Tuesday, April 23, 2013
A Year & Six Seconds; August 2011
In 2005, Isabel and her 2 young sons moved back to New York after her husband left her for another woman. Although she was devastated, Isabel moved in with her parents and revived her acting career. Soon, she met Peter Lattman and fell in love. They got married the following year; Isabel is happy with her life now.
Before I went out to Ohio to start the new life of a professor's wife, I was the wife of Elliot Stabler (played by the steady and strong Chris Meloni), the lead detective on 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'. When the job started I was 28, unmarried, a bit in the clouds, a decent actor, and lucky. Usually on 'Law & Order' they don't bother with the lead characters' personal lives because the real star of the show is the crime. But the series was about sex crimes, and Dick Wolf, the creator, was not going to have an Irish Catholic male cop on the show talking about pedophiles without a nice wife and four small children at home (we now have five). I turned out to be that wife. I remember the audition as if it were yesterday...(Isabel appeared on the original 'Law & Order')
Josiah and I were supposed to go to Dallas to see his son, but because of the audition I didn't go. After reading the scene where my TV son's turtle gets killed in the disposal, I looked at Mr. Wolf and bravely said, "Mr. Wolf, I can play this part and I think you should give it to me. You see, I was supposed to go visit my future stepson in Texas, but because of this audition, I'm not and he will probably need a ton of therapy to deal with it." I said all this half-smiling and almost wide-eyed. Who on earth did I think I was, talking to one of the most famous and powerful television producers of all time like that?
"I know what you mean about therapy," he said in his sort of 1940s gangster-voice. "I'm going to be paying for it for my kids for the rest of my life!" He said all of that with a crackle and a twinkle, looking at his producing partner. Clearly to create the most influential and beloved television series in history, you have to miss a couple of class plays.
I laughed nervously and pretended that I knew exactly what he was talking about. "Yeah, well, I really would love the part," I said as if I need to say it. It was a part that changed my life.
Even though it was a great job to get it, it wasn't a huge part. The family and I were basically there just to illustrate the parallels between home and work life for Chris Meloni's character. If he was handling the rape case of a 6-year-old girl, he would personally struggle with it because of his own child, etc.
My character was consistently bummed out about how little her husband was around, always in a huge tent of a housedress and always stirring something on the stove. I wanted them to be happier than they were, and the rest of the country (mostly) wanted my husband and his partner, Olivia, to be together.
When I had called Ken, my longtime manager, from my front steps in Ohio to tell him I was divorcing and needed to go back to work, all he had to say was "Good luck." (Memories of casting are short)
I remember clicking off the phone and staring on the dead quiet of Elm Street in Ohio and thinking...Fuck
"Hey, it's Ken. So guess what? SVU wants to know if you are available to shoot in the next 2 weeks. I think you guys are divorcing," he said with no pulse.
"Oh great. I'm divorcing on real life and on NBC, how cool," I said drolly back. "But yes! I am free. I am nothing but free."
Now here's the thing: I had lost about 20 pounds. There is nothing a producer likes more than an actress who is thin as a rail. Thin=pretty in TV land, and America likes pretty. The scene I had in the episode was basically just standing next to Chris at our TV daughter's confirmation. I didn't say much, but they must have liked it because very soon after I got another phone call.
"Hey, it's Ken. So guess what? They want you back again. This time you are really divorcing," he said and he sounded amused.
"Hey, man, I'll get divorced for the rest of my life as long as I get top of show!" (Top of show is a pay scale thing in TV).
Instead of staying in one of the stark dressing rooms that are used for characters like mine who don't come in all that often, I lay on the floor of the squad room...For once in all my years on the series, they'd put me in a pretty dress, so I lay on the floor in that, breathed and imagined what it would be like if I could just have a moment to ask Josiah for clarity for a real answer. What would that feel like? My heart beat strongly under the buttons of the navy dress and my esophagus clenched. I stared up into the metal framework on the ceiling of the sound-stage where lights hung like grapes on a vine. I breathed and let the feelings simmer and grow until the crew had set the lights. I sensed grips and goffers respectfully walking around me, understanding that I was lying on the floor working. People who work on TV crews are the best. They are quiet and skilled and have a sixth sense about when to leave an actor alone because they are preparing to send a child off to war or do a love scene with a stranger. Makeup people came over to check my lipstick and I let them, but I never lost the space I was in that raw almost magical stance to come to life.
The combination of my weight loss, my teaching (I had been teaching acting at Oberlin, and it sharpen my chops in all ways, teaching rocks) and my personal life (in that order) was all I needed to nail the scene. I lived through that moment, the moment of asking your partner to act, to be responsible, and to make a decision. I was saying, "Don't fuck with me," but really I was saying, "Don't fuck with my children," and everyone heard it clear as a bell.
When we finished my coverage (when the camera is on me), the director and producer stood up from where they had been watching me on the monitor and applauded. They must have felt something and they were recognizing that it's not easy to come back to a major TV show when you have been gone then do what needed to be done in just a couple of takes. Chris squeezed my arm and gave me a wink, like, Nice job sister. I have never felt so relieved or proud and I had a feeling I was back. And, on TV anyway, I saved my marriage.
Chapter 17 (Isabel went on a blind date with 'Mark Finner', a friend of her friend Marina)
"That's silly. Why don't you know anything about money?" he said, calling me out.
"Well, I do, I mean I pay all the bills and I make money, sort of, did Marina tell you I am like the tenth banana on a TV show? I just don't know how money works in the world. Stocks and things."
"Well, chocolate ice cream," I said. I have been using since acting school. Once I had to cry for 4 days in a car because my TV character had been in a crash and the trauma of it put her into labor. The lovely, hugely talented and funny actress Mariska Hargitay had to deliver my baby in the ambulance. The two of us bawled for days on end in rubber shattered glass and fake blood, but when the action was cut and we had to go to lunch, I thought of chocolate ice cream cone at Billy's in Maine, and it was all over.