me if this is a little bit off topic but Mr. D’Onofrio, what was it like to work with a director like Stanley Kubrick? And Mr. Wolf, I saw that you went to high school with George W. Bush. Tell me now that he’s no longer the President of the United States, did you ever expect him to become the President? Or did you ever see his mannerisms and say, yes, I remember how he used to be in high school and he used to do the same thing or something like that?
Dick Wolf: No. I don’t think anybody knows in high school who is going to succeed. The biggest danger in high school is peaking too soon, but that’s probably based on my academic experience.
Vincent D’Onofrio: Kubrick was amazing. I’m talking to you on the phone right now because of Stanley Kubrick. It’s something that in my heart and in my mind, it’s a feeling that will never change. It’s something that is imprinted in my emotional life. He was a great guy to work for. I worked with him for 13 months and it was like going to film school. The things that I learned in that 13 months have stuck with me to this day.
Dick, I think you’re the guy for me to ask this question to, how do you approach this season to a TV show?
Dick Wolf: Look, when it’s an existing show the only thing that’s comparable to television is being a farmer. 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 a constant – literally a constant rotation. 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. I’ve been doing it for a long time. 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, [that’s a] 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. 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.
Robert Goren is one of my favorite all-time characters in television. He’s interesting. He’s just such a believable character. In your mind, if he 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 don’t know. Is that a serious question?
Yes, it is. Just in your mind, where is he going to be?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Well, I’ll answer it in this way. 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 her own life. So there are these changes that take place right in front of the audience, as the story’s being told. 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.
Now Vincent, you’re such an incredible and diverse actor and you transition perfectly from playing a serial killer and even a bug into the best detective on TV. What is it like to play him? And 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, you know, 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, René Balcer as a Sherlock Holmes – a contemporary Sherlock Holmes. 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, so it’s highly dramatic in that way again. I would say what we’re doing is very similar. The only thing that’s different – and one of the things that’s different in these eight is that you’re getting him in – 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. You’re getting an insight into Goren that you would have never gotten unless we did this, so it’s very, very interesting stuff.
Thanks, now can you fill us in on 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” there is – I think the aria is really, really good because it’s really, really well acted by the guest star. There are a couple of interrogation scenes that are very good that reach back to how good the best ones have been in the Criminal Intent’s history. Yes, I do have favorites in the ones one coming up.
Dick, do you have a favorite?
Dick Wolf: I think the aria, and to those of you that don’t [know] – the aria is what we call the sort of make or break interrogation scene in the fourth act. The most memorable episodes, going back to the first season with Vincent putting his shoe up on the interrogation…
Vincent D’Onofrio: With Griffin Dunne.
Dick Wolf: Yes, and saying, “I wear a size 13, what are you, about a nine?”
Vincent D’Onofrio: Nine.
Dick Wolf: Maybe an eight. That is the key to the memorability of episodes. The aria in “Respeto” is as good as we’ve gotten because it’s very hard to get twists in the aria. And there’s really a big one in this one.
Listen, you’re talking like this is not really a done deal that this is the last season.
Dick Wolf: No, it is.
That inspires us with great, great hope. And so I’m asking you what do we tell our fans and our viewers and your fans and your viewers about the prospects for another season? And is there anything that they can do?
Vincent D’Onofrio: You can tell them that we have the same hope that they have.
Dick Wolf: It’s even simpler. You don’t tune in it won’t be back. It’s very simple. If you want to see it, watch it.
We call that the Firefly mantra.
Dick Wolf: It’s very simple. This is going to be no taking no laundry here. People have got to show up or it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look, again, I am incredibly grateful to Bonnie and Jeff for doing this. I don’t in any way want to be construed as biting the hand that feeds us. It is the last season, unless they see a reason not for it to be the last season. The way they will see that is if they get people tuning in and the kind of numbers tuning in three and four years ago, five years. Then it’s a very simple choice for them. But in their mind, they’ve announced it as the last season. It’s the last season unless lightning strikes – but as I said, I’m a cockeyed optimist and I believe in how good the show is. Anybody who likes or has liked Vincent in the past, you tune into this first episode, you’re going to keep coming back. It’s very easy to sell when you’ve got the goods. In reality this is like selling ice to Eskimos even though it’s freezing up in Canada now. It’s a really good product. If I was an Eskimo I’d buy it.
So really is it just a numbers game then right now? Everybody signed on to do it again if they give you the go ahead?
Dick Wolf: No, no, they’re not. Nobody has – there is no deal. There is nothing. This was a one shot as far as USA is concerned. They have announced this is the last season of the show. It’s the last season of the show. I can tell you that having done this for this long it’s very hard to come up with shows that have these lengths and this kind of staying power. I know that if it comes in and outperforms what they think the last season was going to do they’re going to want more of them. It’s that simple. But people have got to show up, you know. TiVo does not count, please watch.
So basically what are the kind of expectations that the network has? Do you have any idea as to the numbers?
Dick Wolf: I have no idea. You have to understand that every show in the history of television has been born under that sentence. They usually don’t give you the date of execution. We have a date of execution but it could be stayed.
Vincent D’Onofrio: But USA, like any other network, wants a good job.
Dick Wolf: Yes.
Vincent D’Onofrio: And so we’re trying to give them one.
Mr. D’Onofrio, I just wanted to ask if you watched the show at all when you weren’t on it? And if not why not? And if so what’d 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. I just think he’s a really fine actor – so it was great. Yes, I liked it.
Was it weird to see somebody walking around with your clothes on, that sort of thing?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Well, he wasn’t playing Goren, you know.
No, but in your space. At least that’s how the audience thought of it even if you didn’t.
Vincent D’Onofrio: No, it wasn’t weird. It wasn’t weird.
|#1 © 2011 Marco Grob. Courtesy of USA Network. All rights reserved.|
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Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 1, 2011.