Q & A: Law & Order LA’s Alfred Molina and Dick Wolf on cast changes and how to ‘let go’ an actor

How does an Executive Producer fire an actor? Find out that and more!

Law & Order: LA lost a cast member last night and while I won’t tell you who it was (you can read the interview below for that spoiler), I can say it was a major character.

Head-honcho Dick Wolf and Alfred Molina had a conference call the other day to discuss where the freshman series is heading. They also talked Molina’s character, the decision to kill off that certain lead character and how Wolf broke the news to them. I can’t imagine getting that call!

Check it out!

Mr. Wolf, when the season started you had talked about the way of getting both Alfred Molina and Terrence Howard on the show was to use them only every other week. Now that that’s going to no longer be the case, can you just talk about logistically how things are working out?

Dick Wolf: Well I guess it’s sort of, for the actors — and Fred should comment on this — to me it seems that…

Alfred Molina: You’re doing fine Dick.

Dick Wolf: It’s one of these things that it’s more work but more predictable. I mean I think that, for me as I said earlier, “It’s really a dream to have both of these guys on-screen every episode.” It’s – it was – I don’t want to exaggerate too much, but it was a little like I had the feeling that we were all fighting with one hand tied behind our back a lot of episodes.

I think for the working style, as I said, “It’s probably a little bit tougher but much more predictable in terms of, they each do one half of the show now every week, as opposed to having a week off.” But the frustration of not having long enough off to go to Europe or something. As I said, “This is just more predictable I think.”

And Mr. Molina, how’s the transition been for you, going from courtroom to detective?

Alfred Molina: Court room to the street as it were. Well it’s been – I’ve – it’s been fantastic. You know when Dick pitched the idea I must admit part of me was a little surprised. And – but very excited at the notion because it’s, you know, this is a very bold, very audacious step. And I think it was something that was bound to create a great deal of interest and excitement.

But on a personal level, I was very thrilled by the idea because, you know I love to work. I’m one of those actors, I just like working. And I must admit, I was finding the – although the one episode on one episode off regime was very luxurious for those of us who were able to enjoy it, you know it was – I was coming into work on my episodes thinking you know, “Oh I’ve got to, you know, I’ve got to start up again.”

And I was sort of like missing – I felt like I was missing out on something. And I happened to blithely say one day, “I’d like more to do.” And I think somebody must have reported back to the management.

Dick Wolf: Not the usual response of serious actors, I might point out.

Alfred Molina: And it – so it was – you know it’s really been absolutely fantastic.

And from a creative point of view, it means that the character goes somewhere that has, I think a great deal of mileage in terms of how we proceed over the next few years. You know I think there’s – the fact that Morales has this background of law enforcement, as well as being a prosecutor. I think it opens up a whole area; something for the writers to explore.

So it’s been all good as far as I’m concerned. I’m just waiting – I just hope the audience are as enthusiastic about it as we are.

Alfred, what do you connect with playing Ricardo and how he switched jobs?

Alfred Molina: Well, I was very happy to discover that Ricardo Morales is remarkably similar to Alfred Molina, in many, many ways.

It was just a happy coincidence that you know; he’s the son of an immigrant family, he’s the first person in his family to go to college, he carried the weight of responsibility of his parents’ expectations and his own ambition — which has left certain buttons that can be pushed, certain chips on his shoulder.

And I – and as I was discovering this about the character, I sort of thought, “Hmm, this reminds me of somebody I know rather well.” So there’s that – so it’s a very easy fit in that way, which is crucial really when you’re working and – or trying to develop a character that’s going to last, one hopes you know, for a long time. It has to be a good fit.

What went into the decision to kill off this character? And can you talk a little bit about, you know, was it an awkward conversation that you had to have with Skeet? Do you say, “Hey you know, I respect you as an actor, I really like you but you’re not right for the show anymore and we’re going to kill you off.” How did that work?

Dick Wolf: One of, I can honestly say the only – the worst part of my job for the past 30-odd years now has – and it’s not limited to actors, the – it’s an overused word, but an hour show is a form of polite warfare.

That to get a show out in eight days, have it come in in decent shape, certainly by the first day of prep to script, to have all the pieces fit together in sort of an insane – the insane jigsaw puzzle of trying to do this 22 times a season is – it’s kind of like Shakespeare in Love. How does that happen? I don’t know, it just – you know, it’s a miracle.

The worst thing I’ve had to do ever is let people go. And for – this is, I don’t think anybody would dispute it, but Skeet is one of the nicest actors I’ve ever worked with. He is a great guy. And it is the unfortunate history of the business that when something is not working it’s my fault — it’s not the actor’s fault.

Skeet has an un-impeachable record of having performed very, very well in a variety of different shows, movies. He was the first person cast. As the show evolved it just is one of those things that, it’s kind of like, “Gee, I shouldn’t have put the beige upholstery in the car, I should have put the red upholstery in.”

And I’m not being flip about it, it was just that there was an opportunity. The show was not performing at the level that anybody was really happy with. The – again, Bob came in and had sort of problems with the first half of the show more than the second half.

He did not mandate any changes, but when we came up with this solution he was fully supportive — which is a major step for a new Head of Entertainment coming in because obviously it was an expensive change. And he was willing to make that kind of change in the hope of getting a slightly different chemistry going.

And as I said, “One of his overwhelming thoughts was that I’ve got two world class movie actors that I am only seeing half the time.” So I’m again, not being flippant, and at some time somebody has to die so that everybody else can live.

And it was a very, very painful call. And it’s not something that, in the abstract Skeet deserved. It’s just, that’s the way it evolved and he was the odd man out. It was – you know, whatever analogy or simile you want to use. You know, it’s always musical chairs and this time there was one less for him.

But look, I’m sure it’s not what he wants to hear. I would unhesitatingly use him again as an actor in something that I think called on his strengths better than this one did.

But I remain a fan and as I said, “One of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with.” And not something that I enjoyed or hopefully will have to do ever again. But my fault. I – you know, it’s not his fault. I don’t know what else I can say.

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