Laying down the law
S Epatha Merkerson’s departure from ‘Law & Order’ is no cop-out
“The thing is, I’ve always said, ‘I’m here, use me’,” says the Detroitborn actress, who can count two Tony nominations and a Golden Globe and an Emmy among her list of accolades. “It just occurred to me that this is the various detectives at the 27th Precinct. She has had a few moments dedicated to her – in 1994, her character shot a menta l ly disabled young man during a robbery.
Bu t since then, even her B stories have been dim.
“Sometimes we have ove rl o o ke d her, to our
detriment,” admits Balcer.
“It’s a thankless role for actors, being the pivot in our first half, yet she’s been able to imbue it with such moral authority you can’t help but notice her.”
Producers first noticed her in 1991, when she guest-starred in the series’ 17th episode, Mushrooms, as the mother of a boy who was accidentally shot.
She was called in after one of the show’s producers saw her in a play. She’d never seen the show but had someone tape it for her.
“I became a huge fan,” she says. “And then it was an episode where (the prosecutor) lost a case he never should have lost, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is so close to the truth: The good guys don’t always win’.”
Her authentic performance in that episode impressed producers, and in 1993, Merkerson came back full-time. She immediately took to the character. What might turn out to be the biggest surprise for those who haven’t worked with Merkerson is that she’s much looser around the office than the lieutenant she plays.
“She’s full of lowdown language and colourful expression,” says Sam Waterston, who’s been a cast member nearly as long as she has,
Merkerson is off next to work on a documentary “about African American benevolent societies”.
That means they’ll never again get to hear her colourfully blue greeting when she walks on the set.
“It’s a term of endearment,” she says of the language often used as an insult.
“When I don’t cuss, that’s when you know I’m serious.” – Los Angeles Times
Law & Order is on daily on the Universal channel on DStv.