The SVU team is forced to prove they didn’t do shoddy police work when a powerful defense attorney decides to take on the case of a rape victim when Andre Braugher stops by for the first of three episodes on “Law & Order: SVU.”
When a young music student (Sofia Vassilieva) is raped at gunpoint in her apartment, the SVU squad has no trouble arresting a suspect. But the case doesn’t look so cut-and-dried when high-profile defense attorney Bayard Ellis (Braugher) works to undermine the police work and damage the victim’s credibility, forcing Bureau Chief Mike Cutter (Linus Roache) to try the case himself.
“He is a man with a conscious,” says Braugher of Bayard Ellis. “It is not so much about making a buck or making a name. He already has the reputation as a superb defense attorney. He had a crisis of conscience and decided to turn his resources and his intellect to those who don’t have those.”
Now, Braugher and Roache give XfinityTV the 411 on tonight’s episode.
Why does Bayard take this particular case?
Andre Braugher: It is pretty apparent in New York state that there is a problem with the stop and search laws. This is a civil liberties issue for many people in New York state, especially in Brooklyn, which seems to be targeted. Quite often the people who are least able to defend themselves are targeted the most.
This is an issue where the character of Bayard Ellis has decided to step in and use his resources to protect the people who are often most targeted. When you are a poor client, a poor defendant, you pretty much have to plead if you are going to get off [without jail time]. You most often end up pleading to felonies that basically follow you for the rest of your life. This is an opportunity to poke the state in the eye and suggest that there needs to be a re-examination of how the law is applied. That is basically Bayard Ellis’ position.
Does Mike step up and take over the prosecution of the case because Bayard is such a worthy opponent, or is he worried because the case is questionable?
Linus Roache: I think the moment that Andre’s character is in the game is the moment that Mike has no choice but to take this on. Because he knows just exactly, as Andre was saying, that Bayard has an agenda and he has the capacity and the power to completely pick this thing apart. If we haven’t dotted our Is and crossed our Ts within the prosecutor’s office, we are going to be in deep trouble. It is a matter of taking responsibility.
I didn’t quite realize what an interesting episode this would be because it really is talking about two aspects of justice. One is civil liberties and the rights of how someone is tried, but we are also looking for justice for the victim. They are both important. And Bayard is, maybe at the expense of letting a rapist go free, testing the system. Maybe you could also say that sometimes the state would over prosecute for the sake of the victim. Both are important and it is really importantly played out in this episode.
But to answer your question: that is why Mike Cutter has no choice. He has to take the responsibility for this particular prosecution.
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Could this be a recurring role for Andre? Would you come back? And what was it like working together?
Braugher: I am signed for three episodes and I begin the second episode tomorrow, so it is slightly recurring. I guess you would call this an arc. What is interesting for Cutter and Bayard is we never get the opportunity to interact freely, openly because we meet in court. What you see in court is really the testing of our ideas and really the sharp conflict between our two differing opinions of what justice is for my client and for the state on behalf of the victim.
I am happy to be here. The story telling is smart and it is sharp. You don’t find this kind of story telling everywhere, so I am pleased to be a part of this cast.
Roache: It is great to be back and to take the character of Mike Cutter and elevate and evolve him into a Bureau Chief. I have a whole new level of responsibility on my hands. I love being a part of smart television. I love things that are current and relevant and particularly dealing with moral issues. I think “SVU” is continuing the “Law & Order” intelligence and really leaving it up to the audience to decide, which is what I love about the show.
As Andre was saying, we don’t get to go head-to-head directly, but we play it out in the courtroom and that is the theater where we get to takes these positions, and it is a great theater to be in. That is why it makes great TV.
What is it like on the set without Christopher Meloni? And what do Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish bring to the show?
Roache: I think it is really interesting the angle they have taken. OK, Chris Meloni has left, but Mariska [Hargitay] is on and Mariska is a force. She is a wonderful actress and she is bringing the same commitment and intelligence. She carries the whole thing. Then you’ve got Danny Pino, who is fantastic. What a job to step into those shoes. I watched his first episode and that guy walked on the screen and you are in love with him right away. You want to follow him. Kelli adds a whole other flavor to it, so what I think it is smart about what they have done with the show is they are adding in a lot of ingredients and making it organic but really grounding it in what “SVU” has always been about, which is our emotional connection to justice. It is a very emotional show. It is highly charged. It is extremely engaging and it is smart. With all these cast members, you have a lot of flexibility, but it is staying true to its heart, which is why I think the audience will stay connected.
Andre, you had worked with Richard Belzer when he played his “SVU” character Detective John Munch on “Homicide: Life on the Street.” How did you two treat this unusual reunion?
Braugher: We have known each other for almost 20 years, so it was good catching up with him. One of the things that is true about Richard’s character is that Munch has been a member of all these different worlds. So when you see Det. Frank Pembleton [the character that Braugher played on "Homicide"] walk onto the set, you anticipate the character being the same as all the other crossovers that “Law & Order” and “Homicide” have done. There is a moment at the very beginning where Munch congratulates me on my second act and I wonder if I have met him somewhere before.
The “True Believer” episode of “Law & Order: SVU” airs tonight at 10 p.m. on NBC.