Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Remembrances from a Ubiquitous "Law & Order" Guest Actor: An Interview with James Lloyd Reynolds

One of the best things about the epic "Law & Order" TV franchise is how often each series tapped into the reservoir of talented, New York-based actors who come from a strong theater background for guest roles.  The format of each of the "Law & Order" shows--where the regular characters often interacted with potential witnesses, suspects, victims, and bystanders throughout the course of their work--frequently featured meaty one-scene parts for an actor to come in and make a strong impression within a short amount of screen time.  In the last 25 years, the many guest actors who reappeared in different roles throughout the franchise created an unofficial stock company of the best acting talent that New York has to offer.  One of the pleasures while watching all the different "Law & Order" shows is how it allows fans an opportunity to spot the reappearance of a guest actor who already appeared in a different role in an earlier episode from one of the multitude of series set in the universe of New York City's criminal justice system.  In the course of his or her career, a single actor could end up playing a variety of different kinds of characters on one or more of these shows.

One of the many fine New York-based character actors who has appeared multiple times on different "Law & Order" shows is the gifted and talented James Lloyd Reynolds.  A Masters of Fine Art graduate from the Yale University School of Drama, Reynolds has been steadily building a solid reputation over the last several years with numerous appearances in Off-Broadway and Regional Theater productions, as well as film and television.  His recent stage appearances include critically acclaimed performances as Georges in the musical "La Cage Aux Folles" at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut; as Cal in the Philadelphia Theatre Company's production of Terrence McNally's "Mothers and Sons" opposite Michael Learned; as Sidney in Ira Levin's "Deathtrap" at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport, Long Island; and as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" at the Weston Playhouse in Vermont.  The New York Times recently noted, in its review of "La Cage," that "Mr. Reynolds is a gift as Georges, infusing the ballad 'Song on the Sand' with the necessary romance.  He moves from complication to complication with easy fluidity, active and engaged even at his most restrained.  Charismatic, light with a joke and strong of voice, he anchors the evening."

In his numerous television guest roles, Reynolds has distinguished himself by giving subtle and sensitive performances that have helped vividly illuminate the lives of the clean-cut, white collar business professionals he often portrays.  He applied that same low-key and humane perspective to his nuanced supporting performances on the various "Law & Order" shows.  To date, he has made two guest appearances apiece on the original "Law & Order," as well as "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."  Reynolds graciously found time to speak with Hill Place Blog to share his memories of working on the "Law & Order" franchise.  Even though the modest nature of his "Law & Order" roles caused Reynolds to humbly chuckle at the start of the interview, "I don't know how much I can tell you about them, but I'll try and share whatever anecdotes and information I can think of," he ultimately had great insights and perspectives concerning both his own personal experiences on these shows, as well as how integral they were in the careers of countless New York actors who, like himself, are interested in remaining well-rounded and maintaining a strong presence in the theater while continuing to pursue opportunities in films and television.  In our conversation, Mr. Reynolds comes across as intelligent, articulate and humble, with a sincerely kind and friendly demeanor.  I'd like to thank Mr. Reynolds for opening up his heart and memories for this interview.  (A special Thank You as well to Mr. Reynolds' agent, Peter Kaiser, at The Talent House in New York, as well as my good friend Tom Lisanti, for their efforts in helping to arrange this interview.)

James Lloyd Reynolds made his debut in the "Law & Order" universe in the brief role of a TV news reporter covering the search for a missing young woman's body in a Long Island marsh area in the "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" episode titled "In the Wee Small Hours," which aired November 6, 2005.  Reynolds recalls that he was cast in the role with the help of a classmate from Yale who was working as a casting associate on "Criminal Intent": "Anne Davison called me in and she booked the first couple of different reporter roles that I played on 'Criminal Intent.'  So that's how I got started on those shows.  And, in fact, I had met a friend of hers who was, a few years later, the casting director for 'SVU'  at a party one night with Anne and then a couple of weeks later was brought in on an audition for him and booked that one.  That's often how these things work, honestly.  I think the casting directors for all of those shows--well, all television shows that are cast in New York--are constantly going to theater across the city, even the smallest little Off-, Off-, Off-Broadway stuff, just to try and find new talent.  Even in a pool of talent as big as New York City, or Los Angeles, trying to constantly find new faces or new talent is their eternal challenge."

Even though Reynolds' role as a TV reporter in his first "Criminal Intent" was not a huge acting challenge, it was still a memorable experience in terms of becoming acquainted with the responsibilities and nuances of working on a major location shoot involving multiple variables.  Reynolds' vignette involves a continuous, almost unbroken shot that starts with the camera documenting the efforts of rescue workers and frogmen searching for the missing girl on land and in the water at the marsh location, panning from right to left as we follow a helicopter racing across the water to participate in the search, eventually coming upon Reynolds and other reporters who are standing on a bridge overlooking the water commenting on the search unfolding before them, as the camera rises up over the bridge to reveal the continued search for the girl on the other side of the marsh.  Reynolds chuckles warmly as he recalls "That was a huge, two-hour episode and I'd never been involved in a shoot as big as that before, because it had a helicopter and boats and scuba divers.  It was just insane.  The woman who is now on Broadway in 'Hand to God,' Geneva Carr, was playing that Nancy Grace-type character.  She was hysterical in that role and we actually got to know each other that day on set.  Anyway, we had a helicopter and the director comes to me and he's like 'Well, listen: Your lines HAVE to be coordinated with this helicopter shot.  Now, I don't want to make you nervous, but every time that helicopter takes off and flies over, it costs $5,000.  Let's try as hard as we can to get it right the first time!  OK...Go!'  (laugh)  I think we ended up shooting it, like, three or four times, not because of anything that was going on with me, but just to get it all right.  Here's an instance where you have a small role, but you get thrown into a position of potentially costing the company thousands and thousands of dollars if you don't know what you're doing.  The one thing I would say--for any young actors who are starting out in the business, or just seasoned theater actors who are trying to break into doing more film and television roles who might be reading this--going in to do one day on one of these episodic shows is really, really challenging and difficult.  It's because you don't know anybody, nobody knows you and, yet, the expectation is that you know what you're doing, you know your lines and you're not going to waste anybody's time.  Nothing will upset a film crew faster than a day player coming in and not being prepared.  So it can be nerve-wracking, but just do your work, pay attention, stay focused and it can be a really rewarding experience."

For his next guest appearance a year later on "Criminal Intent," Reynolds returned to play another TV reporter in a scene where his character, along with other journalists, descend upon a murder suspect as he is getting out of his car right before he is arrested by Detective Goren (Vincent D'Onofrio).  In the scene, Reynolds' character rushes up to Jason Raines (Joel Gretsch) and follows the suspect as he gets out of his car and walks onto the sidewalk where he is confronted by Goren.  Reynolds' character is in the thick of the action as Raines and Goren throw punches and struggle with one another before Goren slaps the handcuffs on his suspect and whisks him away.  Despite the brief nature of his role, Reynolds recalls how the staging and coordination of the actors and action in this scene was, again, a challenging experience: "That was an interesting one because Vincent D'Onofrio just doesn't like to rehearse.  He's just so organic as an actor.  I know it's a cliched term, but it's appropriate because he just does not like to rehearse.  And, in fact, I remember the director that night said to D'Onofrio and to Joel Gretsch--the guest actor from LA who had tons of episodic work under his belt and knew what he was doing--'We've got the fight choreographer here on set and let's plot this out.'  And D'Onofrio was like 'No, no.  Absolutely not.  No, no, no.  Let's just shoot it.  We know what we're doing.'  And so they did, and it was OK, but there was something off and they wanted to shoot it again and both these guys were going, I would say, full out.  I mean, there was nothing pulled back in their fighting.  In fact, at one point the director came over and said 'D'Onofrio, listen: You know, we gotta do this several more times.  Let's back off, just give 50%' and D'Onofrio said 'Absolutely not.  I do not do anything 50%.'  And, in the very next take, I don't honestly know what happened, but I remember the actor from LA's ear ended up bleeding.  And I think that was probably the take they ended up using.  There was a little bit of a challenge for me and the other actors playing reporters to stay in the shot and not end up being caught up in the fight and injured.  But, you know, they shoot it in a way where they edit it down and it looks like you're more in harm's way than you actually are.  But D'Onofrio was something else.  He was just wild to watch.  He just had a very animal-like quality.  'Controlled chaos,' I suppose.  He was great.  His partner, Kathryn Erbe, was of course the calm, soothing force, as is her character, but even on the set her personality was the opposite of D'Onofrio's.  They worked well together.  It was really exciting to film that scene because you've got cars pulling up and doors slamming and people screaming and extras running by and it is kind of amazing how it ends up coming off so well."

The next time Reynolds appeared in the "Law & Order" universe was in the February 2, 2007 episode of the original "Law & Order" titled "Talking Points" as a TV interviewer speaking with Judith Barlow (Charlotte Ross), a right wing political pundit modeled after Ann Coulter, who Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) is watching on the television in his office.  It was a very brief appearance where Reynolds' character is only shown from the back, and his face never appears on camera.  Reynolds recalls that, "They shot that whole exchange between me and Charlotte Ross over my shoulder and over her shoulder, not knowing what they were going to end up using.  They ended up only using a tiny bit of it at best.  But there wasn't much more.  There was just two or three or four more questions that were asked."  Even though Reynolds remains appreciative and grateful with how these early appearances in the "Law & Order" franchise allowed him an opportunity to hone his skills working in film and television, he also acknowledges that "Honestly, at first, the roles were not challenging even though they were all great experiences.  On the 'Criminal Intent' appearances, it was a couple of lines here and there as a reporter and it was, you know, quick and flashy.  But after, I guess, essentially proving myself, the casting director would bring me in for larger things.  So I found that the more I went in and proved myself with the 'Law & Order' casting directors, the more I was given larger chunks of material where I got to sort of chew up some stuff and demonstrate what I could do."

One of the notable guest roles that allowed Reynolds more of a challenge was on the original "Law & Order" in the January 23, 2008 episode titled "Driven."  He played the father of a murder victim being questioned by Detectives Ed Green and Cyrus Lupo (Jesse Martin and Jeremy Sisto).  Reynolds was subtle and excellent in underplaying the father's reaction while learning the news of his son's death, choosing to portray his character's stunned silence rather than going for the obvious over the top emotions that another actor might have brought to the scene.  Reynolds fondly recalls how "I had a good part as a grieving father.  That was a really good experience.  To try and cry on cue, you know, trying to do that kind of stuff is not easy.  That was an interesting afternoon because Jesse Martin was winding down his role and was planning to leave the series.  He had already been on there for years, and he was very assured in his role.  He was very nice to work with.  And I think it was Jeremy Sisto's fifth episode and so he was all new to it and still working on finding and developing his role and getting his bearings.  So that contrast was interesting to observe.  We shot that in somebody's apartment.  Most of the 'Law & Order' stuff--unless it's a courtroom scene, or it's a police station scene--everything else is shot on location.  So we were in somebody's apartment that they had rented on the Upper West Side and the family was there because I think they had a daughter who was in love with Jesse and wanted to meet him.  There we were, with the family present, trying to film this really emotional scene.  (laugh)"

After appearing multiple times on the original "Law & Order," as well as "Criminal Intent," Reynolds finally made his way to "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" where he played part of a team of security personnel investigating the disappearance of a woman in a posh commercial office building in the March 10, 2010 episode "Confidential."  Reynolds enjoyed working on this episode because "I loved Russell Jones, who played the building's head of security in that segment.  Oh my God, he's so wonderful and he's such a nice man.  I had previously met him through some other friends and I had actually seen him do something on stage so I was thrilled when I got there that day and realized I would be working with him.  He's just a fantastic, fantastic actor.  He's just terrific.  That episode was also fun because that scene involved our characters working with a lot of technology, and you've got multiple people in the scene, and it was fun to do.  You just kind of have to relax and just enjoy it and not try to get too much in your head about it."

In his most recent appearance on "SVU," the January 30, 2013 episode titled "Criminal Hatred," Reynolds had probably his most challenging role role in the franchise as one of a trio of closeted married businessmen who have been raped by sadistic and ruthless male prostitute Jeremy Jones (Max Carpenter).  Reynolds was sympathetic and touching in the courtroom testimony scenes where his character, as well as ones played by actors Paul Fitzgerald and Jeff Talbott, not only recall the cruelty and brutality of the sexual assault perpetrated against them, but are put in the awkward position of publicly acknowledging their sexual orientation while on the stand.  The testimony in the courtroom continually cuts back and forth between each witness, as the victims recall their sexual assault at the hands of the defendant.  The net effect of the scene is to have each victim's testimony overlap and echo each another, so that it appears in the final version as if it is a single, continuous speech made by one individual instead of bits of testimony culled from three different witnesses.

Reynolds recalls how "When we auditioned, we all had all of the testimony, as if it was just one person.  I think I knew that there were going to be at least two people testifying, but none of us knew until later how they had split those lines up."  When asked whether each actor filmed the entire speech, allowing the editors flexibility during post production to choose the most effective moments from each individual, or whether they only filmed the individual lines of dialogue spoken by each of their characters in the final version, Reynolds says, "I think that Jeff and I both filmed all of the lines from that speech from beginning to end, and then they decided in the editing how to split those lines up between us.  Because otherwise it would have been challenging to get the proper performances for those characters if we only filmed just those short snippets of dialogue that we have in the final version.  We both would have had to film all of that speech to get the right performances from us."

Reynolds also recalls how, "We shot all of the stuff on the stand at 9:00 in the morning.  So we got there and got into costume and got into makeup and there was three of us testifying.  There was the main guest star for the week, Paul Fitzgerald, and then there was Jeff Talbott and myself.  I honestly didn't get to know Paul Fitzgerald at all because he was working on what else was to be shot for his scenes, so he was really working on his lines and so he spent most of his time in his dressing room.  And Jeff and I didn't know each other at all but, you know, you're sitting around and you get to know the people you're working with.  And it turned out that Jeff and I knew a bunch of people in common.  And so we sort of spent the morning laughing about that.  And we also talked a little bit about the fact that we were playing rape victims and there was a little 'Do I want my mother to watch me in this episode?' kind of thing.  And so we shoot all the stuff for the people that are testifying.  And then we think 'Great!  We're finished!  Fantastic, we're done!' and it's like 11:00 in the morning, 11:30, something like that.  'We're going home!'  And then they come and they say 'Well you can get out of costume and you can get out of makeup, but don't leave because Mariska Hargitay is scheduled to come in the afternoon to film her reaction shots to your testimony.'  (laugh)  So we hung out on the set that afternoon and Jeff and I really got to know each other well during those few hours.  And then Mariska Hargitay arrives at 4:30 and they set it up to film her reaction shots.  Jeff and I and Paul Fitzgerald have to do the whole thing again, except now we're not in costume because the camera is not on us.  I remember at the very end that Mariska Hargitay was basically chuckling to herself about the testimony that we had to make because some of those lines unintentionally sounded funny when you hear them out of context.  When you see it on film, it's really quite moving and powerful because it's such a serious subject matter but, when you're filming it, some of it sounded kind of humorous and incongruous at the time."

Even though his experience working on this episode was as positive as all of his other appearances in the "Law & Order" franchise, Reynolds admits that this was a particularly difficult role to play "because as much as you want to prepare for a character, you did have to sort of put yourself in the situation of playing someone who had been raped.  To me, rather than trying to generate some image in your mind of what that character experienced, if you really just listen to the words that you're saying...if you really are present with what is actually coming out of your mouth, it's really kind of enough.  I don't use sense memory, I don't use those sorts of techniques that other actors might refer to by taking memories from the past and trying to put that on top of the scene that you are working on.  I think it's really enough to just be present with what you are saying and let the language be the driving force of what you are performing."

While discussing his work in the multitude of shows in the "Law & Order" franchise, Reynolds recalls the differences that he noticed in the atmosphere and work environment of each series.  Reynolds opines that "the 'Criminal Intent' set was always a little high strung, at least the times I was on there.  And maybe it appeared that way to me because of the type of scenes I was involved with on that show.  And 'SVU' episodes just tend to be of a higher drama, higher stakes because the subject matter they cover is more intense.  The original 'Law & Order' was also a different atmosphere because it was much more intellectual in general.  I think each show definitely had its own feel and it showed itself on-screen.  Sam Waterston, on the original one, he's just such a solid, stoic kind of force that it felt that that was kind of where that show got its central feel."

Outside of his film and television work, Reynolds continues to successfully forge a solid and respected reputation in theater.  With great enthusiasm, Reynolds shares how, "I just recently did Terrence McNally's 'Mothers and Sons,' in Philadelphia this past Winter and Spring with Michael Learned from 'The Waltons.'  It was just a joy to be onstage with her every night and spending nine weeks in Philly working with somebody like that who is such an icon and who brings so many layers to whatever she's doing.  So that was a fantastic experience."  Reynolds also recently assumed the challenge of playing the iconic role of Atticus Finch in the Weston Playhouse's production of "To Kill a Mockingbird," for which he received rave reviews.  Reynolds proudly recalls how that experience "was a joy.  Weston, Vermont couldn't have been more beautiful to work in and everybody at the Weston Playhouse are such genuinely good people.  But, yeah, that was a little intimidating to take on a role that everybody knows.  The challenge is to try and not do Gregory Peck.  I remember the costume designer at the costume meeting said, 'Listen, I know, I get it.  You don't want to imitate Gregory Peck.  But you've got to have a white linen suit.  You've just got to.  There's nothing in the script that says he's got to have a white linen suit, but that's what people expect and that's what people want to see.'  And so there it is.  But I do think that the way the role is written, his dialogue is just out of the ordinary enough that if you say the lines, it almost feels like you're listening to Gregory Peck in the movie.  It's really because of the way the dialogue is written.  In the script he says things that are not part of our daily routine, so you have to give yourself over to it and just accept 'It's OK.  This is Atticus' and then bring your own perspective to the role.  That was a lovely, lovely, lovely production and I had a fantastic time doing that."

This summer, Reynolds is playing the lead role of Georges in the Goodspeed Opera House's production of "La Cage Aux Folles," the landmark Harvey Fierstein/Jerry Herman musical depicting the loving relationship between a gay couple who manage a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment.  When asked what performances from his career he is particularly proud of, Reynolds readily mentions how this show has been a particularly satisfying and rewarding experience, "This has truly been a highlight of my career so far.  I'm having a very good time playing this role.  I'm doing things that I don't normally get to do.  I'm singing a lot more than I've ever sang in a show before.  There's a little dancing, there's a little soft shoe.  And it's just a very, very funny script and I don't get to do comedy very much.  It's a joy and for some reason this show is resonating with audiences in Connecticut this summer like I've never experienced before.  People are coming up to us and just saying amazing things about this central relationship.  There's just something about the relationship of Georges and Albin which is resonating very strongly with people.  You think that we would sort of be beyond 'La Cage' at this point, but in fact the character of the conservative politician in the second act is ever present today, so it's resonating really well with a lot of people.  As far as being challenged by something and feeling like for whatever reason the challenge was accepted and I'm happy with the results, I would say that I'm really proud of what I'm doing with 'La Cage.'  It's because the three things I get to do in this show--the singing, the dancing, and the comedy--were so not in my wheelhouse.  I'd never worked with this director Rob Ruggiero before, but I'd worked with the Goodspeed twice before, and I know that he was first and foremost looking for an actor, not necessarily a musical theater performer who is primarily a singer.  He was looking for a person who could negotiate the dialogue scenes, as well as the singing and dancing, and so it was a challenge from the beginning.  I've always sung, but I never have had to sing this much.  And even learning how to negotiate eight shows a week vocally--because Georges does a lot of shouting and singing and he has to be the master of ceremonies at the La Cage nightclub--has been challenging as well.  For all of these reasons, I'm having the time of my life right now."

While I am confident that Reynolds has great potential to continue to progress to where he will eventually be widely recognized as a preeminent film and television character actor, he intends to continue maintaining a strong presence in theater and does not plan to focus on one medium at the expense of another.  As he explains, "I enjoy working in all of the mediums.  I don't have an emphasis on one over the other.  I would be unhappy if I would have to decide, you know, that I was going to do one thing.  But, listen, if I were fortunate enough to get offered a recurring or contract role on an episodic television series, that would be thrilling because I've never done that.  I've never had that experience where I get to go back regularly on a series where it becomes my day job.  There's just a confidence and ease that one would experience that would go along with that.  The closest that I have had to that sort of experience is with the Showtime series 'The Affair.'  A grad school friend of mine, Sarah Treem, is the showrunner on that series.  I did a small part on that last season and I've been doing table reads for them on my day off here in New York.  Last week I was out there because Dominic West was not able to be there for the table read, and so I sat in for him and read his part while they all sat around a table and that was really thrilling.  You've got 50 people sitting around the table and all the main cast is there and you've got Showtime executives from LA on the speaker phone in the middle of the room and you've got wildly successful people all around you and there you are reading a script for the very first time so that everybody can hear it.  So that's pretty exciting.  That was the third table read that I had done for them this season and the two leads knew me from last season.  They're all fantastic, they're all nice.  There's not a person involved in that show who is not approachable and cool.  So it's exciting.  That's where I'm at in my career, still.  I still get a little starstruck and I really appreciate these opportunities to work with these people.  I'm not jaded about it and I don't take any of it for granted.  So 'The Affair' is the closest I've had so far to the experience of being part of a series because I've been involved with working with those people several times.  You walk in and they really take care of you.  I would welcome more opportunities to have an actual role and really be part of a series like that."

James Lloyd Reynolds remains grateful for the opportunities he has enjoyed in his career thus far and looks forward to what lies in his future.  He is appreciative of how his "Law & Order" roles allowed him to hone his craft while building a solid list of credits.  Reynolds recognizes how the franchise was very important to New York actors like himself because "Honestly, it kept people financially in a position where they could afford to take riskier parts in theater--sometimes out of town, or for less pay--because then they could come home and they could bank on the idea that they were going to do one or two 'Law & Order' episodes a year.  They paid well enough, and the residuals continue, and so it allowed people to have a certain degree of stability, interestingly enough, so they could practice their craft.  I think it's a constant struggle for theater actors to negotiate the difference between earning a living and pursuing their passions and the different 'Law & Order' shows allowed actors to do that.  And I'm proud of the work I did on the shows, particularly the 'SVU' where I played the closeted rape victim.  I think what I got to do on the witness stand was fulfilling because I was given something substantive where I was able to master that character's emotional journey.  And I felt the same way about the grieving father role that I played on the original 'Law & Order.'  I think both of those provided me good opportunities and challenges.  I'm pleased to have worked in the 'Law & Order' franchise.  I would be glad to work with those people and appear on their shows again anytime."

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