What is it about this role that brought you back to television?
Terrence Howard: Well, I had just finished playing Nelson Mandela for nine months and one of the most important aspects of him was his legal appetite and his appetite for more rightness. Turns out, when we finished the movie, I wasn’t finished being a lawyer. So when I got the call from Dick [Wolf] to possibly join this team and work on something that was honest, challenging, and something with a great history, I mean, what do you say to that?
Throughout your career you’re known for bringing a certain level of intensity to your roles. How did you approach the role of DDA Jonah “Joe” Dekker?
The first thing that I did was to spend time in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. I actually spent a great deal of time exchanging numbers with a lot of different attorneys and judges there, who gave me the opportunity to sit down with them in the Judge’s Chambers, mock play some things out and walk me through the courtroom. One of the things that I learned from the (Lilly Gray) District Attorney here is that when you have a witness on the stand, you position yourself between that person and their attorney so that they can’t get cues from them. So picking up on little things like that, knowing how to approach a particular defendant, and speak with the authority of the law really gave me a better sense of being inside a courtroom and better prepared me for the role.
What have you found most challenging about this role?
The real challenge is that the cases are real occurrences or as close to real as you can get. I know real people’s lives were affected by what we’re doing and the choices that we’re making so to make them all personal while still trying to remain professionally distant from them, it’s hard. It’s like there’s an episode that I ended-up breaking down and crying while I was questioning somebody on the stand. Now I know that that doesn’t really work for television, but I became emotionally involved with what she had gone through. So the most challenging things is trying to not become the father in the situation but just be the attorney.
Can you talk about the similarities between actors and attorneys and how that’s useful when stepping into character?
I’ve often been told that great attorneys would be tremendous actors and actors would make marvelous attorneys. Anytime you’re sitting inside of a situation where you have to adapt to an audience, a jury, and be forced to improvise because of new information being presented or a change in the script or a change, well, all of those things are just part of being present and in the moment. And I think most great attorneys — prosecuting attorneys or trial lawyers — have to be very present in the moment, they have to listen, and they have to have an intelligent response. They’re great debaters, actors and attorneys.
How does signing on to a series that could potentially last for a decade impact your movie career?
You know what’s interesting, a couple of years ago I was in Toronto and I bumped into a friend of mine Reese Witherspoon and she said to me, she said you’re doing too many movies. You’re doing too many movies so I had to think about what she was saying and it was true. I was just jumping on whatever I could jump on because I just wanted to keep working. With this TV show, I’ll do less films — mabye one or two good movies a year — but better quality films.
LAW & ORDER: LOS ANGELES airs Wednesday night at 10PM on NBC (“A” Channel in Canada)