S. Epatha Merkerson

Actress


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In her four-hour Archive interview, S. Epatha Merkerson talks of her early interest in drama and theater. She tells of her childhood dream to move to New York, and how she made that dream a reality. She discusses her stage work in high school and college and the difficulty she had landing leading roles as a black woman. Merkerson describes her success in musicals and as an understudy on Broadway, and shares how she transitioned to winning lead parts. She talks of getting cast as "Reba" on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and explains what it was like on set of the popular children's program. She speaks of winning the role of "Lt. Van Buren" in the long-running drama Law & Orde r, recalls working with fellow cast members, and explains how storylines were selected for the program. Merkerson shares why she decided to leave Law & Order, talks of her Emmy and Golden Globe-winning performance in Lackawanna Blues, and describes working on the film "Lincoln." Jim Colucci conducted the interview in New York, New York on June 14, 2013.

"People really appreciated who the character was. I even have parents telling me that their children have gone into law enforcement or into law because they watched 'Law & Order' and  that 'Van Buren' made such an impact."

Highlights
S. Epatha Merkerson on getting cast as "Reba" on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
04:47
S. Epatha Merkerson on working with puppets on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
01:10
S. Epatha Merkerson on her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren"
05:06
S. Epatha Merkerson on winning a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role in Lackawanna Blues
02:55
S. Epatha Merkerson on her proudest achievement
00:42
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her childhood and early influences; on wanting to move to New York; on acting in high school and growing up during the Civil Rights Movement
10:46
On attending three colleges; on experiencing racism as a college student; on television programs she watched throughout her childhood
04:54
On not getting lead roles in college productions because she was African-American; on moving to upstate New York to work at the Empire State Youth Theatre Institute; on performing in Israel and Italy
09:36
On moving to New York City and going to auditions; on going after lead roles; on getting an audition for Law & Order
09:07
On touring with the production of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf"; on getting an agent and performing in off-Brodway productions
05:58
On focusing on theater and not looking for film and television roles; on appearing in Spike Lee's film "She's Gotta Have It"
05:12
On getting cast as "Reba" in Pee-Wee's Playhouse; on the impressive playhouse; on the show moving to Los Angeles
13:46

Chapter 2

On working with puppets on Pee-Wee's Playhouse; on the kid and adult appeal of the show; on shooting the Christmas special; on the legacy of the program
09:45
On appearing on The Cosby Show and the pilot episodes of Elysian Fields, Moe's World, and Equal Justice
09:18
On getting a Tony nomination for "The Piano Lesson"
02:23
On appearing in Mann & Machine
02:23
On Dick Wolf wanting her for the role of "Lt. Anita Van Buren" on Law & Order; on picking her battles in script meetings and sometimes disagreeing with writers
20:58
On her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren"; on wearing a wig to cover her natural hair to portray the character; on how her character evolved over the course of the show
11:06

Chapter 3

On cops approaching her with compliments while she was cast on Law & Order; on how 9/11 affected Law & Order; on a typical production week on the show
14:42
On the storylines on Law & Order; on working with the cast and Jerry Orbach, in particular; on cast transitions
15:55
On censorship on Law & Order; on crossover episodes with other Law & Order shows
04:58
On her decision to leave Law & Order; on the show getting canceled and shooting the final episode; on her favorite episodes of the show and the legacy of Law & Order
09:58
On appearing on the sitcom Here and Now with Malcom-Jamal Warner; on appearances in TV movies and projects dealing with social issues; on guest-starring on an episode of Frasier
09:26
On starring in the HBO movie Lackawanna Blues
04:56

Chapter 4

On her Lackawanna Blues character "Nanny"; on how the TV movie reflected the 1960s; on how Lackawanna Blues resonated with audiences
05:21
On winning a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role in Lackawanna Blues
02:55
On appearing as "Dr. Rebecca Dioli"on The Closer; on appearing as "Beverly" in Deception
06:53
On appearing in the Broadway run of "Come Back, Little Sheba" and being nominated for a Tony award; on hosting Find Our Missing
11:03
On becoming a member of the Motion Picture Academy and appearing in the film "Lincoln"; on on her directorial debut in the documentary film "The Contradictions of Fair Hope"
10:21
On her then-current (2013) projects; on opportunities for black women on television; on her fans
05:52
On her proudest achievement, biggest regret, and advice to aspiring actors; on her legacy so far; on where she sees herself in ten years
06:39
Shows

Amos 'N' Andy

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S. Epatha Merkerson on watching Amos 'N' Andy as a child
00:42

Cosby Show, The

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S. Epatha Merkerson on appearing on The Cosby Show
02:21

Frasier

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S. Epatha Merkerson on guest-starring on an episode of Frasier
03:22

Law & Order

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S. Epatha Merkerson on getting an audition for Law & Order
01:50
S. Epatha Merkerson on Dick Wolf wanting her for the role of "Lt. Anita Van Buren" on Law & Order and production on the show
12:14
S. Epatha Merkerson on picking her battles in script meetings for Law & Order  
04:24
S. Epatha Merkerson on coming to Law & Order after it had been on for four seasons (two female characters were introduced the year she came on)
03:26
S. Epatha Merkerson on her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren"
05:06
S. Epatha Merkerson on wearing a wig to cover her natural hair when portraying her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren"
02:57
S. Epatha Merkerson on how her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren" evolved over the course of the show
01:25
S. Epatha Merkerson on the reflection of African-American culture in New York on Law & Order
00:57
S. Epatha Merkerson on screen time for her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren"
00:38
S. Epatha Merkerson on cops and fans approaching her with compliments while she was cast on Law & Order
04:21
S. Epatha Merkerson on how 9/11 affected Law & Order
05:41
S. Epatha Merkerson on a typical production week on Law & Order
02:18
S. Epatha Merkerson on her character fatally wounding a child on Law & Order
02:22
S. Epatha Merkerson on the storylines on Law & Order
02:10
S. Epatha Merkerson on working with the cast members of Law & Order and her friendship with Jesse Martin and Dennis Farina; on cast transitions
10:27
S. Epatha Merkerson on the tone on the Law & Order set during heavy scenes
01:45
S. Epatha Merkerson on her job security on Law & Order
01:33
S. Epatha Merkerson on censorship on Law & Order
01:19
S. Epatha Merkerson on crossover episodes of Law & Order
03:39
S. Epatha Merkerson on her decision to leave Law & Order
03:54
S. Epatha Merkerson on the cancellation of Law & Order
00:46
S. Epatha Merkerson on shooting the final episode of Law & Order
01:07
S. Epatha Merkerson on keeping her Law & Order character fresh over the course of fifteen years
01:41
S. Epatha Merkerson on her favorite episodes of Law & Order
01:48
S. Epatha Merkerson on the legacy of Law & Order
00:41

Pee-Wee's Playhouse

View Show Page
S. Epatha Merkerson on getting cast as "Reba" on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
08:06
S. Epatha Merkerson on improvised and scripted scenes on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and the show moving to Los Angeles
05:40
S. Epatha Merkerson on working with puppets on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
01:10
S. Epatha Merkerson on kids and adults enjoying Pee-Wee's Playhouse
02:52
S. Epatha Merkerson on the campy element of Pee-Wee's Playhouse
01:45
S. Epatha Merkerson on her favorite episodes of Pee-Wee's Playhouse
00:36
S. Epatha Merkerson on the Christmas special for Pee-Wee's Playhouse
01:59
S. Epatha Merkerson on the legacy of Pee-Wee's Playhouse
01:17
Topics

9/11

View Topic
S. Epatha Merkerson on how 9/11 affected Law & Order
05:41

Advice

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S. Epatha Merkerson on advice to an aspiring actor
02:19

Censorship / Standards & Practices

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S. Epatha Merkerson on censorship on Law & Order
01:19

Diversity in Television

View Topic
S. Epatha Merkerson on the excitement of seeing black people on television when she was young
01:42
S. Epatha Merkerson on coming to Law & Order after it had been on for four seasons (two female characters were introduced the year she came on)
03:26
S. Epatha Merkerson on wearing a wig to cover her natural hair when portraying her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren"
02:57
S. Epatha Merkerson on whether opportunities for black women on television have changed over the years
02:26

Emmy Awards

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S. Epatha Merkerson on winning a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her role in Lackawanna Blues
02:55

Fame & Celebrity

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S. Epatha Merkerson on cops and fans approaching her with compliments while she was cast on Law & Order
04:21
S. Epatha Merkerson on her fans
01:30

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
S. Epatha Merkerson on how 9/11 affected Law & Order
05:41

Minorities

View Topic
S. Epatha Merkerson on experiencing racism as a college student in Indiana
00:49
S. Epatha Merkerson on the excitement of seeing black people on television when she was young
01:42
S. Epatha Merkerson on wearing a wig to cover her natural hair when portraying her Law & Order character "Lt. Anita Van Buren"
02:57
S. Epatha Merkerson on whether opportunities for black women on television have changed over the years
02:26

Television Industry

View Topic
S. Epatha Merkerson on censorship on Law & Order
01:19
S. Epatha Merkerson on cops and fans approaching her with compliments while she was cast on Law & Order
04:21
S. Epatha Merkerson on her fans
01:30
S. Epatha Merkerson on advice to an aspiring actor
02:19

Women

View Topic
S. Epatha Merkerson on coming to Law & Order after it had been on for four seasons (two female characters were introduced the year she came on)
03:26
S. Epatha Merkerson on whether opportunities for black women on television have changed over the years
02:26
Professions

Actress

View Profession
S. Epatha Merkerson on advice to an aspiring actor
02:19

Directors

View Profession
S. Epatha Merkerson on her directorial debut in the documentary film "The Contradictions of Fair Hope"
02:31

Performers

View Profession
S. Epatha Merkerson on advice to an aspiring actor
02:19
Genres

Children's Programming

View Genre
S. Epatha Merkerson on getting cast as "Reba" on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
13:46

Drama Series

View Genre
S. Epatha Merkerson on Dick Wolf wanting her for the role of "Lt. Anita Van Buren" on Law & Order and how she portrayed her character
32:04
S. Epatha Merkerson on her character, production, censorship on, and the cancellation of Law & Order
45:33

TV Movies/Miniseries/Dramatic Specials

View Genre
S. Epatha Merkerson on appearances in TV movies and projects dealing with social issues; on auditioning
03:54
S. Epatha Merkerson on starring in the HBO movie Lackawanna Blues
04:52
S. Epatha Merkerson on her Lackawanna Blues character "Nanny"and winning an Emmy and Golden Globe for her performance
08:16
People

Paul Reubens

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S. Epatha Merkerson on meeting Paul Reubens and auditioning for the role of "Reba" on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
01:07
S. Epatha Merkerson on Paul Reubens' ability to make her laugh on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
02:04
S. Epatha Merkerson on improvised and scripted scenes with Paul Reubens on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and the show moving to Los Angeles
04:17

David Shore

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S. Epatha Merkerson on picking her battles in script meetings for Law & Order  
04:24

Malcolm-Jamal Warner

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S. Epatha Merkerson on appearing on Here and Now with Malcom-Jamal Warner and other up-and-coming stars
02:03

Dick Wolf

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S. Epatha Merkerson on appearing in Dick Wolf's Mann & Machine
02:23
S. Epatha Merkerson on Dick Wolf's daughters loving Pee-Wee's Playhouse; on him wanting her for Law & Order
03:55

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