As precinct lieutenant Anita Van Buren on Law & Order, S. Epatha Merkerson delivers what little dialogue she gets with enough 'tude to make the most hardened criminal soil his orange jumpsuit. But if we were to someday follow Van Buren home — a concept unthinkable in the all-work/no-play L&O universe — Merkerson believes viewers would see her alter ego's smart-ass quotient quadruple!

"I think Van Buren has a sassy side that we don't know yet," the 50-year-old actress tells TV Guide Online. "I think that there would be some very colorful things happening if we were able to see that side of her. There is this whole other person that you only get a glimpse of."

That's true in the physical sense as well. Although Merkerson concedes that L&O producers have made some strides in livening up her drab wardrobe, the artist formerly known as Pee-wee's Mail Lady is anxiously awaiting the day when Van Buren has to go undercover as a prom queen. "I think she would look hot in a gown," she offers. "But it'll never happen. I'm just looking to lower my cleavage a little bit. At least my collars aren't buttoned anymore.

"When I first started, my collar was [buttoned to the top]," adds the Broadway vet, who spoke to us at a recent reception celebrating the NBC drama's landmark 300th episode. "And little by little, we opened the collar. Now, we're gonna lower it a little."

By that measure, Van Buren should be parading around the precinct in a teddy by the show's 600th episode, right? "She'll be too old by then, man," she laughs. "Forget about it."To read more about Law & Order's 300th episode celebration, pick up the current issue of TV Guide magazine, on newsstands now.