Scott Bakula talks tonight’s controversial new ‘Law & Order: SVU’

In a recent conference call, actor Scott Bakula discussed tonight’s controversial new Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, on which he guest stars as a twisted, high-powered lawyer. The 58 year-old actor, best known for his role as Sam Beckett on Quantum Leap, makes his return to TV tonight after the unfortunate cancellation of TNT’s Men Of A Certain Age, and his brief stint guest starring on the final episodes of Desperate Housewives. Tonight’s SVU offers Bakula the opportunity to play a darker character than the roles he’s been offered over the years, and also afforded him the chance to share the screen with Bijou Phillips, an accomplished character actor in her own right.

Credit: Michael Parmelee/NBC

On his character, Kent Webster:

“Yes, I play a relatively prominent New York City law professor at a college. [His] father is on the Supreme Court and I’m kind of being geared up to become a member of the Supreme Court. But lo and behold, a young woman — Bijou Phillips is playing her — steals a baby from a city park. And then she claims she’s the baby’s mother and that I am the baby’s father. I have a wife at home who is ill and very seriously ill and a daughter — a teenaged daughter — and it kind of gets crazy after that.”

On his preparations for the role, and how this role differs from his experience portraying lawyers in the past:

“Well I put a lot of work in it. … In this case, [Bakula’s character, Kent Webster] … he’s a professor, so we don’t ever see him in a court of law. We don’t see him teaching a class. … So in this case, you know, I’m always interested in trying to just find the human angle. And I might reference some people that have had similar experiences in their lives in the public eye and do a little research in that sense. That’s more of what I did for this.”

On joining a cast with such a well-established chemistry:

“It was so much fun. I’ve known Mariska [Hargitay] for a very, very long time. But we’ve never worked together. She actually worked with my wife together a long time ago. And we were on the lot during the Quantum Leap and Tequila and Bonetti days. So we’ve known each other for a very, very long time. I’m a huge fan of hers. And, you know, I’ve kind of always wanted to do the show. And, ironically, I’ve never shot in New York before and I’ve always wanted to do that. So it was great fun. … And I worked predominately with Danny [Pino] and Kelli [Giddish]. I had a couple of scenes with Ice and Mariska but predominately with those two. And, you know, Mariska, she leads the party down there. And I tip my hat to her. I think this is their 11th season and she is enthusiastic.

“And more importantly, she is still on top of what’s being said, what’s going on. She’s not walking in any manner of speech, sleepwalking through showing up and doing her thing. She’s very much concerned about what’s on the page and how the scenes are playing. And … after 11 years, I was pretty amazed by that. But that’s the kind of gal she is. She’s a fabulous actress … and then she’s a great leader on the set.”

On working with Bijou Phillips:

“She is great. I’d never met her before. But we had a blast. It’s kind of the classic showbiz story of, you know, the first things we had to do together were make out and the scene called for my hand to be placed on her ass so they could get a picture, a condemning photo of me in a hotel with her. And it was kind of like, ‘Hi, how are you? I’m going to put my hand on your hindquarters, if I may.’ And she was like, ‘Yes, no problem, go ahead.’ So it started that way and we just laughed and had a great time.”

On his inspiration for his performance as Kent Webster, and his affinity for lawyer roles:

“I did a little bit of … research on some of the story surrounding [former lawyer and Vice Presidential candidate] John Edwards and some of the press conferences and things that he went through. And I did some work in that sense. … I’ve always had an affinity for lawyers. My dad is a lawyer; you know, he’s retired now. My brother is a lawyer. It’s always been easy, the legalese. And I’ve always felt comfortable, certainly, in a courtroom because you’re just performing. And there was a time in my life when I thought when I grew up I’d be a trial lawyer myself. So I’m not afraid of those kinds of parts at all. … I do have a certain affinity for it.”

On how SVU has remained so successful over the years:

“You know, the stories continue to be, I think, compelling. And I think … people continue to make bad headlines everyday. And they have a knack of being able to pull those out and make terrific stories. And, you know, it’s amazing. You tell people you’re doing … [Law & Order] SVU, and I was just so delighted by how people said ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve watched that for years. We’ve never missed an episode.’ And we love that show and we still watch it. And it’s a testament to really just keeping, you know, your eye on the prize every week. And not letting go of being thorough and having passion for the work and the story telling. And that’s the writing, the directing. And again, it’s Mariska and the folks that have been there a long time that just keep everybody focused and doing good work.”

“Vanity’s Bonfire”, the latest Law & Order: SVU, airs tonight at 9:OO PM EST on NBC.

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