While Wheatley’s story arc wrapped up in this last week’s episode, his impact remains on the series, and McDermott is discussing how his personal life helped shape his performance as this villain fans loved to hate.
Richard Wheatley’s arc on Law & Order: Organized Crime
When Law & Order: Organized Crime began, Richard Wheatley was presented as a pharmaceutical CEO but with ties to drug smuggling. He was the son of a noted mobster and tried to present himself as an “upscale” man but was as much of a thug as his father.
Wheatley was a ruthless figure, including murdering his own father for weakness. When his stepson was caught selling his product without permission, Wheatley killed him.
Wheatley then convinced the youth’s mother, his ex-wife Angela (Tamara Taylor), that her son was killed by Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). Angela tried to hit back by ordering the murder of Stabler’s wife, Kathy.
Season 1 ended with Stabler arresting Wheatley. However, thanks to Angela throwing her testimony, Wheatley’s trial ended in a mistrial, and the charges dismissed. He then began enacting a plan to manipulate the stock market to make back his fortune.
Wheatley’s plot reached its height by shutting down power to New York City and trying to ruin Stabler. He and Angela were escaping when Stabler told Angela that Richard had killed his own son, Richie (Nick Creegan).
That pushed Angela to drive a car with her and Richard off a cliff into the water. Her body was found, but Richard’s wasn’t.
Speaking to the Associated Press, McDermott noted that his own personal experiences helped shape the role of Wheatley.
“My mother’s boyfriend was a bank robber when I was growing up. They all end up either dead or in prison. So, there’s no good stories there. He got his end, and it was not — not good. I was privy to a world that probably most actors would not be. And I always absorbed that, and I always took it in. And I hope one day to be able to use that, all that information in my own life and put it into a character. And then Richard Wheatley presented himself.”
His role has been daring to push the series on, and McDermott is opening up more on how it felt to play the character.
Co-stars praise McDermott as Wheatley
McDermott admitted he was surprised at how much NBC let him get away with, specifically how Wheatley is often shown smoking cigars on screen.
“I did things that I thought would rub against the network. That was also something that I wanted to do for the character because a lot of these guys smoke, frankly, and I know there was some concern, but then they let me do it. Ultimately, maybe because I was the bad guy … they let me smoke cigarettes, cigars and just sort of let me, let me go.”
Meloni praised McDermott’s turn in the role, saying, “he didn’t fall into the traps an actor could have tripped on. He is the villain for the 21st century.”
Nick Creegan added, “it was pretty much as twisted as you would think it would be. The fact that you just didn’t know what he was thinking kept you on your toes.”
While his turn as Wheatley is over, McDermott won’t be off-screen long. In late March, he’ll join the cast of FBI: Most Wanted as its new lead. McDermott explained he found TV a good way to continue a career when movie work seemed to dry up.
“My theory in my career has always been to run into the burning building, whatever that is. Back then, in the ’90s, if you went on a television show, it was a tip that your film career was in trouble.”
Given his long success in television, McDermott seemed to have made the right choice. While his turn as Richard Wheatley is done, the actor did make a huge impact with a performance that fans of Law & Order: Organized Crime will never forget.
Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2 airs Thursdays at 10/9c on NBC.