If you watch any of the Law & Order franchises at all regularly, you’ve seen more of them than you could possibly count. They’re bit actors — not extras, since they have speaking parts, but not exactly supporting characters either, since those parts are limited to a few quick lines in the middle of a single episode. In this week’s New York Observer, writer/actor Peter Lettre calls these appearances “bridge scenes… full of enough exposition to move the story forward, but with just enough suspicion to keep it interesting.” He would know. That was him on Law & Order: Criminal Intent last weekend, briefly playing a guy named Minister Billy Lester on the episode with the improbable title “Please Note We Are No Longer Accepting Letters of Recommendation From Henry Kissinger.”

Lettre, of course, was overjoyed to land this minor role. He calls these bit parts on the L&O shows “a rite of passage” for hundreds and hundreds of actors in NYC, and they’re clearly an integral part of making the shows happen each week. Lettre’s Observer story provides a very cool inside look at that world, from awkward off-camera chit-chat with Vincent D’Onofrio (pictured) to the premiere party his mom threw when his ep aired. From a viewer’s perspective, it’s fascinating stuff — like a slightly less absurd version of Ricky Gervais’ Extras, y’know? So let’s hear it, L&O fans: What do you think of Lettre’s behind-the-scenes story? And are there any L&O bit parts that have stuck with you over the years?