After spending 12 years on Law and Order: SVU, Christopher Meloni has spent the past few years busier than ever, popping up doing everything from dealing with Superman to talking to a can of vegetables. With his new series, Underground, having its finale last week and his new film, I Am Wrath, recently released, EW talked to the actor about his various TV projects, a possible return to SVU, and his upcoming film with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it about Underground that made you want to return full-time to a drama series?
CHRISTOPHER MELONI: It was based on the first episode. I just appreciated how well drawn out each character was and I appreciated the journey that they were presenting, that they were putting my character on: a guy who you didn’t really know who he was and I always think that’s a very interesting type of personality to play, be it someone who leaves a dual life or someone whose job kind of requires him to live a dual life. I thought there was a lot of other ways you could go with the character. He’s not your average slave catcher.
Why is this the first time in recent years that the subject of slavery has been tackled on TV?
Because there are so many options available for people to watch on television entertainment, you really have to come strong, you’ve got to come with something worth watching, something that’s worth finding. So a slave narrative, it’s a difficult narrative, it’s a very touchy subject, but attendant to that is, well, if you’re going to talk about slavery, then you have to bring up or touch on race relations. Race relations is a very important present day issue that we’re all struggling with so it’s not for the faint of heart to present it or to ask viewers to come and watch it.
Where do you see your character going from here?
That’s an easy answer: I have no f—ing idea. Every time I received a new script from the writers they always surprised me, so I have no idea, but I can tell you wherever they take me, I’ll be happy to go.
How did the experience of filming Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp differ from filming the movie so many years ago?
Oddly enough, you just slip into the clothes and you kind of find yourself. I played dual characters so obviously I played Gene first because I had the beard, then I shaved and I played my other character. And anytime I strayed from maybe a sense of what David Wain and Michael Showalter were looking for, they are always very blunt, but very kind and clear about how they saw a scene, and that would help put me back on track. So yeah it was easy, it was like going back to your first acting studio or going home.
We know a follow-up series is being made that will be set 10 years after the film — what would Gene be up to at that point?
Again, I have no thoughts because David Wain and Michael Showalter had to call me in for a special meeting I think to help prepare me for where they were taking me for the second installment that we just did last year. So I really can’t imagine, I can’t imagine. Hopefully he’s like President [laughs].
What about jumping back and forth between comedy and drama do you enjoy so much?
Well, don’t you like to try something new? When I’m doing a comedy, there is a particular atmosphere involved with it, and when I’m doing a drama, there’s a slightly different vibe to it. So I like them both.
So you don’t prefer one over the other?
The preference is I like to do the one that I’m not doing at the time. I mean, I like where I’m at and I stay in the moment, but my next thought is, “Yeah, I’d like to get into some heavy duty drama stuff or I’d like to find a funny thing to do.”
What was it like working on Veep? Everything that you hear is that it’s unlike working on any other show.
Yeah, then you’ve heard right. It was genius. It was quite honestly supremely unnerving at the beginning because — this is a sad statement — it was unnerving because it was so free. There was a structure but they were so confident in their abilities that they allowed for just freewheeling improv, and yet they had really funny scenes already written down. And they would do the scenes and they rehearse even without the script, they just have the basic intention… It’s like basic improv, you have the intention of the scene and they ask you to just shoot the sh–. And the writers will jot down things that strike them as funny that come out of you. It’s really a very freeing experience, and one that I miss and I think is really valuable for actors to get to do.
What do you think your character, Ray, is up to now?
I absolutely think that he may seem dumb or dimwitted or slow but I just think that he’s a cat that always lands on his feet. He’s absolutely training senators and their wives. He’s absolutely in the mix.
Do you think you will return to SVU at some point before the show ends?
I just recently was talking about that. [Pause] I always presented that I’d be open to doing the last few episodes, so that’s really all I have to say about that. It’s not up to me, I’ll just say that. I’ve said my peace on it.
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What drew you to I Am Wrath?
I appreciated the character that they left me to do. I thought he had the action aspect to him obviously, and I think humor, which is very necessary.
In the film, you and John Travolta play old buddies that are out to seek justice for his family. What was it like working with John?
Fantastic. It’s the first time we’ve worked together and it was just kind of effortless. He’s a very generous guy to work with. Obviously very smart, very cool, professional. I enjoyed playing with him, it was great.
How much can you say about the new movie you’re going to be doing with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn?
I know it’s going to be in an exotic local. I know that every character that is presented in the script is hilarious. There’s about 15 characters and they’re all hilarious. And I’m expecting for it to be a great experience and a lot of fun. Oh my god, I wish I could tell you more but…
This is Goldie’s first film in nearly 15 years — will you get the chance to work with her much?
Oh, I’ll be working with Goldie, don’t you worry about that. I’ll be working with both ladies.
Have you met Amy yet?
No, I haven’t had the pleasure. But when I get the call, I’ll be putting on my best cologne.