ELIZABETH MITCHELL and NEAL BAER Interview
Elizabeth guest stars as “June Frye” and Neal is the Executive Producer
Watch LAW & ORDER: SVU “Totem” Wednesday, March 30 at 10 PM EST on NBC
March 29, 2011
By Lena Lamoray
“Totem” Airs 3/30/11, 10 pm ET CAPTAIN JACKSON (GUEST STAR JEREMY IRONS) RETURNS WHEN DETECTIVES BENSON (MARISKA HARGITAY) AND STABLER (CHRIS MELONI) INVESTIGATE THE MURDER OF A YOUNG GIRL. When a young girl is found dead with a doll that is believed to have been left as a totem, detectives Benson (Hargitay) and Stabler (Meloni) team up with Captain Jackson (Guest Star Jeremy Irons), a psychologist who assisted them with a recent case, to investigate her murder. Jackson joins the detectives as they retrace the girl’s last steps and go to meet with her piano teacher June Frye (guest star Elizabeth Mitchell). Jackson’s skills prove to be invaluable in deciphering the meaning of the totem and ultimately finding the murderer.
I spoke with ELIZABETH MITCHELL and NEAL BAER about this week’s episode of LAW & ORDER: SVU entitled, “Totem”. Elizabeth plays “June Frye” and JEREMY IRONS reprises his role as “Captain Jackson”. I got a chance to ask Elizabeth about her character in SVU and my favorite character that she has ever played, “Linda” in GIA. I adored her role in GIA. It was such a great honor to speak with Elizabeth and she was so polite. Elizabeth has been featured in various series and films, a few of which are: “V”, “Lost”, “The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause”, “House M.D.”, “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”, “ER”, “Gia” and “Boston Legal”. I am looking forward to watching Elizabeth Mitchell, as well as Jeremy Irons this week so do not miss it. Watch LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT on Wednesday night at 10 PM EST only on NBC.
Lena Lamoray: You’ve played so many incredible characters but my favorite was Linda in GIA. Can you talk about one that was your favorite and how they compare to June?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Sure, yes, I loved the role of Linda, too. It was probably the closest to me I’ve ever played just because, you know, she was a young woman who fell in love and she was kind of her own little person, you know, nothing exceptional. I’ve always thought of myself as very much like Linda so – and kind of enjoyed the piece that she had. I’ve enjoyed a lot of them. I mean I loved Juliet. I don’t think I’ve ever played anyone like June before ever. I just – I haven’t been given the opportunity, maybe I haven’t sought it out because I wasn’t ready to do it. But June is completely unique. She’s like a child and to have that sort of emotional resonance that a child has with your anger, with your fear, with your even tentative joy, and to have that as a child it was a very interesting experience and completely different than anything I had ever done before. But most of the women I play are pretty solid within themselves and she most definitely is not.
More Conference Call Interview Highlights:
Q: Was it intimidating for you to join the cast of SVU?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Intimidating, yes, I had done it once before and, yes, of course it always is when you’re going to be working with people that you admire and respect but I never really see it as an intimidation. It’s more just a challenge and an excitement I guess. So it’s always an honor, that’s for sure.
Q: What was the challenge of it?
Elizabeth Mitchell: The challenge is that you want to make sure that you keep your work to the high quality that they’ve already set really and that’s the fun of it really. I’ve been doing this, you know, probably, like, 30 years and I always like going into new places. It’s fun.
Q: There’s been an incredible list of actors who have appeared on the show. Have you thought of joining the team as a regular? And in the past and prior to this role, were you a fan?
Elizabeth Mitchell: I have been a fan many, many times. I do watch the show. I really like Law & Order. I like the way that it’s set up and I like the quality of the people that they get, which was kind of fun to be part of it at this point. But the – a regular, I don’t know, they don’t need it. They certainly don’t need me. They have so many wonderful people.
Q: Neal, you’ve been writing great story lines for these amazing actors. What is the process that you go through in selecting these guests? And do you have the sort of waiting list of people trying to get on?
Neal Baer: Well, for this show – this is Jeremy Iron’s second episode. We knew we were doing two with Jeremy. So I knew that we’d been holding a story for about – ever since I started on the show 11 years ago. We just didn’t feel that we were able to tell it right. And when we had Jeremy – because it was a show about a psychiatrist who works with a woman who’s accused of a terrible, terrible crime. And so when we had Jeremy already because he was slated to do two shows, we thought about whom we should cast to play this woman. And I’d worked with Elizabeth twice before, once in ER when I introduced her character when she came on ER and some years ago on SVU in a very different role. So she immediately came to mind because she’s such a wonderful actor. And so we have – we’re very lucky that we have so many great actors who come on our show. And we don’t really have a waiting list. We go out to people we think would be right for different episodes. And we just always from the beginning thought of Elizabeth for this role. And we wanted somebody who could, you know, really be right with Jeremy Irons. And I’ve got to tell you that Elizabeth gives a brilliant performance, one of the best I’ve seen on SVU.
Q: Elizabeth, tell us a little bit about your role in this upcoming episode?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Yes, I’ll tell you what I can. It takes some twists and turns and I’d like to kind of have that – a little bit of the mystery kind of stay in there just because I think it’s more interesting for me as a viewer, as a fan to watch. But I play a piano teacher who is – given all appearances, you know, very good at her job. And she is accused of a really terrible crime involving one of her students. And we go down a road and we see her story unfold and it is – it’s horrific and it’s sad and it happens. So I think that’s pretty much what I can tell you but I do know that I was very intrigued by her and just how child-like she was. It was very interesting for me. And also the fact that I got to do so much with Jeremy Irons who was everything you’d want him to be.
Q: How did this role affect you? I mean when you’re going through the process and realizing what your character could possibly be involved in, if you could elaborate on that a little bit?
Elizabeth Mitchell: You know, I’m not someone who easily sheds things but I do kind of have to otherwise, you know, I go home to my family and I’m impossible. So I think that I felt like it was very sad. I felt like it was very toxic but I also felt intrigued by the idea of giving victims somewhat of a voice because in some ways this woman – in many ways this woman is an incredible victim. So that was intriguing to me. So I would let it go by the end of the day but I found it very weighty. I normally am a big flirt and I walk around set and I joke with everybody and I don’t think I made one joke. I was very serious and it was very important to me to be as honorable with the subject matter as I possibly could. And we all felt that way.
Q: Elizabeth, we know that you are obviously a big fan of sci-fi and you’ve been doing quite a lot of that lately. How easy is it to sort of switch back and forth between something so fantastic and sort of other worldly and something like this which is, obviously, much more real life, much heavier in terms of subject matter?
Elizabeth Mitchell: I find sci-fi to be wonderful because it is fanciful and much easier to not go home with the fact that I had to kill an alien that day, you know, but I find that beautiful words, well-written words, which has been the case for both of my times on Law & Order and also working for Neal on ER, are why I wanted to be an actor, why I love being an actor, what I studied when I was a kid, what I hoped for. So even given the tragic nature of the subject matter the words were beautiful, the scenes were beautiful. They had an incredible structure and I felt that there was an ease to the doing, and that’s not saying that my character was easy. I’m just saying there was an ease to the doing because it was really well-thought out. I don’t know if that helps you but that’s how I feel.
Q: You’ve played so many great characters, what do you find that fans are most willing or most eager to talk to you about these days?
Elizabeth Mitchell: You know, people – it really depends. I never quite know. It was Lost for the longest time and then it started to be people knowing more about V than I thought they did. And people still ask me about, you know, ER and I have a very loyal bunch of people who kind of watched Gia and then had rediscovered it as it went out. So – and then of course there’s a whole bunch of people who you never expect who really like Santa Clause 2. So I get a lot from different areas and I never know what it’s going to be. And sometimes it’s just that I went to college with someone so I have to be really careful about thinking that I know what people are thinking or feeling.
Q: What’s your advice to actors?
Elizabeth Mitchell: My advice, you know what, I’m that really horrible person that you think I’m going to say something brilliant and unique and I’m not. I’m such a big fan of studying. I’m such a big fan of really learning your craft. I spent 15 years doing theater before I ever got in front of the camera and I’m so grateful for that. It’s helped me in every step of the way, especially going in on auditions where, you know, I should be petrified but I’ve been doing it for so long I just kind of do it. So I believe in study. I believe in finding something that works for you and continuing with it. And the people I know who are successful, the people I know who love what they do seem to do a lot of work. And it doesn’t have to be intellectual always. It’s more just kind of immersing yourself in the love of your craft. But I – that’s as I said, it’s not an exciting answer but it is what I believe.
Q: Elizabeth, can you tell us the difference between June Frye and the last time you were on as Andrea Brown.
Elizabeth Mitchell: Yes, absolutely, two completely – I mean so different. It actually – you know, I was thinking, how are they going to do that? How are they going to have me come back on? Even though it was so long ago but they’re – the woman I played before was a mother and that’s who she was at heart, that’s where her protection came from, that’s where her life came from, that is who she was if only for a very short period of time. And her actions were all because of that, her actions were out of love, in my way of thinking. Everyone will have a different point of view – and protection, there was no ego. It was all just protection and love. And the woman I am playing now is very much a victim who is still lost in the storm of that. She might – most certainly hasn’t made her way out of that storm. And as such you’re just talking about someone who is almost not fully formed as a person and is seeking all kinds of things. It’s like a case of Arrested Development. So, you know, one, you’re dealing with a maternal adult and in my mind, of course, you know, Neal will have his point of view of this but in my mind in this particular case with June you’re dealing almost with a child.
Q: Neal, you mentioned that Totem’s been basically sitting around for 11 years. Where did the original idea for it come from?
Neal Baer: Well, there are very few women who have ever been accused or actually have committed this terrible crime that is the focus of this story, which is abusing and killing a child. And we just felt that it had to be right for us to do it. So we’ve talked about it off and on for 11 years but we just never felt, as I said before, we had the right combination until Jeremy came on to take the part of the psychiatrist and then we felt we were able to do it. And then we wanted Elizabeth to play the part. And I wholeheartedly agree with what she said. This woman is – been very arrested in her development because of what’s happened to her and what she’s done. And it makes for, you know, one of the most compelling episodes we’ve ever done, and we’ve done a lot of compelling episodes. So it really is a hyperbole where, you know, we have all seen it and we just sit there stunned watching it because it is so real in the performances that Elizabeth and Jeremy give that you feel, you know, that you’re actually there in the room watching this all occur because it’s so real and compelling and honest. And I think that that, you know, makes for good story telling. You really come to understand this character of June and why it’s happened and takes you to a place where you really think about, you know, what – how some people’s lives through no fault of their own can take turns that are pretty horrifying. And it gives you some understanding. You know, as I said before – and Elizabeth just creates the character in such a brutally honest way that we needed an actor who would go to that dark, dark place and have no – so she doesn’t have any – what’s so interesting about it is she has no fear of going to this place and so – it’s just so hard to talk about without revealing stuff. But she just – it’s so brutal and I think that that’s what makes it so compelling, an hour that you won’t soon forget.
Q: Elizabeth, are we going to see you on V? Is there another season?
Elizabeth Mitchell: I have no idea. You know, it’s okay. You know, what’s funny? I think if I were a young, single actress it would be different but, you know, I have a family so I tend to, you know, go back and have the myriad of duties associated with that. And I tend to be, like, God, of course, yes, I should be frustrated but I’m pretty good about it.
Q: Neal, did you have to work around Elizabeth’s schedule to be scheduled to do her role?
Neal Baer: No, we were lucky that she was available. We checked pretty far in advance because we really – as I said, we knew if we were going to go down this road we needed to have an actress who could do this and she was our first choice. So, you know, her schedule was free we found out, you know, about a while before, I think it was almost maybe two months before because we really – we knew that if we were going to do it we had to do it right. So it wasn’t – they were very – they knew what the schedule was so it was great for us.
Q: Elizabeth, do you prefer playing good guys or bad guys?
Elizabeth Mitchell: You know, I’m funny and I always have been. I really kind of like playing heroes. I have a definite streak of wanting to be really good – a really good person and a really good sister and a really good mother. So – but I have found that – maybe it’s how I look. I don’t know what it is. I get offered a lot of really complicated women and I actually like complicated. Complicated is interesting to me. So I don’t know if I could say good or bad because it’s my feeling that everyone in their life, and maybe that’s just how I am, searches to be the best they can be. It’s just at what so you have to be a little cautious. So I like both I think. I think there is something incredibly unique about going far outside of yourself. It enables you a kind of freedom that you don’t have if I were just playing myself. I’d be a little bit more guarded I think.
Q: We heard a little bit about how you like to be kind of funny and goofy on set but you don’t get to do many of those roles. Are you more attracted to these roles that are serious? Are you not getting offered too many of the lighthearted comedies?
Elizabeth Mitchell: I don’t get – I get offered every once in a while a lighthearted comedy but for some reason with scheduling it never seems to work out. I’d love it. It would be really fun for me. I am a goofball. As such I don’t know if I’m a gifted comedian. I most definitely am a goofball and I make people laugh but I don’t know if it’s with pity or because I actually have a degree of talent. But no, I – of course, I would love to do a comedy. I think every serious actor will tell you that comedy, I think, is so much harder. You know, with drama you access yourself and with comedy you do too but it’s just a bit of a higher truth. It’s hard.
Q: Neal, online you’ve been tweeting about Elizabeth and about the upcoming episode and you tweeted us that her performance – you called it unforgettable. And I wanted to find out from you what it is about watching Elizabeth and her acting that you feel is so unforgettable?
Neal Baer: There’s not a moment – not a false moment in the performance and I’ve seen the show over and over because we go through editing. And it’s a very nuanced performance and because of the story matter it’s so horrific that – and so upsetting that you’re with this woman and you just want to reach out to her and you want to try and understand what she’s gone through because it’s – she’s – because the crime is so terrible. So I think all of those things, and for the most part the honesty – you know, when we were talking about the part I was very insistent. I talked to both our makeup person and our wardrobe person on this show, and that doesn’t happen very often, and I said, you know, I had very specific ideas in mind for this character. And I said, two things; one is no makeup, she’s a piano teach who’s really closed herself off from life; and two, very, very simple clothes, just, like, a blouse, a little skirt, and a (unintelligible). It was so clear to me, this character. It’s so funny – and a sweater. And I even knew the colors. It was very interesting. So I guess I had this character so in my head. And then when I saw, you know, Elizabeth in the role it just all worked so perfectly. You know, it’s just like – it doesn’t happen – I mean we have really great shows but to have it happen so perfectly in this episode, you know, is – that’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this one in particular and I want people to see it because I feel we really just hit it on all cylinders with all the characters, Elizabeth, Jeremy, Mariska, and Chris that the three of them really worked with her throughout the show. Mariska has moments with her as well. And Chris is in the scenes too that it’s just all at peace and you just go, wow, it really worked out. And the directors, Jonathan Kaplan – and I have to say that Jonathan – I worked with a lot on ER and SQ and Jonathan directed Jodie Foster’s first Oscar-winning performance in the Accused. And so we just had it all right I think in this show that we had all the elements together, that’s why I actually want people to watch it this week because it is really special.
Q: Elizabeth, you’ve been on a few shows now with a super rabid fan base and we were wondering what kind of support that means to you as an actor and if it gives you a greater sense of responsibility to your audience?
Elizabeth Mitchell: Do I feel like I have a responsibility? You know, it’s funny. I do believe in honoring – I believe in one’s honoring oneself. And I believe that if you behave with honor that that kind of encompasses a lot of people. So it’s not so much as a wanting to please as it is a wanting to honor. So do I want to honor the people who have been so supportive of me? Absolutely, but at the same time I believe that the people who have liked me have hopefully liked my honesty and the fact that I try not to do anything that feels false to me. I’ve been so lucky, and I know that a lot of people say that, but I go into the world – I’m just as me and I’m met with a tremendous amount of support and intelligence and that’s meant a lot to me, and it’s been that way for me for a long time. I’ve had people – people always start with the most polite thing of I’m so sorry to bother you and I’m not trying to make a sense and do you mind if I just – so I seem to have the most polite supportive kind of intelligent group of people you can possibly imagine. So I don’t really know how you can get better than that. I’ve never felt nervous or overwhelmed or anything. I just – I’m appreciative. It kind of feels like we’re all in it together.
Q: Elizabeth, I’m curious to know, you’ve been a series regular on several shows and now an SVU guest star. Is there a different approach you take to a role in a guest starring situation?
Elizabeth Mitchell: I don’t know if the difference of an approach – I do feel like being a guest star on a show for me is like doing a mini-movie. You get to be a little bit more selfish. You get to do a little bit more – it’s exciting in a way. I don’t set the tone on set. I’m a guest and the other people’s shows and their lives, all of that and I treat it accordingly. I’m incredibly respectful about what world I’m in, what house I’m in, who’s family I’m in. And it’s fun. But – so there is a tremendous amount of freedom because I’m not the backbone. I simply get to come in and be the foliage and I seriously like that. It’s fun.