Interview: Raul Esparza, Anna Chlumsky Chat Guest Roles on NBC's LAW & ORDER: SVU


Raul Esparza and Anna Chlumsky will guest star on NBC's LAW & ORDER: SVU on a special episode titled "Twenty-Five Acts", based on the best-selling novel '50 Shades of Grey.'  The show will air October 10th at 9 pm ET. 

In television, Anna Chlumsky can be seen in HBO's new series "Veep." She starred in 1991's 'My Girl' and will soon star as Sabrina in Bert and Arnie's Guide to Friendship. Her New York stage credits include Love, Loss, and What I Wore (Westside Theatre); So Help Me God (Mint Theatre Company); Unconditional (LAByrinth Theater Company) and The Fabulous Life of a Size Zero (DR2).

Raul Esparza first drew attention with his performance as Riff Raff in the 2000 Broadway revival of The Rocky Horror Show, which won him the Theatre World Award. The following year he appeared off-Broadway in tick, tick... BOOM!, garnering a Drama Desk Award nomination as Outstanding Actor in a Musical. Additional Broadway credits include Cabaret (2001), Taboo (2003), for which he received a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actor in a Musical and a Drama Desk Award, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2005) and Sondheim's Company (2006), for which he received his second Tony nomination as well as his second Drama Desk award. In April of 2012, Esparza took on the role of con artist Jonas Nightingale in the Broadway musical adaptation of Leap of Faith directed by Christopher Ashley.

The two talented actors recently spoke with reporters about the exciting upcoming episode on the CBS drama. 

Mr. Esparza, you're known as a Broadway star. Is there any satisfaction in working for the camera that isn't true of doing stage acting?

Raul Esparza: What's great about being in front of a camera is that you can do it over and over again until you get it right. You can make lots of mistakes and nobody knows about them.

Another thing that's amazing, actually, without being flip is that you get really challenged to try to find the most simple and direct way to convey all the things that it might take you a whole play to reach, you know the back of the house with. You have to figure out how to do that in the simplest and most direct way in that moment in front of the camera, and that's a real challenge to figure out how little you can do that conveys all of that, you know that conveys the most. And it's a big learning curve and it's a hell of a lot of fun.

Ms. Chlumsky, can you talk about the difference in adapting your performance tone from the style of comedy of Veep to the style of drama on Law & Order: SVU?

 Anna Chlumsky: I don't really kind of take into account whether it's comedy or drama. I really - what I - the way I like to approach anything, regardless of the tone of it is just to get the truth of it as close as possible to, you know play the character and play her scene and play - you know play her story, you know as truthfully as possible.

And so, I - you end up having to trust the text very much to - in a comedy to get the laughs, or in a drama to, as Raul was saying, just really convey what's happening. And as long as, you know you're present then you're getting it across.

Raul Esparza: That being said, she's try - she's really a laugh riot in this episode.

Anna, I know that you started off working in films, and then you kind of took a little break and went to school, and then went to work on stage a lot, and now you're back to television doing some British television. What is the biggest difference between doing television versus movies? 

Anna Chlumsky: I think the biggest difference between television and film is - I mean, there's two main differences that I'm learning right now, and one is speed. It's - you know on a TV show you've got probably like a five to seven-day episode where you have to get all - everything in and tell a really complete story, you know in very little time. And so, it really kind of teaches you to be as prepared as possible, and then to just kind of fly by the seat of your pants once you get on set and hear "Action." And then, you just kind of, you know have to really trust what you've prepared, and you may only get one shot at it, you know? You may not get a whole bunch of takes. And in a film sometimes you get a little bit longer, depending on who's directing it and what the budget is.

And also, the other thing is with a film you have a beginning, middle, and an end that you are telling. Like, you know how this story ends. When you're on a series you - you know you can find things out about your character that you never knew or that you never maybe analyzed back when, you know you did the pilot. You're always learning more and more about this person you're playing, and you're playing just that person usually, you know? I mean, some - you know I can't think of many series where you switch out the roles, like on stage sometimes you do.

So, you know it's really just a very intimate relationship, and then a - and hopefully an ongoing relationship with the character on a series.

For the two of you, were you both Law & Order: SVU fans, and what was it like coming onto this iconic set?

Raul Esparza: The set's really friendly actually. Yeah. I mean, the set's great. And Mariska, particularly is just like an incredibly welcoming host, so to speak...

Anna Chlumsky: Dreamy.

Raul Esparza: She feels like the - she's not the star of the show, she's sort of the welcomer...

The den mother?

Raul Esparza: ...for everybody. Yeah, she's the den mother or the Queen Bee, which may be sounds insulting, and that's not what I mean. She's...the thing is, if she didn't set that tone, then you couldn't play. And one of the best things I think that I felt, I don't want to put words in Anna's mouth, but certainly the two of us had a good time. We had fun trying stuff. It was a friendly, welcoming, warm set.

And it is very easy to feel very unwelcome when you are a guest star on a TV show, because you know they're in their thing, they're in their mode, you just jump sort of jump in, you jump out, you're done, and this wasn't like that at all. We felt like a group of hoodlums actually who had taken over the courtroom. We had a very good time, and she just kind of set that tone. But, they all did's a good group of people over there.

Anna Chlumsky: Really inviting. Really, really inviting.

And were you big fans [of the show] beforehand?

Anna Chlumsky: Yeah, I certainly was. I kind of have my own personal rule as a woman in the city to only watch three in a row before you start to like check under your bed and check your closet, you know? But...

Raul Esparza: Before you go into a panic.

Anna Chlumsky: Exactly. But that said, that means that - you know that I'm the type of person who wouldn't watch a fourth one in a row if I didn't know it was good for me. So, I do enjoy the show.

Raul Esparza: What's great about this particular series is that it's - there's a warmth to the characters on this that I have never felt on any of the other Law & Orders, and that sort of personal investment is fascinating. There's a great deal of care that goes way back inside these characters and these stories over the years, and Law & Order's a show you can pick up sort of anywhere...but this one in particular you find that you invest more in the characters than you do in the story. And - you know, or as much as you do in the story, and that's pretty cool actually. For an actor to be able to do procedural work and sustain that for 14 seasons that's an extraordinary accomplishment. So yeah, there's a lot to admire here.

Anna, everyone's known you since My Girl. What drew you specifically to guest start on this type of show, and do you find that it's difficult or easy to do more guest spots possibly in the future when Veep isn't filming?

 Anna Chlumsky: What drew me to this particular job was, you know (Joslin) gets to - we really get to see a whole picture with (Joslin) in this episode. It's, you know sometimes when you guest, you know you hope that our character can matter to that episode, and in this one it's kind - it - she unequivocally matters to this episode, and that's - that was really encouraging.

And also, the way she's written, you know she's, I think on the surface she has all of these kind of qualities that people like to assume they know. But, she's got a lot of other kind of textures going on inside her life, and you know she's just - she's not one note whatsoever the way she's written, and that's what I'm always drawn too. I think that that's something that is always worthwhile for me as an actor is to play around with all of the deeper layers of a person. So, they really gave me a shot to do that with (Joslin), which I mean, I'm thrilled.

And as far as, yeah, guesting when - you know like during hiatus and stuff, I - you know I love working. So yeah, it's always nice to breath in a hiatus, but at the same time it's an absolute joy to get a shot to play around with other types of roles, you know when you - when you're on break from the one that you play a lot. So, it's - yeah, it's a delicious thing to be able to work this much.

What was it like for the both of you working together? I mean, it's such an iconic show, but at the same time it is a serious storyline, would you love to guest star again if asked?

Raul Esparza: We're never going to be asked back because all we do is laugh.

Anna Chlumsky: Well, you're lying Raul because you got asked back.

Raul Esparza: No, all we do is laugh. It is an iconic show that has a very cohesive family over there. But, aside from the part that they were very welcoming to us, we had our own little sort of group, particularly in the courtroom stuff that we were doing where, you know Anna and I had a really good - I had a ball.

So SVU has a reputation of giving its guest stars some of the more serious or scary scenes. How do you guys get into that mindset, and what do you do in between takes to relieve that tension?

Raul Esparza:  You answer that, Anna, because that's more about your character.

Anna Chlumsky: Oh, okay. You know it's interesting. This is the first time on film - or on screen that I've had to do such intense, violent-type work. And yeah, I've done stuff like that on stage before, but not so close up and on screen. And, you know it is - it's a different animal, so it's like - you know it - you definitely know you're at work, which is a wonderful thing. It's like after you say, "Cut," like you're not in that anymore, you know? They definitely allow you to communicate as - you know as an actor. I did the scene and I always felt reminded of that, you know? I never felt necessarily that I was - that I didn't have voice or, you know like I was definitely always a part of the collaboration on those scenes, and that was really generous of them and important, I think, you know given the nature of those scenes.

And yeah, they made me feel really comfortable right away. I mean, you know one of our first rehearsals was a stunt rehearsal, and so that - you know I - that right away just made me go, "Oh yeah, they got it figured out. They've been doing this a long time."

Raul Esparza: But particularly, you've got that - you got the sexual side of things in this since it's - you know it's - the episode's called Twenty-five Acts. It's clearly hinting at 50 Shades of Grey. So we're - there's the extra level of SVU covering sexual crimes, but on top of that there's an extra sort of level of disturbing quality to that in this particular episode.

Anna Chlumsky: And the questions that it raises. It was all very compelling to do. It was - you know, yeah, the subject matter and the actual execution of it I think also. So, they knew what they were they doing the whole time, so that's good.

Raul Esparza:  And I had the opposite of that because, you know - and usually it's the criminal or the victim that ends up getting the meaty stuff. In this case Warren Leight has written a spectacular new DA character for a guest star, and that's not typical. And so, to come in and play something that's - I mean he's a really delicious son of a bitch to play. I mean it was - that was just fun. That was a lot of fun, and that's different from coming in and playing the bad guy.

The show generally deals with things that are going on in real life; stories and events that are going on in the news. What did you guys think when you read that this episode was going to be centered around a 50 Shades of Grey-style book?

Raul Esparza: Hey, bring it on.

Anna Chlumsky: Yeah, totally. Why not?

Raul Esparza: Why not? It's - you know everybody's reading that book. I just took a trip to Hawaii a few weeks ago and everybody in the airport, like all the women were reading this book. Every time you turned around. Like, in every state. I was in California and Hawaii and New York. It was actually thrilling to see how sort of current and on topic it is. I haven't read it yet, so...