Mary Beth Evans on Law & Order: SVU

September 19, 2008

After 2 ½ years back on “Days of Our Lives” it was fun to return to primetime and what better place then “Law and Order: SVU.”

It all came about with a conversation I had at this year’s Emmys with Bruce Evans, NBC’s SVP of Drama and Daytime Programming. What a great night sitting next to him! He is so funny, smart and entertaining. He tossed around an idea about “Days”‘ actors crossing over into the primetime shows he oversees. A few weeks later he called me and said he had just the right part for me. When he told me it would be another doctor, I think my first response was, “Could it be another character?” I play a doctor on “Days” and had just wrapped a scene where I was going on about “percentages of antidotes” and other miscellaneous medical jargon that would have given even Noah Wyle pause. Any actor who plays these parts knows the challenges of remembering and pronouncing this lingo correctly. It’s nothing short of a miracle and at the very least heart pounding! You go over it a million times, pacing the floors with your script and still you are unsure. Bruce convinced me it was the right part for me, so off to New York I went.

I had an easy flight and, as I love to do, I devoured as many magazines as I could. I stayed at The London Hotel in midtown Manhattan…what fun! It even has a wall switch to open the curtains. Very modern and made me feel like a complete dufus that it took me so long to figure out how to get the curtains open.

The next day I had a costume fitting at the “SVU” sound stage outside the city. I was given the street corner in the city where a van would pick me up. When I hopped in, there were a bunch of actors as my company for the trip. As I got to know my fellow passengers, I learned that a lot of them do this show quite often. A clerk, a policeman, a judge… so on and so forth. In fact, there is a whole network of New York actors who do this show on a regular basis. They were real characters and I laughed a lot.

We arrived at the “SVU” studio lot, which was exciting, and nothing like I imagined… just some warehouses off the highway. There was no giant studio complex like we have in LA. What was familiar to me was the easygoing atmosphere. It’s a place where people have worked together for a long time and felt very casual, caring and familiar. One cast member’s dog was walking down the halls, another cast member’s child was on a toy car zooming through the corridors with a teamster minder in tow. It reminded me of our “Days” studio where cast and crew are really like family. We all are concerned for each other and always want to hear the latest update of each other’s kids and lives. That is truly one of the nicest parts about being on any kind of continuing series… the camaraderie, the family!

The costume fitting went off without a hitch. Amy and the other gals were so welcoming and helpful. The wardrobe for this character, “Dr. Eichenberry,” was not quite the glamour of daytime, but I did get to wear my oh-so-favorite white polyester doctor coat. Let me tell you what a sweat factory that is! But since I wear one on “Days,” I was prepared. It was quick and painless and soon I was back in the van to return to the city.

The next day my call time wasn’t until 11:15. I was told that Sammy, a teamster, would pick me up in an old brown unmarked detective car. I later found out it’s the detective car they use on the show…cool! Sammy is a seasoned veteran of “SVU” and gabbed the whole way out to the studio. He was wonderfully entertaining. I was assigned to a dressing room that was 2 doors down from Tamara Tunie, an actress I worked with on “ATWT.” She wasn’t in that day, but still it was nice to see a familiar name.

If I told you that the squad room set is large, it would be an understatement. It is so amazing. It has rooms, offices, hallways, holding cells and all the detective desks. It must be such a luxury to leave that set up all the time. The set I would be working in was a small room at the back of the sound stage made to look like a seedy hotel. There were a bunch of people packed in this little room; sound guys, camera guys, camera dollies, lighting guys… it was crowded and with that darn doc coat… I was heating up!

The director, David Platt, was an affable man — very warm, and friendly. He gave me my blocking (moves) and they went about lighting the scene. At that first meeting I also met Ice T. who was definitely a cool guy. Chris Meloni was stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel so I went back to my dressing room and went over my doctor lingo for the hundredth time and waited to be called to the set.

Once back on the set for the second time I met Chris. What a nice guy…friendly and chatty. It is so apparent that everybody is really comfortable around each other and has the whole production and characters down pat.
The challenge for me (besides being a stranger in a foreign land) is that on “Days” we shoot a scene pretty much one take with 3 cameras. They edit as they go. On “SVU” it is one camera and a bunch of takes for long shots, close-ups, etc. That was a bit of a brain cramp with all the medical mumbo jumbo. But all in all, it went well.

After the scene was over, we all said our goodbyes and off I went, back in the car with Sammy.

It was a whirlwind and as I rode back to the city I thought, “What an experience.”

Thank you to Bruce for sending me on my journey. Maybe someday I can take that van with the other actors, only next time I’ll be playing a perpetrator, a victim or a cop…who knows?