Catching Up with Dick Wolf & Vincent D’Onofrio from Law & Order: Criminal Intent

Recently, legendary Executive Producer Dick Wolf and star Vincent D’Onofrio from Law & Order: Criminal Intent sat down with a group of online media to chat about the upcoming 10th and final season of the show which premieres May 1st at 9/8c on the USA Network. Below is an excerpt from that event.

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.

Well, okay, Dick, what made you guys decide to bring these two characters back?

Dick Wolf: Well, first of all, 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.

Vincent  after all of these seasons, even though you had a little bit of time off, but after all 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.

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.

Okay, and Dick, I noticed that Jay Moore is guest staring in this one. 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.

I once interviewed Bruce Campbell and he said to me he’s a character actor stuck in a leading man’s body. You’ve done a lot of character work, do see yourself as a leading actor on both film and television?

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.

Mr. Wolf what attracts you to the crime – to crime drama genre? And is there a difference between working on Law and Order on network television verses on basic cable television like USA?

Dick Wolf: To go backwards, there is 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.

Dick, how do you approach this season to a TV show? I imagine you kind of, like, a character development outline and then work out the episodes. How do you approach, you know, when you find out I have a season, how am I going to fill it?

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.

When you think about this being the final season, even though Dick’s hoping it’s not, but if this is the final season, do you think about how you want to say goodbye to Detective Goren or what note you want to leave him on? Or, you know, did you think about, you know, this being the final season and what that would mean for how you’d want to say goodbye to this character?

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.


Law & Order: Criminal Intent 10th and final season premieres May 1st at 9/8c on the USA Network.