By Mandi Bierly
January 02, 2008 at 12:00 PM EST

This is the first entry in PopWatch’s new series of interview outtakes from the pages of EW and

When Josh Wolk called me into his office before the holidays and told me that he thought I might enjoy talking to Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under, Waitress) about what he’s learned about Law & Order since joining the show’s cast, I’m sure my response—nervous laughter—confused him. Probably as much as the explanation that followed: Jeremy Sisto scares me.

Perhaps scares is too strong of a word. It’s more like the sight of the man makes me uncomfortable—a fact confirmed a few years ago when I saw him on a New York street and had to change sidewalks. I realize that my fear is totally irrational (and a testament to his acting ability): The man can’t help that he’s gifted at playing the unstable and prick-ish. And so I agreed to face that fear. On the phone. Turns out it’s hard to be afraid of Sisto when his dog, Winston, clearly isn’t…

EW: So let’s start with what you’ve learned about your character [Det. Cyrus Lupo] so far.
Jeremy Sisto: He starts off the season having spent four years in Europe doing terrorism intel for the NYPD, and over there he had no power as an officer. He wasn’t allowed to carry a gun or arrest people. He really was more of an observer. So when he comes back to New York, he is kind of out of practice at being in the thick of things. He’s a little meek. Also in the opening episode, his brother dies. His brother was married to his ex-fiancée, and so there’s a lot of stuff that goes along with that. So he’s kind of a sad guy in the beginning. Over the course of the season, he finds himself gaining a connection with Green [Jesse L. Martin] that in some ways fills the void of his dead brother. He also becomes more aggressive and [a dog barks]—you’re hearing my stupid dog? Ei-yi-yi.
What kind of dog is it?
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
What’s his name?
Winston. We’re at Washington Square Park right now, where dogs run free at night. He is having a good time barking at people. [To Winston] Alright, Winston. Enough! [More barking.] So there’s Cyrus Lupo for you.
It seems like you already have more backstory than most Law & Order characters. Do you think that’s a misconception, that these kinds of shows don’t deal with character?
No, it’s not. The writer had me create the character, and you learn a good deal of that stuff in the opening episode. The show is definitely, during the detectives’ part of it, a mystery. It’s about finding out who did it, and the audience wants to go on that ride. [More barking, to Winston] Winston, he threw it! Shut up, Winston! [To EW] So it’s definitely a different kind of show than I’ve been on before, and it’s a different thing that I’m asked to do. It’s very important to get the information across clearly because the plot twists are what the audience want to be able to follow. That said, I have been told that I’ve had more backstory than any character in 10 years—which is not a lot. [Laughs.] I think they feel too much character gets in the way of the audience’s enjoyment of this show, and you’ve got to respect that because it’s been on 18 years. I think they know their audience.
Were you always a Law & Order fan?
I hadn’t watched too many [episodes]. When Dick Wolf asked me to do it, I put it in my TiVo in the evening and then in the morning, I woke up and the whole TiVo was just filled. [More barking. Sisto laughs.] I’m tryin’. This is a horrible interview idea.
It’s actually very funny.
[To Winston] Shut up with the barking! Jesse sings this song to the melody of the show’s opening, and the lyrics are “Law & Order is on. Law & Order is always on.” That’s very funny.

For more with Sisto (sorry, Winston), check out the issue of EW on newsstands Friday.