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11 Quick Questions for Camryn Manheim

The star of ‘The Practice’ returns to TV in ‘Law & Order’


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Rodin Eckenroth/WireImage/Getty images

Camryn Manheim, best known for her starring role in the law drama The Practice, is now Law & Order’s new top cop. The original NBC procedural returns to the network for Season 21 after more than a decade-long hiatus. Manheim, who began her acting career in New York City, couldn’t refuse the opportunity to return to the small screen, not just for work but for all the city has to offer.

What’s your Law & Order story?

Every New York actor has a history with Law & Order. I have been a guest star on Law & Order three times. The first time was my first TV role ever [1991], so it has come full circle for me. I got my master’s in fine arts at New York University. For my living, I was a sign language interpreter. I did off-off-Broadway shows, they were so off-Broadway. It was a big deal if you could get a role on Law & Order.

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When you got the phone call, was it an easy yes to Law & Order?

It was a thrilling phone call. Then I did some more thinking. I live in Los Angeles. My son [actor Milo Manheim, 20] lives across the street. I have cats. Then I thought, Wait a minute. I want this new chapter in my life. I could stay in my house, in my easy life, or I could say yes to this brand-new adventure. My agents said, “Every actress your age wants this role, and if you don’t take it, we’re firing you.”

On Instagram, you’ve got a recent snap with SVU queen Mariska Hargitay. Do tell!

The minute Mariska found out, she texted me and invited me over to her house. She served me an amazing meal of Shake Shack burgers. We talked until midnight about all the wonderful work that her foundation [Joyful Heart] does and how it’s an honor and a privilege to be on a TV show that can make a difference in people’s lives. She does it beautifully.

spinner image Camryn Manheim, Anthony Anderson and Jeffrey Donovan in costume on the set of 'Law & Order'
Camryn Manheim, left, stars as Lieutenant Kate Dixon in "Law & Order" alongside Anthony Anderson as Detective Kevin Bernard and Jeffrey Donovan as Detective Frank Cosgrove.
Virginia Sherwood/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

You’ve got big shoes to fill, stepping into S. Epatha Merkerson’s Lt. Anita Van Buren. Who is Lt. Kate Dixon?

She’s trying to understand her place in this role. She is tough, fair, smart and pragmatic. She understands that detectives are flawed and complicated; ultimately they respect her. She’s bossy but lovable. She thinks a little outside the box. She doesn’t take sh--.

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 award-winning Practice character, Ellenor Frutt, would fit right in on Law & Order. Truth?

spinner image actress Camryn Manheim holds a pencil next to her ear while she sits at a cluttered desk in front of a shaded window
Camryn Manheim starred as attorney Ellenor Frutt on ABC's "The Practice" between 1997 to 2004.
Andrew Eccles/ABC/Courtesy: Everett Collection

Yeah, we were dealing with similar types of people on The Practice. She could have been on the show as a defense lawyer; she was always defending the underdog. On Law & Order, we are prosecuting them.

Throughout its original 20-season run, which ended in 2010, Law & Order’s six-person ensemble was played by 29 different actors. Any top cops?

I was a Ben Bratt fan. He was so dreamy. Honestly, I feel like they’re my family: Jesse L. Martin, Jerry Orbach. I’ve lived with them all of my adult life. They feel very comfortable with me. Ben was yummy, delish.

How does your son, Milo, feel about the big move?

I’m sure I can’t move fast enough for him.  He loves New York. He said, ‘Mom, go. I’ll come and visit all the time — the show and New York, having a place to land.’ He’s an actor through and through; he gets it. A lot of parents will understand when I say that we do really good when we are apart, we’re closer than ever.

Where will you settle in New York?

I know I need to be centrally located. I’m very social and need my friends to be able to get to me. I need to be near subway lines. I like the Flatiron District. I’d love to guest-lecture at NYU, my alma mater. I could go to the theater every night. If I had my druthers, I’d rather be in a play eight days a week. Now that I’m in New York, I can make that dream come true.

New York or Los Angeles? Debate.

New York is the number one love of my life. I haven’t lived there in 25 years. It’s a new New York, but it has the same heartbeat. When I moved from New York to L.A. in 1995 to do The Practice, I went into a depression. I didn’t realize why I was so depressed: I just left the love of my life. New York was the best boyfriend I ever had. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was just lost. I longed for New York. Here I am going back. I feel like I just won the lottery.

You turned 60 last March. It seems like aging’s been good to you.

I feel like I’m happier now than I ever have been. I also know that gratitude is the key to happiness and the sexiest attribute is confidence. Those are the things I’ve learned that come with my time on the planet. I didn’t have those 10 years ago. I used to have a card that says: “Camryn Manheim, 1961.” A friend asked, “Are you sure you want to announce  your age?” I’m proud of the miles I walked. I’m not afraid of aging, because you understand what’s important to you.

When you hear the words “The people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories,”  what goes through your mind?

Law & Order is a cultural phenomenon. It’s kind of shaped this generation’s understanding of the legal system, and I really hope it will continue to serve that education of the people and take a clear and honest look at what’s happening. I hope to learn more. It’s a perfect canvas to do some good.

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