Actress S. Epatha Merkerson wrapped up a 17-year run on Law & Order in 2010, when she said goodbye to beloved Lt. Anita Van Buren — one of the longest-running African American characters on prime-time TV.
Now Merkerson is returning to television to play hospital administrator Sharon Goodwin in the new NBC drama Chicago Med.
Don't expect Merkerson to be sporting her signature Law & Order bob, however. "No wig!" she exults. "No need!"
Merkerson, 62, calls Goodwin "a stand-up person. She'll back up her doctors and try to do what she can to keep the hospital running properly."
But she hopes to take this new character to a deeper place. "You rarely saw Van Buren in a real, personal relationship. That happened only my last year, when she was going through cancer. So here's an opportunity to show a woman who's very capable, but also human and flawed. She still has things to work on," she says.
Because the new gig reunites her with Dick Wolf, who created Chicago Med as a spinoff from Chicago Fire, Merkerson calls it a win-win. "Dick has been a loyal producer and friend. He first hired me at 41, and now he's hiring me at 62. That says he knows the importance of the female point of view at all stages. I consider him a dear, dear friend."
Landing a new job as a female who's over 50 can be tough, especially in Hollywood. "At a certain point the jobs come few and far between," the actress acknowledges. "That's why I'm very proud of being part of this production, as a woman in her 60s."