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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Actors > Feature Interviews - Actresses > Feature Interviews A to E > Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe (2009 interview)


LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- Pictured: (l-r) Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren, Kathryn Erbe as Detective Alexandra Eames -- USA Network Photo: Miranda Penn Turin

Vincent D'Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe

Cool Intentions

by Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 19, 2009.

The Law and Order franchises are universally known for their high-caliber of acting.  Of all of the great actors who have portrayed policemen or court officers in the series – including such respected names as Sam Waterson, Jerry Orbach, Mariska Hartigay, Christopher Meloni, Chris Noth – arguably the best single thespian to take on a role is Vincent D’Onofrio.

D’Onofrio was a respected movie powerhouse when he took the Law and Order role eight seasons ago.  D’Onofrio first made his mark as a disturbed Marine in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (he gained 70 pounds for the role.)  He also was acclaimed for his work in Men In Black, The Whole Wide World, The Cell, Ed Wood, The Player and Mystic Pizza.  D’Onofrio had also made his mark on television already, winning an Emmy for a stunning guest performance on Homicide: Life of the Street as a Baltimore commuter who is pushed into an incoming subway train.

Complimenting him perfectly for eight years on Law and Order: Criminal Intent is Kathryn Erbe – also a movie vet who is best known for Stir of Echoes, What About Bob? and Kiss of Death. 

Together they have made a perfect odd couple in the eight years of Criminal Intent – D’Onofrio playing the eccentric genius Det. Robert Goren and Erbe playing off him as the more grounded but equally determined Det. Alexandra Eames.

As Law and Order: Criminal Intent returns for the final episodes of the season, D’Onofrio and Erbe were nice enough to do a conference call with us and several other websites to talk about their show.

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- Pictured: (l-r) Julianne Nicholson as Detective Megan Wheeler, Jeff Goldblum as Detective Zach Nichols, Eric Bogosian as Captain Denny Ross, Kathryn Erbe as Detective Alexandra Eames, Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren -- USA Network Photo: Miranda Penn Turin I was wondering, Kathryn, what about your role continues to challenge you? 

Kathryn Erbe: Finding ways to – let’s see.  That’s a very good question.  I don’t know, every day we have new challenges, just in dealing with the new actors that we get to work with.  We have new writers on the show, new producers and I feel like it’s a challenge just staying involved with the work that we’re doing and staying actively involved in finding ways for Eames to stay important to the stories and to just have a positive effect on what we’re doing. 

Vincent, after so many seasons, how do you all continue to maintain chemistry between each other? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: It’s been eight years now, so I think that anything the audience sees is just whatever has happened naturally in the eight years.  I think that both of us kind of just rely on that – the history of the show and the history of the characters – to just somehow translate to the audience in some way. 

How much more in-depth is the Goren-Wallace frame-up story going to go into during season seven?  Or is that just completely done? 

Kathryn Erbe: Oh, she’s dead.  Right? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, that’s over. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes.  Unfortunately, sadly, they killed her. 

There’s no way it’s going to come back to haunt you guys later on? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: I don’t think so, no.  That was a certain set of writers that were doing that, and we were enjoying that with them.  And then we’ve had another set of writers since then, so – that’s not going to happen again, I don’t think. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes.  It’s sad. 

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- "Playing Dead" Episode 8009 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kathryn Erbe as Detective Alexandra Eames, Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren -- USA Network Photo: Will Hart. Vincent, you’ve played quite a variety of types of roles – both good and evil.  What kind of role do you enjoy the most? Does playing evil have a different set of challenges than what you’re doing now? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: I don’t know. I think it’s the same as most actors.  Anything that’s interesting, you know.  Whatever comes my way, the most interesting parts of those are the ones that I would do.  I don’t really have a dream role or anything like that.  I just go script by script and see what’s interesting, and if not, then I don’t do it.  You know, it’s like that. 

Vincent, I wanted to ask, with the events of last season’s finale, what is your character’s mental state at the beginning of the season?  Has he resigned himself to all of the loose ends being tied up or has he broken down at all in the face of everything that’s happened to him and his nephew being missing? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: We never really tie anything up when it comes to Kate and my characters.  They always want to leave it open.  You know, we tie up criminals, we’ll end those stories, but they’ll never really shut any kind of storyline down completely, so it’s kind of open as to what’s going to happen with my character.  I don’t know.  I think that this eighth season, I just played it differently than last season, but last season was very, very extreme.  So this season, it’s like he’s just trying to be a cop, trying to do the best you can. 

What is it like to be developing a character over several TV seasons as opposed to having to develop a character in a two-hour film? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, it’s completely different.  When I first started the TV show, I kind of thought it’s ostensibly about the character, and did a lot of planning and stuff.  Most of the planning went out the window, and then I just kind of tried my best after that.  With a film, it’s really planned out scene by scene and there’s a real solid arc hopefully most of the time.  The structure of the film is in three acts, you know it’s going to end – it’s easier to plan out a role like that.  It’s just as interesting but it’s a completely different thing. With the show, it’s just wide open.  We just keep doing it, and there’s different crimes, different little stories to tell.  So it’s two different things.  I think I just always will prefer films.  I just think that’s my favorite thing to do.  But Goren’s a great character, so it’s good to do. 

What do you feel it is about a show like Law & Order that resonates well with viewers? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: In our show I think it’s the characters, and we investigate weird crimes.  It’s a popular thing on TV, these crime shows – just like people are into crime novels and short stories.  That’s what we’re doing, but we’re doing a TV version of that, so – you know, it takes off and people like it. 

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- "Faithfully" Episode 8001 -- Pictured: (l-r) Kathryn Erbe as Detective Alexandra Eames, Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren, Janel Moloney as Alison Wyler -- USA Network Photo: Will Hart Do you have a favorite type of case to tackle on the show? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, I like simpler stories.  We just finished one… a spree killer type story about one guy doing bad things, and Kate and I had to catch him.  It was more direct, not complicated, and it had heart.  I like that kind of thing. 

Jeff Goldblum is new to the show.  I know you guys aren’t working directly with him, but have you seen any of his work?  How is he fitting in with the show? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: To me it looks like he’s psyched.  Kate, do you want to – go ahead. 

Kathryn Erbe: That’s okay.  We only really got to see him in the beginning when he was waiting for his scripts to be ready.  He came and hung out with us extensively and learned all the names of everybody on the crew and just asked us a lot of questions.  It seems like the crew is really happy with him and the producers and like he’s having a good time. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes.  He seems really enthusiastic.  I haven’t seen any of his episodes, so I can’t comment on that. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes. 

Have you worked with any particularly interesting guest stars or bad guys for the new season? 

Kathryn Erbe: We have a lot.  We have Lynn Redgrave, we have Scott Cohen and Kathy Baker are in the episode Sunday night.  We had a great time with them.  Who else, Vince? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: We’ve also worked with some really good unknown actors, young people that were really good.  We’re very lucky in that way, that most times we get really good actors, whether they’re known actors or not.  That’s one of the pros of working on this show. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes. 

Vincent, your character goes into some very dark places, and we’ve seen a lot of changes in him since the beginning in the last season.  What kind of toll that takes on you as a person – what effect that has on you, if any, in your real life? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Well, it takes a lot of time.  It used to take a lot more time before we started sharing the episodes with another detective.  But – you know, it’s – how do I answer this?  The first four years, or maybe the first three years of the show, when we were trying to make the show a show, you know, just make it distinct from the other Law & Orders and just a plain old good show that people would watch, that was hard.  It was like a 24-hour job and it was with me all the time.  But that’s a long time ago now, and we all know how to do the show, and we know what the show is.  So it’s not that exhausting anymore.  The hours are long sometimes, and when we are working we don’t see our families as much as we want.  But that’s part of our job, so we have to do it.  And as far as Goren, bringing Goren home, that just doesn’t happen anymore.  I’ve been playing him too long, and it’s – it’s not something that stays with me. 

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- "Faithfully" Episode 8001 -- Pictured: (l-r) Leland Orser as Rev. Daniel Wyler, Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren -- USA Network Photo: Will Hart I wanted to know … all the Law & Orders deal with heavy subject matter and I was wondering what you guys do during downtime on the set. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: What do we do? 

Kathryn Erbe: How do we deal with heavy subject matter and what do we do in our downtime? 

Yes.  What do you do on breaks from filming? 

Kathryn Erbe: Lots of different things.  Eat, read, I walk my dog.  What do you do, Vin? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: We run our families, over the phone.  We try to participate in our lives out of our dressing rooms.  Mostly that’s what I do. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes, exactly. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: And then if we can, if we have a moment of relaxation, like Kate said, we read or Kate walks her dog or something like that. 

When you guys first took on these roles, did you go into it knowing full well that this might become like a lifelong fulltime job … Law & Order franchise? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Lifelong, huh? 

Kathryn Erbe: I don’t think either of us thought that we were going to be doing it for eight years. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: No way. 

Kathryn Erbe: No.  They never would have gotten you to agree to that. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: No way.  And the first – what did we do, we did thirteen at first, Kate? 

Kathryn Erbe: Right, yes. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: The first thirteen was such a blur that I don’t think either of us was even thinking about… it wasn’t weighing heavy on me what was going to happen.  Was it weighing heavy on you, Kate? 

Kathryn Erbe: No.  We had no idea.  It was just getting through each day, really, trying to make it to the end. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: The first thirteen scripts were really, really good scripts and maybe there was like one clunker out of the thirteen, but they were really good scripts and very tough to figure out how to pull the show off while we were doing them.  The last thing on my mind was like – it was just a blur.  I wasn’t thinking about whether the show was going to run, honestly.  That’s the honest truth.  I think we knew earlier than most people do with a – when you shoot three, right?  I think we knew pretty early that it was going to go. 

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- Pictured: (l-r) Julianne Nicholson as Detective Megan Wheeler, Jeff Goldblum as Detective Zach Nichols, Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren, Kathryn Erbe as Detective Alexandra Eames -- USA Network Photo: Miranda Penn Turin What do you like best about your character? 

Kathryn Erbe: What I like best about my character is she usually has the right thing to say.  She knows what to say; she’s fairly straightforward and doesn’t seem to have difficulty making choices.  Nothing like myself in real life.  I rarely know the right thing to say and she seems to almost have infinite courage.  She’s sort of like my fantasy of what it would be like to be like that – strong all the time and know what to do all the time.  Have a clear idea of what the right thing is to do and that sort of thing.  I like that about her.  I like that she’s a strong woman in a tough job and a scary job.  I think they’re both courageous.  I think most of NYPD is very courageous.  So that’s what I like about her. 

I have one question for both of you regarding your roles outside of Criminal Intent.  Out of all the work that you’ve done in movies, stage or whatever, what roles do you want to be remembered for and which roles would you like to just kind of forget? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: A lot of them I’d like to forget. 

Kathryn Erbe: The Mighty Ducks 2. 

Vincent, what about you? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Can I just say most of them? 

Kathryn Erbe: You would not say that, you’re being sarcastic. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Rather than name them?  Because I don’t want to like insult the filmmakers. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes, I even feel bad that I said Mighty Ducks 2, because some people liked that movie. 

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- Pictured: (l-r) Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren, Kathryn Erbe as Detective Alexandra Eames -- USA Network Photo: Miranda Penn Turin Goren is always touted as being this unstable genius and the brains of the partnership, and sometimes you’re there to be like the dry witness conscience.  Are you okay with this role, or do you think Eames deserves more respect? 

Kathryn Erbe: Sometimes I get a lot to do – Eames has a lot to do – and sometimes she doesn’t.  I’ve fought for the whole time for her to have more of an impact on the work that they’re doing, and it’s gone up and down.  I like being the dry wit.  I wish I actually did more of that these days.  The humor has kind of gone out of the character and so I would like to find a way to bring that back. 

I think you guys need some more episodes like “Vanishing Act.” 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Which one was that? 

Kathryn Erbe: Was that the magician one?  I think it was.  I can’t Google it because I’m on my phone.  (It was, an episode about dueling magicians with guest star Christopher Lloyd.) 

What got you started in acting in the first place? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: I was introduced to it by my dad at a very young age, because he was always involved in community theater and stuff.  I used to run lights and sound and stuff like that for plays and things.  I really didn’t think of acting until I guess I was like eighteen.  I just thought I’d try it out.  I don’t really know why.  I think it was just in my life, really.  I think it’s my dad’s fault.  I thought I would give acting school in Manhattan, a try, so I did.  Then I guess I just caught the bug and went for it. 

Vincent, Kathryn said that if you’d known it was going to be eight seasons, they probably wouldn’t have been able to lock you into the character.  Why – I guess I have to ask – how have the managed to keep you two on and interested for so long, especially you, Vincent?  You’ve certainly looked for a lot of variety in your film roles.  Is it a love of the characters or is it a comfort zone or are they writing you the big checks, or is it a combination of all three? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: For me it’s a combination of all three. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes, for me too. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: I have a lot of freedom because of Law & Order.  I have a lot of creative freedom.  I have a lot of creative freedom on the show and I have a lot of creative freedom with my own time to do other films and do anything I want, so – it’s a very good situation. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes, and it gives us a structure for our lives.  I was ready to give up acting because I could not handle never knowing when I would have a paycheck or where the job would be, where it would take me; and having a daughter and now my son, I just couldn’t – it was just too hard of a life.  This gives us – when we have time off, we know that it’s time off; it’s not time out of work, looking for other work.  And it’s really such an amazing experience to work with the same people for this length of time.  It’s challenging and it’s so gratifying to know everybody’s families.  It’s just a very different experience from the sort of crash and burn of going from one job to another and really never knowing – this gypsy lifestyle, never knowing where you’re going to be when.  So it’s a very different, much more stable, if it’s even possible to say that – a stable environment. 

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT -- "Faithfully" Episode 8001 -- Pictured: Vincent D'onofrio as Detective Robert Goren -- USA Network Photo: Will Hart You were just mentioning creative freedom.  I was wondering, I know it’s been a couple of years now, but has moving to cable and the USA Network sort of freed the show up to do different things that they couldn’t necessarily do on NBC? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: I don’t think so.  I think it’s exactly the same, right? 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes.  Because they show them on NBC too, so… 

Vincent D’Onofrio: I think the only change that I know, the episodes are like a minute longer or something like that, something silly like that. 

We have an older interview with Eric Bogosian.  I’m a big fan of his. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Me, too. 

What’s he like to work with and is he going to be getting more to do this season? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: He’s going to – yes, he’s doing lots. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes.  We just got him out in the woods last night in the rain. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: We located a girl in the woods with the captain last night. 

Kathryn Erbe: Yes.  He comes out a lot more this season than he ever has, I think.  He was wondering really why he wanted to do that, when we were standing out in the middle of the woods in the rain. 

What kind of advice would you give to new young actors coming up as far as what kind of education they should get and how they should pursue an acting career. 

Kathryn Erbe: What would you say, Vin? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: I think when I was younger I would have said go to a private acting school or something like that, but I think that these days, the drama departments and the universities are so great that I think that’s the way to go, and unless they want… 

Kathryn Erbe: Get an education. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Get an education.  Go into the drama department, whatever, film department, or just the arts section of a university.  Start there, study there.  Then after that, go to the city you want to live in, like L.A. or New York – then try to get jobs.  Do theater and stuff.  When I was younger I would have said just go straight to the city and take an acting class and try to get jobs.  I think these days – I’ve been checking out universities and stuff and I know some teachers… teachers that teach writing, film writing, and I know some drama teachers.  They’re all really good teachers, so I’m swaying towards that now. 

Your characters have a pretty complex and interesting relationship.  After all they’ve been through, what would you like to see happen between them during this season? 

Kathryn Erbe: I personally am very happy because this season we’re back on the same page.  I, for some reason, really like that, when they’re on the same team and they’re just on the path together.  Although it makes for probably a more interesting show when we’re at odds or going in different directions, I personally like that; and this season we were working together. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, I agree with Kate, what she said.  I think there’s nothing left to argue about, really.  It depends on what the writers come up with.  If they can come up with another good conflict between us, then most likely it will be cool to do.  But I agree with what Kate said. 

We’re curious to know if you had a favorite episode or onscreen moment from the coming season so far. 

Kathryn Erbe: I would have to say that in the episode that is going to be on Sunday night, Kathy Baker and Scott Cohen, their characters, when they were in the interrogation room at the end when she kind of grabbed him and… 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Oh, yes. 

Kathryn Erbe: … pressed him to her – to her chest and tried to comfort him after screaming at him, they were fantastic.  It was very twisted and – I mean, we’ve had a lot, but that one really sticks out in my mind. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes.  He turned into this big baby right in front of her eyes.  It was awesome. 

Kathryn Erbe: Oh, such a baby.  Yes. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: It was really good.  So I guess it was somebody else’s screen moment that we liked most. 

Kathryn Erbe: I guess.  Can you think of one that was ours? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: No, I can’t.  I think you’re exactly right, that was very entertaining. 

Kathryn Erbe: It was very entertaining. 

Would either of you ever be interested in writing or directing for the show? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: No. 

Kathryn Erbe: I don’t think I would, no.  Not writing, definitely not writing.  And being a director, I don’t know whether I have it in me.  Maybe for something else. 

Do either of you have any new projects coming up? 

Kathryn Erbe: You have lots, right, Vin? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: Lots? 

Kathryn Erbe: You did like seventeen films on the last hiatus – directed, starred. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: That’s good, I’ll talk about that.  I directed a film over the summer, a kind of new genre that I invented – slasher musical.  I just finished it, and we’re taking it to LA in a week to sell to a distributor, so it’ll probably be out sometime, I hope, soon.  I have a movie, The Narrows, coming out, and a movie called Staten Island coming out that I acted in – both of those.  And that’s all. 

Kathryn Erbe: I have a movie with Edie Falco and Elias Koteas called Three Backyards. 

Vincent, I have a question about the very end of the last season, after Vincent or Goren realized that his nemesis had been killed and it was for his benefit and he’s sitting with that professor.  You kind of looked at the end, when he said, “I did it to free you,” basically, and you got that look on your face like, you got it.  I was wondering if we’re going to be seeing now in this season a change in you or a kind of a freeing in your character because of this action. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: It’s nice that you saw it that way; because that’s the way I wanted you to see it, so it’s yes.  I wanted it to kind of be a freeing thing so that I could treat the next season fresh, so it could be a guy trying to keep his stuff together, do his job; and so what’s interesting about this kind of storytelling is that the audiences that watch our show, if they’re fans of the show, then they know that that’s part of the learning.  Even if we don’t mention it or I just show this kind of earnest cop trying to do his thing throughout the season, the season previous to that or other things in the previous years, they’re still present, because people are fans of the show and they know that the guy they’re watching that went through all that stuff.  So, yes, that’s what I did, and that’s what I’m doing now. 

How do you feel about the new writing team this season?  Are you pleased with your episodes? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: It’s always tough when we switch writers.  These last eight years have been just experience after experience, learning experience after learning experience, and it’s quite a business.  To be a performer on a television show, you get a lot of curve balls thrown at you and you have to deal with them.  You know that the show has to be shot so you do your best to contribute and make it the best show you can.  But you get thrown curve balls, like a new writing crew, who have never written for you and they’re trying their hardest to get it right.  They’re in a position where they have to get it right fairly quickly, because there are shows to shoot and to air, and so it’s tough.  It takes a while.  But the great thing about is that they’re all talented people and everybody’s scripts are getting better and better, and what we’ve been talking about for the last few minutes is these great things about this season already.  So there have been some amazing things already this season.  But it’s tough.  It’s tough to get new writers.  They’re great people and so this last show that we did was great, and it’s a good season so far, so we’re happy. 

The show seems to have completely dropped the law end of it, is that ever coming back?  Or has it just kind of gone by the wayside? 

Kathryn Erbe: We miss Courtney.  But we haven’t been in court at all this year, not once.  I didn’t even think about that. 

Vincent D’Onofrio: No, it’s been just straight out catch the bad guy.  We’ve been involved in politics of big corporations and stuff like that.  It’s that kind of season.  I think we do less of the law part, I think you’re right.  I mean, as you know, it never really focused on that very much anyway, but – one of the cool things about having an ADA in the show is that you have to actually answer to somebody.  Because there’s this kind of tension between the captain and the two detectives, but there’s a certain kind of tension between the detectives and the assistant district attorney and that’s fun to play.  So we don’t get to do that often anymore. 

Vincent, what’s the name of your slasher musical, so we can look out for it? 

Vincent D’Onofrio: It’s called Don’t Go in the Woods. 

Okay, that sounds interesting. 

Kathryn Erbe: It is.  It’s very good.


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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2009 Miranda Penn Turin. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#2 © 2009 Miranda Penn Turin. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#3 © 2009 Will Hart. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
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#5 © 2009 Will Hart. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
#6 © 2009 Miranda Penn Turin. Courtesy of USA Network.  All rights reserved.
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