Actress Julianne Nicholson joined the cast of of Law and Order: Criminal Intent this season as Detective Megan Wheeler. Julianne has had a prolific career in both TV and film, appearing in Ally McBeal, Law & Order, ER and various others. Julianne stopped by to talk with us at BuddyTV last week. We discussed her start in acting, her time on Law & Order: CI, and what she has coming up in the future.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into acting? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Sure. It was something that I had wanted to do since I was very young, like 7 or 8 years old. But I didn’t actually start taking acting classes until I was 24. Where I grew up, it just seemed so far away and another world, I just didn’t think that I would be able to do that. And then moving to New York helped. I moved to New York when I was 18 and went to Hunter College and did some modeling and worked in restaurants and kicked around here for a while and in that time had met a number of people who were actors in varying stages of their careers and got hooked up with an acting teacher here in New York and studied with her for 2 years. And that was sort of my intro into the world. So it took about, you know, 20 years, but I got in it!
Can you tell us how you landed your role on Criminal Intent? I know you had appeared on the original Law and Order as a guest star; did that have anything to do with it?
I did do an episode of the original Law and Order about 5 years ago, which was thrilling because as a New York actor you really don’t feel like you’ve made it until you’ve done at least one of the Law and Orders. And then last season I did a show called Conviction, which was also a Dick Wolf production, and I think they became more familiar with my work through that show because we did 13 episodes. And then over the summer I was away and they called and asked if I would come back and do this one after we found out that Conviction wouldn’t be going any further.
On Ally McBeal you entered a cast that was an already established, well-oiled machine, kind of like you just did on Criminal Intent. Is that a difficult transition for an actor?
I imagine it could be, but both when I joined Ally McBeal and when I joined Criminal Intent, they were well into their show so I think they had worked out all the drama and grievances and whatever problems may have been there at one time, but I felt nothing but welcomed at Ally McBeal and here at Criminal Intent. Granted, I had a whole bunch of people to get used to at Ally, but here it was mostly just…Mr. Big.
Can you tell us how it is working with both Vincent D’Onofrio and Chris Noth?
Well, I actually don’t work with Vincent. Because we alternate episodes, I see Vincent around from time to time at a photo shoot or if we have days where we’re both filming our own episodes but I am primarily with Chris and it’s great. I mean, he knows his character so well, he knows the show so well, that I think he just instinctually has this amazing sense of just the very small things that could otherwise go missed or unnoticed. He is very good at it and he’s hilarious and irreverent and really makes me laugh.
You originated your acting career in New York, but you’ve worked in LA a lot lately. How nice is it to be back in New York, shooting on location?
It’s one of my favorite things about the show actually, yes. I mean, also, I lived in New York for 11 years and then I moved out to California for 4 years and then I’ve been back in New York for about a year and a half now and I really love it here. I’m from Massachusetts, I grew up on the East Coast, so I really feel a connection to this coast. Also, my husband is English, so we’re closer to his family. And just filming on the streets, it’s amazing to see people’s reactions to us and to the show because as annoying as it can be, if you’re blocking someone’s doorstep or shutting down the outside of a restaurant or any number of things that could be problematic, people 95% of the time are more just happy to see us and it’s very nice. Also, you get to see parts of New York that you never would otherwise. I think my first location was the Penthouse Club on the Westside Highway, so I was like, “Oh hey, I’ve never been here!”
Law and Order deals with a lot of “ripped from the headlines,” controversial issues, do your personal beliefs affect the role that you play?
Yeah, I think so, whether you even mean for that to happen or not. I mean, it depends on the character you’re playing and Megan Wheeler is definitely a character, but I can relate to certain aspects of her and I feel like overall she has a very big heart. We did one episode called “World’s Fair” that aired at the beginning of the year. That was about this young inter-racial couple and it was very moving and sometimes when you’re there filming certain scenes, it’s hard to not be affected by them.
What would you say has been your favorite case so far or favorite episode to film?
My favorite episode to film was one called “Weeping Willow.” And that was the one with Michelle Trachtenberg and a bunch of other great actors. It was based on this girl who was on YouTube for a while and there was a big scandal because they didn’t know if she was really filming herself or if she had a big corporate sponsor. So it was sort of a take on that, also Tom DiCillo directed it. He did “Living in Oblivion,” which is one of my favorite movies. He’s actually directing the episode that we’re filming now so I’m very excited about that. But I felt like that one was really different from a lot of the ones we’ve done before and very current and exciting. That was my favorite.
You’ve also done a lot of film work. Do you prefer one over the other; film or TV?
You know, I like both. Hopefully the subject matter is interesting and well written. Television allows me to have a roof over my head and I love the consistency of knowing where I’m going to be day to day. I love having that time to really discover who the character is by way of different experiences that they encounter week to week. But it’s also exciting to do film because you get to play a varied amount of characters and you know, a lot of times you get deeper into it in a shorter amount of time just because you only have a month or a month and a half as opposed to a full season. I feel really lucky that I’ve been able to do both, actually.
Do you have any favorite TV shows besides Law and Order: Criminal Intent right now? And if you could choose to guest star on one, what would it be?
I came to the show Arrested Development after, sadly, like most of the rest of America, after it was off the air. But I now have the DVD and I am obsessed with that. I would have loved to have been on that show. I think that cast is amazing, the writing is incredible; so funny and smart and outrageous. I wish I could have been on that.
I heard you were going to be in the film “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men,” can you tell us about that experience? That’s John Krasinski, right?
Yeah, John Krasinkski who plays Jim on The Office, he adapted the screenplay and also directed it. I filmed that in December, between episodes and then right up until Christmas really. I just felt so lucky to do that. One of the great things about Criminal Intent too is that I work every other episode, so I have, including weekends, 10 days on and 10 days off. John, bless him, really wanted me for this role and they just worked the whole schedule of the film around that so I was able to do it. John is amazing; from the first day on the set it just felt like he had been directing his entire life. He spent a number of years with the book and writing it and was really clear about what he wanted it to be and was very good at communicating that. I just love him. It was with Tim Hutton, Dominic Cooper from The History Boys, Lou Taylor Pucci, Max Minghella, Josh Charles, Joey Slotnick and just this amazing group of men coming in everyday and going through scenes, and I just felt so happy to be a part of it.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming episodes?
We have one that we just finished filming yesterday, which will air Tuesday. There’s a journalist who has been poisoned with polonium and we try to figure out who is responsible…I’m really bad at pitching. I’m really horrible at it.