Before joining the cast of ‘Law & Order: Los Angeles‘ Terrence Howard did his research. First, he made a few calls to find out what being part of the chung-chung! world was like.
He talked to ‘Law & Order’ vet Epatha Merkerson (Lt. Anita Van Buren), said René Balcer, executive producer for both shows. “I guess he got a thumbs up from her that he’d be treated well as an actor.”
Howard, who makes his first appearance as Deputy District Attorney Jonah ‘Joe’ Dekker in this Wednesday’s episode, said he also called Jesse L. Martin, who starred as Detective Ed Green for nine seasons.
“Me and Jesse have been auditioning together since we were 18, so he walked me through the do’s and the don’ts,” Howard said in a conference call with Balcer today.
To prep for his courtroom scenes, Howard also spent time in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, and with judges. The lawyers taught him tips like putting himself between a defendant on the witness stand and their attorney, “so they can’t get cues from them,” Howard said.
Appearing in the stalwart franchise every other week – alternating with Alfred Molina in court – will allow the Oscar-nominated Howard (‘Hustle & Flow’) time for what he hopes is a more rewarding film career. “I’ll do less film, but better quality films,” Howard said.
When the ‘Law & Order’ call came, Howard had just spent nine months as Nelson Mandela filming ‘Winnie’ with Jennifer Hudson, which introduced him to Mandela’s interest in the justice system. “When we finished the movie, I wasn’t finished being a lawyer,” he said. (Balcer added that this was literally true: Howard apparently did his initial read-through in Mandela’s accent.)
Balcer, who has been writing, producing and show-running in the ‘Law & Order’ world for two decades, said that although the cancellation of the mothership “caught everyone by surprise,” it opened the door for the L.A. version, which premiered last week to solid numbers, winning its time slot in key demos.
“I don’t think this ‘Law & Order’ would have been on if the mothership was still on. I think there is a maximum capacity the American audience can take as far as the number of ‘Law & Order’ iterations on at the same time,” Balcer said, putting that number at three.
“[But] when the mothership went down, I still had stories to tell.”
Future headlines to be ripped (“We’re topical; just like ointment,” cracked Balcer) include an October 20 episode about a terrorist trial in downtown Los Angeles and another involving the building of a controversial mosque – both stories that were born in New York.
Balcer defended the format. “It’s actually a pretty wide open canvas. As long as you have cops and lawyers and a murder, beyond that it’s a pretty flexible story-telling structure,” he said.
Balcer, who has lived in L.A. for 30 years, said most stories translate pretty well, with a few exceptions: “Any story involving pedestrians probably wouldn’t work in L.A.”
‘Law & Order: Los Angeles’ airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on NBC. Record It on Your DVR Here.
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