Skeet Ulrich Interview LAW & ORDER: LOS ANGELES

     September 29, 2010

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The newest addition of the Law & Order brand, Law & Order: Los Angeles, fuses the classic ripped-from-the-headlines storytelling it is known for with the distinctive backdrops of L.A. The drama follows Detectives Rex Winters (Skeet Ulrich) and Tomas “TJ” Jarusalski (Corey Stoll) as they pursue cases through the diverse City of Angels. As members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Robbery Homicide Division, Winters is a straight-shooting ex-Marine with a clear-cut worldview, while TJ knows the dark underside that is behind-the-scenes Hollywood all too well, having grown up the son of an Oscar-winning cinematographer. On the legal side of matters are Deputy District Attorneys Peter Morales (Alfred Molina) and Jonah “Joe” Dekker (Terrence Howard), whose duty it is to prosecute the criminals.

During a recent interview, actor Skeet Ulrich talked about returning to television, the lure of the popular and long-running Law & Order franchise, and how they’re learning as they go along, since this is the first time this formula has ever had a West Coast setting. Check out what he had to say after the jump.

What lured you to this role? Was it the franchise, the character or Dick Wolf?

SKEET ULRICH: It was all of that. It was Dick’s explanation of the character, of where the show was heading, of his confidence in me to do it. Obviously, the brand speaks for itself, but I had never played a cop and it was compelling to me to delve into sides that I don’t get to see that much.

You took some risks with shows like Miracles and Jericho. Were you at all burnt out by that and looking for something more reliable?

ULRICH: No, to me, it’s a character I haven’t had the chance to delve into. I tend towards characters for a modicum of reasons. This is a walk of life I hadn’t stepped into and I’m fascinated by it. Getting to know my friend who is on the force, and seeing what he deals with and how he handles it, was compelling to me.

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Had you been a fan of the franchise?

ULRICH: I had not seen any of the shows before. No, I take that back. I had worked with Vince D’Onofrio (from Law & Order: Criminal Intent) on occasion, when he started, so I saw one of those episodes. Basically, we had a meeting and we talked about what the show was going to be. Fortunately, Dick felt like I fit into that mold, and I’m just grateful to be here.

Did your stint on CSI: NY, playing the serial killer, make you more amenable to taking a part on a procedural?

ULRICH: From what Dick [Wolf] laid out to me, the structure didn’t necessarily apply. I obviously like long arc storytelling but this is one of those in its own right. That bid on CSI: New York was a fascinating character as it was pitched to me. I think it was pretty well done as a show. I’ve worked with Gary Sinise before and like him a lot as a person and he’s fun to work with. That was its own decision. Coincidentally, I had not played a killer since Scream despite everybody sort of labels me as that but I hadn’t really done it. So it was fun to sort of see where my mind-set was however many years later it was.

What kind of guy is this character?

ULRICH: He’s a second-generation LAPD. I can’t really tell you what it’s going to be in its entirety because I don’t know. I imagine there’s a lot to come, in terms of the character development. But, he’s a brass-tacks kind of guy. He’s to the point. I think one of the descriptions given is that he can sum things up rather quickly. He’s pretty much an all-business kind of guy, in terms of what he sees in his time at work. And, he’s married to his ex-partner. There’s some interesting side stories. He has kids from a previous marriage as well.

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Would you describe your character as determined and passionate?

ULRICH: Absolutely. I think every policeman you will ever encounter is passionate about what they do, or they would not put themselves in the jeopardy they put themselves in, some maybe to a lesser degree. Certain things get to you that don’t get to me, and vice versa. I think a lot of that is to be determined, as we start rolling. As most cops say, in their minds there are two types of people, those who run from gunfire and those who run towards it. They are those who run towards it.

Is he an L.A. guy, or  a New York guy that’s been transplanted in L.A.?

ULRICH: He’s an L.A. guy. He was born and raised here. This is an incredibly diverse city. There’s so many stories to be had here and so many venues. Many compelling things happen in this city that we are unaware of, for the most part. Just in a little bit of research that I’ve been able to do, it is a fascinating place. I’ve not lived here my entire life, but getting to know a side of the city that I had not cared to delve into prior, I’ve learned there are a lot of stories to mine.

What makes your character unique?

ULRICH: I think that’s to be determined, in front of the cameras. I think the structure is there. You can say a sentence four million different ways. My hope is to present enough of a mix of choices for the editors to piece together for the character that Dick is looking to put on screen.

law_and_order_los_angeles_skeet_ulrich_01Did he give you an idea of what he wanted?

ULRICH: There was a guideline. The banks of the river are there, but you steer however it feels right, in the moment. The great thing with Corey [Stoll] coming along is that the chemistry was there from the second we sat down together and started reading scenes. He’s an incredible actor. It brought out a side of the character that wasn’t there with other people. That’s obviously something they’re looking for, and the reason he and I are here. A lot of those things are going to be answered.

Did you get to do ride-alongs for research?

ULRICH: I didn’t do a ride-along, per se. I was on the streets.

So, you shadowed some cops?

ULRICH: A really good friend of mine is a deputy with L.A. County. We were on call for four days with Homicide Division, with a specific team. There were three weeks that L.A. didn’t have a murder, which was astounding.

What did you see when you were on the beat?

ULRICH: Well, the body had already been transferred, but it was basically gang violence. We were down at 88th and Hooper, which I believe is Compton, from about 10 in the evening until about two in the morning. I think that’s part of what drives me to say we’re very fortunate to have the people we have on our police force, doing what they do. Fortunately a store caught the crime on two different video cameras. One of the biggest problems that the detectives are having, at the moment, is reservists coming back from the marines and the army. From the video I saw, that appeared to be the case. There was no twisting of the glock. This guy leveled in a full military position and assassinated this guy. He shot him in the throat, many times.

skeet_ulrich_01Were you scared?

ULRICH: Getting there is scary. It was not a great part of town and two white guys rolling in, in a personal car, is not a great idea. My buddy has been on the force for a dozen years and is adept and has worked in Newton, which is one of the toughest divisions to work in, in the LAPD. I wasn’t scared until there were only about four of us left, and two of them were sitting in the car, at two in the morning. But, the most interesting aspect of it all is probably the section they had cordoned off, which included resident streets. At about midnight, four older women were rolling through, trying to get to their street that was blocked off, and had asked the detective, “How long are you going to be here?” The detective said, “We’ll be here all night.” The lady’s response was, “Thank God! I’ll finally sleep.”  Suddenly it hit me so hard why these guys do what they do. There is a palpable gratefulness to those who are not crime commiters, if you will, for this force. It’s interesting. I’ve spent other times with detectives that were fascinating. It’s a diverse group of people that are our police force – men, women, black, white, you name it. They all have one goal in common, and that is to keep us safe.

Did the people on the street know you were an actor?

ULRICH: No. One of the detectives recognized me. Before we were introduced, she was staring at me. Usually, what I get is “Did we go to high school together? I know I know you from somewhere.” I’ll be the last one to tell you I’m an actor, but she started to figure it out.

Did you have to get in shape for this role?

ULRICH: I’m in shape. I had twins and they keep me in shape. They’re nine now.

As a father, did some of the things you saw on the street scare you for them?

ULRICH: Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things that Dick had talked about, in developing the character. There’s this predatory need to weed out those bad influences from your children. My buddy has three kids and a prime motivation for him is trying to clean up things for the next generation.

How do your kids deal with being on set?

ULRICH: They’re non-plussed by it, really. They’ve been around it since they were a year and a half old. I’d taken awhile off, prior to that, and they were at home. The second they walk on set, my son is usually sitting on the dolly and checking out the camera.

Who would you like to see guest star on the show?

ULRICH: Oh, my God, there are many fascinating actors. I trust that they will hire people I’ve never heard of that will put me to shame.

You were involved with another pilot this season as well. What was the timeline between that and this?

ULRICH: It happened rather quickly. It was probably one of the more interesting roller-coasters I’ve ever been on. Obviously, I wouldn’t have done that pilot, had I not been enamored by that show, and I was disappointed. But, this opportunity came up rather quickly and I forgot all about it. I can’t even remember the name of that show.

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