Julianne Nicholson with Justin Kirk in <EM>Flannel Pajamas</EM> Julianne Nicholson with Justin Kirk inĀ Flannel Pajamas

A veteran of such short-lived series as The Others, Presidio Med and last season's ADA dud, Conviction, Julianne Nicholson has finally found steady employment as Chris Noth's seemingly omniscient partner on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Before landing her breakthrough gig as Detective Megan Wheeler on the NBC stalwart, the freckle-faced beauty starred in a slew of indie flicks, including Flannel Pajamas, which opens today in New York. Reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, the film chronicles the roller-coaster romance between Nicole (Nicholson) and Stuart (Weeds' Justin Kirk), from blind date to blossoming love, from marriage to misery. Nicholson chatted with TVGuide.com about baring her soul — not to mention her lithe frame — for the role, in addition to discussing her fully clothed L&O duties.

TVGuide.com: You and Justin Kirk have some pretty intense scenes in Flannel Pajamas. Did you know each other before filming began?
Julianne Nicholson: No, but we got to know each other very, very well during the shoot. I was so glad that Justin was the one cast in the role. He made it all very easy. With another actor, it could have been much harder. There were some difficult scenes....

TVGuide.com: Like the scenes of you two frolicking naked in bed?
Nicholson:
[Laughs] Those in particular. I'm such good friends with Justin, even still. We don't get a chance to speak all the time, but whenever we see each other it's like no time has passed.

TVGuide.com: How did you get involved with Flannel Pajamas?
Nicholson:
[Writer-director] Jeff [Lipsky] had seen me on the last season of Ally McBeal and in this independent movie called Tully, so he sent me the script and I really loved it. After I met with him for about half an hour, two summers ago, he offered me the role.

TVGuide.com: In the movie's very first scene, you and Justin are introduced by your mutual therapist, played by Stephanie March. Last season she played your boss on the Law & Order offshoot, Conviction. 
Nicholson: I know. That was a funny coincidence. It's a small world.

TVGuide.com: Since L&O is such a hearty franchise, were you and your costars surprised that Conviction flopped?
Nicholson: We were surprised. We filmed 13 episodes and all the way through to the end we were getting words of encouragement [from the executives], "Don't worry, it's great," so we were disappointed when it didn't go. But I've had enough experience with new television shows to know that I shouldn't expect anything. I'm always hopeful, but I feel like there's no rhyme or reason to why things work or why they don't. So many series fall in the middle ground, especially during the first year. I don't know why some shows are given the chance to play out a full season and others are not.

TVGuide.com: In the end, though, it worked out for you because L&O creator Dick Wolf tapped you for CI.
Nicholson:
I was incredibly flattered that Dick wanted to continue working with me. The day after Conviction ended, I hopped on a plane and went to London where my husband, Jonathan [Cake], was doing Coriolanus at the Globe Theatre. I planned on being there for the entire summer, then about a month and a half into my visit I got a call from my agent saying, "What do you think about [doing CI]?"

TVGuide.com: Wheeler is a wonderful character. She seems to know everything about everything.
Nicholson: I know! I read every script, and I'm like, "You're kidding me." I'm a computer wiz on the episode that we just filmed and saying some of these words, I'm like, "What? Megahertz? Pixels?" Doing research is like preparing for Jeopardy!

TVGuide.com: Even though you're as tough as Wheeler, the fact is you're relatively slight. There was a scene a few weeks back when you tried to back up Noth when he got into a scuffle with a bunch of firefighters, and it was really scary.
Nicholson:
That started off as a hard scene for me. I had never ever done any physical work in a job before in that way, so I was really nervous about it and felt like nobody was going to believe it. Uma Thurman trained for Kill Bill for six months, whereas I just had an hour during a lunch break, so I didn't feel wildly prepared. When we were rehearsing it, there was just so much testosterone in that room that I felt suffocated, but once we did it a couple of times, it became really fun. It actually was quite empowering for me as an actress, and I think for my character, too.

TVGuide.com: Is it odd sharing leading-role duties with Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe?
Nicholson: It's perfect. I wish every job could be like this. Whether it's Vincent and Katie or Chris and I, we're in pretty much every scene, so for every episode we're working 14- or 15-hour days, every day, for eight days. It's exhausting. I cannot imagine how Katie and Vincent did that alone for the first four years. [By appearing in every other episode] I get to spend time with my husband and my family in Massachusetts and even work on other projects. I feel so blessed.

NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent airs Tuesdays at 9 pm/ET.

Send in your comments on this Q&A to online_insider@tvguide.com.