Stephanie March and Neal Baer Talk 'Law and Order: Special Victims Unit'

The executive producer and actress talk about March's return for six episodes.

Stephanie March

Stephanie March and Neal Baer talk about March's return for six episodes

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fans, Alex Cabot is back. The character, portrayed by Stephanie March, will return to the series in a six-episode arc starting on Tuesday, March 10 at 10 PM ET on NBC. March and executive producer Neal Baer recently held a conference call to discuss her return, and here's what they had to say.

I'm just curious to know which Alex Cabot are we going to get, the old Alex Cabot or the Alex Cabot from Conviction? They're not exactly the same Alex Cabot.

Stephanie March: They're not entire - they're about the same height.

Yeah, I understand that, you're about 5'9 1/2" on this one so I applaud you for wearing heels.

Stephanie March: Oh thanks, thank you so much. You know I think this is probably - I mean I know exactly how I feel about the character and I'm pretty excited about bringing her back. But Neal could probably speak to this specifically in terms of plot a little bit better.

Neal Baer: Well I think it's Alex Cabot who was both on Conviction and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because as you'll see in the episode on May - on March 10th, you'll understand why Alex Cabot did not go back to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Why she was fearful and she has changed a bit. She's stronger.

Well it would be harder to get stronger than Alex Cabot was because she was a pretty fierce woman.

Stephanie March: Well if I may interject, I think she was pretty strong and determined but not as knowledgeable or seasoned. And so I'd like to think that maybe this time around she'll be a little wiser and a little - life has roughed her up a little more. Made her slightly more sympathetic.

Neal Baer: She's definitely more vulnerable, that you see from the very beginning and she's more questioning. So as Stephanie just said you know she was maybe more surface tough then. You'll understand when she comes back that that maybe was more of a cover and that she is much more questioning and much more open to the situ - to the complexities of the situation.

Stephanie March: Exactly.

Neal Baer: I'm trying to steer around with a - by not giving away the plot... You know you'll certainly recognize her as the Alex Cabot you loved five years ago on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because it's still Stephanie and we're writing her as Alex Cabot. So it's just hugely fun for us.

Stephanie March: Hopefully it will complete a circle and make sense. I mean it makes sense to me because I'm in the middle of it, but as people see it I think it will make a lot of sense.

So we're going to find out how you managed to come back from witness protection?

Stephanie March: Yeah.

Oh well hallelujah. That was really one of the biggest drawbacks that I think people had with Conviction that they were left without an explanation.

Stephanie March: Well I think this will be nice and neat and make sense.

Neal Baer: Yeah, there is definitely a - she, Stephanie has a great scene with Mariska, Chris, Ice-T and Belzer where this definitely comes up, we definitely talk about witness protection. We definitely talk about the past and it's quite a moving scene. And it's also really nice to see Stephanie with BD because they're - we have some interesting shows going back to season two with Richard Thomas and Karen Allen where I remember Stephanie and BD's character fought with each other and really grappled with some issues.

Stephanie March: Yeah, and we get to revisit it. Plus I like working with BD because he's my friend anyway so this time I get paid to have dinner together.

Are you coming back in a Liz Donnelly type role or - because you were bureau (team) on Conviction.

Stephanie March: Well I will say this much, I am coming back to that which has most affected me. I'm coming back to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Neal Baer: I'm glad you brought up Liz Donnelly because Stephanie will be doing a very big show at the end of sweeps on March 31st with Judith (Light).

Stephanie March: I love Judith, that's good news.

Neal Baer: So they will be back together again.

I know that Carol Burnett is coming back this season and I was wondering how you guys feel about that, if you're excited and what other guest stars might be lined up.

Stephanie March: Well I don't know exactly who else is lined up, I have some ideas but I shouldn't speak authoritatively on that. But I can say this, having worked with Carol for the last eight days on and off, she's fantastic. She's television royalty and she carries herself like a queen. And she remembers everyone's name and she's lovely and charming and we're lucky to have her.

Neal Baer: Yeah, hi, it's Neal. Carol is amazing. She's in the episode with Matthew Lillard and Robert Klein plays her attorney. And so Stephanie has scenes with Robert Kline as well. And everything you imagine about her being a wonderful, charming, kind woman in reality is multiplied exponentially. She is one of the nicest, sweetest people I've ever met. And Stephanie will have the opportunity of working I believe for the first time at the UN in the next episode for television which we'll be shooting there.

Stephanie March: Yes, I'm really looking forward to that.

Neal Baer: She'll be working with - we'll be working with Cicely Tyson in the episode after that. And then after that we do have some very big names coming. We have a huge, huge show for Cicely, Cicely doesn't even know this yet.

Stephanie March: I know. I'm listening.

Neal Baer: Coming up with an Oscar winning actor that I can't say his name right now, but is slated if all works out to come to visit us. So that would be on the next to the last episode of the season.

Stephanie March: Very exciting.

Neal Baer: We have some really, really wonderful actors on the horizon.

How do you guys feel you know to have that sort of prestige and you know do you always seek out the best of the best you know for prestige aspect? Because that is something that is - you know these high profile star - guest stars have been greatly associated with your program.

Stephanie March: Well I think it speaks volumes about the writing and the opportunities there are for guest stars on our show to really do - play some odd roles and flex some different muscles. And if it attracts really great actors, which it does, it's because of the writing. We are also as cast, we are so lucky to have the opportunity to work with people like that. I mean to get up one day and work with you know Carol Burnett one day or Frank Langella the next. I mean that's pretty rich experience and I think it's all about the writing.

Neal Baer: Thanks, I think we're really fortunate. We don't seek out prestige, we seek out really talented actors and so we've been fortunate this year to have multiple Oscar nominees and winners like Ellen Burstyn and Brenda Blethyn and now Carol who's won many, many Golden Globes and Emmys. And we've been really fortunate to have won an Emmy the last four years in a row for acting with Cynthia Nixon, Les Caron, our own Mariska and Amanda Plummer. So I think that speaks to this wonderful quality of actor that we're able to attract because we try to write deep roles for them that will challenge them. And you know having Robin Williams for instance last year was such a treat and we'll continue to try to do that.

I was curious how Mariska (Hargitay) is actually doing, I know that she had a bit of a health scare earlier in the year.

Stephanie March: Oh I just saw her and she was showing me photos from things she's going to do to her bedroom at her new house in the Hamptons. So I think she's fine.

Neal Baer: She's fine.

Stephanie March: She's bouncing around like crazy.

Neal Baer: Never been better, you'll see her, she didn't miss any episodes as we said you know early on and I think she's in great shape.

Stephanie March: She's great. She's doing just fine.

Stephanie, you've done a little bit of everything in your time away from Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I love you on 30 Rock. Now when you do some comedy and then you do some drama, which do you find more challenging when you've kind of dabbled in both?

Stephanie March: Gosh, I don't - I think the - you know in comedy if the line is funny and you don't get the laugh you know you've just really screwed up. So the slap in the face is a little harder. But I think they both present their own challenges. I certainly like doing both and it's - and to be able to keep a balance working on different projects is really quite a luxury for which I'm very grateful. You know when I'm on the set at Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, of course the content isn't funny, but the other actors are hilarious. So doing my private life it manages to keep it a little bit lively.

Neal, you know the show has been on for so long now, is there ever a need to really shake it up? I mean these kind of things like bringing an old cast member back is great. But just the real format of it, do you ever want to shake things up or is more like it's not broke so don't touch it?

Neal Baer: Well I think format wise it's somewhat unpredictable if you look at each individual episode. For instance in the episode where Stephanie returns, it starts out in the courtroom. And so I always like to play with the format and it also has flashbacks which we rarely do. So it's always in service of the story and we try different things depending on what the story is because sometimes you'll see no courtroom, sometimes you'll see lots of courtroom. Sometimes you'll see only Maloni or Ice-T or Mariska for the most part. It just - you know you can't predict from week to week exactly who the show is going to be about, which of our main characters. But you know that we'll always solve a crime, that's not going to be played with.

Are there any episodes that really stand out? Because the show does cover some pretty heavy topics sometimes.

Stephanie March: Neal. I know this is for Neal.

Neal Baer: Well certainly the show where Stephanie got shot is a huge...

Stephanie March: That's the one I remember.

Neal Baer: ...memorable show. And then the show where Stephanie came back out of witness protection to testify was an extremely memorable show. And you know it depends, if it's a social issue episode, you know we have different kinds of shows. You know we have very intense shows or social issue shows I'd say like the show we did with Ellen Burstyn was quite memorable because we really got to understand Chris Maloni's character. Or when we met Mariska Hargitay's brother, that was a truly memorable show because we were able to put all the pieces together from all of the (unintelligible) from doing the show you know we like to do shows every so often, not frequently that pull together all of the little pieces from the past. And we had Jerry Lewis on, we really understood Belzer's character a lot better because that was his uncle. So for me, the show you know we try to make each one - each week start anew. We always try to make that one the most memorable. But certainly people have different favorites because they have different favorite characters or whatever. So I have no favorites, but I'm just telling you sort of what pops to mind because I like the show that always as I said solves the crime, but take us a little deeper. I love the show last year where Mariska was you know undercover in a prison and...

Stephanie March: Oh that was particularly good. I love that one.

Neal Baer: ...and so I thought you know it just depends - I love the one where Chris Maloni was dealing with a kid who was on steroids and had to deal with his own anger and whatever. So you know each year I have favorites.

And Stephanie?

Stephanie March: I mean you know what can I say, I'm an egotistical actress, the shows I like are the ones where I have lots to do. The one where I got shot I - it was particularly memorable for me for a lot of reasons. But I just - you know people would say to me in and of itself it was a beautifully written episode. It had a very clear problem and beginning and middle and kind of an open ended end. And I thought it was really elegant and I was so proud to be a part of something like that and it has always stayed with me. And the shows that deal with issues about children are particularly affecting for me. You can't help but think about how that plays out in real life and how much of it is taken from real life and it gives you pause for sure. And we have a responsibility to depict it as well as we can and I think the writers work really hard to make sure that happens.

Now you've compared being on the program to an old flame, so I'd like to know what was it like going back and would you consider going back for good?

Stephanie March: What's it like going back? Fun and sexy. That's the point. It's - the only reason to go back to an old boyfriend is because you think hmm, maybe. So you know that's all I'm going to say about it so far, but it's been a terrific experience being back on the show and everybody has been wonderful and I'm delighted to be here.

Was it kind of weird after all these years to kind of step back into that role?

Stephanie March: You know you think it's going to be really strange. It's remarkable how easy it is. I was sort of apprehensive before I came back, I thought what if it's just all awkward and all off? It's not, it's terrific. It's nice. This is a great group of people.

Neal, I was wondering, do you have a wish list of celebrities to be on a future episode of your show? Like any names in particular?

Stephanie March: Tom Cruise, Sean Penn.

Neal Baer: George Clooney. Well George you know I always think like maybe George will do it since I had him save a kid in a tunnel in ER early on. You know so you know but George is going to do ER this year, so you know certainly that won't happen this year. But yeah, but I don't like to say because a lot of times it just happens serendipitously where we get a part and somebody's available or they call us and they say hey, you know I really - you know we do have actors who call us and say can you write something for me? And we love doing that as well so we're just open to you know wonderful actors who want to really sink their teeth into some gritty material.

I also notice how you executive produce one successful show on NBC which was ER and then moved forward to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. SO let's say after your stint with Law & Order: Special Victims Unit do you see yourself executive producing 30 Rock or The Office or something?

Neal Baer: Well probably not a comedy.

Stephanie March: Yes Neal, tell us.

Neal Baer: Probably not a comedy but who knows, you know? Law & Order: Special Victims Unit I hope will go on for a number additional years and it's been - every year I think oh can we do this again and then human nature comes forward and shows me the twists and turns it's capable of. And we have more shows. So I think we have a lot more shows that we can certainly tell, we already have ideas for shows for next season. We have this year's season already planned out. So I know the last you know six episodes or however many we have left, seven, they're all being written and we have so many ideas fortunately that we're already thinking about shows for the future.

I know a lot of the episodes are based on current topics or hard pressing issues in society right now. Were there any topics that were discussed maybe during writing sessions or while making an episode that you and the crew decided maybe this wouldn't be good for television?

Neal Baer: Actually no. I don't think there's any time we've said we can't do...

Stephanie March: No, Neal's not afraid.

Neal Baer: So I don't know that we would - you know we won't do something that panders, we won't do something that's titillation. You know I think the total times we've shot a gun is like four times including when Stephanie's character got shot. I think Chris has shot twice and Mariska has shot twice maybe. But we just - we really abhor showing the violence. So we probably you know I can tell you we're not going to show bloody horrible gruesome stuff on the show because what's really intense on our show is the psychology that - the problems of the psyche. And that's heavy enough for us.

I was just thinking you know the octo-mom story obviously involves children. I was wondering if that has crossed your mind as being incorporated into an episode at all.

Neal Baer: Well we did a show last year, it's interesting called inconceivable which had stealing eggs from a fertility clinic. And that was with Janine Turner and so I'm not sure. I mean yes, we've talked about the issue. I don't know that we would do - we tend not to just rip from the headlines per se like a story that's so recognizable. I mean every so often you know we might, but we tend to do sort of the issues that are percolating. So I don't think that we would necessarily do octo-mom as a show to be quite frank. I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. But we might do a show about problems in infertility clinics and things of question, that's certainly would not be something we wouldn't do. But I don't think we would do it in the near future because we just actually did it last season and we explored a lot of those issues. Who owns the eggs? What happens when they're stolen? What are the problems? What about these you know physicians that will do anything to get someone pregnant? Maybe put them at risk, etcetera. So we just covered that not too long ago.

You can watch Stephanie March's return to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit as Assistant District Attorney Alex Cabot on Tuesday, March 10 at 10 PM ET on NBC.


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