Exclusive Interview: Sam Waterston, from 'Masters of Science Fiction' and 'Law & Order'
Exclusive Interview: Sam Waterston, from 'Masters of Science Fiction' and 'Law & Order'
Sam Waterston is most well-known as Assistant District Attorney Jack McCoy on the durable drama Law & Order. Fans can see him on TV multiple times a day thanks to the immense popularity of the show's numerous reruns. This Saturday at 10pm on ABC, viewers can see a different side of Waterston when he stars in the first segment of a four-part anthology series titled Masters of Science Fiction.

The series takes sci-fi stories from notable authors in the field and is narrated by Stephen Hawking. People expecting robots and aliens and massive ray guns will be in for a surprise, because the first installment starring Waterston, "A Clean Escape," is a psychological piece dealing with a man with severe memory loss, though it's set in the future with plenty of sci-fi twists.

Sam Waterston spoke to BuddyTV about how he got involved in Masters of Science Fiction and also about taking over the role of lead district attorney on Law & Order after 13 years.  Below you will find a complete transcript of our interview, plus the mp3 audio file.

Hi, this is John from Buddy TV, and I'm talking with Law & Order star Sam Waterston, who appears in the upcoming ABC anthology series Masters of Science Fiction. Hello, Mr. Waterston!

Hi, how are you?

I'm OK. My first question is, what attracted you to this new project?

Well, the people involved in it first. It's produced by my manager Keith Adams, obviously I have a good relationship with him, and furthermore I really respect his intelligence. And then Gene Reynolds and Judy Davis, with whom I worked on the episode that I did, and that just made it irresistible.

Are you a fan of science fiction?

I guess I am, but not an addict of any kind. I mean, I enjoy reading it, but it's not an obsession of mine by any means.

Well, I caught a copy of your segment, and it's a lot different from what most people might expect from science fiction. You hear those terms, and you think aliens and robots. This is more of a psychological thing.

Yes it is, but it's set in the indefinite future and the unknown future. So it is a high-tech future, so I think it's legitimate like all mechanic-oriented science fiction.

Oh yes, definitely. And I'm just wondering, because the character that you play… without giving too much away, he's a lot different from the character you play on Law & Order.

Well, I would hope!

Yeah, on Law & Order Jack McCoy is very confident, always giving those stirring closing speeches. And here, your character is more fragile and uncertain of himself. I'm wondering, how did you handle that change?

Well this guy's an amnesiac, and he doesn't know where he is. So his lack of confidence is rooted in some firm reality.

And how do you approach that? Coming into every scene, essentially your character starts with a blank slate, not remembering the previous scene. As an actor, how do you handle starting over, without any previous knowledge of the scenes you've already done?

I imagine there's a thousand ways to do that, but in this case we really dove into the deep end of the pool. It was more an act of courage, just being confident that Gene and Judy would be there to catch me, and they were. So it got to be an awful lot of fun because it was performing without a net, and with a really fantastic team of people. And there really isn't anything that's more fun than that.

And what would you say is the primary difference in working on a project like this, versus the procedure that's been around forever on Law & Order?

Well, the word ‘forever' is the difference, I think. It may be something brand-new, all aspects of this are brand-new. And in this kind of anthology program that sheds the director, the team is all new. So you either hide in the corner, or you take a flying leap, and we took a big jump.

Speaking of Law & Order, it was announced officially this week that your character is being promoted to the head D.A., and I'm wondering…

You're kidding!

Oh, did I scoop that for you?

Jeez. Tell me something else, what else?

I'm just wondering what that change will bring. How will that change your character and your dynamic on the show?

I hope it doesn't change the character or his attitude towards his work, and I don't think it will. It changes his position and a lot of the procedure will change, but I don't think his nature will change, that would be too bad.

Yeah. And are you familiar with the actor replacing you, Linus Roache?

I haven't met him yet, but I'm really looking forward to it. He's got a long line of really interesting credits. Dick Wolf has this way of pulling rabbits out of the hat over and over again, and I'm pretty confident that he's done it again.

I suspect he will, because it's the show that just, it's a revolving door cast. Except for you, you've been there now 13 seasons.

Well, I'm not the only one. There's a lot of people who have been here on Law & Order for a long time, I happen to be one of them. It is a revolving door, but there are also people that stay. And actually, you should talk about behind the scenes.

I thinks it's really a major reason why the show remains good, is because there is a kind of corporate membrane of how to do it that's built into the cast somewhat, and into the crew in a hugely important way. I think it's what keeps the standard up.

And finally, do you see yourself sticking around for the long haul until the show's over?

You don't think this is the long haul? (laughter)

It's certainly the long haul, but the show could theoretically go on indefinitely.

One never knows, do they? We'll just see what tomorrow brings, but as far as this season is concerned, I'm looking forward to it with a lot of curiosity. Because playing this other position with the same character, with all the baggage that he has, and all the thoughts that he has about the position that he's about to take up, promises to be really interesting. I'm looking forward to it. But we're not here to talk about that, we're here to talk about science fiction and “Clean Escape.”

Yeah, and with the Masters of Science Fiction, getting back to that, it's narrated by Stephen Hawking. I was just wondering if you got a chance to meet him during it?

No, no I didn't. I'd love to meet him, but he sent them in. He didn't come to where we were in Vancouver. In fact, I'm not even sure where he was when they recorded it.

And would you be interested in doing more of this kind of work, this one-off anthology series?

Sure, I'm interested in any material that's good in any medium.

And it is definitely good. I saw it, and I was thoroughly captivated. I went along for the ride, and there are a lot of interesting twists, both psychologically and plot-wise that definitely get you thinking.

Well, if you keep telling it like that, then I'll keep wanting to do these kinds of things. Because that's the bottom line, is if it pleases people and if it's interesting work, then that's what you want to do.

I suspect it'll please a lot of people, because these people are very familiar with you, a chance to see a different side of Sam Waterston.

Oh good, I hope they watch.

So thank you very much for talking to us, Sam!

Thank you, nice to talk to you.

-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(Image courtesy of NBC)