Thursday, July 1, 2010

an interesting look at the Hollywood behind Law & Order

From Amy Chozick and Ellen Gamerman in the WSJ...

Some actors called it "judging," as in "I judged last week," a verb meaning, "to play a judge on 'Law & Order.' " Donna Hanover, a broadcast journalist and ex-wife of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, judged seven times. Humorist Fran Lebowitz donned the robes on 12 occasions.

"To be part of that judge pool, it's an honor," says Stephen McKinley Henderson, who played Judge Marc Kramer on seven episodes over the last 15 years and is also a Tony nominee this year for "Fences."

To play a judge was only one point of entry into perhaps the greatest ongoing casting call of all time. For a record-tying 20 years, the original "Law & Order" shot 456 episodes in all. Its finale on Monday employed 42 actors in speaking roles and 125 extras. Every episode adhered to the same actor-intensive formula: fast location changes, talky scenes separated by the ominous chung chung sound, and crowded New York street life, courtrooms and the like.

The show provided about 4,000 jobs each year, including one-day acting roles, according to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting. Over the years the show employed 20,639 individual actors, with 5,934 of them in speaking roles and the rest background actors, according to Mike Hodge, the New York division president of the Screen Actors Guild. Of all the movies, plays and other TV shows in history, it's hard to think of a single entertainment entity which has hosted more troupers, emoters and hambones.

One casting director, Suzanne Ryan, estimates she's seen up to 130 auditions per show, which comes out to 2,860 to 3,120 per season, and 57,200 to 62,400 in all...

Some of the roles were played by marquee names—Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, Laura Linney, Samuel L. Jackson. Hundreds more were working actors who populate New York theater stages and serve on movies and TV as those familiar character actors we can't quite place....


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