|Right now, no woman on television is tougher, smarter, leaner, meaner, grittier, or, well, prettier than Carey Lowell's assistant district attorney Jamie Ross manages to be every week on Law & Order. The latest cast change in a series famous for its perpetual cast changes, Lowell's Ross has definitely made her presence felt: Her sensible-heel pump has already poked a corpse or two with police detectives Lennie Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Reynaldo Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) and, in one of the new TV season's most memorable hours, she's gone toe-to-toe with a creepy old judge who was sexually harassing her. |
Meet Carey Lowell at work and she'll give you a steely smile and a bone-popping handshake. Since the actress was in the midst of wrapping a scene for an upcoming episode, she may still have been in character -- Jamie Ross is a hand cruncher if ever there was one, a former defense lawyer whose prickly partnership with assistant DA Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) is giving NBC's 10 p.m. Wednesday-night show a jolt in both the ratings and the quality of the solid, seven-year-old series.
''She brings adult beauty, intelligence, and sex appeal'' to the show, says executive producer Dick Wolf, the bluff L&O boss. And Waterston adds that her arrival ''hasn't caused so much as a hiccup in the rhythm of the show.''
At the moment, however, everyone's professionalism is being tested. Law & Order is filmed in a Manhattan studio located next to a roller rink. In the scene being shot, Ross is busy glaring at a murder suspect. Just as Ross and McCoy are about to offer the accused a stiff first-degree-manslaughter deal, some jaunty organ music from the roller rink interrupts. ''You could dance to this music, it's so loud!'' yells a sound technician. Breaking out of their no-nonsense adversarial characters, Lowell holds her arms out to Waterston, as if offering a quick tango; both laugh. A minion is dispatched to silence the music.
Lowell, 35, uses the break to grab a handful of Smarties from a big bowl just off camera before striding briskly toward her dressing room (''Don't you think this skirt is too tight for a DA?''), where she describes the wayward arc of her career and her own life as a smartie: a youth spent everywhere from Long Island, N.Y., to Libya (thanks to a peripatetic father who was an academic); college in Boulder, Colo., and at New York University, focusing on Russian literature. (Trust me, Lowell knows more about the Vladimir Nabokov translation of Mikhail Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time than you want to hear.) Then, a fluke: modeling. ''I was at NYU, and it was a quick way to make some money and travel.'' Signed by the Ford agency in 1979, she did ad campaigns for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Almay. ''It wasn't an era of supermodels, so I wasn't a celebrity. That helped me make a transition to film, because I didn't have a model's image to live up or down to.''
And indeed, film work followed, but ''[most of the] parts I've had have been so brief. Sleepless in Seattle was, like, 60 seconds [she was Tom Hanks' deceased wife] and Love Affair was, like, 45 seconds.'' (She was who in that? ''Does anyone care?'' she shrugs.) Go rent a copy of Leaving Las Vegas and look for the scene with a platinum-blond-wigged Lowell as a bank teller.
Lowell's most notable movie role was as a Bond girl in the 1989 Timothy Dalton 007er, Licence to Kill ("I was offered a lot of gun-toting chick roles after that," she says). Her least notable? Probably 1989's Me and Him, a notorious flop starring Griffin Dunne and a talking penis. Off screen, Dunne and Lowell got married, the five-year union yielding a daughter, Hannah, who's now 6. "It's an amicable divorce," says Lowell. "Griffin is currently directing Meg Ryan's feature Addicted to Love, and Hannah was [acting] in the movie for two days. I worried, 'Do I have a showbiz kid now?' But when I asked her how she liked it, she said she really didn't because she had to do the same thing over and over."
Oh, and that tabloid stuff you may have seen about Lowell and Richard Gere? "It's a just-friends thing," she says, clamming up.
Lowell's most recent movie work will be found in Fred Schepisi's Fierce Creatures--which reunites the cast of A Fish Called Wanda--to be released early next year. "When I came back from shooting that in London, I couldn't get arrested," says Lowell. "After a few months of that, I began to think, maybe this acting stuff wasn't meant to be."
Being a smartie, Lowell reenrolled at NYU for documentary filmmaking. "I turned somersaults to get into that program. Then two days before I was supposed to start classes, I got this job, so I had to withdraw."
Producer Wolf describes Lowell's landing of her Law & Order part as "a cold call"--showbiz-ese for "she just showed up to audition." "We saw literally hundreds of girls," notes Wolf. "It's hard to get word-of-mouth attention for a seventh-season show, but I think we're getting it with Carey."
There certainly seems to be a lot of Thursday-morning watercooler chat about her. "[People] like the way Ross laughs when [DA Adam] Schiff makes a dry joke, and McCoy looks at me like I've got balls, laughing in front of the boss," Lowell says. Her Ross has already given the sometimes pigheaded McCoy more guff than any woman ever has. Viewers are having fun noticing McCoy sizing up his new partner with a look that says, in effect, Gee, she's a real...
"Brainy beauty!" yelps Lowell, laughing. "People always ask about a romance between Ross and McCoy--is it going to happen? Well, she's not going to fall into bed with him, but there is sort of an air of possibility.... In an episode I watched [recently], there were some cuts in the editing where there was this soulful staring, and that wasn't the way the scenes were filmed. So clearly someone around here has an agenda--Universal [L&O's coproduction company], NBC, or what, I don't know."
At this point, a production assistant calls Lowell back to work; she's needed for a scene with guest star Jerry Stiller (George's dad on Seinfeld). Lowell grabs a copy of Barbara Kingsolver's new book of essays to read between takes, and gives her interviewer a final knuckle denter of a handshake. Straightening her lapels, Jamie Ross is back, ready to lay down the law.