Dylan McDermott can’t get enough of being the bad guy.
The actor opened up on what drew him to the role of Law & Order: Organized Crime’s villain Richard Wheatley and what fans can expect when the character returns for Season 2.
The actor also shared his feelings on just why the franchise remains so popular today.
McDermott on how he plays Wheatley
Growing up with a mobster father, Richard Wheatley took a slightly different direction. He uses his pharmaceutical company as a front for various criminal enterprises, from drug dealing to selling vaccines on the black market.
Season 1 of Law & Order: Organized Crime had Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) working to take down Wheatley, who Stabler believed was behind the murder of his wife, Kathy.
The season ended with Wheatley arrested but trying to have his ex-wife Angela (Tamara Taylor) silenced before she could testify against him.
Speaking to Parade Magazine, McDermott shared how his unique background aided him in learning how to play the role. Growing up in New York’s Greenwich Village, McDermott had been around some actual mobster activity in the 1970s.
“I had waited on these guys as a bartender, as a waiter and as a busboy, so I knew the lay of the land. I had always watched; I’ve always been a great watcher and observer. So I think that the combination of having grown up that way, the clothes, the look, I think that all fell into place for me. And, certainly, the psychosis of this character being a malignant narcissist, I think all that stuff is really appealing to me. So it was an easy yes because I knew exactly who the guy was. By the time I stepped on set, I was more than ready.”
McDermott added that he felt close to the role of Wheatley
“Sometimes as an actor, if you understand something, you can play it. I think actors get in trouble when they don’t understand something, myself included. If you don’t understand it, you can’t play it. And I think that’s the most important thing. So I understand Richard, and I think that’s why people have responded because when you understand it, people are like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy.’ There’s something about him because that kind of narcissistic charisma is like a virus. People are attracted to it in a strange way, I don’t know why. You think, ‘This guy’s a bad guy,’ but then people like it. It’s so weird.
McDermott also gushed on working with Meloni and how they balance each other out on screen.
“Chris and I speak the same language. We went to the same acting school in New York, the Neighborhood Playhouse,” he shared. “I knew going into it that I would have to be formidable to go up against him. We would talk about the scenes, and we’d go through them beat by beat.”
That connection will no doubt help when the pair clash once more in the new season.
What’s next for Wheatley in Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2?
Wheatley will be taking more of a backseat when Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2 begins as Stabler is busy with a dangerous undercover assignment.
Photos for upcoming episodes show Wheatley on trial as he’s negotiating a deal with the federal authorities in hopes of either reducing his jail time or even having the charges against him dropped.
“A lot of these gangsters know they’ve got to go to jail; they know that they’re going to do time here and there along the way. So I don’t think he’s surprised,” he said of his character. “I think he looks at it as temporary, and he will be getting out and be back to business again.”
This season of Law & Order: Organized Crime will be split into three eight-episode arcs, with the first having the team tackling the Kosta Organization. The second, coming mid-season, will have Mykelti Williamson as a kingpin. It’s thus likely Wheatley will be the focus of the third arc.
McDermott is mostly silent on if Wheatley plans to go after Stabler again. However, he did share his feelings on why, after three decades, Law & Order remains such a watched franchise.
“I think that it’s an old friend. There’s something about the ability to turn on Law & Order anywhere in the world and know what you’re going to get. There’s a beginning, middle and end, and I think that’s really comforting for most of the world. There are only a few shows like that where people really feel comforted: Friends, Law & Order and Seinfeld. There’s only a handful of shows in the world where people actually relax into it and feel like they’re at home.”
While it may be a while before he makes his return, McDermott’s words show how, if anything, Richard Wheatley will be more dangerous than ever on Law & Order: Organized Crime.
Law & Order: Organized Crime Season 2 premieres Thursday, September 23 at 10/9c on NBC.