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Sam Waterston reflects on his return to Law & Order

Jack McCoy
Sam Waterston returns as Jack McCoy on Law & Order Season 21. Pic credit: NBC

Sam Waterston feels great being back as Jack McCoy on Law & Order.

In a new interview, the veteran actor shared more insight into returning to the franchise for Season 21 and how great it is to still be working at his age. 

Sam Waterston’s return as Jack McCoy

As soon as word broke that NBC would revive Law & Order in late 2021, fans were adamant that Waterston had to return as Jack McCoy.

Debuting in the Season 4 premiere, McCoy would soon become the face of the franchise. The Assistant District Attorney held nothing back in trying to bring down a guilty party and was not above bending a few rules to win in court. 

McCoy became the interim D.A. in Season 19, which became permanent the next year. He was still on the job when Law & Order was canceled after the end of Season 20 in 2010. 

Speaking to NPR, Waterston admitted he was wary at first of coming back to the role twelve years later. All it took was one set visit to change his mind. 

“It looked exactly like the same old sets, the same furniture, the same books, the same linoleum on the floor. I [had] wondered whether to do it or not do it … but the minute I was back there, I thought, What a fool I would have been to have missed this. It’s been fabulous.”

Waterston expanded on how the series changed his entire career and gave him a late-career boost. 

“I think Law & Order is a show to be proud of being in. And the other things that I might have done were not as exciting. It also permitted me and even enabled me to do other things like Shakespeare plays and Long Day’s Journey into Night on the spur of the moment, with my son playing my son. These things were made possible by … the celebrity that came with doing Law & Order. It made it possible on short notice to fill up a theater. Of course, the fact that John Slattery and Elizabeth Franz were also in the company helped a little bit, too. But Law & Order was definitely a big factor. And it kept me out of trouble. I might have wound up doing other things that I wasn’t as glad to be in — dumb roles or dumb projects. And let’s not leave out the fact that [my wife] Lynn and I had four kids who needed to go to school and go to college and Law & Order paid for it.”

So far, McCoy has done well as the D.A., handling aides Price (Hugh Dancy) and Maroun (Odelya Halevi) and reminding fans why he rose to this position in the first place. 

Waterston on casts and Law & Order/The Dropout connection

Sam Waterston
Sam Waterston returns as Jack McCoy for Law & Order Season 21 revival. Pic credit: NBC

Waterston added that, as ever, a key factor in Law & Order’s success is using Broadway actors as guest stars. 

“There are a lot of TV shows being shot in New York now, but when Law & Order started, it was basically the only show in town. And you couldn’t go to the theater in New York and read the program [and] most of the actors have been on Law & Order, too. And it was one of the things that made it possible for actors to continue to pursue the theater in New York. I’ve been and I remain an advocate for Dick Wolf getting a Tony Award for this, because I think he made a material difference to the theater in New York, and then New York theater paid him back by having really fabulous guest stars on Law & Order. It was like a parade.”

Waterston also stars in Hulu’s The Dropout, based on the true story of Elizabeth Holmes, whose supposed tech firm was revealed as a massive fraud.

As it happened, a Season 21 Law & Order episode revolved around a case clearly modeled after the Holmes scandal. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight, Waterston noted the odd timing but that it’s only natural for Law & Order to tackle the case.

“Well, it’s a big deal, isn’t it? And Law & Order is always taking its subject matter from the front pages of the newspaper. So, it’s not surprising that they would do it. It’s also a very disturbing story about us now. So, it deserves our attention because we need to learn from it.” 

Waterston wrapped it up by noting how happy he is to still be working at 81 years old and hoping to continue for more. 

“Time does take its toll, but working keeps you young. It helps to have a job because you have to show up. Somebody is expecting things of you, and you need to deliver. So it works for me.”

Law & Order fans are more than happy that Waterston shows no signs of slowing down to keep McCoy a top presence on the show.

Law & Order Season 21 returns Thursday, April 7 at 8/7c on NBC.

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