When Law & Order: Criminal Intent returns for its seventh season tonight at 10 pm/ET, don't look for it at its old home, NBC: The series has moved to USA, and its stars, including Eric Bogosian, Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe, couldn't be happier. "I feel like it saved the show," said D'Onofrio about the switch. We talked to actor/monologist/author/Manhattan fixture Bogosian, who plays Captain Danny Ross, about the move to USA, how he ended up as part of the Law & Order universe, and working with some pretty big personalities.
TVGuide.com: This is your first time as part of a permanent TV cast. Why Criminal Intent?
Eric Bogosian: I had been keeping an eye on all of the Law & Orders since I first did it [in 1992]. The kind of acting that's done on Law & Order is of interest to me. I watch what some of my favorites on the shows do, like S. Epatha Merkerson or Sam Waterston. There's a lot of subtle stuff there, and I admire the humanity they bring to it. It's really an actor's show. There's something special about being involved in a Law & Order in New York City. I don't think there's been a guest star who I didn't know. These are all folks from my community. Law & Order started with the notion that the producers were going to capitalize on this huge acting pool we have in New York. It's a great resource — it's like being next to a gold mine and being able to just take stuff all the time.
TVGuide.com: Did you worry about replacing Jamey Sheridan as the "boss" on the show?
Bogosian: The nerve-racking situation my character was in — taking over the major case squad and dealing with these very strong personalities — I was kind of put in as well. I walked in the first day, and it soon became clear that everybody knew each other and had a system. Honestly, I've never been a regular on a series, and the longest I ever did a movie was two months, so being able to come in and really know the name of everybody, it's like going to high school every day.
TVGuide.com: Are things easier now that you're into your second year?
Bogosian: About halfway through the season last year I started to relax with the situation. Going into this season, I decided to bring that more relaxed quality to the character. For one thing, I now have seniority over one of the characters — Alicia [Witt, who is Chris Noth's temporary partner] is the new person. I'm not the rookie anymore. There was a bunch of stuff I wanted to explore the first year, what I think of as sort of classic Law & Order: the very dour, brooding, dark stuff that you see again and again in the shows. Steven Hill's classic character never smiled. If he smiled, it was as if it hurt. And now that I've done that, I'm interested in letting more of my own color and voice come through in the character. A lot of what I'm doing is talking about the facts of the case; it can be a little dry. It's easy for me to do an emotional scene; the challenge is to make things feel lively when you're doing a bunch of facts about a pile of statistics.
TVGuide.com: How is it working with Vincent and Chris?
Bogosian: They're both very strong personalities. I love working with both of them; I can't imagine doing the show without either one. I really like to work opposite strong people who bring strong stuff to the set. There are days when it can be a little challenging; we get into scenes where we are at loggerheads with each other, but that really has nothing to do with whatever's happening to us personally.
TVGuide.com: Does the dark material affect you?
Bogosian: We have a scene coming up this season where a 9-year-old girl is on the morgue table, and that was disturbing. I know Katy and I were having a hard time with it. I have two boys. You just realize that — even though obviously you're looking at a kid who isn't dead, you're looking at an actress — somewhere there is a kid who is in this situation, and you bring that emotion to it.
TVGuide.com: What do you think about the move to USA?
Bogosian: We were one of whatever number of shows on NBC, we're getting numbers every week, we're knocking ourselves out to do the best we can, and I don't think we had one ad all season. To be on USA and have them embrace us and cheerlead us, we feel we deserve it. USA wants us to succeed. I just hope more people watch it and dig it. It's so strange — yesterday I was in a shopping mall and I was practically being chased around by people who recognize me from the show. I'm on Law & Order and all the people who wear black in Manhattan don't know I'm even on the show, and I get recognized when I'm in a shopping mall.
TVGuide.com: Why does your play Talk Radio, which was recently revived on Broadway, still speak to people 20 years later?
Bogosian: I'm always writing about money and fear and paranoia and the American system and freedom of speech — these things are just themes that sort of obsess me. I think they kind of transcend any given time — postwar United States hasn't changed that much from one generation to the next. Technology keeps speeding our lives. But already I'm falling behind on the race. I mean, when I turn on sports on Saturday afternoon, it's just maddening. Stop the noise, I can't stand it anymore! Those sports shows, they're always all these quick cuts, and you want to go, like, "Can I just watch the ball game?" I'm just an old guy who wants to watch the ball game.
TVGuide.com: What's your new novel about?
Bogosian: It's about a guy from now who meets himself from 30 years before. It's weird. I started working on this book before Talk Radio got revived, and when it did, I did meet myself from about 20 years before. The key point of the book is that the guy doesn't like who he was 30 years before, but the guy 30 years before made him into the man that he is today. I may think I was kind of a dope 30 years ago, but the truth is that that dope wrote a play that made my fortune. I probably couldn't write that play today. I'm much more rational than I used to be, but sometimes being irrational is better.
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