Sam Waterston and the return of “Law and Order”: “It was like putting on very familiar clothes” | The series will premiere in Argentina through Universal TV

“In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate but equally important teams. The police, who investigate crimes, and the district attorneys, who prosecute criminals. These are their stories.” Just by reading these words, the average viewer not only knows what program it is about, but also mentally hears them (in English) said by the announcer with his unmistakable deep voice. The thing is Law and order It is a kind of bulwark of two audiovisual genres that merged into one: the police and the legal. And if that introduction is burned into the memory of so many people, it is because the series it was on the air for 20 seasons. In addition, it delivered numerous spin-offs, including one just as successful or more than the original: Law and Order, Special Victims Unit.

When NBC announced in May 2010 that the mother series would go off the air due to a possible drop in ratings, few expected that more than a decade later it would return to take its place in a completely different audiovisual landscape. But Law and order returned earlier this year with a short season -10 episodes-, which today Tuesday at 9:50 p.m. will arrive in Argentina on the Universal TV screen. New faces appear in the cast of season 21 (Camryn Manheim, Odelya Halevi, Hugh Dancy and Jeffrey Donovan), one that already has some history in the series (Anthony Anderson) and that of a kind of hero of Law and order: sam waterstono.

“Coming back on the show was like putting on very familiar clothes again,” Waterston told Page 12 via Zoom. “It’s been pure pleasure. Did you see that there is a phrase ‘you can’t go home’? Well, in this case I feel like I could. The work I had to do may not be as heavy as the challenges of playing an Assistant District Attorney, like when I started on the show. Now I’m playing the District Attorney and it’s a little easier on my old bones, but it’s still just as fun.”

Waterston He will be 82 years old on November 15. and, although he was not from the beginning in Law and orderandHe is the actor who appeared for the longest time in the series. In 1994, Dick Wolf -creator of the program- summoned him to play Jack McCoya character that made him popular, although he already had scrolls such as having participated in the film the screams of silence (which earned him an Oscar nomination). And it is not that it was difficult for him to find a job in the twelve years that the series was not on the air: he was part of The Newsroom Y Grace and Frankie.

-In the ’90s, you signed a contract to be part of Law and order for a year. Did she ever think that this role was going to be so defining in her career?

-Never. No. I thought maybe she would be on the show for a year, two or three at the most. Among other things, because TV shows don’t last as long as Law and order. But also, I personally didn’t think I could stay that long.

-What did you think when you were offered to play this role again?

-The first thing I thought was that it was something that I had already done and I was wondering if I should return. But then I imagined the possibility of turning on the television to watch the program without being on it and I couldn’t bear the idea. So I thought I’d give it a try and see if I liked it. And it was wonderful. At first it felt strange to go back to those sets, which had been recreated down to the smallest detail in a new studio, in a different neighborhood of New York. But they were so identical that if you stood there you didn’t know if you were in 2000 or 2020.

-And how was the first day of recording?

-Well, the first day of recording, the set was still finishing being assembled. When we started, the paint was still fresh (laughs). It was fabulous. And then with all these new people and old people – and it’s not like I’m admitting I’m old – it was fabulous. He made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when we started.

-After so many years playing Jack McCoy, no one should know him as well as you. How would you describe it?

Well, we know little about him. We know that he has a daughter, so at some point he must have been in a very serious relationship or married. We know that he comes from Chicago and that he is a fan of the Chicago Bulls. And that he likes motorcycles and tinkering with motorcycle parts. Other than that, we basically don’t know anything about him. In one episode he talked about his relationship with his father, but that’s about it. So the person I think I inhabit is a workaholic. I wouldn’t describe myself that way, although I love to work. So I got the idea that he would be a very dedicated guy to his work.

-Do the writers consult you about aspects of your character?

-I think that in television programs that have been around for a long time there is a kind of dance between the writers and the actors. The actors learn from the scripts who their characters are, but then they give their versions to the writers so they can take what the actors brought to the characters and incorporate it. I’ve done a couple of TV series and it’s always more or less like this.

-In the last ten years, American society has changed radically. One only has to mention how the pandemic was dealt with, the assault on the Capitol, the murder of George Floyd, that Roe vs. Wade… And now Law and order it addresses new topics such as far-right media, influencers, etc. Are there other topics you would like to see covered on the show?

-I like that the program takes its inspiration from the media headlines. I don’t know what will be in the headlines tomorrow, but I do like to know that what is going to appear will surely end up being discussed in Law and order, and seen through the points of view of police officers and prosecutors trying to solve these cases. But they can’t really be fixed, because by definition these things are the surface of social tensions that are not easily resolved.

-But your interests in defending the environment are well known. Would you like there to be topics related to that in Law and order?

-Well, I would like environmental issues to be talked about all the time. It’s like a sword we have over us and if we don’t do something – starting yesterday – about what we’ve done in the last 150 years to destroy the great environmental systems of this planet, we’re going to be in very bad shape. So, yes, I would love to see this discussed in Law and order and I think it’s very good that you and I are talking about this. We need to do it.

-In the United States, society is very politically divided. Is it more difficult to try to talk to everyone through a program, without choosing a side?

-Well, democratic societies are typically quite divided. For me, the new question is whether they are going to stop being democratic. I remember when I did the screams of silence, which was a movie with a liberal point of view, and was just about to take over a Republican administration. At the time, someone asked producer David Puttnam how he thought the film would fare in the divided political landscape at the time. And he said, “How many people voted Democrat in the last election?” They replied that there had been many millions and he replied: “Well, if they are going to see the movie, we will be fine” (laughs).

-Why do you think Law and order has attracted the public for so long? What is the difference with other similar programs?

-Well, first of all you have to give credit to Dick Wolf and his team, because they have paid attention to details from the beginning. On the other hand, this program has a very lucky structure. In the early days, when Dick Wolf was trying to sell it, American television thought that hour-long shows would never work again. So, in order for the studios to let him do the show, he told them it was two shows in one: if the one-hour format didn’t work, you could split in the middle and have a show about law and another show about order. But what ended up happening was that great stories appeared to combine them.

-You are 81 years old and have already signed to return next season. And most of the people your age are retired. What motivates you to continue acting?

-I love working!

But he said he wasn’t a workaholic.

-I do not think it is. But I’ve been incredibly, incredibly lucky with the way my career has developed. Theater is a fascinating place to work, but so many people get involved with it and can’t make a living acting. And when I needed to earn a living I was lucky to be able to do it. And when I was really thirsty for inspirational work, I was able to find it. I have had a lucky professional life. And my personal life has been lucky too, I must say.

Sam Waterston and the return of “Law and Order”: “It was like putting on very familiar clothes” | The series will premiere in Argentina through Universal TV