Itís all come down to this. After nine seasons and three
pairs of lead detectives, we are at the final season of Law &
Order: Criminal Intent.
Or are we?
The USA Network has offered the show one final wrap-up
season. In return, the show has brought back the original
characters, detectives Robert Goren (Vincent DíOnofrio) and Alexandra
Eames (Kathryn Erbe). The two actors had left the show at the
beginning of last season Ė and had not been in a
complete seasonís worth of
episodes in a few years, with other actors like Chris Noth, Jeff
Goldblum, Julianne Nicholson and Saffron Burrows taking up the
However, for the final go-around, Law & Order creator
Dick Wolf decided to go back to the roots of the show, convincing
his stars to return for eight last episodes.
Still, Wolf allows, if the concluding season does well enough,
perhaps it wonít be the end of the road after all. If the showís
ratings rebound, all bets are off.
We were recently lucky enough to be one of several websites
invited onto a conference call with star DíOnofrio and series
creator Wolf about the planned ending of Law & Order:
Vincent, how did returning to the show even come about?
I got a call from the other guy on the line here.
Well, okay, Dick, what made you guys decide to bring these two
Well, first of all, it was never a decision, basically, to have them
disappear into the wilderness. You never know as this show now
proves whatís going to happen in television, which is a constantly
changing landscape. I really have to credit (Bonnie) and (Jeff
Watell) for being able to make the phone call because they came or
(Jeff) specifically called me and said, what would you think of one
final season of Criminal Intent bringing back the way it was
originally, just Vincent and Katie. I said, fine, I hate to think of
anything being the last season but, yes, absolutely. Being the
unbridled optimist that I am I still have a hope that this is a
victory lap and not a swan song where I think that based on the work
thatís being done and has been done so far I think the
going to be very happy, relieved, and welcoming. I hope that as I
said, if this is a final season that itís one that is enormously
satisfying for the fans and hopefully enough of them will come out
so that the powers that be reconsider the decision because I have to
tell you, I donít think Vincent and Katie have been any better ever
in the series. Itís back to the real power of the first two seasons.
There is a very, very interesting add-on this season
beginning in the second episode, which is Vincent has part of
getting back on the major case squad and getting back in the good
graces of the police department. Part of that agreement was for him
to go into psychological counseling. There is one scene - an episode
of a session with his therapist who is Julia Ormond. Those scenes
answer some questions that have been hanging out there since the
first season. Over the course of the eight episodes youíre going to
see something of the redemptive power of psychotherapy as well as
there has been a conscious attempt to move Vincent over these eight
episodes back to the psychologically complete or more wholesomely
complete detective that he was in the first season of the show. I
think that as a subtextual theme throughout these episodes itís
really interesting. This has been a great experience no matter what
happens but being the optimist that I am I think that there is a
real power in seeing a show come back at full octane, full fire
power, and with stories that are really interesting. The first one
is in the great tradition of the show and the brand at large. We
deal with what is in the popular psych guys and itís a real
pleasure. Thatís a very long-winded answer but itís exciting to be
Sounds it. Vincent, let me ask you, after all of these seasons, even
though you had a little bit of time off, what makes playing Goren
still a challenge for you?
Well, it starts with the scripts because when the scripts are good Ė and
these that weíve done in this batch are Ė you know, Dick always told
me he canít knock it out of the park every time but in this eight
here, so far I mean, weíre knocking it out. Each one starts with the
story and then, if the storyís good, I have the opportunity on this
show Ė and I have for a very long time Ė to take it off the page and
mix it up a little bit and do stuff that people wonít expect. Thatís
when Iím having the most fun. And so thatís what keeps it
Did you ever expect the Law and Order franchise to last so long?
Thatís to you.
No, 22 years ago I was hopeful that weíd get 20 episodes if Law
and Order did not start out with a bang. It was very different
and an acquired taste and no, I certainly had no idea that we would
Vincent D'Onofrio: The fact that Criminal Intent has been on this long is an
amazing thing to me. Every time I leave my house to get some milk or
something from the store Iím reminded two or three times by the time
I get back about how much people love the show by the people on the
street here in New York. It just never gets old and itís always
surprising how much people really like it...
Why do you think it lasted so long? What do you think makes the
series work so well?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Good story telling would be my answer.
As Vincent just said, you can have great actors Ė if you give them
lousy words itís not going to be a great show. Itís just Shakespeare
is still Shakespeare 450 years later. When itís right and itís
working itís much better for the actors and itís much better for the
show. It always starts with a blank page.
Vincent, whatís one thing your fans will be surprised to know about
About the character?
Or you, yourself.
I donít know. I donít know how to answer that question. There are lots
of surprises when you get to know someone for real, so it could be
lots of things that they would be surprised about. Thatís as far as
me personally. As far as the character, Dick was talking earlier
about these new psych evaluations that are going on with Julia
Ormond where itís just her character and mine in a room. Sheís
getting to the bottom of Goren. I think youíre going to learn
things, like Dick said, that have been hanging out there for a long
time. I donít want to give any of them away Ė but some of it will be
definitely entertaining and surprising.
Vincent, with what Dick was saying about Goren, when you came back
for this season did you have to tackle him with a different
Vincent D'Onofrio: No, I was really ready after the time off to go back to the feeling,
the tone that we had in the first four seasons. I was really ready
to do it. On the first day, the first couple of scenes and
interrogations, it was like I put the suit back on and I was
rocking. It just felt right. The ideas keep coming, suddenly again.
No, it wasnít tough. It wasnít hard.
Dick, I noticed that Jay Mohr is guest staring in this one. Now we
know him usually as a comedic actor. What can we expect from him in
Itís a situation where you donít want to give away the show on the
telephone but he is extraordinarily entertaining in this episode.
Itís not outright comedy but it is a larger-than-life character. And
heís really good. Itís odd because he is known as a comic and this
is a highly dramatic role that a lot of dramatic actors would have
had a very hard time doing. He does a great job. Itís such a
pleasure - and weíve been extraordinarily lucky over the years when
you get great guest stars. I think Vincent would agree. Itís like if
youíre playing tennis against a club champion, or number 27 on the
tour; your game should go up against the touring pro Ė the better
the competition, the better the game. Jay really A) came to play and
B) had a real take on the character.
Vincent D'Onofrio: Yes, he was very, very good in it. Thereís also a new up-and-coming
actor named Neal Huff in the show as well that just does outstanding
work. Itís a very good show this first show theyíre putting up. I
mean thatís my opinion, I think it is.
Dick, since Iím calling from Italy, can you talk about the first
episode which has an Italian word as a title so Iím a little bit
Well, the use of Italian is fortunately or unfortunately not really
germane to the story. It turns out - and this doesnít give away too
much Ė the name inspires a designer for a new line of very expensive
dresses. Itís a play off of the fact that essentially he hadnít
gotten any respect for many years. So, itís not an Italian-ade
story, let me put it that way, but the title fits perfectly.
Which one of the European versions of Law and Order you like most?
Well, itís hard to say because theyíre all so different. Thatís not
a copout. I can give you absolutely my two favorites were
Enquetes Criminelles which was CI in France with Vincent
Perez and Law and Order UK, which I think is really, really
good. But it is totally different animals. The Enquetes
Criminelles I thought was extraordinary but it was, again, the
proof that the greatest television actors are character actors. Itís
been that way since time immemorial, whether you go back and think
of Ė just rolling off the top of my head and I hadnít thought about
this Ė from Angela Landsbury to Telly Savalas to Monk, [his]
name just went out of my head [Tony Shalhoub], to Vincent, toÖ the
list goes on and on. Vincent Perez is a great French character
actor. I think he had a ball playing the part. Law and Order UK
I love because it is the proof, again, of the storytelling that
theyíve been using the same way the French did. Theyíve been using
our episodes and then adapting them to the local laws, local
customs, and local storytelling. The scripts change but they are
essentially versionsÖ but not translationsÖ of the originals. I was
very disappointed when TF1 didnít bring Enquetes Criminelles
back. Iím thrilled that Law and Order UK has turned into a
major hit. The Russian shows are great fun for me to watch, but I
donít speak Russian, so I canít tell you how good they are. I can
tell you that the guy who plays Vincent looks like James Bond and
seems to be acting that way so thatís kind of fun Ė feeling like an
immigrant in your living room.
Vincent, after nine or ten years playing the same character, what is
an actor in your experience supposed to do to make it interesting
for himself first of all and then for the audience?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Yes, I take the scripts they write. That is where the ideas spawn from,
the scripts. Then hopefully, ideas come, things that I can do to
make it more interesting for myself to play the character and hence,
the audience enjoying that. You just have to hope that ideas come.
Thatís how you keep it interesting.
I will tell you Ė I think itís fascinating as both a producer and a
fan of drama. One of the reasons, again, that I hoped this isnít the
last season Ė and I hope that people react to this the way I reacted
to it Ė which is wow, these are the best shows in a long time. Itís
great fun for an audience to watch a great actor and a specific
character get older. I never heard anybody objecting to Peter Falk
after 18 years on Columbo. Angela Landsbury got better the
longer the show was on. Itís fun for the audience because itís
somebody you really know. When a showís been on for ten years people
change, everybody changes. Youíre looking and you see some of the
early episodes in reruns and you go, wow, this is a life. Itís more
than just a collection of episodes. The longer a show like this runs
the better. Obviously, Iím very self-interested but, this is a naked
plea. Iíd love to keep doing what we did this season. Eight episodes
a year would be fabulous for everybody but I donít run the network.
Vincent, you just said you got a call from Dick and thatís when you
knew you were coming back. But was it an easy decision? Were you
like, absolutely? Or did you have to think about it when you got the
call from him?
Vincent D'Onofrio: I didnít have to think about it. My wife thought about it for me. No,
it wasnít Ė itís not Ė difficult. Iíll just talk about Dick for a
second. Dick has supported me and my feelings about how to do the
show and how much I should do this show for a long time now Ė nine,
ten years. Itís business. When you trust somebody on the other end
and he gives you a call and says, this is what weíre thinking then
you consider it. You take it very seriously. I trust his intuition
with things. Heís been in this business for a very long time. Heís
one of the most successful guys doing this stuff. You have to say
yes to something like that.
And to that end, when you think about this being the final season,
even though Dickís hoping itís not, but if this is the final season,
do you think about how you want to say goodbye to Detective Goren or
what note you want to leave him on? Or, did you think about this
being the final season and what that would mean for how youíd want
to say goodbye to this character?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Honestly, honestly no. Yes, I get what youíre saying. Honestly no. Itís
very difficult from my perspective to imagine Criminal Intent
not existing. So to have those kinds of thoughts Ė theyíre not
entering my head. Itís a difficult thing because of the fan base and
how good weíre doing right now for that kind of realization to
happen. I donít think it will. I havenít put one fragment of thought
into it actually to be totally honest.
Thatís great. And just wanted to ask you about getting to work with
Kathryn again, what thatís been like?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Sheís great. Sheís great. We work very well together. Iím in my
dressing room but in the studio right now weíve been working
together since this morning and weíre truly at ease with each other,
been doing it for a very long time. I knew her before we started
doing the show together. Her work is exceptional. I couldnít imagine
anybody else playing that part. It just works. It just works, hands
down. It works. It never fails.
Dick, we see a lot of times crossovers in characters from different
Law and Order shows visiting other Law and Order shows. If
this is the last season for Criminal Intent, do you have
thoughts about working these characters into some of your other
This may sound strange but it has never entered my head. We accepted
the gig on this Ė on the spaces and I donít in anyway to sound
ungrateful. I think that what [USA Network execs] Bonnie [Hammer]
and Jeff [Wachtel] have done is certainly the best creative gesture
that has ever been extended to me by any network in 30 years in the
business. Talk about a class move. But that having been said, itís
just not the way Iím constructed. Iím exactly the same place that
Vincent is. I canít imagine that this actually going to be the end
of this show because it ainít out of steam. I mean this is something
thatís operating better now in my humble opinion than any time in
the last four or five years, six. Everybody came to play.
Everybodyís playing at the top of their game. The first episode is
as good as episodic television gets. I mean Jay Mohrís performance
is quite amazing. And Vincent and Katie, there is not a missed
stitch. It just feels like: oh, thank God theyíre back. So, no,
there are no plans. Everything else is on their episode. Next season
weíll see but itís not part of my thinking. Again, Iím a cockeyed
optimist. I think that a lot of our old audience is going to sample
this when it comes back and if they do theyíre not going to be
To me it seems like ten years flew by overnight. I still remember
when the show first premiered and I canít believe ten years have
passed so fast. Iíve always been a fan of your work since even
before I knew your name, since I saw you in Stanley Kubrickís
Full Metal Jacket. I have a couple of quick questions. One time I
interviewed Bruce Campbell and he said to me, heís a character actor
stuck in a leading manís body. Youíve done a lot of character work,
especially in genre films like The Thirteenth Floor and
Men in Black. The crime genre is in itself a huge genre. Do you
see yourself as a leading actor on both film and television or as a
quasi-character actor? Are you still attracted to genre films
outside of Law and Order? I understand you have some features
and some other projects that youíre working on.
Sure. Iím a character stuck in a character actorís body. And, yes, I
love film. I love all the genres. As long as the script is good and
thereís something challenging in it for me to do I love it. You
know, itís just what I do. As far as projects I have coming up I
think the announcement goes out today about the next film that Iím
producing called Mall. Itís an adaptation from an Eric
Bogosian novel. The announcement today will [say] that Chelsea
Handler is doing it, Eric, myself, and a guy named Joe Hahn is
directing it. Iím producing it with Erika Hampson and Sam Maydew of
the Collective. I have a film that I directed as well that I wrote,
a slasher/musical which was bought by Tribeca Films, which is going
to be released around this coming Christmas. Thatís what Iíve been
doing. Iíve been writing and producing and directing and acting. I
have a film out now called Kill the Irishman that Iím in with
Ray Stevenson and Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken. Thatís what
Iíve been up to.
Mr. Wolf, what attracts you to the crime drama genre? Is there a
difference between working on
Law and Order on network television and a difference between what
you can get away with on the storytelling on basic cable network
To go backwards, there is really no difference between basic cable
and network in terms of language or content anymore. Premium cable,
HBO, sure, you can use four-letter words and have frontal nudity but
thatís really about it. There arenít the same content restrictions
because, A) thereís too much to monitor and, B) there is a natural
system in place with advertisers. So itís not really an issue except
with people who want to write about it. Itís just not an issue at a
creative level anymore. The reason that I love cop shows is very
simple. Iím essentially at core a writer and the form of writing
that Iíve been doing for 35 years is dramatic screenwriting of one
sort or another. The bottom line is that drama works best when the
stakes are highest and cop shows, the stakes are oftentimes
literally life and death. So youíre starting out with the bar at a
level that if you get over it there are going to be people who want
to see it.
Forgive me if this is a little bit off topic but Mr.
DíOnofrio, what was it like to work with a director like Stanley
Kubrick? And Mr. Wolf, I saw that you went to high school with
George W. Bush. Tell me now that heís no longer the President of the
United States, did you ever expect him to become the President? Or
did you ever see his mannerisms and say, yes, I remember how he used
to be in high school and he used to do the same thing or something
No. I donít think anybody knows in high school who is going to
succeed. The biggest danger in high school is peaking too soon, but
thatís probably based on my academic experience.
Kubrick was amazing. Iím talking to you on the phone right now because
of Stanley Kubrick. Itís something that in my heart and in my mind,
itís a feeling that will never change. Itís something that is
imprinted in my emotional life. He was a great guy to work for. I
worked with him for 13 months and it was like going to film school.
The things that I learned in that 13 months have stuck with me to
Dick, I think youíre the guy for me to ask this question to, how do
you approach this season to a TV show?
Look, when itís an existing show the only thing thatís comparable to
television is being a farmer. You throw the seeds in the ground in
the spring, they come up over the summer, and you sell them in the
fall and winter and then plant more seeds. Itís just a constant -
literally a constant rotation. When a showís working you donít worry
about what the next seasonís going to be. Youíre just worried about
getting great story ideas because depending on the size of the order
itís a lot of stories to tell. I would go so far as to say that part
of the problem with dramas on network television now is that in
reality 22 episodes is probably too many to do and do well. Iíve
been doing it for a long time. I used to tell show runners that if
you have 22 episodes and you get through a season and youíve got
four that you think are Emmy quality and four that you never want to
see again, and 14 that are sort of inside the hash marks, [thatís a]
pretty good season.
I donít want to break my arm patting myself on the back but
for a lot of years on the shows in the brand I think weíve exceeded
that proportion. There have been an enormous number of very, very
good episodes on all three shows. I just donít know if the best way
to get that percentage up to a really high level is to do 22, 18,
16. There are economic reasons that 22 is almost mandatory in the
first three or four years so that there is enough to sell to cable
to get the deficit back. There are always business reasons for this
but creatively Ė I canít over estimate the debt I feel to Bonnie and
Jeff but Ė doing these eight episodes is truly a luxury in terms of
a way to do a show. Basically because as opposed to a normal season
everybody is not staggering from exhaustion and youíre not even
halfway through the season. Anyway, thatís the answer. Unless a show
is in trouble there is no real need to examine what the course of
the season is going to be, just come up with great stories. If itís
not working then there are many discussions that take place.
Robert Goren is one of my favorite all-time characters in
television. Heís interesting. Heís just such a believable character.
In your mind, if he makes it to 75 or 80, what would you imagine he
would be doing?
I think itíd be Law and Order: Ironside.
I donít know. I think it might be a little bit of Gran Torino.
Vincent D'Onofrio: Maybe, yes. Exactly, could be, yes. I donít know. Is that a serious
Yes, it is. Just in your mind, where is he going to be?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Well, Iíll answer it in this way. What Dick said earlier about a
character aging in front of audiences slash the actor aging in front
of audiences. What I think happens is as the actor gets older and
has new experiences in life what the actor puts across in his
performances are influenced by his or her own life. So there are
these changes that take place right in front of the audience, as the
storyís being told. Thatís a really cool thing. So I guess the
answer to your question is more. You end up getting more and
different stuff, different things, thatís the only answer I can give
Now Vincent, youíre such an incredible and diverse actor and you
transition perfectly from playing a serial killer and even a bug
into the best detective on TV. What is it like to play him? And
Goren is such an intriguing character, how would you compare
present-day Goren to the Goren that we were introduced in Season 1?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Well, you know, itís great to play Goren. Itís a really good character.
We always talked about him, Dick and I and the original show runner,
Renť Balcer as a Sherlock Holmes Ė a contemporary Sherlock Holmes.
Thatís a great character to play, just that alone. Compare these
that weíre doing now, I canít compare them very much to the first
few seasons or even four seasons of Criminal Intent. Theyíre
fast-paced, good storytelling, high-stake stuff going on with Goren
being his usual self that he was back in the day when we started
doing this show. Heís thinking on the fly. Heís a bit quirkier than
you would expect a major case squad detective to be but heís coming
up with the answers, so itís highly dramatic in that way again. I
would say what weíre doing is very similar. The only thing thatís
different Ė and one of the things thatís different in these eight is
that youíre getting him in Ė heís getting some shrinkage. Youíre
getting to see time with him with the shrink and thatís very
interesting. Weíve shot two of the shrink scenes already with Julia
Ormond, whoís just amazing in them. I mean I was just floored by
what she was doing. She showed up and did this stuff. Youíre getting
an insight into Goren that you would have never gotten unless we did
this, so itís very, very interesting stuff.
Thanks, now can you fill us in on a couple of your favorite scenes
on the upcoming episodes and on what we have to look forward to from
Vincent D'Onofrio: In ďRespetoĒ there is Ė I think the aria is really, really good because
itís really, really well acted by the guest star. There are a couple
of interrogation scenes that are very good that reach back to how
good the best ones have been in the Criminal Intentís
history. Yes, I do have favorites in the ones one coming up.
Dick, do you have a favorite?
I think the aria, and to those of you that donít [know] - the aria
is what we call the sort of make or break interrogation scene in the
fourth act. The most memorable episodes, going back to the first
season with Vincent putting his shoe up on the interrogation...
Vincent D'Onofrio: With Griffin Dunne.
Yes, and saying, ďI wear a size 13, what are you, about a nine?Ē
Vincent D'Onofrio: Nine.
Maybe an eight. That is the key to the memorability of episodes. The
aria in ďRespetoĒ is as good as weíve gotten because itís very hard
to get twists in the aria. And thereís really a big one in this one.
Listen, youíre talking like this is not really a done deal that this
is the last season.
No, it is.
That inspires us with great, great hope. And so Iím asking you what
do we tell our fans and our viewers and your fans and your viewers
about the prospects for another season? And is there anything that
they can do?
Vincent D'Onofrio: You can tell them that we have the same hope that they have.
Itís even simpler. You donít tune in it wonít be back. Itís very
simple. If you want to see it, watch it.
We call that the Firefly mantra.
Itís very simple. This is going to be no taking no laundry here.
People have got to show up or it will be a self-fulfilling
Look, again, I am incredibly grateful to Bonnie and Jeff for doing
this. I donít in any way want to be construed as biting the hand
that feeds us. It is the last season, unless they see a reason not
for it to be the last season. The way they will see that is if they
get people tuning in and the kind of numbers tuning in three and
four years ago, five years. Then itís a very simple choice for them.
But in their mind, theyíve announced it as the last season. Itís the
last season unless lightning strikes Ė but as I said, Iím a cockeyed
optimist and I believe in how good the show is. Anybody who likes or
has liked Vincent in the past, you tune into this first episode,
youíre going to keep coming back. Itís very easy to sell when youíve
got the goods. In reality this is like selling ice to Eskimos even
though itís freezing up in Canada now. Itís a really good product.
If I was an Eskimo Iíd buy it.
So really is it just a numbers game then right now? Everybody signed
on to do it again if they give you the go ahead?
No, no, theyíre not. Nobody has - there is no deal. There is
nothing. This was a one shot as far as USA is concerned. They have
announced this is the last season of the show. Itís the last season
of the show. I can tell you that having done this for this long itís
very hard to come up with shows that have these lengths and this
kind of staying power. I know that if it comes in and outperforms
what they think the last season was going to do theyíre going to
want more of them. Itís that simple. But people have got to show up,
you know. TiVo does not count, please watch.
So basically what are the kind of expectations that the network has?
Do you have any idea as to the numbers?
I have no idea. You have to understand that every show in the history of
television has been born under that sentence. They usually donít
give you the date of execution. We have a date of execution but it
could be stayed.
Vincent D'Onofrio: But USA, like any other network, wants a good job.
Vincent D'Onofrio: And so weíre trying to give them one.
Mr. DíOnofrio, I just wanted to ask if you watched the show at all
when you werenít on it? And if not why not? And if so whatíd you
Vincent D'Onofrio: I watched Jeff a couple of times, yes. I told Dick this, I thought that
Jeff was a great replacement for me. Iíve been a fan of Jeffís from
when he started working as an actor. I just think heís a really fine
actor Ė so it was great. Yes, I liked it.
Was it weird to see somebody walking around with your clothes on,
that sort of thing?
Vincent D'Onofrio: Well, he wasnít playing Goren, you know.
No, but in
your space. At least thatís how the audience thought of it even if
Vincent D'Onofrio: No, it wasnít weird. It wasnít weird.
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HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2009!