I spoke with VINCENT D’ONOFRIO and DICK WOLF about LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT. What an honor it was to be able to speak with both of them and I am a huge Vincent D’Onofrio fan. He is one of a kind and I am so happy I was able to speak with him about Goren. Both Vincent and Dick are legends in the industry. Dick is responsible for creating some of the best shows in television history. Vincent is able to bring remarkable writing to life and has given us one of the most intriguing detectives ever, Robert Goren. Who doesn’t love the brilliant and quirky Goren? Some of my favorite Vincent D’Onofrio films are; “Ed Wood”, “The Cell”, “Strange Days”, “Men in Black”, “Brooklyn’s Finest” and “Full Metal Jacket”. Do not miss the return of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT Sunday night on USA Network.
Lena Lamoray: Vincent, you’re 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 to in Season 1?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Well, you know, it’s great to play Goren. It’s a really good character. He’s a – you know, we always talked about him, Dick and I and the original show runner, Rene Balcer as a Sherlock Holmes – a contemporary Sherlock Holmes. And, you know, that’s what it’s like, that’s a great character to play, just that alone. Compare these that we’re doing now, I can’t compare them very much to the first few seasons or even four seasons of Criminal Intent. They’re 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. He’s thinking on the fly. He’s a bit quirkier than you would expect a major case squad detective to be but he’s coming up with the answers and it’s – so it’s, you know, highly dramatic in that way again. So I would say it’s – what we’re doing is very similar. I think that the only thing that’s different – and one of the things that’s different in these eight is that you’re getting him in – he’s getting some shrinkage. You’re getting to see time with him with the shrink and that’s very interesting. We were – you know, we’ve shot two of the shrink scenes already with Julia Ormond who’s just amazing in them. And her – I mean I was just floored by what she was doing. She showed up and did this stuff. And you’re getting something – you’re getting an insight into his – into Goren that you would have never gotten unless we did this so it’s very, very interesting stuff.
Lena Lamoray: Can you fill us in on a couple of your favorite scenes from the upcoming episodes and on what we have to look forward to from Goren?
Vincent D’Onofrio: In Rispetto there is – I think the aria is really, really good because it’s really, really well acted by the guest star. There are scenes – there’s a couple of interrogation scenes that are very good that reach back to how good or the best ones have been in the Criminal Intent’s history. Yes, I do have favorites in the ones, the first one coming up.
Lena Lamoray: Dick, do you have a favorite?
Dick Wolf: I think the aria, and to those of you that don’t – the aria is what we call the sort of make or break interrogation scene in the fourth act. And the most memorable episodes, and I can, you know – going back to the first season with Vincent putting his shoe up on the interrogation…
Vincent D’Onofrio: With Griffin Dune.
Dick Wolf: Yes, and saying, I wear a size 13, what are you, about a nine?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Nine.
Dick Wolf: Maybe an eight, you know, it was – that is the key to the memorability of episodes. And the aria in Respeto is, I think, as good as we’ve gotten because they’re – it’s very hard to get twists in the aria. And there, you know, are – there’s really a big one in this one.
More Conference Call Interview Highlights:
Q: Vincent, how did returning to the show even come about?
Vincent D’Onofrio: I got a call from the other guy on the line here.
Dick Wolf: It was never a decision, basically, to have them disappear into the wilderness. I mean this was – you never know as this show now proves what’s going to happen in television, which is a constantly changing landscape. And 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 with, you know, bringing back the way it was originally, just Vincent and Katie. And I said, fine, I hate to think of anything being the last season but, yes, absolutely. And being the sort of 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 that’s being done and has been done so far I think the audience is going to be very happy, relieved, and welcoming. And, you know, I hope that as I said, if this is a final season that it’s 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 don’t think Vincent and Katie have been any better ever in the series. I think it’s 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. And there is one scene – an episode of a session with his therapist who is Julia Ormond. And those scenes answer some questions that have been hanging out there since the first season. It – I think over the course of the eight episodes you’re 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. And I think that as a sub textual theme throughout these episodes it’s really interesting. I mean this has been a great experience no matter what happens but being, as I said, 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 I think are really interesting. I think that the first one is sort of in the great tradition of the show and the brand at large that, you know, we deal with what is in the popular psych guys and it’s a real pleasure. And that’s a very long-winded answer but it’s exciting to be back.
Q: Vincent, after all of these seasons, what makes playing Goren still a challenge for you?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Well, it starts with the scripts because, you know, the – when the scripts are good and these that we’ve done in this batch are just – everyone’s just – you know, Dick always told me he can’t knock it out of the park every time but in this eight here, so far I mean, we’re knocking it out. Each one, you know, starts with the story and then, you know, if the story’s good, you know, I have the opportunity on this show and I have for a very long time to, you know, take it off the page and mix it up a little bit and kind of do stuff that people won’t expect. And that’s when I’m having the most fun. And so that’s what keeps it interesting.
Q: Did you ever expect the Law and Order franchise to last so long?
Dick Wolf: Well, yes – no, 22 years ago I was hopeful that we’d get 20 episodes if, you know – 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 be here.
Vincent D’Onofrio: I mean the fact that Criminal Intent has been on this long is an amazing thing to me. I, you know – it’s – every time I leave my house to get some milk or something from the store I’m 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. And it just never – it never gets old and it’s never not surprising how much people really like, you know…
Q: 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.
Dick Wolf: It always – I think even as Vincent sort of just said, you know, you can have great actors – if you give them lousy words it’s not going to be a great show. The – it’s just Shakespeare is still Shakespeare 450 years later. You know, when it’s right and it’s working it’s much better for the actors and it’s much better for the show. So it is – it always starts with a blank page.
Q: Vincent, what’s one thing your fans will be surprised to know about you?
Dick Wolf: He’s four foot, eleven.
Vincent D’Onofrio: I don’t know. I think – I don’t know how to answer that question. There’s lots of surprises when you get to know someone for real so, you know, it could be lots of things that they would be surprised about. As far as – that’s 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 it’s just her character and mine in a room. And she’s getting to the bottom of Goren. And I think you’re going to learn things, like Dick said, that have been hanging out there for a long time. And, you know, I don’t want to give any of them away, it’s – but some of it will be – it definitely entertaining and surprising I think.
Q: Vincent, with what Dick was saying about Goren, when you came back for this season did you have to tackle him with a different headspace?
Vincent D’Onofrio: No, you know, I was really ready after the time off to go back to the feeling, the tone that we had in the first four seasons. You know, I was really ready to do it and, you know, on the first day, you know, they think the first couple of scenes and interrogations. It wasn’t – you know, I just kind of – it was like I put the suit back on and I was rocking, you know. It just felt right. And, you know, the ideas keep coming, suddenly again, and – no, it wasn’t tough. It wasn’t hard.
Q: Dick, Jay Mohr is guest staring in the premiere. Now we know him usually as a comedic actor. What can we expect from him in this?
Dick Wolf: Drama and a very – look, his – again, we don’t want to – you know that there’s – it’s a situation where you don’t want to give away the show on the telephone but it is – he is extraordinarily entertaining in this episode. It’s not outright comedy but it is a larger-than-life character. And he’s really good. I don’t – you know, it’s kind of odd because he is known as a comic and this is a highly dramatic role that a lot of dramatic actors, I think, would have had a very hard time eschewing. He does a great job. I mean it’s such a pleasure – and we’ve been extraordinarily lucky over the years when you get great guest stars and I think Vincent would agree. You know, it’s like if you’re playing tennis against a club champion or, you know, number 27 on the tour you’re game should go up against the touring pro. I mean the better the competition the better the game. And I think Jay really, A, came to play and, B, he had a real take on the character.
Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, there’s also a – he was very, very good in it. And there’s also a new up and coming actor named Neal Huff in it in the show as well that just does outstanding work. It’s a very good show this first show they’re putting up. I mean that’s my opinion, I think it is.
Q: Dick, can you talk about the first episode which has an Italian word as a title, so I’m a little bit curious?
Dick Wolf: Well, it’s a – well, the use of Italian is fortunately or unfortunately not really germane to the story. It turns out – and this doesn’t give away too much, the name that inspires a designer for a new line of very expensive dresses. And it’s a play off of the fact that essentially he hadn’t gotten any respect for many years. So…It’s not an Italian-ade story, let me put it that way. It’s – but the title fits perfectly.
Q: Dick, which one of the European version of Law and Order you like the most?
Dick Wolf: Well, it’s hard to say because they’re all so different and that’s 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. I mean it’s just – 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. And it’s been that way since time and memorial, whether you go back and think of, you know, from just rolling off the top of my head and I hadn’t thought about this, from Angela Landsbury to Telly Savalas to Monk, what’s – name just went out of my head, to Vincent, to, you know, the list goes on and on. And Vincent Perez is a great French character actor. And 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 they’ve been using the same way the French did. They’ve been using our episodes and then adapting them the local laws, local customs, and local storytelling. I mean the scripts change but they are essentially versions but not translations of the originals. So for me it’s – I’m just – I was very disappointed when TF1 didn’t bring Enquetes Criminelles back. I’m thrilled that Law and Order UK has turned into a major hit. And, you know, the Russian shows are great fun for me to watch but I don’t speak Russian so I can’t tell you how good they are. But I can tell you that the guy who plays Vincent looks like James Bond and seems to be acting that way so that’s kind of fun – you know, feeling like an immigrant in your living room.
Q: Vincent, after years of playing the same character, how do you keep it interesting for yourself and the audience?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Yes, I think it’s just all what I can – you know, I take the scripts that they write and – which I mean that’s where the ideas spawn from, the scripts. And then I – then hopefully, you know, ideas come, things that I can do to make it more interesting for myself to play the character and then, hence, the audience enjoying that. You know, it’s – you just have to hope that, you know, ideas come. And that’s the – that’s how you keep it interesting.
Dick Wolf: I will tell you – I think it’s fascinating as both a producer and a fan of drama. I – one of the reasons, again, that I hoped this isn’t the last season and I hope that people react to this the way I reacted to it, which is wow, these are the best shows in a long time. That it’s great fun for an audience to watch a great actor and a specific character get older. Never heard anybody objecting to Peter Faulk after 18 years on Columbo. That Angela Landsbury got better the longer the show was on, that there is a – and I think it’s fun for the audience because it’s somebody you really know and they’ve gone through – you know, when a show’s been on for ten years people change, everybody changes. And you’re looking and you see some of the early episodes in reruns and you go, wow, this is a life. It’s more than just a collection of episodes. And I think the longer a show like this runs the better. Obviously, I’m very self interested but, you know, this is a naked plea. I’d love to keep doing what we did this season, I think, that this – eight episodes a year would be fabulous for everybody but, you know, I don’t run the network.
Q: Vincent, I know you just said you got a call from Dick and that’s when you knew you were coming back but was it an easy decision?
Vincent D’Onofrio: I didn’t have to think about it. My wife thought about it for me. No, it wasn’t – it’s not – it wasn’t difficult. You know, the – you know, I’ll just talk about Dick for a second. He – you know, Dick has supported me and my feelings about how to do the show and doing this show and how much I should do this show for a long time now, you know, nine, ten years. And, you know, it’s business. And when you trust somebody on the other end and he gives you a call and says, this is what we’re thinking then you, you know, consider it. You take it very seriously. And, you know, you trust his – you know, I trust his intuition with things. You know, he’s been in this business for a very long time. You know, he’s one of the most successful guys doing this stuff. And you have to say yes to something like that.
Q: When you think about this being the final season, even though Dick’s hoping it’s not, but if this is the final season, are you thinking about how you want to say goodbye to Detective Goren or what note you want to leave him on?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Honestly, honestly no. Yes, I get what you’re saying. Honestly no. It’s – you know, it’s very difficult from my perspective to imagine Criminal Intent not existing. So to have those kinds of thoughts is – they’re not entering my head. It’s a difficult thing because of the fan base and how good we’re doing right now for that kind of realization to happen. I don’t think it will. I haven’t put one fragment of thought into it actually to be totally honest.
Q: What is it like working with Kathryn again?
Vincent D’Onofrio: She’s great. She’s great. You know, we work very well together and, you know, I’m on set – well, I’m in my dressing room but in the studio right now we’ve been working together since this morning and, you know, just we’re – you know, truly at ease with each other, been doing it for a very long time. I knew her before we started doing the show together. And, you know, her work is exceptional. You know, it’s – I couldn’t imagine anybody else playing that part. And, you know, it just works. It just works, hands down. It works. It never fails.
Q: Dick, we see a lot of crossovers with characters from different Law and Order shows, so if is the last season for Criminal Intent do you have thoughts about working these characters into some of your other shows?
Dick Wolf: This may sound strange but it’s exactly – never entered my head. I don’t think – you know, and this is – I accepted the – you know, we accepted the gig on this – on the spaces and I don’t in anyway to sound ungrateful. I think that what (Bonnie) and (Jeff) have done is probably one of the best creative gestures – certainly the best creative gesture that has ever been extended to me by any network in 30 years in the business. I mean this was – you talk about a class move. But that having been said, it’s just not the way I’m constructed. I’m exactly the same place that Vincent is. I can’t imagine that this actually going to be the end of this show because it ain’t out of steam. I mean this is something that’s operating better now in my humble opinion than any time in the last four or five years, six. I mean everybody came to play. Everybody’s playing at the top of their game. I mean the first episode is as good as episodic television gets. I mean Jay Morris performance is quite amazing. And Vincent and Katie, there is not a missed stitch. I mean it just feels like, oh, thank God they’re back. So I can’t – no, there are no plans. Everything else is on their episode. Next season we’ll see but this is not – you know, it’s not part of my thinking. It’s just not because I – again, I’m 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 they’re not going to be disappointed.
Q: Vincent, are you still attracted to genre films outside of Law and Order and I understand that you have some features and some other projects that you’re working on.
Vincent D’Onofrio: Sure, I’m a character stuck in a character actor’s body. And, yes, I love film. I love all the genres. You know, as long as the script is good and there’s something challenging in it for me to do I love it. You know, it’s just what I do. And the – as far as projects I have coming up I think the announcement goes out today about the next film that I’m producing called Mall. It’s an adaptation from an Eric Bogosian novel. We – the announcement today will have – announcing that Chelsea Handler is doing it, Eric, myself, and a guy named Joe Hahn is directing it. I’m producing it with Erika Hampson and (Sam Madu) of the Collective. I have a film that I directed as well that I wrote and directed, slasher/musical which was bought by Tribeca Films, which is going to be released this coming – around Christmas, this Christmas coming. That’s what I’ve been doing, I’ve been writing and producing and directing and acting. I have a film out now called Kill the Irishman that I’m in with Ray Stevenson and Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken, that’s what I’ve been up to.
Q: Dick, what attracts you to the crime drama genre? Is there a difference between working on Law and Order on network television and what you can get away with on basic cable television like USA?
Dick Wolf: No – there is really on difference between basic cable and network in terms of language or content anymore. Premium cable, HBO, sure, you can, you know, use four-letter words and have frontal nudity but that’s really about it. There aren’t the same content restrictions because, A, there’s too much to monitor and, B, there is a natural system in place with advertisers. So it’s not really an issue except with, you know, people who want to write about it. It’s just not an issue at a creative level anymore. The reason that I love cop shows, very simple, it’s I’m essentially at core a writer and the form of writing that I’ve been doing for 35 years is dramatic screen writing of one sort or another. And 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 you’re 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.
Q: Vincent, what was it like to work with Stanley Kubrick?
Vincent D’Onofrio: Kubrick was amazing. You know, I’m talking to you on the phone right now because of Stanley Kubrick. It’s something that – in my heart and in my mind will – it’s a feeling that will never change. It’s something that is imprinted in my and my emotional life. And it’s – he was a great guy to work for and I was – 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 this day.
Q: Dick, what is your writing process for a TV show? How do you approach a season?
Dick Wolf: Look, when it’s an existing show the only thing that’s comparable to television is being a farmer. The – 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. It’s just a constant – literally a constant rotation. And when a show’s working you don’t worry about what the next season’s going to be. You’re just worried about getting great story ideas because it’s – you know, depending on the size of the order it’s a lot of stories to tell. And that’s – 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. And I’ve been doing it for a long time. I mean I used to tell show runners that if you have 22 episodes and you get through a season and you’ve 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, pretty good season. And I sort of – I don’t want to break my arm patting myself on the back but for a lot of years on the shows in the brand I think we’ve exceeded that proportion. I think that there are – there have been an enormous number of very, very good episodes on all three shows. I just don’t know if the most – 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 – you know, this is – I can’t over estimate the debt I feel to (Bonnie) and (Jeff) but this is – I mean 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 you’re not even halfway through the season. Anyway, that’s the answer. There is no – 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 it’s not working then there are many discussions that take place.
Q: Vincent, and will be quick. Robert Goren is such a believable character. In your mind, if he makes it to 75 or 80, what would you imagine he would be doing?
Vincent D’Onofrio: I think it’d be Law and Order: Ironside.
Dick Wolf: I don’t know. I think it might be a little bit of Gran Torino.
Vincent D’Onofrio: Maybe, yes. Exactly, could be, yes. I don’t know. Well, you know, I’ll answer it in this way. I think that Dick is – what Dick said earlier about a character aging in front of audiences, you know, slash the actor aging in front of audiences. I think just – you know, I think it is – 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 hers own life. And so there are these changes that take place right in front of the audience, right when the story – as the story’s being told. And I think that’s a really cool thing. I think – so I guess the answer to your question is more. You end up getting more and different stuff, different things, that’s the only answer I can give you.
Q: You’re talking like this is not really a done deal that this is the last season. That inspires us with great, great hope. What do we tell your fans and your viewers about the prospects for another season? And is there anything that they can do?
Dick Wolf: No, it is.
Vincent D’Onofrio: You can tell them that we have the same hope that they have.
Dick Wolf: It’s even simpler. You don’t tune in it won’t be back. This is – it’s very simple. If you want to see it watch it. No, it’s very simple. You know, this is going to be no taking no laundry here. People have got to show up or it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look, again, I am incredibly grateful to (Bonnie) and (Jeff) for doing this. This is not – I don’t 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. And the way they will see that is if they get people tuning in and this kind of numbers they were tuning in, you know, three and four years ago, five years. Then it’s a very simple choice for them. But in their mind, you know, we – they’ve announced it as the last season. It’s the last season unless kind of lightening strikes but as I said, I’m a cockeyed optimist and I believe in how good the show is that anybody who has – likes or has liked Vincent in the past, you tune into this first episode, you’re going to keep coming back. It’s very easy to sell when you’ve got the goods. This isn’t – you know, and in reality this is kind of like selling ice to Eskimos even though it’s freezing up in Canada now. It’s a really good product. If I was an Eskimo I’d buy it.
Q: So really is it just a numbers game then right now? Everybody signed on to do it again, you know, if they give you the go ahead? So really it’s really a numbers game?
Dick Wolf: Nobody has – there is no deal. There is nothing – nobody, you know, this was a one shot as far as USA is concerned. They have announced this is the last season of the show. It’s the last season of the show. I can tell you that having done this for this long it’s very hard to come up with shows that have this kind of – these kind of lengths and this kind of staying power. And I know that if it comes in and outperforms what they think the last season was going to do they’re going to want more of them, that’s – it’s that simple. But people have got to show up, you know.
TiVo does not count, please watch.
Q: What are the expectations that the network has? Do you have any idea as to the numbers?
Dick Wolf: I have no idea. You have to understand that every show in the history of television has been born under that sentence. They usually don’t 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.
Dick Wolf: Yes.
Vincent D’Onofrio: And so we’re trying to give them one.
Q: Vincent, did you watch the show at all when you weren’t on it? And if not why not? And if so what’d you think?
Vincent D’Onofrio: No, I watched Jeff a couple of times, yes. I, you know – I told Dick this, I thought that Jeff was a great replacement for me, you know. I’ve been a fan of Jeff’s, you know, from, you know, when he started working as an actor. And I just think he’s a really fine actor and I thought, you know – so it was great. You know, yes, I liked it.