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Sam Waterston talks about almost passing on Law & Order role

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

Sam Waterston may not have wanted to take the role of Jack McCoy, but he’s not giving it up now.

The Law & Order star talked about returning to his iconic role as the crusading District Attorney on the long-running hit series.

That included admitting he wasn’t sure about taking on the part in the first place but is happy for how it has changed his life.

Waterston was also pleased to return for the recent revival and put in the position of McCoy being the one barking orders to an underling. 

He also assured fans he has no plans of leaving the series anytime soon now that he’s finally returned.

Waterson’s words are a reminder of the icon that McCoy is for many fans and why he’s the heart of Law & Order. 

Sam Waterston on taking on the role of Jack McCoy

While it’s hard to imagine anyone but Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy, it almost didn’t happen. 

While an accomplished theater actor, Waterston had mostly avoided television except for the short-lived Q.E.D. series. 

He did star in the acclaimed NBC drama, I’ll Fly Away, which ended after two seasons. It was shortly after that Law & Order came calling, with Waterston hesitating.

As he explained to Parade Magazine, the actor was wary of following former star Michael Moriarty and “I didn’t foresee myself doing a lot of television.”

He changed his mind as he had to support his family and ended up staying on the show all the way to its original cancellation in 2010. By that point, McCoy had gone from an Assistant District Attorney to a full D.A. 

When it was announced Law & Order would return in 2021, it was only natural to bring back McCoy. Waterston admitted he was nervous about stepping into the role at his age but soon got back in the groove. 

“Obviously, time has done what time does. But it was so comfortable to be back that it was eerie. I felt like I was right back to where I was.”

That comfort comes up as McCoy now has the chance to be the boss, handling an often troublesome underling.

Sam Waterston on Law & Order evolving

Law & Order
Nolan Price (Hugh Dancy) faces Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) in the Law & Order Season 21 premiere. Pic credit: NBC

The current storylines are interesting as McCoy is now in the position of handling Hugh Dancy’s character Nolan Price, who pulls some of the same rule-bending moves McCoy used to do.

The two have butted heads as they respect one another but McCoy points out that winning a case is more important than satisfying Price’s ego. 

Waterston shared how creator Dick Wolf had said, “My character got to kill the bull. Now Hugh Dancy gets to kill the bull. And that’s fine with me!”

Waterston added how Law & Order hasn’t changed with “ripped from the headlines” storylines and the audience responding to them. 

“The producers still want to dramatize current events. And the appetite from the audience is still solid. It’s a good thing to have a TV show that talks about what’s fair, what’s justice and what’s the right thing to do. It’s a public service as well as entertainment.”

The question is, can McCoy can keep up the pace and continue as D.A. at his advanced age? Well, Waterston assures viewers he has no intention of leaving the series any time soon.

“The work is interesting and I really enjoy working so I can’t see any reason to stop. I think they’ll tell me when it’s time to leave. And if they won’t, I won’t do it.”

As fans are happy to watch McCoy continue his run on the show, Waterston is just as pleased to still have a chance to explore McCoy’s tenure as D.A. as Law & Order continues.

Law & Order Season 22 returns with new episodes Thursday, December 8 at 8/7c on NBC.

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